A win-loss record is just the sum of multiple parts that make up the Rubix cube that is NBA basketball.
I've never been much of a believer in a black-and-white world; that's at least one reason why I'm not much of a Frank Capra fan. There are slivers of absolute right and absolute wrong at opposite ends of a reality spectrum proliferated with grey.
The same goes for all aspects of life: relationships, legal matters, and of course, sports.
Equal win totals are never actually equal in the NBA, but the ends always justify the means. One statistic, one player, and/or one personnel decision will play a role in determining the fate of the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks, but none shoulder full responsibility for the final record.
On a team like the Bucks, saturated with interchangeable role players that swing between hot and cold streaks, we can often point to one area of a player's game to best gauge their individual impact on the team.
Obviously, the following metrics aren't the end-all be-all for judging each player's worth, but they're certainly a good starting point. Feel free to discuss in the comment thread below.
Brandon Jennings - Effective Field Goal Percentage
You could label nearly any offensive efficiency stat as important to measuring the success of the Bucks' purported alpha dog, but Jennings' jumper will likely be relied on to make up for the team's dearth of outside threats. As such, a stat that weighs this inevitable part of Milwaukee's offense, for better or worse, deserves a highlight.
Jennings' effective field goal percentage took a modest 3.3% leap forward last season, but it was still below league average (47.6% eFG vs. 48.9% eFG). That increase was entirely the result of his improved efficiency inside the arc (45.9% 2pt FGs); three pointers jettisoned from Jennings' fingertips more than ever, despite his lack of success (33.2% 3FG) relative to a solid rookie season (37.1% 3FG).
Monta Ellis - True Shooting Percentage
In 23 games with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, the Bucks posted a 12-11 record. Over that same span, Ellis posted a 49.3% TS, below the NBA average of 51.5% and easily the lowest mark of his career.
As fast as the Bucks' offense moved with Jennings and Ellis dipping, dodging, diving, ducking, and dodging up and down the court, it was evident Ellis was having some justified problems adjusting to his new habitat.
With a full offseason and a sample taste of experience in Scott Skiles' system, the Bucks needs Ellis to come closer to his career True Shooting mark of 53.3%.
Tobias Harris - Shots At The Rim
From his Summer League All-Star performance onward, Tobias Harris has been the Bucks player no one is talking about as an X factor that everyone is talking about as an X factor (clichés intended). I've definitely buckled my seatbelt on the Tobias Harris bandwagon, with some reservations.
Harris' jumper is a continual work in progress, and his three point shot probably won't progress. From garbage time last year to the Bucks' 2012-13 preseason schedule, Harris' offensive forte has been his ability to athletically finish like so few Bucks can (68.1% at the rim in 2011-12) and hit a few corner fades along the way. I expect most of his production to come off isos, post ups, and off-the-ball moves.
Ersan Ilyasova - Offensive Rebounding Rate
Let's assume Ilyasova's silver medal 45.5% 3FG and overall offensive consistency regresses to a mean around 40% on threes, and 46% overall. It's unfair to expect Ilyasova to repeat 2011-12 production that, comparatively speaking, was sort of an aberration. Rather, focus on one area of Ilyasova's game that had him playing the role of Chuck Norris in The Expendables 2: Offensive rebounding.
In addition to setting career highs in virtually every scoring category last season, Ilyasova developed into a very dependable rebounder often positioned outside the paint. His 12.7 ORR was actually higher than everyone's favorite "crafty" rebounder (Kevin Love - 11.6 ORR). Ilyasova's ability to create extra possessions is incredibly valuable, especially with two known chuckers sharing the court regularly.
Samuel Dalembert - Total Rebounding Rate
The Milwaukee Bucks sucked at rebounding last year (26th in total rebounding rate). Drew Gooden was a regular fixture at center. Through correlation or causation, it's pretty obvious Milwaukee's interior rebounding presence was a...present...for opposing teams last year (if you stop reading, I won't blame you). Fair or not, that puts a lot of pressure on newly minted starter Samuel Dalembert to grab all those errant boards.
Thankfully, rebounding is one of his fortes. Dalembert ranks fifth among active players in total rebounding rate (18.66), and has not finished lower than 7th in this category over the past four years. Dalembert's 18.3 TRR in 2011-12 would've led the Bucks by .7 percentage points (Ersan Ilyasova was the team leader at 17.6 TRR).
Mike Dunleavy - Points-Per-Possession
Dunleavy was the man crush of efficiency junkies across the NBA fanscape in 2011-12 for his shot consistency and Marilyn vos Savant approach to basketball. He finished 11th in the NBA in points-per-possession (1.09) off a combination of spot ups (1.28 PPP - 49% FG, 44% 3FG), rolling off screens (1.03 - 42.3% FG, 40.4% 3FG), and in transition (1.38 PPP - 63.7% FG, 43.2% 3FG).
For the most part, Dunleavy is limited to perimeter-oriented play, which is part of the reason he fits so well into Skiles' outside screen-happy offense. Anytime he's on the floor, pay attention to his off-ball movement and enjoy his coy release on a catch-and-shoot.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - NBA Stats Cube
Ekpe Udoh - Plus/Minus
To quote The Beatles:
"There's nothing you can know that isn't known.
Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
Larry Sanders - Fouls
Sanders took some big steps forward in his development over the summer and into the preseason. Off-court gossip aside, the third-year forward/center made a solid case for increased minutes, cutting down on his fouls, keeping his feet on the ground more against pump fakes, and using his body to force bigger post players away from the basket.
Sanders averaged 8.3 fouls per 40 minutes last year; tops among players averaging 10 or more minutes per game. He also averaged 4.71 blocks per 40 minutes, second only to Serge Ibaka. That counterbalance of potential and lack of awareness is maddening.
Drew Gooden - Field Goal Percentage Between 16-23 Feet
I'll bet you didn't know Drew Gooden finished last season tied with Beno Udrih as the Bucks' third most effective shooter between 16 and 23 feet (43%)? I'll bet you also didn't know he took 4.8 shots from that range, second only to Monta Ellis' 5.9 shots per game. Gooden was actually pretty solid as the roll man in pick-and-rolls, scoring 1 PPP and shooting at a 49.7% clip.
Gooden's role this year should be interesting. He's the antithesis of the Bucks' big man youth movement, a veteran big man with little defensive value, just as capable of putting up 16 points on 8 shots as he is scoring 5 points on 11 shots. Either way, he's always entertaining.
Beno Udrih - Field Goal Percentage On Jump Shots
Udrih loves using plus/minus as the crux of his argument for more court time, and why shouldn't he? Udrih did lead the Bucks in the statistic, and has a track record of producing when given a longer leash.
Last season, Udrih's minutes dropped from a career-high 34.6 to 18.3, and it clearly showed in his aggressiveness around the hoop (from 2.3 to 1.2 shots per game) and more concerning, his area of expertise: the jumper. His eFG% on triples plummeted from 53.6% to 43.2%, as did his overall shooting percentage on all jump shots (from 43.5% to 40.7%).
It's unlikely Udrih will finish the season averaging 30 minutes per game, so color me skeptical for thinking the 2010-11 version of Beno Udrih is dead. However, any increase in efficiency is a good thing, especially given the Bucks' lack of consistent shooters.
John Henson - Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions
Henson will get most of his playing time for his defense or in the wake of an insurmountable lead. As such, measuring his value will be a bit tricky, so it seems appropriate to focus on a bigger picture look at how he influences the behavior of opposing offenses.
If the Bucks average fewer points allowed per 100 possessions when Henson is roaming the paint, I'll consider his rookie year a success.
Joel Przybilla - Minutes
If they go anywhere above 10-15 per game, boot up that Trade Machine and start watching
NBA prospect scrimmages Kentucky games.
Marquis Daniels - Opponent 48-Minute Production
Daniels' one and only role on this Bucks team will be to add some defensive length around the perimeter. Expect his minutes to oscillate depending on the opposition's backcourt size. Found on 82games.com, Opponent 48-Minute Production opens a window into Daniels' effectiveness defending different positions.
Doron Lamb - N/A
My initial judgment is that he looks great in a sling. Just pretend he's Jodie Meeks.