The ground rules:
1) Pick a Bucks player and season at each position for the decade. For example, for the 70s, players were chosen from the seasons which ended between 1970 and 1979.
2) Use starters only, which seems obvious, but we’ll be picking dud teams, too, over the coming weeks.
3) Repeat. Teams for the 80s, 90s, and 00s will be unveiled on Tuesdays and Thursdays this month.
After that, it’s just time to argue and gripe over who got left out and who didn’t deserve a spot.
Yes, we picked the season after the title for Kareem. A little bit of back story: On April 30, 1971, Lew Alcindor led the Bucks to their one and only NBA title. The following day, he went to New York and legally switched to his Islamic name: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He then got married, toured six African countries as goodwill ambassador, and returned to the States to unleash punishment on the rest of the league. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer poured in more points than he did in any other season. He converted field goals at astounding rates and snatched scores of rebounds. Consider this stat: Most NBA geeks consider fellow UCLA alum Bill Walton to be the finest passing center of all-time; his best year’s assist average was 5.0 per game. With opponents double-teaming to avoid death by the sky hook, Kareem had an impressive 4.6. (In case you were wondering, Brandon Jennings had 4.8 assists per game last season. So there’s that.) On the defensive side, the Bucks held opponents to a league-low 42% shooting with Abdul-Jabbar anchoring the middle. The only knock –and it’s a crucial one — is that his playoff performance didn’t live up to the previous year.
Marques Johnson’s prime straddled the end of the 70s and the start of the 80s, making the choice between the two a difficult one. But his marvelously efficient 1978-79 season mandates his placement on this list. Rebuffing the sophomore jinx, Johnson became the first player in NBA history to average 25+ points per game (3rd in NBA) and shoot 55% from the field (8th) while turning the ball over on fewer than 10% of his possessions (2nd, 9.2%). Putting Marques on the squad as our big forward means that we’ve cheated a bit, since he spent the majority of his career at small forward, but we could counter that by naming Don Nelson as the coach of our team and telling him to play small, right? Bonus points: 1) Johnson’s straight first name/arched surname combination made for most aesthetically pleasing jersey back ever. 2) If you’re not old enough to recall Marques in the 70s or 80s, then perhaps you remember him from the 90s when he took the role of Raymond in White Men Can’t Jump ?
Forward: Bob Dandridge, 1975-76. All-Star, 21.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 50% FG, 82% FT. For a seven-season stretch, beginning with the championship season and ending with his trade to the Bullets, Bob Dandridge performed at a elite level that ranks him firmly among the Bucks’ all-time greats. Picking a top season for Dandridge poses a particularly tough challenge, given his remarkable consistency, but we’ll choose 1975-76 — his highest scoring year and the final season before the ABA merger. That year, Dandridge was one of three players (along with Doug Collins and Mike Newlin) to finish above 50% FG shooting, 80% FT shooting, and 1500 points. His 21.5 points per game vaulted him into the NBA’s top 10 for the only time in his career.
A remarkable defender, Dandridge didn’t receive any league-wide honors for his work on that end until after he won a title in Washington. But Bob’s skilled play extended to both sides of the court throughout his career. With Oscar retired and Kareem spending his first season in LA, his two-way expertise led the Bucks to a division title in 1976 — albeit an ugly one. Milwaukee lost to a forgettable Detroit team in the first round. To no one’s surprise, though, Dandridge maintained his standard of excellence in that series. As Bob Wolf of the Milwaukee Journal put it, “Judging from the way he is putting out during this series, you would think he is playing for $250,000 instead of $2,500.”
The toughest choice to make on this list was adding Brian Winters — not because he didn’t earn it, but because Flynn Robinson was equally deserving. Robinson had better scoring and assist numbers in 1970, in addition to grabbing an All-Star berth. He also played well enough to merit an off-season trade for Oscar Robertson, a trade that pushed the Bucks to the title the next year. But Winters gets the nod here for four reasons: 1) maintaining a standard of excellence for multiple years, 2) using a flawless shooting motion to put up a higher FG%, 3) putting up those great numbers without the advantage of Kareem’s double teams, and 4) facial hair. Plus, the wrist action on his jump shot is reminiscent of an automatic weapon, don’t you think?
Until recently, Winters served as a scout for the Pacers. However, when the lockout hit, the team decided not to renew his contract — another casualty of the cross-fire between the owners and players. Blech.
By the time the “Big O” arrived in Milwaukee, he was no longer the triple-double machine that he had been a decade earlier with the Royals. But in the parlance of today’s NBA, Oscar “did work” during the Bucks’ Ring run. He finished 5th in the MVP voting. His 85% free-throw shooting ranked as the NBA’s 2nd best mark. He defended and rebounded like a man among point-guard boys. He matched his gaudy stats from the regular season with equally high marks in the playoffs. To put it quite simply, Oscar’s arrival made the Bucks into champions. They already had the league’s best player in Kareem, but adding the top point guard of a generation — even on the down side of his career — pushed them to a title.