For the Milwaukee Bucks, the 1980s were the Sidney Moncrief era. The decade started with his arrival from Arkansas and ended with his retirement. In between, the Bucks won, and won often (3rd-highest win % of the decade), but without reaching an NBA Finals, these great teams have too often become history’s afterthought. Listed below are the five men who best represent the success of the 1980s Bucks.
Before arriving in Milwaukee, Sikma had a stretch in Seattle when he appeared in seven consecutive All-Star games. He finished his career with those same seven total All-Star appearances — so even though he made this list, it would be crazy to overstate his importance as a member of the Bucks. But Sikma was a talented player and the things he did well were easy to overlook. In Milwaukee, he didn’t go down to the low post often; his offensive repertoire consisted mostly of 17-foot jump shots — shots that he routinely made. Lurking on the perimeter may sound like a bad thing, but the threat of Sikma on the perimeter gave Terry Cummings the space he needed to operate in the paint. His shooting touch carried over to the free throw line: he edged out Larry Bird in 1988 for the league’s free-throw title with a ridiculous 92.2% mark.
Sikma played the role of ugly ducking on defense, too, as his average athleticism eroded with age. He played smartly, though, and never found himself out of position. Defensive rebounding was his forté: in 1986-87, he finished 2nd in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage (27.3%). It marked the 9th straight year that Jack finished in the NBA’s top-5 leaders for that stat.
Some folks may argue that Bob Lanier deserves this spot over Sikma. Lanier put up huge numbers in Detroit, but when he got to Milwaukee, he was an old man with two troubled knees. His numbers dwindled. He had the advantage of playing on successful teams, surrounded by the most talented teammates in Bucks’ history. So while Lanier has the ‘name’ honors (HoF, All-Star team (1982), retired Bucks number), Sikma gets the edge over Lanier in this lineup for being a superior rebounder, routinely playing full 82-game seasons, and sporting the greatest hairstyle in the history of mankind.
Forward: Terry Cummings, 1984-85. 5th in MVP voting, 2nd Team All-NBA, All-Star, NBA Player of the Month for January, 23.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 49.5% FG, 74.1% FT, 5.1 Defensive Win Shares (3rd in NBA).
Of all the great players in the era of Bucks basketball, Terry Cummings may be the most forgotten, which is a shame, because Cummings played like an absolute beast in the mid-80s. The trade that the Bucks made with San Diego — sending them Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman, Harvey Catchings, and cash in return for Cummings, Craig Hodges, and Ricky Pierce — fleeced the Clippers of three rising youngsters. Terry was the prize of the trade. A chiseled 6’9″ power forward, he utilized his athleticism to his advantage in both a low-post game and a slashing mid-range game. If opponents guarded him with a forward, Cummings went to the low block. If they tried a center, he’d drive to the hoop. He was going to score regardless of the type of defender guarding him.
Marques already made the 1970s version of this team, but his peak of excellence reached into both decades, so he deserves a spot here, too.
In the fall of 1981, Johnson held out for an extended period at the start of the season. The holdout robbed him of a season of excellence in the peak of his career. He still managed to play 60 games, but he wasn’t quite the same player that he was in the years before or after the holdout. The whole affair hung like L.A. smog over the entire season: souring fans, angering management, and throwing off the team’s chemistry for a big chunk of the season.
In ’82’-83, Marques turned it back around. He pushed his scoring back over 20 points per game, regained his spot on the All-Star team again, and led the Bucks to a sweep of Larry Bird’s Celtics in the playoffs. The Bucks only managed to win one game in the next round against the 76ers; however, they were the only team to get a playoff win off Moses Malone’s “Fo-Fo-Fo” juggernaut.
Point Forward: Paul Pressey, 1985-86. 1st Team All-Defense, 16.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 7.8 APG, 2.1 SPG, 49% FG, 81% FT.
This team already has a center and two forwards, but there’s still room for Paul Pressey. In the mid-80s, with mad scientist/coach Don Nelson ready and willing to try any combination of players, Pressey got a look as a ballhander. It worked, the position stuck with him, and Paul became the first in a long line of NBA ‘point forwards’
His career-year came in 1986, in an NBA season full of career years (Bird, Wilkins). Pressey finished 7th in the league in both steals and assists.
Pressey wasn’t the flashiest of players. A younger generation of fans, who have only seen NBA old-timers through grainy NBA TV clips, might remember Paul Pressey as the one flameout in an otherwise spectacular 1986 Slam Dunk contest. But Paul had a lot more dimensions than a subpar dunker. In his peak three-year stretch as the point forward, the Bucks won 59, 57, and 50 games.
Sidney’s legacy has been struck with the doubly whammy of barely predating the cable TV explosion and performing, however nobly, for an elite team that missed the national spotlight of an NBA Finals. Watch the clips at the bottom of this piece. The old cliché holds true; actions speak louder than words. Seeing him play is more convincing than any essay or ranking. The amazing part of these plays is that they all come from the same game — on the road against a Lakers squad that eventually won the championship that year.
It’s been said before and it deserves to be said again: Sidney Moncrief deserves to be in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Over the past weekend, Steve Aschburner wrote a piece that detailed Sidney’s career, as well as the entire 80s-era Bucks team, in an article for NBA.com. In one part of the story, he described Moncrief’s worthy Hall of Fame credentials.
The Bucks’ record in his 10 seasons there: 522-298 (.637), with 10 postseason appearances and those seven division titles. In terms of “win shares per 48 minutes,” Moncrief ranks 30th in NBA/ABA history, which means little until you frame it this way: The 19 players ahead of him on that list who are eligible for the Hall of Fame are in the Hall of Fame. And so are the next nine.
The Bucks hired Moncrief as an assistant coach recently. Hopefully, the sight of Sidney on the Bucks’ sideline will jar the memory of Hall of Fame voters and convince them, rightfully, to enshrine him in Springfield.
Video clips of Moncrief vs. Lakers, January 26, 1982:
“He scores; he wins it; the game is over.” (h/t @nonplayerzealot4)
K L Chouinard is co-editor of We’re Bucked. Follow him on Twitter here.
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