It Doesn't Matter Who the Bucks Play
It doesn’t. Or at least it hasn’t really, yet.
On a three-game win streak with a game against the worst team in the West coming up? What a time to lose to the Mavericks without their best player.
Consecutive home losses to the Wizards and Knicks? Sure, go to San Antonio and win without (pretty much, without) your best player.
Against their 12 worst opponents this season (Nets three times, Heat three times, Mavericks, Wolves, 76ers, Kings, Pelicans twice), the Bucks have an overall -11 point differential. They are 6-6 in those games, including five double-digit losses. They have only lost 10 games all season by double-digits, and half of those were to these worst teams in the league. Their most lopsided blowout loss of the season (-23) came against the Heat over the weekend.
Meanwhile, many of their best performances of the season have come against the best teams in the league. The 17-point home win against the Cavaliers comes to mind as the most impressive overall team performance. The road win against the Spurs is up there. Even three close losses (one-point loss to the Spurs, three-point loss to the Warriors, overtime loss to the Cavaliers) count among the five or six best games they have played.
And they have fared much better against the mid-tier teams than the worst teams, including dropping 123 on the Wizards a couple days before Christmas and comprehensive back-to-back wins against the Bulls.
This has made the Bucks unpredictable this season, for better or worse. And it does not just seem that way. Mathematically, there has hardly been a correlation between who the Bucks play (in terms of opponent record) and the result of the game. Throw all 43 opponent winning percentages and all 43 game result point differentials into the Pearson Correlation Coefficient Calculator, and you technically get a negative correlation, but it is weak. You are not the only one confused by the Bucks. Math is confused by the Bucks.
You can be encouraged that the Bucks compete against the upper echelon of the NBA, and be discouraged that they do not consistently defeat the minnows. It does not have to be one of the other. You can never tell if the Bucks are going to win, which on one hand means it doesn’t matter who the Bucks play. On the other hand, maybe it means the Bucks are simply getting up for some games more than others – the irony being that it does matter, very much, who the Bucks play.
Last month, Zach Lowe tweeted:
The Bucks have these random games where an alien watching for the first time would go, "So, I assume these are the best basketballers?"— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) December 17, 2016
The lows have been low, and the highs have been high. This suggests that the Bucks – who still sport a top-10 overall point differential this season – may spend much of this season hinting at what they can be. And they may do that from the middle of the pack in the East. But with a true superstar in hand, they no longer feel stuck in the middle.