Fifty-three games into the 07/08 season, the Bucks stand exactly where they did a year ago: 19-34. Given the expectations coming into the season, the team has offered up no shortage of excuses for their underachievement, mostly revolving around bad luck and an inability to finish games. Yet the more we see of this team the more obvious it becomes that...well, that they're just not very good. In fact, look at the numbers closely and you're likely to come to a sad conclusion: they have played even worse than their 19-34 record suggests.
While injuries accounted for last year's starting lineup missing a combined 184 games, the primary source of "bad luck" cited by the Bucks this season has been their record in close games and their inability to make plays down the stretch. Larry Harris told Charles Gardner as much in late January:
"I'm disappointed with our record where it's at," Harris said, "because we've played so many close games and we haven't been able to close those out.
"We've been in a number of those games and really haven't come on the positive side of that."
But while anecdotally that might sound reasonable, take a look at the numbers and it would seem that luck is the least of the Bucks' worries. Their record in games decided by five points or less is actually a more-than-respectable 10-9, certainly far superior to their 9-25 record in games decided by six or more points. While a number of the Bucks' close wins should never have even been that tight and the team has frittered away a number of leads late in games, it's hard to rationalize that away as bad luck. As you would expect of a bad team, the Bucks are worst in games where one team dominates, with a 3-18 record in games decided by double-digits. It's difficult to say which is more troubling--that a team as supposedly explosive as the Bucks never manages to blow other teams out, or that they allow other teams to dominate them so frequently.
The Bucks' propensity for being on the business end of blowouts bears itself out in the team's scoring stats, as they score just 94.4 points per game while allowing 100.9. Because they play at a relatively slow pace, the numbers look even worse when you consider them on a per 100 possession basis. By that metric the Bucks rank just 20th offensively and 29th defensively, and on average they are outscored by over seven points per 100 possessions. Scoring differential tends to be a reliable predictor of winning in the long term; as logic would suggest, good teams tend to outscore their opponents, while bad teams don't. And based on scoring differential, the Bucks should expect to be about 15-38, meaning they've won about four more games than expected. Using actual vs. expected winning percentages, only the Cavs (.558 actual vs. .446 expected win%) and Nets (.434/.322) have been luckier than the Bucks (.358/.285).
Bucks basketball: where negativity happens (from BasketballValue.com)
Why the do the Bucks get outscored so handily? Well, check out the +/- stats on the lineups they've used this year and it's pretty obvious: each of the Bucks' top 15 most frequently-used lineups have been outscored in aggregate this season. Not even Minnesota, New York, Seattle or Miami can boast that sort of across-the-board futility. Not surprisingly, the Bucks' starters are near the bottom of the league in +/- terms, and the bench is the absolute worst in basketball. And among individual players, only Mike Ruffin has an aggregate +/- on the positive side of the ledger. So next time the Bucks feel like pointing fingers, they should recognize this season's disappointment for what it is: a true team effort.