The lucky, unlucky Bucks

Check out my recent podcast with David Beckworth, where I discuss one of the most underrated economists of the 20th century.

Most readers will want to skip this wallow in boomer nostalgia, but since my favorite sports team won the title last night I’ll indulge in dredging up some old memories. (Which is fitting, since I’m currently reading In Search of Lost Time.)

First a comment on the post title. I believe the Bucks were a bit lucky in winning the NBA championship this year. But I also think they are a mostly unlucky franchise. They’ve been good enough to win about four titles during their 53 year history, but have only two. (With average luck, they’d have had two in the 70s, one in the 1980s, and one in 2019-21.)

Because of this bad luck, they’ve been on the fringes of the consciousness on most NBA fans, in the shadow of more glamorous franchises. But even a bland midwestern franchise like the Bucks is more interesting than you think.

Two years ago, if Kawhi’s 4 bouncer doesn’t drop in against Philly, the Bucks probably win the title. Even if it does drop in, the Bucks probably win the title if the Bucks go 23/33 at the free line in game three against Toronto, instead of 22/33. The difference between winning and losing is often really close. Think of Ray Allen’s shot that beat the Spurs, or the injuries to Detroit in 1988 that cost them a title and indeed changed the whole narrative of “the 80s”. Or the injury to Chris Paul than kept him out of game 7 of Houston/Golden State.

Entire career reputations rest partly on luck. Kawhi’s a great player, but if that shot didn’t bounce in then his reputation today would be much lower. Giannis is even greater than Kawhi, but if Kevin Durant doesn’t wear oversize sneakers in game 7 against Milwaukee, then Giannis’s reputation is lower today, and Brooklyn or Phoenix would have a title. (Durant wears one size too big, and Brooklyn failed to win game seven as his foot was 1/4 inch over the three point line on the last shot of regulation.)

The Bucks and Phoenix came into the league in 1968, and I’ve followed the Bucks from the beginning. The two teams tied for the worst record, and the Bucks won the famous coin flip for the first pick in the 1969 draft. The Bucks picked Lew Alcindor (now Kareem), who had the most impressive career of any player ever. I’m not saying he was better than Michael or LeBron, as the game is getting more competitive over time. But Kareem had 6 championships and 6 MVPs. Oh, and he scored more points than anyone ever, while also being an excellent rebounder, passer and shot blocker. And he scored the most points despite staying in college for 4 years, where he won 3 national championships. (Freshman did not qualify for varsity teams in those days.) His signature shot would be just as unstoppable today as it was then. He’s also one of the brightest intellectuals ever to play in the NBA, the author of many books. He’s my favorite athlete in any sport.

Lots of NBA fans know about Kareem, but how many know that in the same draft the Bucks picked Hall of Famer Bobby Dandridge in the 4th round! Kareem plus Dandridge was the best single draft in NBA history, even better than Jordan and whoever else they got. Lots of NBA fans know that Kareem and Oscar Robertson won a title in 1971, the third year of the Bucks existence, but how many know that even the 1969-70 Bucks were really, really good, and didn’t even have Oscar? In one year, rookies Kareem and Dandridge took the worst team in the NBA up into the elite.

With average luck, the Bucks would have won another 1970s championship. No luck was involved in 1971 when they rolled over all the opposition, winning the finals in four straight, none of which were close. The next year they faced what was once regarded as the greatest team in NBA history–the 69-win Lakers, which had the famous 33 game winning streak in the regular season. (A streak ended by the Bucks, just as they ended several other famous winning streaks.) But as great as the 1972 Lakers were, the Bucks were just as good—but not as lucky. The Bucks crushed the Lakers by more than 20 points in game one (in LA). The Lakers barely won game two in LA by one point (on a bad call from the referee.) The Lakers barely won game three, and then the Bucks crushed them by more than 25 points in game 4. The Lakers won the series, but the Bucks outscored them by 14 points overall. Bad luck. In 1974, the Bucks lost to the Celtics in 7 games. More bad luck. With average luck they’d have had titles in 1971 and either 1972 or 1974. (Bucks injuries also played a role, especially in 1974.) The Bucks were the first NBA team ever to have three straight 60 win seasons.

Kareem forced a trade to LA, and the Bucks rebuilt under the innovative coach Don Nelson (and later Del Harris) in the 1980s. The 1980s team epitomizes the history of the Bucks, always falling a bit short, always in the shadow of other teams. No “superstars”. They had 7 straight 50 win teams. By 1991, the Bucks were the third winningest team in NBA history (if my memory is correct.)

The year they came closest was 1981, when after the mid-year trade for Bob Lanier they were probably the best team in the NBA. But they lost by one point in game seven to Philly, which had the home court advantage. Philly then lost by one point in game seven to the Celtics, which had the home court advantage. To this day, I think the Bucks were the best of the three on a neutral court. All through the 1980s, things never broke their way. They swept the Celtics 4 straight in 1983, but that was the year when Philly was a juggernaut.

When people think of famous 1980s rivalries, they think Lakers/Celtics or Celtics/Philly. But by far the biggest rivalry was Bucks/Philly:

The Sixers and Bucks met six times in the span of seven postseasons between 1981 and 1987 for a total of 34 games. Philadelphia won four of those series, Milwaukee two. There was even a coda playoff match in 1991 for good measure.

Those other rivalries by comparison:

Sixers versus Celtics had 24 games over four series.

Celtics versus Lakers had 19 games over three series.

Pistons versus Celtics had 22 games over four series.

Sixers versus Lakers had 16 games over three series.

Again, Sixers versus Bucks had 34 games over six series with three of them going to a do-or-die contest.

With average luck, the Bucks might have won one title in the 1980s (probably 1981, but another year if their rivals all had a down years at the same time.) And not only was the team underrated, always in the shadow of other teams, players like Sidney Moncrief were also underrated, in the shadow of players who were flashier (like the Julius Erving of the 1980s) but not any more talented.

There were actually two Bucks 1980s teams. In mid-decade, they traded some older players for younger players like Cummings, Pierce and Hodges, and kept playing at a high level until 1991. That trade was what impressed upon me the importance of age, and it’s why I knew the Nets trade a decade ago would be a disaster.

The 1990s were a down decade. Some younger fans recall the 2001 playoff series with Philly and feel the refs screwed us by suspending a key Bucks player for the final game. But I doubt they would have beaten the Lakers that year, even though the Bucks were 8-0 against the top four Western conference teams during the regular season. So I’d give them at most a 10% chance at the title that year.

I sometimes read commentary on the Bucks in internet forums or at No Tech Ben, and am surprised that all the fans seem so young. I don’t recall a single other fan who followed the team in its first year (before Kareem). (I tried to, but few games were on TV back then, and there were many years (such as 1973-81) when I didn’t even own a TV set.) Still, it’s nice to feel part of a community with shared interests.

Seeing them win the title last night, and then thinking about the person I was back in 1971 when I first saw them win, makes me think about the passage of time. I was 15, now I’m 65. I don’t even feel like I’m the same person. It’s certainly not the same NBA.

The two Bucks championships are like bookends to my life as a sports fan. Fifty years of misery has ended.

PS. Charles Barkley called it.

PPS. Bucks in 6!

PPPS. If only the final score had been 120-104. 🙁

PPPPS. Fifty points and five blocks in a closeout finals game? Don’t think I’ll live to see that one broken. (But we can’t vote for Giannis for MVP because he’s just a regular season player.)

PPPPPS. Winning a title is nice for fans, and even nicer when the key players on the team are likable individuals.


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57 Responses to “The lucky, unlucky Bucks”

  1. Gravatar of blastoise blastoise
    21. July 2021 at 09:04

    Did you see Giannis requested a trade in the post game interview? 🙂

  2. Gravatar of danny danny
    21. July 2021 at 09:19

    Given all of your other eclectic interests I’m surprised you’re a sports fan at all.

  3. Gravatar of Michael S Rulle Michael S Rulle
    21. July 2021 at 09:59

    One of Scott’s greatest attributes is he is a sports fan—-I could not figure out why Mil Bucks—is his favorite team in sports—but —he went to Madison—still–why not Packers—or Brewers—or for that matter the Cowboys?

    I am guessing of course. I do not know where he went to HS—or when he decided to go to Wis/Madison. I am guessing at age 17 it was easy to really like a team with Robertson and Alcindor—(my cousin was drafted by that team and broke his knee 2 weeks in!—gonzo.). I was a Knick and Laker fan those years (Chamberlain and Reed/Frazier). I have rooted for many teams in many sports—-and most of the time I can trace why. So Scott might tell us why.

    The Greek Freak was sensational—-as their coach says the team is extremely coachable—and it definitely cements Antetokounmpo’s rep for all time. Take it from a highly reluctant Net’s fan—-I hate the team I root for—-their coach–a great player (but not truly great—no titles) is a “faculty advisor”. They never should have signed the 3 bigs—I do not like that style of putting teams together—the Bucks are “old school” in that sense.

    Yes Scott is a fan—because like all fans he is completely irrational (hence fan from Fanatic). There are a million pieces of luck in any game—-but in the end—I believe the better team will win- (no, I cannot prove it—certainly not from one season—but 4 in a row to close it out—that seems like less luck—also, Ray Allen is a super star—see–I too am a fanantic.

    Since I am one of those guys who believes that great players need to win Championships (the inverse is not true) to be truly great, I am glad for the Freak–Again–I believe he won because he IS a Champ–Players believe that too.

    But I would still like to know why Scott love the Bucks!

  4. Gravatar of Michael S Rulle Michael S Rulle
    21. July 2021 at 10:07

    One of Scott’s greatest attributes is he is a sports fan—-I cannot figure out why Mil Bucks—is his favorite team in sports—but —he went to Madison—still–why not Packers—or Brewers—or for that matter the Cowboys?

    I am guessing of course. I do not know where he went to HS—or when he decided to go to Wis/Madison. I am guessing at age 17 it was easy to really like a team with Robertson and Alcindor—(my cousin was drafted by that team and broke his knee 2 weeks in!—gonzo.). I was a Knick and Laker fan those years (Chamberlain and Reed/Frazier). I have rooted for many teams in many sports—-and most of the time I can trace why. So Scott might tell us why.

    The Greek Freak was sensational—-as their coach says the team is extremely coachable—and it definitely cements Antetokounmpo’s rep for all time. Take it from a highly reluctant Nets fan—-I hate the team I root for—-their coach–a great player (but not truly great—no titles) is a “faculty advisor”. They never should have signed the 3 bigs—I do not like that style of putting teams together—the Bucks are “old school” in that sense.

    Yes, Scott is a fan—because like all fans he is completely irrational (hence fan from Fanatic). There are a million pieces of luck in any game—-but in the end—I believe the better team will win- (no, I cannot prove it—certainly not from one season—but 4 in a row to close it out—that seems like less luck—also, Ray Allen is a superstar—see–I too am a fanatic).

    Since I am one of those guys who believes that great players need to win Championships (the inverse is not true) to be truly great, I am glad for the Freak–Again–I believe he won because he IS a Champ–Players believe that too.

    But I would still like to know why Scott loves the Bucks!

  5. Gravatar of Michael S Rulle Michael S Rulle
    21. July 2021 at 10:13

    I just noticed—you moderate me? Or all writers?—that is disappointing if it is just me.—since you moderate, I assume this will be erased since I am just asking you a private question. I have never noticed it before—so maybe it is new—or I just never noticed. I hate to exhibit my paranoia. But I just did.

  6. Gravatar of LC LC
    21. July 2021 at 11:22

    Congrats to the Bucks. Giannis was a beast and Suns had no answer. Being a long suffering Suns fan, I can relate to the unlucky breaks. Monty Williams showed a lot of class going over to the Bucks locker room and offered his congratulation. I hope the Suns win a title and break the 53+ year drought.

  7. Gravatar of David R Henderson David R Henderson
    21. July 2021 at 12:30

    Great series.

    I didn’t have a dog in the hunt, but after seeing what scum so many of the Phoenix fans were when Giannis was shooting free throws, I shifted strongly to the Bucks.

    Question: In the last quarter of game 4, the refs did a particularly bad job. They completely missed Booker’s 6th foul about 4 minutes from the end. But also, and no one else has commented on this, didn’t they also miss Jrue Holiday’s travel and then double dribble after his amazing steal from Booker (with less than a minute left)? That’s the play that resulted in that amazing ally-oop to Giannis.

  8. Gravatar of David R Henderson David R Henderson
    21. July 2021 at 12:44

    Oops. My question might have been about game 5. It’s the one with the Jrue steal and the alley-oop.

  9. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    21. July 2021 at 13:21

    I’m so happy for you, Prof.Sumner!

    And I’m so happy for the city of Milwaukee and state of Wisconsin!

    Even though I’m a Rockets fan! And think Kevin Durant (and Hakeem and MJ) are/were so much more beautiful to watch play than Giannis.

    How’s that for a back-handed compliment! LOL

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. July 2021 at 13:43

    Michael, The moderation is automatic, not my decision. Did you use your middle initial in previous posts?

    LC, I like the Suns team, and Monty Williams is probably the classiest guy in the entire NBA. The series could have gone either way.

    David, Yes, the officials miss a number of calls. Some fans worry about it more than I do. I’m just kind of fatalistic about it. The only thing that really annoys me is when they get it wrong after a replay. I also hate when players lean into another player to draw a foul on a three.

    The funny thing about that Booker 6th foul is that it almost looked like an intentional foul. I think each team benefited from iffy calls both ways.

    Travis, Yes, those guys are more aesthetically pleasing. Giannis is actually the most fun to watch on defense. But also on fast breaks, when he can do moves that no other 7 footer in history could do. His agility on spins is insane for a 6’11” guy.

  11. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    21. July 2021 at 15:00

    Interesting observations, as always.

    You left out 1973, so I had to go take a look. How did Milwaukee lose to that Golden State team? Rick Barry got hurt in game 2 (apparently) and only played 140 minutes in the (6 game) series.

    Maybe Jimmy the Gent and Henry Hill were seen around Milwaukee at the time?

    1973 was another chance to win a title for the Bucks nonetheless, they were great that year too.

    It must have been upsetting to people in Wisconsin to wake up one day and find out they were in the (dreary) East and not the (cool) West.

    Maybe the Bucks could have won the title in 2001, but would you really want that? One fun thing about the NBA is that random “okay” teams never win the title, like they do in baseball and football. (Or maybe I should say “have never won the title,” going back 60 years, at least).

    (I do like the way those 8 wins against the top teams in the West function as a chink in a great wall of futility, allowing a gleam of light into the soul of a Bucks fan).

  12. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    21. July 2021 at 15:16

    Very good post. Kareem is a fascinating dude. Always had a soft spot for the Bucks myself, good on them.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. July 2021 at 15:22

    anon/portly, I don’t recall 1973 very well, although I do recall seeing Rick Barry play in Madison.

    We did outscore them by a total of 15 points, losing 4-2.

    In the 1980s, we would have been better off being in the West. Just one great team to get by.

    Thanks Brian.

  14. Gravatar of Student Student
    21. July 2021 at 16:13

    Great series and cool post. Did not know all that about the bucks. While I don’t think they even get back next year, it is scary that Giannis isn’t even all that close to his peak yet.

  15. Gravatar of Todd Ramsey Todd Ramsey
    21. July 2021 at 16:14

    Jabbar, Dandridge…and Flynn Robinson!

  16. Gravatar of bb bb
    21. July 2021 at 16:21

    Scott,
    Happy for you. Great team- Love Jrue and PJ, and obviously Giannis. I’ve also always thought Butenhouser is a great coach. Don’t care about luck, especially not missed free throws or point differentials, and definitely not in the NBA. 82 games, 7 games series- best teams usually win and the Bucks were the best team this year.
    Never reason from a point differential 😉
    Also love Kareem for all the same reasons. As a Wiz fan, love Dandridge too.
    Flat out, this years Bucks were a great team and deserved to win. Let the other 31 teams talk about luck.
    I think Basketball is the best game too, and the NBA championship is the hardest championship to win of the big 4.
    Go bucks!

  17. Gravatar of rwperu34 rwperu34
    21. July 2021 at 17:48

    Good post.

    I’d have to say the Bucks are officially the Suns nemesis. First the coin flip, now this. I’m not an NBA fan, but I was lucky enough to be able to attend Game 5. The last NBA game I attended was a Suns preseason game in 2004.

  18. Gravatar of Mike Weiss Mike Weiss
    21. July 2021 at 18:04

    Congratulations and great post!

    Just for some trivia related to “best single draft in NBA history, even better than Jordan and whoever else they got:”

    The Bulls 1984 10th round pick out of the University of Houston was Carl Lewis. Best single draft of athletic talent?

  19. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    21. July 2021 at 18:59

    Since this is a celebratory post, I’m hoping that Scott comes back to revisit comments for an uncharacteristic third time…
    Since you’re a deep thinker about most things, I thought it was worth asking you the question that Jerry Seinfeld once did: Why do you support a sports team? About the only team I (weakly) support these days is the Indian cricket team, because that’s the country of my birth and I share many physical attributes of the players, which means I outwardly appear to ‘belong’ as their supporter, and growing up in moderately racist Australia in the 1980s, it seemed natural to align myself with my home country’s team. Perhaps that’s not a particularly satisfactory reason, but it’s something.
    But in modern domestic sports like Australian Rules, American NFL, NBA, etc, the players often don’t share any geographical or cultural commonalities. Plus, they move around, often for money. I more-or-less stopped supporting my Aussie Rules team in my teens because I decided that it was crazy to feel miserable for half a day after they lost – something I had no control over. My Aussie Rules-loving friends say “it’s about the jumper”, which is what Seinfeld settled on, “you’re actually rooting for the clothes”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=we-L7w1K5Zo
    Do you have a more profound answer?

  20. Gravatar of Garrett Garrett
    21. July 2021 at 19:01

    Michael,

    Scott’s pretty tall, so when he first blogged about being a basketball and Bucks fan I figured he played as a kid. Not sure if he ever mentioned if he did though.

  21. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    21. July 2021 at 19:25

    @Rajat:

    Love that Seinfeld but, but the answer is fandom is about being in a club/tribe/party with shared memories and goals and jerseys. Often your family (parents) get you on board with their teams, or your friends at school.

    The players matter less than being part of the tribe, you love them on your team and wish them well but stop watching them on other teams. You are a fan of The xxxxxers and you’re in the club.

  22. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    21. July 2021 at 21:14

    “In the 1980s, [Milwaukee] would have been better off being in the West. Just one great team to get by.”

    There’s various contenders, I think, for “best team to never win an NBA title,” but “best team to never make it to the NBA finals” has to be the Nelson Bucks, I would guess. Maybe I’m not thinking of someone. The D’Antoni Suns are the only other team I’d consider.

  23. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    21. July 2021 at 21:20

    Yes, msgkings, I totally get that – in fact, it’s the only possible explanation from what I can tell. But I don’t think I have any group attachments or affiliations (outside of family) that I’ve kept since childhood. Normally, we examine these things as we get older and tend to jettison those that no longer serve a purpose. I accept that if people’s social connections are closely associated with sporting fandom, then the fandom makes sense. But I doubt that would be Scott. I guess ultimately human beings have feelings and many have a need to belong to something. Maybe there’s a gene for this need?

  24. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    21. July 2021 at 21:49

    “Since I am one of those guys who believes that great players need to win Championships (the inverse is not true) to be truly great, I am glad for the Freak–Again–I believe he won because he IS a Champ–Players believe that too.”

    Kind of curious what the inverse of this formulation would be, but in any case this strikes me as both inaccurate and unimaginative – but I realize this is the way many people think.

    I don’t think Michael Jordan was any better because the Bulls drafted Pippin. I don’t think Kareem was any better because the Lakers got Magic. I don’t Olajuwon was any better because the Rockets came out of the West in the two Jordan interregnum years and not in two Jordan years. Minnesota and Boston can’t work out the Garnett deal? Garnett’s still every bit as good. Walton injures his foot 365 or even 300 days earlier? He’s still just as good.

    As I said above, I love that NBA champs are always good, which is why I find the idea of the 2001 Bucks winning a title kind of ugh. (George Karl can’t get the Kemp/Payton Sonics past the Campbell/Van Exel Lakers and he’s not only going to get the Allen/Robinson/Cassell Bucks past the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, he’s going to get *them* past the one indisputably great Shaq/Kobe Laker team? Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh!). But many teams that don’t win a title are really good too, and sometimes just unlucky.

    (The Karl point may be annoying, but simply has to be said, I’m sorry).

  25. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    22. July 2021 at 05:39

    (no Mid initial—-:-))

    My HS was in the same group of Catholic School leagues as Power Memorial——Lew Alcindor was so great his games were televised (local WOR) when he was a Freshman in HS. Needless to say, I was a big Alcindor fan——and of course a big Kareem fan. I used Alcindor in my comment because he won the Championship in 71 with the big O when he was still calling himself Lew Alcindor.

    And of course, I always referred to him as Kareem Abdul Jabbar after 1971.

  26. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    22. July 2021 at 05:49

    To Anon

    Chill guy. Maybe my English is bad——by inverse I meant that just because you win a championship does not mean you are great. I think that is correct usage but am glad to be corrected—-perhaps you can help.

    Fans opinions are irrelevant—-including mine and yours. They are opinions. They are not provable or falsifiable——but they still can be right—or wrong. We will just never know. However, if you do not think Kareem was better as a function of Robertson and Magic I could not disagree more. It implies players cannot make other players on their team more effective——which is the opposite of what every Basketball coach in history believes. Especially the ones who win

    Cannot prove it——or disprove it. One of the cool things about sports.

  27. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    22. July 2021 at 06:25

    PS—-Anon/portly

    Kareem also made Magic and the Big O more effective——I do not believe in the additive principle in Basketball (X+X = 2x)——I believe in the compound principle——X times X= X squared. The latter is learned—-and is hard. The former is what we call today ISO (isolation) ball—-a losers way to play

  28. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    22. July 2021 at 08:35

    Don’t follow NBA basketball, haven’t for decades, but glad to see my fellow countryman Γιάννης Σίνα-Ούγκο Αντετοκούνμπο did well. The power of diversity, of immigration, but keep in mind in Greece he got very little state help (but what can you expect from a country of only 10M people mired in bureaucracy). More important to me is that NBC is to broadcast the World championship chess match this November–will Scott tune in? A brainy guy like him must like chess?

  29. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    22. July 2021 at 09:55

    Ending the NBA season in July is absurd. The reason isn’t the number of regular season games (it’s been 82 for years), it’s the number of teams that make the playoffs, 16. Back in the day when the season ended in the spring, only eight teams made the playoffs. The NBA has become the NHL.

  30. Gravatar of bb bb
    22. July 2021 at 10:33

    Fandom is easy to explain. It’s just another form of identity. And identity usually leads to dogma. I think sports is a great place to put your dogma, because it’s much less likely than political party or ideology dogma to do significant harm. We’d be better off if the folks who stormed the capital stormed the court instead. And to be fair, we’d also be better off if folks on the left put more of their emotions into sports instead of politics.
    Plus it’s more fun.

  31. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    22. July 2021 at 10:36

    I’m not sure from the way you wrote the sentence but are you claiming that Sidney Moncrief was an equivalent talent to Dr. J. or are you saying simply that like Dr. J. he was overshadowed unfairly? If you’re making the claim that he was as talented as Dr. J., then I have to call you on some blatant homerism. Just take a look at their career Player Efficiency Rating numbers. Moncrief is sandwiched between Andrei Kirilenko and Sam Jones. Dr. J. is sandwiched between Hakeem and Bird.
    https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/per_career.html

  32. Gravatar of henry henry
    22. July 2021 at 11:05

    It’s a bit strange that you are nostalgic for the more egalitarian and optimistic 1970’s, when your backward policies take us further away from that society.

    For over thirty years, you’ve sent Wisconsin’s good paying jobs to Xinjiang, where thousands of Muslims work in internment camps. – That’s also where the bigoted Ben and Jerry’s get’s their supplies. But I’m happy you enjoyed the game. Wisconsin’s couldn’t, since they are more worried about how to pay for food and water.

    I can hear the reply already:

    “But they can code, right?” Actually no, those jobs are being outsourced too.

    “But surely, they can be truck drivers and/or work in grocery stores?” No, those jobs are being automated.

    Instead of promoting Ricardian trade theory, which only focuses on efficiency, you might actually want to listen to the workers and the Entrepreneurs! ​

    Tariffs save jobs, lower profit margins, reduce the gap between the rich and poor, and permit mom and pops to compete. If you combine Tariffs with tax reform: that is, removing the double Irish and the double dutch, then you might actually level the playing field.

    But no, Sumner would rather force us to pay 70% of our taxes to the government, so that Billy Bob Joe can survive on DOLE. At some point, there won’t be any small businesses left to pay Billy Bob Joe! And the MNC’s Double Irish with the Dutch sandwich won’t be contributing to tax revenue.

    Welcome to Greece!

  33. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. July 2021 at 11:30

    Todd, I forgot that he was in that draft.

    bb, Agree that basketball is the best game. Much more entertaining to watch than football or especially baseball.

    Mike, I forgot they had a 10th round.

    Rajat, I find the games entertaining to watch. Obviously the choice of team is arbitrary, when I was young we typically chose the home team because that was the one could could watch on TV. When I moved to Boston in 1982, I was already fully invested in the Don Nelson Bucks.

    It’s like if someone is born in Saudi Arabia they probably become a Muslim. If then then move to France, they often remain a Muslim.

    Garrett, When they chose sides in gym class, I was the last picked despite being the tallest. Odd.

    Ray, You asked:

    “More important to me is that NBC is to broadcast the World championship chess match this November–will Scott tune in?”

    Perhaps if there is no “watching paint dry” show on an alternative channel.

    Carl, I said the Moncrief was as good as the Erving of the 1980s. Moncrief’s numbers are probably dragged down by the injuries which slowed him late in his career. But 1980-85 he was pretty great. Do those ratings show defense, which was his forte?

    Or maybe I’m just a homer, as you say. Checking the numbers it does look like Erving was better even in the early 1980s. For some reason I had wrongly thought that Erving was better in the 1970s.

    Henry, You said:

    “For over thirty years, you’ve sent Wisconsin’s good paying jobs to Xinjiang, where thousands of Muslims work in internment camps.”

    LOL!!

  34. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    22. July 2021 at 11:47

    “Fans opinions are irrelevant—-including mine and yours. They are opinions. They are not provable or falsifiable——but they still can be right—or wrong. We will just never know. However, if you do not think Kareem was better as a function of Robertson and Magic I could not disagree more. It implies players cannot make other players on their team more effective——which is the opposite of what every Basketball coach in history believes. Especially the ones who win[.]”

    After the “opinions are irrelevent” and “just never know” preamble, the preamble is implicitly disagreed with because actual arguments are made in the support of an idea. If opinions are irrelevant, why make an argument, at all? If we’ll just never know, what’s the point of making an argument?

    Anyway, I think it’s a good argument, not irrelevant and I agree with it and think a lot of data could be mustered in support of it, so not something we’ll “just never know” at all.

    Players do make other players better, in the “team” sense, for sure. Sometimes two great players complement each other and sometimes they don’t.

    But if a great player happens not to be paired with other players who don’t complement him or who he doesn’t complement, that doesn’t make him any less great (with the caveat that of course being able to fit with diverse types of players and lineups is itself an important facet of greatness).

    If you actually want to disagree with my argument, then make a specific argument of the type “I would say X was a great player if they’d won a championship, but since they didn’t, I say they weren’t truly great.” Or “I think Y was a truly great player, but if they’d never won a title I would not think was true.” Name an X and a Y.

  35. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    22. July 2021 at 12:54

    Maybe a better response to MR would be just to quote SS here:

    “Two years ago, if Kawhi’s 4 bouncer doesn’t drop in against Philly, the Bucks probably win the title. Even if it does drop in, the Bucks probably win the title if the Bucks go 23/33 at the free line in game three against Toronto, instead of 22/33. The difference between winning and losing is often really close. Think of Ray Allen’s shot that beat the Spurs, or the injuries to Detroit in 1988 that cost them a title and indeed changed the whole narrative of “the 80s”. Or the injury to Chris Paul than kept him out of game 7 of Houston/Golden State.”

    This to me is total wisdom. I actually think of it somewhat differently; to me the key thing with Milwaukee in 2019 is that they were clearly more than good enough to win a title in a normal year; of course that wasn’t ostensibly a normal year since the Curry/Durant Warriors were still together, but it became a normal one when the Warriors got hurt.

    Instead of thinking about the 4 bounces and the free throws in some game, they way I think about it is that in many years, Milwaukee in 2019 was good enough to get to the finals without much incident, but this was a year with two very good teams in the East and maybe Toronto got hot (see: Van Vleet, Fred) and Milwaukee got a little off at just the right time. Or maybe it was really a 50/50 (or 40/60 or 60/40, whatever) series and one team was going to win, this time it was Toronto.

    The 2019 Bucks are probably a better team than many teams that have won titles, going 60-22 plus 10-5 and leading the league in point differential.

  36. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    22. July 2021 at 13:42

    Milwaukee drafted Ray Allen in 1997. In Allen’s 3rd year, George Karl was added as coach for a 5-year run with records of 28-22, 42-40, 52-30, 41-41 and 42-40.

    For most of this time the key players stayed the same: Allen, Robinson, Cassell, Tim Thomas, Ervin Johnson.

    In the fourth of those five years, they added 35 year old Anthony Mason and 34 year old Greg Anthony to the mix, no doubt indulging George Karl’s preference for vets. (They seem to have had a real GM, since during his tenure there I don’t think they indulged much his other marked preference, scapegoats). They missed the playoffs.

    In the fifth year they were 27-26 and then traded (for reasons that Scott Sumner may remember; I don’t) Ray Allen for the much older Gary Payton, plus the maybe-promising (it turned out not so much) Desmond Mason. (Sonic fans hated to see Payton go but the age difference was kind of an obvious plus).

    After yet another .500-ish season and first-round playoff exit, Karl was either shown the door, pushed his way out or something (it doesn’t matter).

    Final Karl-years playoff record: 14-18. Number of playoff series won: 2! Number of series won against good teams: 0!

    Yet the idea is floated of this outfit beating the 2001 Lakers, fresh off sweeps of San Antonio (2 years removed from a title in both directions) and Sacramento (a mm or two from a title the following year).

    Conclusion: Scott Sumner doesn’t believe in the Basketball Gods, up in Basketball Valhalla. I can’t even imagine an idea that would be more offensive to Them. Oh well.

  37. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    22. July 2021 at 13:58

    One of the knocks against PER ratings is that it overemphasizes offensive production. It includes blocks and steals but that’s about all for defense. But if you look at career defensive rating, Dr. J has the edge there as well:https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/def_rtg_career.html. The numbers hold up pretty well for the first few years of the 80’s too.

  38. Gravatar of copans copans
    22. July 2021 at 16:05

    The mention of Kareem inspires me to points out (once again) at one time he was first alphabetically of all NBA-ABA basketball players and was the all-time leader in points. In baseball, the all-time leader in RBIs was also first alphabetically for an overlapping period (Henry Aaron, who also had beginnings in Milwaukee). Both have been supplanted alphabetically.

    Side note: And Gary Ablett, Jr is a great Australian Rules Football player and so was his father.

  39. Gravatar of steve steve
    23. July 2021 at 02:34

    Moved around a bit but mostly lived in Milwaukee and small towns in Indiana. At 17 joined the Navy and got sent to Philly where I eventually became a Sixers fan.

    I think the roles of Lucius Allen and Jon McGlocklin are under appreciated. McGlocklin was a heck of a shooter. Allen hadn’t peaked yet but brought real athleticism to the team. I would agree it was bad luck that kept that team from winning another championship. From the POV of a then Sixers fan I think it was more of a rivalry from the Bucks POV. The goal was to beat the Celtics.

    I will disagree a bit about 2109 and 2020. The Bucks only win a championship in those years if they get lucky. You really need that 3rd star to win. You can win with 2 real superstars and some luck, but while Giannis fits the bill Middleton is too inconsistent. He can play at superstar level intermittently but not consistently. They needed Jrue.

    Totally agree it was great to see a class act like Giannis win. Now for a repeat. Wonder if Holiday will be too old. Maybe Dante makes up for it?

    Steve

  40. Gravatar of bb bb
    23. July 2021 at 06:44

    @Steve,
    You are 100% right. I don’t see the Bucks winning without Jrue. In fact I don’t see them winning without PJ Tucker, who defended KD and got in his head through out that series.

  41. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    23. July 2021 at 07:38

    Anon/portly

    I enjoy our little discussion. When I said “opinions are Irrelevant”–I meant in the “scientific sense” of proof. But I might need to back off on that a little bit. The gamblings’ spreads are very hard to beat—on average over time—The more one bets the spread, gradually over time you approach the vig—and lose.

    But just because I have an opinion I believe is correct (e.g., my analogy of compound versus additive)—and I can cherry pick why they are correct (to be clear—I do believe in my opinions) does not mean I am right, wrong or random. I can definitely say our opinions are irrelevant in the “proof” sense—-but that does NOT mean one’s opinions cannot be right—in the objective sense—it is just hard to prove. I have backed off from impossible to prove—because of the difficulty of beating spreads—We can do some kind of multiple comparison tests—and maybe some can prove (in the p-value sense) their opinions are correct. But opinions are hard to define—you and I have been discussing ideas about why teams win—not that they win—-

    Sports are fun. I love stats in sports—although they are very hard to use effectively. Baseball has gone to the extreme in “Iso”–even though it is the most ISO sport naturally. I have come to believe the following—players are more athletic, stronger, faster–etc—but they do not know how to play baseball—-they have gone iso extreme.

    But perhaps

  42. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    23. July 2021 at 08:17

    Anon/portly

    RE: your X Y question.

    I keep saying I have an opinion about certain things that are not provable or falsifiable—so I can give an answer to your question but it is just a plug–it shows nothing—-because my evidence is my premise—which of course is absurd. But I will still give it a try. Given my premise, your X and Y are the same things.

    I have already stated Truly Great players must win championships—that is a premise–in your example neither X and Y won. So let me give an interesting answer which almost addresses your question.

    You first need to know who Tex Winter is. I definitely believed in real-time, before Winter/Jackson showed up with the Bulls, that Jordon was great–but not truly great (meaning no championships). My opinion is (“opinion”) he would have been Karl Malone or George Gervin without Tex an Phil.

    After Tex and Phi arrived—-the high coachable Jordon began to win–every year. He became great because of the compound effect (okay–let’s just say it—the triangle offence) of MJ and the Triangle made him truly great.

    Without them, he would have not been who he has become—Opinion—but at least I had that view in real time

  43. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. July 2021 at 09:39

    anon/portly OK. less than 10%. Maybe an injury to Shaq or Kobe?

    Carl, OK, you may be right. BTW, is that the rating that overrates big men?

    copans, Now that’s trivia!

    Steve, Yes, and McGlocklin shot lots of “threes” that counted as two back then. And he still was a 50% shooter!

    Disagree about 2019. The Bucks were just as good as Toronto, and that team also lacked a third superstar. The Bucks probably had a 50% chance of a title once the Warriors were hit by injuries.

    People tend to ignore the role of luck, and retroactively decide that Kawhi is “clutch” and Giannis is not. Does Fred Van Vleet hitting an insane number of threes make Kawhi clutch?

    bb, Sure, this year they needed Jrue, but in 2019 the team was far deeper. Overall, I’d say the 2019 team was better. And Bledsoe was also a great defensive guard with an inconsistent shot. Jrue’s clearly better, but elsewhere the Bucks were stronger in 2019. Jrue was essentially their only playable guard (PJ was their “shooting” guard–imagine that!), whereas the 2019 team had Brogdan and a George Hill who was still pretty good.

  44. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    23. July 2021 at 14:57

    From, https://www.basketball-reference.com/about/ratings.html,

    Out of necessity (owing to a lack of defensive data in the basic boxscore), individual Defensive Ratings are heavily influenced by the team’s defensive efficiency. They assume that all teammates are equally good (per minute) at forcing non-steal turnovers and non-block misses, as well as assuming that all teammates face the same number of total possessions per minute.

    Perhaps as a byproduct, big men tend to have the best Defensive Ratings (although Oliver notes that history’s best defensive teams were generally anchored by dominant defensive big men, suggesting that those types of players are the most important to a team’s defensive success). A corollary to this is that excellent perimeter defenders who don’t steal the ball a lot — for instance, Joe Dumars or Doug Christie — are underrated defensively by DRtg, and are prone to look only as good as their team’s overall defense performs.

    Eyeballing the list, it does seem strongly weighted towards bigs. For example, Marcus Camby comes in a full 42 rankings above Kawhi. But that may make it all the more noteworthy that Dr. J comes in at 31.

  45. Gravatar of nick nick
    23. July 2021 at 15:53

    The name of the “Woke” Jew Hater at Ben & Jerry’s is “Anuradha Mittal”.

    She’s the radical leftist behind their bigoted boycott.

    Unfortunately for the bigots, and fortunately for the sane and reasonable, that boycott is unconstitutional. Not only will it be struck down, but the radical third-rate ice-cream manufacturer will have to compensate their supply chain contracts.

    Woke = Broke.

  46. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. July 2021 at 16:22

    “anon/portly OK. less than 10%. Maybe an injury to Shaq or Kobe?”

    I admit, it’s really the George Karl thing that motivated my stupid comment. After coaching the Sonics to two of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history (maybe the two greatest, actually), he’s going pull of a third one, and now in the other direction?

    I actually think the Shaq/Kobe Lakers are a little overrated, they got lucky to win three straight, maybe. But that year they were 11-0 coming into the finals. Against the teams ranked 1, 2 and 5 in point differential that year. #3, 4 and 6 – the Lakers – were also in the West that year, and teams in the West averaged 44.5 wins. (I.e. 17.5 – 10.5 vs. the East).

    There have been some years where two teams have met in the Finals with a quality differential like the Milwaukee/LA one in 2001, and maybe it’s true that the weaker team in reality has a 5-10% chance of winning the series, but it’s notable that so far not has one pulled off the upset. I don’t think one has even made the series competitive.

  47. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. July 2021 at 16:25

    The sign that an NBA fan is not a dilettante or poseur is that they occasionally mention what a travesty it is that Seattle doesn’t have a team.

    https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/status/1418653014240411649

  48. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. July 2021 at 16:56

    “After Tex and Phi arrived—-the high coachable Jord[a]n began to win–every year. He became great because of the compound effect (okay–let’s just say it—the triangle offence) of MJ and the Triangle made him truly great.”

    This is actually a different point than the “name X and Y challenge” point, unless you’re saying that if he’d never won a title, MJ would not have been truly great.

    In a counterfactual where they don’t hire Phil and Tex, it is certainly possible to imagine that MJ might never have won a title.

    Is it thus possible that MJ – despite averaging 35 a game over the three years before they arrived – would have not been “truly great?”

  49. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. July 2021 at 16:57

    “In a counterfactual where they don’t hire Phil and Tex, it is certainly possible to imagine that MJ might never have won a title.”

    Maybe they hire George Karl instead!

  50. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. July 2021 at 17:04

    Carl, I used to wonder if the pro-big bias reflected the fact that some entry passes to bigs are almost like shots. If the big catches it near the basket it’s a very high percentage shot, if it doesn’t get through to him then the guard gets credited with a turnover.

    Early in the playoffs, Ayton was shooting close to 90% in some games. But that wasn’t scalable in the way it would be for a guard.

    anon/portly. My memory is fuzzy on all that. I sort of recall LA being lucky against Portland, and also Sacramento–perhaps two different years, but presumably not 2001.

    I wasn’t a knowledgable fan back then, and I might have been unduly influenced by the Bucks beating LA in both regular season games. I do sort of think the Bucks were better than their 52-30 record. That team had a lot of offensive talent, but could be lazy at times. (Not like the current Bucks.) But they could beat good teams when they put their mind to it. People forget that even Tim Thomas was really good for a brief period. I recall him once hitting 8 three pointers in a half, and Ray Allen once said Thomas could be the best player in the league if he wanted to.

    Alas, he didn’t.

    Of course Kevin Garnett once said Thon Maker was a future MVP. LOL. The Milwaukee fan base figured out Maker was three years older just days after the draft—why couldn’t the team have known that?

    Agree about Seattle. How crazy is it that a couple years after moving they had three future MVPs on OKC at the same time. If that team could have stuck together . . .

  51. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. July 2021 at 17:06

    “Maybe they hire George Karl instead!”

    After a disastrous first-round playoff exit in 1990 to Milwaukee, George blames the loss on Pippen, who is then traded straight up for Dale Ellis.

  52. Gravatar of John S John S
    24. July 2021 at 08:39

    Your main point that short-term randomness disproportionately affects our evaluations of players and franchises is certainly valid. But I believe that type of bias is already at its lowest ebb ever, and it will continue to recede as sports analytics insights diffuse through the general fan population.

    The heart of your criticism is a restatement of a concept poker players have known for a long time: “Avoid results-oriented thinking.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if your all-in bet gets called by a massive underdog that spikes a winner on the final card. That’s just random luck. Instead, the correct way to evaluate one’s play is to examine your expected value (EV), based on the probable ranges of cards held by you and your opponent, at the moment all the money went in. The actual results (short-term variance) are merely speed bumps on the path of long-run EV.

    In the nearly two decades since Moneyball, EV-oriented thinking has permeated every corner of advanced sports analysis and even the actual construction and running of teams. Cy Young Award voters don’t care about wins anymore (e.g. In 2019 deGrom, with an 11-8 record, got 99% of all possible votes). Hitters don’t care about strikeouts and swing all-out nearly every time, confident that exit velocity and launch angle will generate optimal long-term results. And of course NBA teams continue to aggressively push the high-variance (but +EV) long-ball strategy to its limits (nearly 40% of all FG attempts were threes this year — another all-time high).

    In terms of winner/ring/luck bias, I assure you that all of today’s bball cognoscenti (Nate Duncan, John Hollinger, Danny Leroux, Ben Taylor, Ben Falk, et al.) are well aware of the problem. In fact, a college student has recently created a site that charts the EV of each shot based on 90 variables including location, player skill, type of shot (catch & shoot, pull-up, floater, etc), and defender closeout. The model claims to be 90% accurate at predicting actual wins/losses when a team’s ShotQuality EV margin exceeds 15 points. (Incidentally, the model shows that the Bucks already had an EV advantage starting from Game 2).

    https://shotquality.com/stats-explained

    Regardless of how many rings he wins, by the time Giannis is elected to the Hall of Fame I believe he will be considered at minimum a top-five player with perhaps a 10% chance of being considered the GOAT. In terms of his peak I’d say that he’s already in the top six with Jordan-Lebron-Kareem, Hakeem, and Curry** with a good chance of ranking fourth in the next few years. So I think you can rest easy about his reputation.

    The people who matter and are capable of understanding your point about luck and legacy — analysts, voters, and GMs — have already internalized it. (Heck, even “old school” indie analysts like Bill Simmons are already about 80% up to speed on analytics.) So the only ones left are “the masses” and blowhards who cater to them like ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. But who cares about them?

    ** The notable omission is Shaq. I think he ranks just outside this group because, for better or worse, the “skill” of flopping has improved dramatically in the last 20 years and the effectiveness of his bruising interior play would be heavily blunted today.

  53. Gravatar of John S John S
    24. July 2021 at 08:50

    Btw, the most unlucky player this year was clearly Durant: Harden injury, Kyrie (freak accident), toe on the line, and Jeff Green’s foot injury (his floor spacing and a normal level of mobility would like have tipped it to the Nets).

  54. Gravatar of steve steve
    24. July 2021 at 08:59

    Spent some time looking for teams that might have had a better draft than Kareem/Dandridge. The only one I think that was clearly better was 56 Celtics, and for that you have to include a trade with or for a draft choice, Bill Russell in that case. Maybe the 86 Cavaliers since people forget about Price. With Kareem as one of the coaches it is hard to compete.

    Steve

  55. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. July 2021 at 10:24

    John, Interesting that Curry rates above KD. Is that the general view? I don’t know enough to comment on the comparison.

    I have always thought that Jordon-LeBron-Kareem were the top three, so I’m glad to see you have them there.

    Steve, I’m not even sure that’s the best Cleveland draft. I think I’d prefer Lebron plus a 90-year person in a wheelchair. 🙂

  56. Gravatar of John S John S
    24. July 2021 at 15:25

    I think the general consensus is that Curry’s supernova peak from around 2014-17 is better than Durant’s peaks (MVP in 2014 and first couple GS seasons). However, in the 2019 playoffs before his injury, Durant dominated the offense (34 ppg to Curry’s 24, on better shooting splits with more FTs) while providing key rim protection and help defense (over 1 block & steal per game). At that moment, just about all the analysts had him as the #1 player in world.

    So it’s tough to say. Also, as we just saw, Durant may have another peak run in him (and Curry might, too). Career-wise, the next three years will likely decide it.

    Re: one number metrics, PER is regarded as quite outdated since it gives too much weight to inefficient, high-volume shooting. In 2020, Basketball Referenced revamped its Box Plus-Minus (BPM 2.0) with lots of new data (for context, Lg. Avg. = 0.0, MVP = 8.0, peak Jordan/Lebron = 10.0+). BPM is a rate stat (per 100 team possessions), and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) combines BPM and playing time to estimate value over a season.

    Of course this isn’t the end-all-be-all metric (defense, as always, is hazy), but according to these metrics Moncrief played at a high all-star level (4.5 BPM, 18.4 VORP) compared to Erving’s near-MVP level (6.9 BPM, 24.2 VORP, 1 MVP in ’81) from 1980-84. So while it’s fair to say that Moncrief was underrated by casual fans, it’s really not accurate to say he was just as talented, esp. since he was 7 years younger. (The yearly VORP gap is less than the BPM gap b/c Moncrief played more minutes as Erving aged, but that reflects more work, not equal talent.)

    https://www.basketball-reference.com/about/bpm2.html

  57. Gravatar of John S John S
    24. July 2021 at 15:54

    I also think you are underrating Kawhi by quite a lot. Yes, I know the 4-bouncer and VanVleet’s 7/9 on threes (albeit on 7/13 overall shooting) make a nice story, but Kawhi actually had the game-high BPM of 19.2 compared to VanVleet’s 10.9 in Game 5 (Kawhi also played slightly more minutes, 40 to 37). So it’s not like Kawhi did nothing that game or in the next (and he was the best player vs. both PHI and MIL).

    Kawhi has really had some monstrous playoff runs. He owns 3 of the top-30 playoff run BPMs of all time… not including 2019 (which ranks 40th). His 2017 run (BPM 14.25) ranks 4th all-time — many have already forgotten that the Spurs were up by 21 with 8:00 left in the 3rd in Game 1 vs. the Super-Warriors before Kawhi was taken out by Zaza’s dirty play (GS went on to win by just two). Talk about unlucky! He probably had a 50/50 shot at taking out the most infamous team of all time and would have been an even bigger legend.

    https://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/bpm_season_p.html

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