Prediction: The Bucks will win at least 40 games.
True, it’s not a playoff proclamation, but going from 28 wins to 40 would be a huge improvement. Not an unprecedented one, but one that would go firmly against historical norms. The reality is that teams don’t make 12+ game jumps in the win column very often. Last year the Raptors (+20) and Rockets (+18) were the only teams to improve by at least 12 games. Despite their huge playoff successes, not even turnaround teams like the Jazz (+10) or Warriors (+8) made up that difference in a year.
Assuming the Bucks aren't ravaged by injuries and Andrew Bogut, Mo Williams, and Charlie Villanueva all progress as expected, they have as good a chance as any team at making a big leap.
And if the Bucks reach 40 victories, it will put them in the thick of the playoff race. Just ask the Magic, who comfortably made the playoffs with that very number last year. So this prediction certainly doesn’t preclude reaching the postseason. However, the problem is that every team that made the playoffs last year has reason to believe they will again.
This can be broken down in a couple ways:
- The top four teams from a year ago, the Pistons, Cavaliers, Bulls, and Raptors, would all have to go into complete meltdown mode or be ravaged by injuries to miss out. And what evidence is there to suggest that will happen? The Pistons and Bulls are probably the sturdiest playoff locks in the conference. The Cavaliers are surrounding LeBron James with even less, proving what was previously thought impossible is in fact possible. But the only important word in that sentence is "LeBron," who might not miss the playoffs ever again. The Raptors meanwhile are a young team on the way up.
- Second, the bottom teams might have improved too. The Nets still have one of the league’s five best backcourts, and their offseason frontcourt equation, which subtracted Mikki Moore and essentially added Nenad Krstic, Jamaal Magliore, and Sean Williams should yield a positive result. The Wizards suffered through injuries last year and still made the playoffs, so they should be in great shape if they can remain healthy. The Magic added Rashard Lewis and a year of Dwight Howard-progression. The Heat are the biggest question mark, but like last year, it won’t take much of Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal to push them in.
The good news is that the Bucks should be the second best team that didn’t make the playoffs after the Celtics. The better news is that the Bucks should be primed to take a spot if they are, because my research shows that for the last four years there has been playoff turnover of at least two teams in the East. Here are statistics on the number of different teams in the playoffs compared to the previous season in the East:
2006-07: 2 (Raptors, Magic)
2005-06: 2 (Cavaliers, Bucks)
2004-05: 3 (Bulls, Wizards, 76ers)
2003-04: 2 (Heat, Knicks)
2002-03: 1 (Bucks)
2001-02: 3 (Nets, Pistons, Celtics)
Assuming this trend continues, the Bucks just need to finish ahead of the Pacers, 76ers, Bobcats, Knicks, and Hawks to join the Celtics as one of the two new playoff teams. When you put it in those terms, it sounds a lot easier than finishing ahead of two of the Pistons, Cavaliers, Bulls, Raptors, Heat, Wizards, Nets, and Magic.
Of course the "two team trend" isn’t a rule, and this could be the year it stops. Regardless of what other teams do though, I predict the Bucks will return to the 40-win mark this year. After all, they got worse by 12 games last year, so what’s stopping them from getting those wins back?