From 1992 to 1996, Mike Dunleavy coached and served as the vice president of basketball operations for the Milwaukee Bucks. That alone tells you all you need to know about the team’s ugly journey through the 1990s (I’ll spare you the pain of citing his record during that period). For practically all of the decade, the Bucks were stuck in basketball purgatory (rebuilding), only eclipsing the .500 mark three times (once in the strike shortened 1998-99 season) while failing to reach more than 36 wins seven times.
One of the biggest highlights of the 90s for the Bucks was the unveiling of a new logo to commemorate their 25th year of existence in 1993. Of course, an altered look in sports usually means a team is pretty bad, but the years that followed the change to a more regal looking deer did produce some crucial pieces to the team’s future success in the late 90s and early 2000s.
PG – Eric Murdock (1993-94): 20.3 PER, 15.3 PPG (46.8% FG, 41% 3FG), 6.7 APG, 3.2 RPG, 2.4 SPG
Eric Murdock was on the wrong Milwaukee Bucks teams in the wrong decade. Much like Michael Redd, Murdock’s career peaked over a three year stretch in the early 1990s where the Bucks (led by the immortal Dunleavy) posted a combined record of 82-164. Unfortunately, that 2-to-1 ratio of losses to wins overshadows most individual contributions made by the Man of Steal.
In that three year period between 1992 and 1995, Murdock posted PERs of 19.3, 20.3 and 17.3, respectively. His best season happened to coincide with the Bucks’ worst season of the decade (a 20-62 record in 1993-94), where he was pretty much the only consistent option on the team.
In that season, Murdock led the team in win shares on offense and defense (5.1, 2.2), scoring, assists, steals, games played, minutes, and field goal attempts and makes. Murdock also finished sixth in the NBA in three point field goal percentage, fifth in steals and steals per game, and 10th in assists.
For one reason or another, Eric Murdock’s career wilted faster than a snail on a salt lick after heading to the then-Vancouver Grizzlies nine games into the 1995-96 season. However, no one would be disappointed if Brandon Jennings managed to replicate Murdock’s prime over the next few years (especially this play).
SG – Ray Allen (1999-00): 20.6 PER, 22.1 PPG (45.5% FG, 42.3% 3FG, 88.7% FT), 3.8 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.3 SPG (first All-Star appearance)
Ray Allen is to the Milwaukee Bucks as Prince Fielder will be to the Milwaukee Brewers. You can’t blame Allen, perhaps the best three point shooter to ever pull up behind an NBA arc, for the way things ended in Milwaukee, and nearly all Bucks fans have a body pillow-sized soft spot in their hearts for a class-act future Hall of Famer that found his NBA legs in Milwaukee.
Allen’s most memorable season in Milwaukee came during the 2000-01 Conference Finals run, where Ray played his first Big Three role as the long-range sniper. Four of his seven and a half seasons of draining triples in purple and green came during the mid and late 1990s, and his best of those four came as Americans were collecting duct tape and preserved jams.
Ray wasn’t exclusively a jump shooter, and could throw down when the time called for it. Exhibit A is this sweet dunk over Jerry Stackhouse. It’s even more impressive that he did so while wearing the hideously awesome Toronto Raptors-influenced Bucks uniform.
Allen was remarkably durable as a Buck in the 90s (he played in all 296 games from 1996-2000, starting in all but one). He finished the decade in 1999-00 with then-career highs in points per game, field goal attempts and makes, field goal percentage, three point attempts and makes, and free throw attempts and makes.
SF – Glenn Robinson (1999-00): 17.8 PER, 20.9 PPG (47.2% FG, 36.3% 3FG, 80.2% FT), 6 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1 SPG (first All-Star appearance)
It took just eight years for Glenn Robinson to score the second most points in Bucks history, thanks to seven seasons of 20 points per game or more. Robinson’ game closely mirrored that of a poor man’s Carmelo Anthony (their career averages, minus the point totals, are strikingly similar), and the Big Dog was no bigger in the 1990s than in the first of his two consecutive All-Star campaigns in 1999-00.
Robinson’s best attributes were on full display throughout the 99-00 season, thanks in large part to his ability to do his job (score, and score often) efficiently and stay healthy. He registered the highest effective field goal percentage of his career (50.2%) and his second highest true shooting percentage (53.4%), despite seeing a drop in overall usage (27.6) in the Bucks offense.
Of course, Robinson was receiving passes from Sam Cassell and always had Ray Allen waiting like a hunting lion along the perimeter, but great players with complementary skills often bring out each other’s strengths. Allen took some of the offensive weight off the Big Dog’s shoulders upon his arrival in 1996, and it was only a matter of time before they learned to compliment Allen’s perimeter shooting with Robinson’s physical post ups and mid-range skills.
PF – Vin Baker (1996-97): 20.1 PER, 21 PPG (50.5% FG, 27.8% 3FG, 68.7% FT), 10.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1 SPG (third All-Star appearance, third team All-NBA)
The Bucks don’t exactly pump out quality power forwards like Lady Gaga pumps out chart toppers. However, Vin Baker needed just four years (and three All-Star appearances) in Milwaukee to make a solid case for being one of the best (if not the best) power forwards to ever come through the city.
Baker improved with every subsequent season, and his 1996-97 campaign was arguably the best by a Bucks power forward in franchise history. By that point, Baker had grown into his body and perfected a turnaround jumper to compliment his physical attitude around the basket.
He also had a gift for finding offensive rebounds (finishing in the top 10 every year but his first), and served as a respectable defensive presence under the basket. I submit to you this block on Shawn Bradley as proof that Baker could stifle underachieving Mormon ballers.
There are few things more unfortunate in sports than wasted, self-destructive talent, and Baker’s alcoholism and temperament eventually caught up with him when in the latter parts of his career. However, his four years as a Buck set a precedent that has yet to be matched by any recent Milwaukee power forward.
C – Moses Malone (1991-92): 19.2 PER, 15.6 PPG (47.4% FG, 78.6% FT), 9.1 RPG, .8 BPG, .9 SPG
Trevor Hoffman experienced his last great season as a close for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009, before falling off the map a year later and subsequently retiring. Great center Moses Malone had a similar experience with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1991-92, putting together a season in which he led the Bucks in rebounding (grabbing 21% of the team’s total boards) and finished second in scoring.
Malone certainly was not short on rebounding opportunities (the Bucks finished first in the NBA in three point attempts and makes in 91-92). Still, it’s impressive that, at 36 years of age and playing on legs with more mileage than a 1968 Volkswagon Bus, he was capable of shouldering a 30 minute workload every night for an underachieving team (31 wins following a 48 win campaign in 1990-91).
Like Trevor Hoffman, Moses Malone will never be primarily remembered for his contributions in Milwaukee. But his contributions to the Bucks made the signing of Malone a success. That’s something that can’t be said for most of the other free agents to come through Milwaukee in the 1990s.
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