Milwaukee Bucks: Sidney Moncrief was the picture of consistency

PORTLAND, OR - 1985: (Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR - 1985: (Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images) /

One of the greatest players to ever play for the Milwaukee Bucks, Sidney Moncrief wasn’t just a complete player, but incredibly consistent too.

In a league where history has often been dominated by extraordinary specialists, Sidney Moncrief stands out as one of the greatest all-around players to ever suit up in the NBA.

In many ways, perhaps that’s the reason he’s so often overlooked.

Moncrief has yet to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and every year his absence is extended threatens to make a mockery of the Hall as a construct for highlighting the most significant players and events the game has seen.

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Of course, the issue of Moncrief’s all-around effectiveness and consistency being overlooked isn’t necessarily new. Read any profile or interview with Moncrief, or indeed about the Bucks, from the 80s and you can be sure to find mention of how well-rounded he was, and how he rarely ranked in the top-10 in the league for any major statistical category.

Focusing on Moncrief in such a way would be missing the point, though. Why would you want a player who finishes top-10 in only one category, if you could have one who finishes top-20 in all categories? As then Bucks coach Don Nelson told Sports Illustrated in 1985:

"“Nothing stands out with Sidney, and everything does. It’s not one minute, it’s 48. It’s not one play, it’s every play.”"

If anything, achieving that level of consistency and being able to offer complete performances across the floor is more rare than mastering any one domain. In Moncrief’s case, the reason why he was able to outperform players who may have had physical or technical advantages over him was often that he was relentless, and capable of wearing all of his opponents down with his mental strength.

Within the Bucks organization, Moncrief was known as “the guy who won’t let us lose”. Around the rest of the league, he was seen as one of the fiercest competitors — and certainly the toughest defender — the NBA had to offer.

Larry Bird used to marvel at how Moncrief’s exceptional defensive efforts were almost routine to the former Arkansas Razorback.

"“He does everything you’re supposed to do on defense and doesn’t take any short cuts. Plus he does it every night.”"

Michael Jordan would almost sound weary just talking about what the experience of matching up with Moncrief was like.

"“When you play against Moncrief, you’re in for a night of all-around basketball. He’ll hound you everywhere you go, both ends of the court. You just expect it.”"

Nelson was no less effusive in speaking about what made the lynchpin of his team so different from the average NBA player either.

"“Of all the things I like about him, his mental toughness is about as strong as anyone I’ve ever been around. And I’ve known a lot of players.”"

Put simply, Moncrief was unlike most of the players of his era. Extending that, it’s hard to find players who fit a similar mold and went before or came after him.

If the Bucks had managed to win a championship, or even break through the stranglehold of the Celtics and 76ers to make the Finals during Moncrief’s tenure, his success would have been more obvious. Still, Moncrief was the driving force and the one constant in what was the greatest period of sustained success in franchise history.

During Moncrief’s 10 seasons with the Bucks, the franchise compiled a regular season record of 522-298 (0.636), which equated to an average of over 52 wins per season. Milwaukee also made the playoffs in every single season during Moncrief’s tenure, including a run of seven-straight division titles from the year he was drafted.

Individually, Moncrief averaged 16.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game as a Buck, while shooting 50.2 percent from the field. He was named an All-Star on five occasions, was selected to a single All-NBA First Team and four All-NBA Second Teams, while also earning NBA All-Defensive First Team honors four times, along with a single appearance on the All-Defensive Second Team.

Most notably, Moncrief also won the Defensive Player of the Year award on two occasions. Only Alvin Robertson, Michael Cooper, Michael Jordan and Gary Payton have also won the award as guards, while Moncrief is the only backcourt player to have his name inscribed on the trophy twice.

For as integral as the likes of Marques Johnson and Terry Cummings were to Milwaukee’s success in the 80s, it all would have been impossible without Moncrief.

Possessing a blue collar background, and a work ethic and personality to back it up, Moncrief was loved by fans and teammates alike. Even in a locker room packed with talent and big personalities, he was the undisputed leader, even if he wasn’t always going to be the most vocal.

Moncrief entered the NBA with a degenerative knee injury that he had been told would significantly curtail his ability and longevity as a professional basketball player. From the start, things were difficult for Moncrief, but that may have been what suited him best.

As Moncrief, himself, explained in a 1986 profile in the Los Angeles Times:

"“There aren’t many players in pro basketball who can do a lot of different things on the court simply because there are so many specialized players. Some players can make the game look easy. I make it look hard. I try to play as best I can and work as hard as I can. That’s all you can ask for.”"

A long battle with excruciating pain would ultimately get the better of Moncrief, as he played his last game for the Bucks in 1989 before retiring at the age of 31. It says all that you need to know about Moncrief’s character that after sitting out in retirement for a full season, he returned aged 33 for one last run as a fringe player with the Atlanta Hawks. The only opponent that Moncrief couldn’t contain was Father Time, though.

In an era that is generally remembered for the emergence of players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, and the continued late career impacts of Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Moses Malone; Moncrief is by no means out of place. The native of Little Rock went toe-to-toe with the best that the league had to offer, and he elevated the Bucks to his own high level.

He may not have had the ultimate team success Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Class of 1971 enjoyed, but no other player has ever made the Bucks a decade-long juggernaut in the way that the man nicknamed “Sid the Squid” managed to.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks: Unselfish Jon McGlocklin is one of the franchise’s great heroes

As the arguments over the greatest Buck of all-time rage into the future, Moncrief can stand proud as one of only two players with a valid claim for that title.