For 14 straight seasons, the Bucks played better offense than defense. That is why the little green dot is above the little red dot each season from 1994-95 to 2007-08.
Then, the trend reversed a bit recently, as the Bucks have earned better marks on defense than offense in four of the past five years. After ranking 22nd on offense and 12th on defense last season, the team will carry a record number of new players into the upcoming season. That makes it difficult to project whether the very new team will rate as a better team on the offensive or defensive side of the ball.
We will get to that. But for now, let’s revel for a quick moment with the (mostly objective but, somewhat subjective) best offensive teams in franchise history. Mostly, I am pretty pleased with myself for finding a reason to research and read and write about these teams here in early September. Each of these could (and will?) have their own longer story here, so consider this the very, very abridged version.
The Best Offenses
#5 – 1980-81
Numbers: Ranked 2nd overall in offensive efficiency. Averaged 113.1 points per game. Scored 125+ points 14 times.
Players: Marques Johnson was 24 years old and in prime form, leading the NBA in Offensive Rating. He shot a career-best 55.2 % from the field and was the first option on offense with 20.3 points per game. Six others averaged double digits in scoring. That includes a second-year guard by the name of Sidney Moncrief, who also posted a career best 54.0 % from the field. Bob Lanier and Mickey Johnson held down the post. Quinn Buckner ran the point and had arguably the best offensive season of his life. Junior Bridgeman scored at roughly the same rate per minute as Johnson.
Strengths: This is the team that set the Bucks on their way to an incredibly successful decade, one that unfortunately I missed because I am the youngest of four in my family. What made them such an offensive dynamo? Balance, efficiency, speed. Six players averaged between 11 and 21 points. Six players averaged 3 or more assists. Johnson shot more than anyone and led the team in accuracy, always a good sign. Back when every team played fast, the Bucks played really fast (third in pace) – and made it work.
#4 – 1999-2000
Numbers: Ranked 2nd overall in offensive efficiency. Averaged 101.2 points per game. Beat a pretty good Hornets team by a 137-87 count one night in January, which is truly excessive.
Players: Ray Allen was already well on his way, but if he ever had a breakout season, this was it. He led the team in scoring for the first time, also breaking 20 per game for the first time. He became an All-Star for the first time. He became an elite three-point shooter for the first time (42.3 % and second overall in makes). Oh, and he was just the lead in a magnificent cast that featured Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell in fine form. That trio started 81 of 82 games together and they just rolled around in points. Tim Thomas played scorer off the bench just right, and who was really messing with Scott Williams, Darvin Ham, and Ervin Johnson?
Strengths: George Karl inherited an 18th ranked offensive team two years prior, and then bumped them all the way up to 7th and then 2nd in his first two seasons. Of the nine players in heavy rotation, all shot at least 44.0 % from the field. As a team, they shot accurately from the field (3rd), from three (9th), and at the line (3rd).
#3 – 1973-74
Numbers: Ranked 1st overall in offensive efficiency. Averaged 107.1 points per game. Scored 120+ points in 15 regular season games despite the inexistence of three-pointers.
Players: Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Bobby Dandridge. Lucius Allen. The three leading scorers – all 26 years old. In fact, the only players out of their 20s were Oscar Robertson and Jon McGlocklin, who also did rather well for themselves. Back to Kareem for a moment or five million. He missed just one game all season while averaging 27.0 points, 14.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 3.5 blocks, and 1.4 steals, and playing an outrageous 43.8 minutes per game (for reference, Luol Deng led everyone playing 38.7 minutes last season).
Strengths: They only ranked eighth out of 17 teams in points per game, which naturally provides another moving reason why basics stats like that are so incredibly limiting. This was a dominant offense, the most efficient in the NBA, methodical and crisp. The team actually ranked dead last in free throws, and this of course predated the three-point line. But they were top-of-the-league efficient shooting the ball in live action. First also in assists, with Kareem somehow finding time to pile up the second most of assists on the team.
#2 – 2000-01
Numbers: Ranked 1st overall in offensive efficiency. Averaged 100.7 points per game. Went 2-0 against the Lakers (also: only played against Lakers twice due to unfortunate circumstances).
Players: This was concurrently the height of Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson. Feel free to remind me about Ray in 2005-06 with Seattle or Big Dog going for 23.4 points in 1997-98. Neither of them ever had a better season, and timing usually doesn’t work like this in the NBA or the world. In a bit of harmony, they both finished the season averaging exactly 22.0 points. Tim Thomas also put together a career year, and while Sam Cassell was not necessarily at his absolute peak, there isn’t much worth changing about his performance either. Actually, this was the best we ever saw of Lindsey Hunter as well. Arguably, you could add Jason Caffey. That makes five players – all of them different ages – deciding to play the best ball of their lives at the exact same time (remind me to research and re-visit this phenomenon for a future story). An unlikely coincidence, sure, but don’t underestimate this was not pure coincidence: that they also played the best ball of their lives in large part because of each other.
Strengths: Zest. Vigor. Temerity. Outside shooting. Inside shooting. Free throw shooting. Shooting. Scoring. You already know, because this was recent. This was… more than a decade ago? A lot of you have no recollection? It looked and felt a lot like this.
Numbers: Ranked 1st overall in points per game (offensive efficiency numbers not available). Averaged 118.4 points per game. Swept the Finals.
Players: Kareem’s first MVP. Almost unanimously the best player in the world at age 23. Trying to choose Kareem’s best season can be a bit of a fun game in itself, and this one is on the short list. Some perspective: here is a complete list of players who scored 31 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the same game last season. It is a list of nine. Dwight Howard accomplished this twice, most of anyone. Kareem averaged 31.7 points and 16.0 rebounds in a full 82 games. So this team was off to a pretty good start. Speaking of pretty good starts, they started the season 17-1. They lost two games total in the playoffs. And this was not all Kareem either. Oscar Robertson was still in brilliant form at this point, finishing fifth in the aforementioned MVP voting. Bobby Dandridge, Jon McGlocklin, and Greg Smith averaged 11+ points each while making more than half of their shots from the field. This offense – this team – was a powerhouse, the greatest in Wisconsin basketball history, one of the best in NBA history.
Strengths: They didn’t track as many stats back in this day, but that just means we get more time to enjoy looking at the real cut-out box scores (scroll down) of nights like the one in February, 1971 when “McGl’klin” dropped 28 on the San Francisco Warriors. This team checked all the boxes.