Can last year’s playoffs predict this year’s NBA champion?

Who are you picking in this year’s NBA playoffs?

From what I have read, the Phoenix Suns are a popular pick for this year’s title. The Suns had the best regular season record this season at 64-18, the only team to win 60 games this year. They have recent NBA Finals experience having lost to the Milwaukee Bucks last season in six games.

The Bucks have also been receiving some love for this year’s title as a few pundits are predicting the Bucks will be the first team to win back-to-back championships since the Golden State Warriors went back-to-back in 2017 and 2018.

There are also a handful of dark horse teams that could win the title. In the Eastern Conference, the seventh seed Brooklyn Nets and fourth seed Philadelphia 76ers could make long post-season pushes; the same with Memphis and Golden State in the Western Conference.

Is it possible that last year’s playoffs may help determine who will win the title this year? Can a team’s finish the previous year in the post-season predict what they might do this season?

For example, the Bucks won the title last year, but lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals the previous season. When the Toronto Raptors won the championship in 2019, they also lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the previous year

To further answer the question about whether a team’s previous year might have predicted their title the following year, I looked at the 22 teams that won titles this century. Of the 22 teams that won titles since 2000, almost half (10 of 22) played in the NBA Finals the year before they won the championship. Five were repeat champions: L.A. Lakers-2001, L.A. Lakers-2002, L.A. Lakers-2010, Miami-2013 and Golden State-2018.

Five teams since 2000 won a title the year after losing in the NBA Finals. The five: L.A. Lakers-2009, Miami-2012, San Antonio-2014, Cleveland-2016 and Golden State-2017.

The most common scenario, however, was six teams won the title the year after losing in a conference semi-final. Here is a breakdown of how each champion in the 2000’s ended their season the year before their title:

Lost in the conference semi-finals the previous year…6 times

Won the title the previous year…5 times

Lost in the NBA Finals the previous year…5 times

Lost in the conference finals the previous year…2 times

Lost in the conference first round the previous year …2 times

Did not make the playoffs the year before they won the title…2 times

If we try to predict the 2022 NBA champion based on the previous 22 years, picking either the Bucks or the Suns is a good bet since 10 of the 22 champs since 2000 played in the NBA Finals the previous year. But losing in the conference semi-finals was also a strong indicator, happening six times in the 22 years. If you are looking for a team that might come out of that scenario, four playoff teams this year lost in the conference semi-finals last season: Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Utah and Denver.

If you are looking for a long shot based on these numbers, the Atlanta Hawks are the only 2022 playoff team that lost in a conference final last year; four 2022 playoff teams lost in the first round of the playoffs last season (Miami, Boston, Memphis, and Dallas).

Only two teams since 2000 have won a title after missing the playoffs the previous season: Boston-2008 and the L.A. Lakers in 2020. Five of the 16 teams remaining in the playoffs this year missed the playoffs last season: Toronto, Chicago, Golden State, Minnesota, and New Orleans. Is it possible one of those five could make a push for this year’s title?

The Packers draft history of receivers has seen highs and lows

After losing their top receiver via a trade (Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders) and two more members of the receiving corps departing via free agency, the Green Bay Packers will have a chance later this month in the NFL Draft to try to rebuild Aaron Rodgers’ weaponry in the passing game.

There is still the possibility that the Pack may add to the receiver room via trade or free agency, but a more likely scenario is the team using the draft to take multiple receivers. The Packers are loaded up, especially in the front end of the draft, with five picks in the Top 100 and four picks in the first 60 selections. Barring a pre-draft trade, the Pack will have picks #22, #28, #53, #59 and #92, all coming in the first three rounds.

Having these high draft picks is good news. The jury is still out on whether the team will use one or multiple picks on receivers and where they might select them. Based on past history, drafting receivers has been hit-and-miss for Green Bay. First, let’s look at the low point:

  • Since Davante Adams was selected in the 2014 draft, the Packers have selected seven receivers (Trevor Davis, Malachi Dupree, DeAngelo Yancey, Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J’Mon Moore and Amari Rodgers). Of those seven, only Rodgers, chosen in the third round (85th pick) last year is still with the team. The jury is still out on Rodgers (Amari, that is) and whether or not he will be a major contributor, but of the others chosen since 2015, only Valdes-Scantling made a significant impact on the team since he arrived in Green Bay. Part of the reason may be that the team had a veteran-filled receivers’ room over the past 15 years with players like Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Adams, but the fact remains that the draft of receivers since 2015 has not been impressive.

Now the high points:

  • Of the 11 receivers who have 360 or more career receptions with the Packers, nine were chosen by the Pack as a Top 100 draft selection. Ironically, the Packers career-leader in receptions is Donald Driver who was a seventh-round (213th pick). The other non-100 pick was Don Hutson, who played with the team prior to the beginning of the NFL Draft. The nine Top 100 draft receivers who had 360 or more career receptions with Green Bay: Davante Adams (second round, 53rd pick), Shannon Sharpe (first round, 7th pick), Jordy Nelson (second round (36th pick), James Lofton (first round, 6th pick), Randall Cobb (second round, 64th pick), Boyd Dowler (third round, 25th pick), Antonio Freeman (third round, 90th pick), Greg Jennings (second round, 52nd pick) and James Jones (third round, 78th pick). So… the best Packers receivers have been players chosen in the first 100 selections of a draft. Good news if the team uses one of its five picks in the first three rounds on a receiver.
  • Another good sign is that when the Pack has drafted a receiver with a Top 100 selection, those players have had varying degrees of success with the team. Since 2001, Green Bay has taken a receiver with a Top 100 pick on nine occasions: 2001, Robert Ferguson (41st pick); 2002, Javon Walker (20th pick); Terrence Murphy (58th pick); Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Amari Rodgers. As stated above, the jury is still out on Rodgers. Murphy played only three games with the Pack before he suffered what amounted to a career-ending injury returning a kickoff. Again, good news (and success) when a receiver has been chosen by the Packers with a Top 100 pick.

The Packers have their work cut out trying to replace Davante Adams 123 receptions and 1,553 receiving yards from last season. Is it possible to replace those numbers with a first round or high draft choice? Last season, 10 receivers were selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft with nine of them playing 10 or more games for their team. Those nine receivers combined for an average of 51 catches and 610 receiving yards. Certainly not Davante Adams numbers. In fact, the only two receivers drafted last year that even approached Adams numbers were rookies Ja’Marr Chase of Cincinnati (81 catches, 1,455 yards) and Miami’s Jaylen waddle (104 catches, 1,015 yards).

Will the Packers hit it big with a top receiver in the draft, or could they strike gold with another Donald Driver-type selection later in the draft?

Is it time to give Counsell the Brewers Managerial ‘GOAT’ Title?

If everything works out, Craig Counsell sometime in June will likely become the winningest manager in Milwaukee Brewers history. Entering the 2022 campaign, Counsell has 529 victories as Brewers skipper, 34 wins behind Phil Garner who won 563 games as Brewers manager.

When this does happen, the obvious question will be: Is Craig Counsell the best manager in team history?

There are a lot of ways to go about answering this question. Based strictly on numbers, you can certainly make a case for Counsell as the GOAT. He will become the leader in wins; he has taken the team to four straight post-seasons, something no other manager for the team had ever done (in fact, no Brewers manager ever took the team to the post-season in two consecutive years). Over the last four seasons, the Brewers are one of only eight teams to amass 300 or more wins (they are seventh with 309 victories). And, if he makes it through another full season with the team, he will become only the second manager to skipper the team for eight seasons (Garner is the other).

His 1,008 games as Brewers’ manager is second to Garner’s 1,180, and his winning percentage prior to the start of this season is .525, third in team history behind Harvey Kuenn and Buck Rodgers. And let’s not forget that he has finsihed as runner-up for the NL Manager of the Year Award three times in the last four years.

That’s the stats side of the argument… a pretty compelling case for his being tagged the team’s managerial GOAT. The Brewers team over the seven-year tenure of Counsell for the most part have over-achieved; they have rarely been picked in a pre-season poll to win a division title. His team is the classic case of a squad that takes on the personality of the manager: scrappy teams who fight and claw their way, any way, to victory. On more than a few occasions these last few years, I’ve heard people say, “I don’t know how he (Counsell) does it, but he always finds a way for the Brewers to be competitive.”

This season, however, may be a little different. How, you ask? Expectations. The Brewers enter this season with arguably the best pitching staff in baseball. They have a bullpen led by award-winners Josh Hader and Devin Williams. The Brewers will probably not sneak up on anyone this season; in fact, unlike many season prior, there are expectations, expectations to win and win big… yes, even get to the World Series.

How will the Brewers managerial GOAT-in-waiting Counsell handle it? Yes, four straight trips to the playoffs is impressive, but other than the 2018 trip to the NLCS, the post-season has not ended the way that the team would’ve liked. Part of what made former manager Harvey Kuenn such a beloved figure is that he was the skipped when the Brewers made their only World Series appearance in 1982. That’s not to say that Kuenn is recognized as the Brewers managerial GOAT, but it does beg the question: Does Counsell have to get to the World Series as Brewers manager to be considered the best manager in team history?

So when Counsell gets victory number 564 as Brewers manager, do you call him the best-ever? Or is there more he needs to do?

Brewers Award Winners

During the 50-plus year history of Brewers baseball in Milwaukee, there has been team success and individual success. The 2019 season was certainly one of those years. The Brewers, as a team, made the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1980s… Christian Yelich almost repeated his National League MVP season of 2018, but finished as the league runner-up in that award… and Craig Counsell for the second consecutive season finished second in the voting for N.L. Manager of the Year Award.

In 2020, a Brewers player took home one of the major awards when first-year reliever Devin Williams won the National League Rookie of the Year honor. Williams also finished tied for 18th in the N.L. MVP balloting, and was a Top Ten finisher in the N.L. Cy Young Award. Corbin Burnes also got some love when he finished sixth in the Cy Young vote. And the team made the playoffs for the third straight year, the first time in team history.

When it comes to the league MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year, the Brewers have had familiar names hoist these trophies at the end of a season. Brewers players Rollie Fingers, Robin Yount, Ryan Braun, Pete Vukovich, Pat Listach and the aforementioned Yelich all have their names etched on one (or more) of these end-of-the-year trophies.

Let’s take a look at these four individual awards and see how the Brewers have fared not only in terms of individuals winning the awards, but those who fell just a bit short and those who were at least in the conversation for these honors at years’ end. (The Milwaukee Brewers were in the American League from 1970 to 1997; in the National League from 1998 to today.)

Brewers league MVPs

Winners: Rollie Fingers (1981), Robin Yount (1982), Robin Yount (1989), Ryan Braun (2011), Christian Yelich (2018)

Runner-Up: Ryan Braun (2012), Christian Yelich (2019)

Top Five (3rd through 5th place) finish: Larry Hisle (3rd in 1978), Cecil Cooper (5th in 1980), Cecil Cooper (5th in 1982), Cecil Cooper (5th in 1983), Paul Molitor (5th in 1987), Prince Fielder (3rd in 2007), Ryan Braun (3rd in 2008), Prince Fielder (4th in 2009), Prince Fielder (3rd in 2011), Jonathan Lucroy (4th in 2014)

The Brewers were the first team to have American League MVP and Cy Young Award winners in back-to-back seasons. There have, however, been a handful of times when a team had a different player win the league MVP in three consecutive seasons. In the N.L., the Cincinnati Reds had three different MVPs in consecutive years (Ernie Lombardi, 1938, Bucky Walters, 1939 and Frank McCormick, 1940); the St. Louis Cardinals did it with Mort Cooper, 1942, Stan Musial, 1943 and Marty Marion, 1944. In the A.L., the Yankees did it… 1941-Joe DiMaggio, 1942-Joe Gordon and 1943-Spud Chandler. The last time it happened was in the early 1960s when the Yankees had Roger Maris as league MVP in 1961, Mickey Mantle in 1962 and Elston Howard in 1963.

Robin Yount is one of 31 players who have won the league MVP in more than one season. Barry Bonds tops this list with seven league MVP awards.

The Brewers have had nine different players finish in the Top 5 for a league MVP award. Three Brewers have finished in the league MVP Top 5 three different years: Cecil Cooper (1980, 1982, 1983), Prince Fielder (2007, 2009, 2011) and Ryan Braun (2008, 2011 and 2012).

Brewers league Rookie of the Year recipients

Winners: Pat Listach (1992), Ryan Braun (2007), Devin Williams (2020)

Runner-Up: Bill Parson (1971), Pedro Garcia (1973), Paul Molitor (1978), Teddy Higuera (1985), Scott Podsednik (2003)

Top Five (3rd through 5th place)finish: Darrell Porter (tied for 3rd in 1973), Ernest Riles (3rd in 1985), Don August (4th in 1988), Cal Eldred (4th in 1992), Casey McGehee (5th in 2009), Nori Aoki (5th in 2012)

Of the 43 Brewers players who finished in the Top 5 of the league Rookie of the Year voting, only three of those players played their entire careers with the Brewers. Braun has played all 13 of his MLB seasons with the Brew Crew; Teddy Higuera played all nine of his MLB seasons in Milwaukee; and Don August played only four years in the majors, all with the Brewers. Two Brewers on this rookie list, Scott Podsednik and Nori Aoki, played only two seasons with the Brewers.

There were three seasons where the Brewers placed two players in the Top 5 for the league Rookie of the Year: 1973-Garcia and Porter… 1985-Higuera and Riles… 1992-Listach and Eldred.

Brewers Cy Young winners

Winners: Rollie Fingers (1981), Pete Vukovich (1982)

Runner-Up: Mike Caldwell (1978), Teddy Higuera (1986)

Top Five (3rd through 5th place) finish: Pete Vukovich (4th in 1981), CC Sabathia (5th in 2008)

The Brewers are one of seven teams in history to have two different pitchers win the Cy Young Award in consecutive seasons. The seven: 1962-63,-Koufax/Drysdale (Dodgers), 1977-78-Lyle/Guidry (Yankees), 1979-80-Flanagan/Stone (Orioles), 1981-82-Fingers/Vukovich (Brewers), 1995-96-Maddox/Smoltz (Braves), 1996-97-Hentgen/Clemens (Blue Jays), 2007-08-Sabathia/Lee (Indians).

Sabathia is the only Brewers pitcher to ever finish in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting in the National League. There have been five Brewers pitchers who had Top 10 finishes in the N.L. Cy Young Award: Ben Sheets (tied for 8th in 2004), Yovani Gallardo (7th in 2011), John Axford (tied for 9th in 2011), Jimmy Nelson (tied for 9th in 2017), Josh Hader (7th in 2018).

Brewers Manager of the Year honorees

Winners: None

Runner-Up: Tom Trebelhorn (1987), Phil Garner (1992), Ron Roenicke (2011), Craig Counsell (2018), Craig Counsell (2019)

Top Five finish: Tom Trebelhorn (4th in 1988), Phil Garner (3rd in 1997), Ned Yost (5th in 2005), Craig Counsell (4th in 2017)

Counsell finished in the Top 5 for Manager of the Year in three straight years, 2017, 2018 and 2019. he finsihed 7th in last year’s voting.
The Brewers and Mets are the only two teams since the Manager of the Year Award was started in 1983 to have never had one of their managers win the award.

Stats the Fact, March 13, 2021

The two biggest additions the Brewers made to their roster this season were free agent acquisitions Kolton Wong and Jackie Bradley, Jr. Both are expected to play major roles when the Brew Crew takes the field in 2021. Both are former Gold Glovers and will hopefully add offense to the team’s lackluster offensive output in 2020.

Is it possible that Bradley and Wong, or one or the other, could represent the Brewers in the All-Star Game this season in their first year with the Brewers? Bradley, who was a mainstay for the Boston Red Sox for eight seasons in their outfield, was an American League All-Star in 2016. Wong, who played for the Cardinals for eight seasons, has never made the All-Star team, but he may be one of those players who is on the verge of becoming an All-Star.

Over the Brewers 50-plus year history, there have been 11 players who made the All-Star team in their first year with the Brewers; in fact, in the last two years when the All-Star Game was played (2018 and 2019), the Brewers had a first-year player who represented the team in the mid-season contest… in 2018, Christian Yelich was a Brewers all-star after coming over from the Miami Marlins, and in 2019, Yasmani Grandal represented the Brewers in the All-Star Game in his first (and only year) with the team.

Let’s take a quick look at the players who made the All-Star team in their first season with the Brewers.

1975: Hank Aaron… Aaron returned to Milwaukee to play for the Brewers after a lengthy career with the Braves. He was traded to the Brew Crew in a November, 1974 swap and was an American League all-star selection in ’75. He eventually retired after the 1976 campaign.

1978: Larry Hisle… Hisle came to the Brewers as a free agent and had his best season with the Brewers (of the five he played in Milwaukee). The ASG selection that year was the second of his career.

1981: Ted Simmons… This was the first of two ASG appearances with the Brewers for Simmons, who came to the team in a trade with the Cardinals.

1981: Rollie Fingers… Also a part of the trade with the Cardinals that brought Simmons to Milwaukee, Fingers in 1981 had a career season with the Brewers winning the league Cy Young and MVP.

1984: Jim Sundberg… Sundberg came to the Brewers in a trade with Texas and made the All-Star team in his one and only season with the Crew. He was traded the following year to the Kansas City Royals.

1990: Dave Parker… “The Cobra” was another “one and done” player with the Brewers, but he had 21 HRs and 92 RBI as the team’s DH and was a Brewers ASG selection that year. That ASG was the last of the seven in his career. He was traded to the Angels for the ’91 season.

2001: Ben Sheets… Sheets is the only Brewers rookie to make an all-star team. The 2001 ASG was the first of his four ASG appearances.

2005: Carlos Lee… Lee came to Brewers from the White Sox in a trade and hit 32 HRs and had 114 RBI. The ASG selection that season with the first of his three ASG appearances.

2009: Trevor Hoffman… After a long, storied career with the Padres, Hoffman ended up with the Brewers in ’09 via the free agency route. He made the ASG that first year with the Brew Crew and then retired after the 2010 season.

2018: Christian Yelich… 2018 was a dream season for Yelich; his first ASG selection and then a National League MVP Award. The Brewers got Yelich in a trade with the Miami Marlins.

2019: Yasmani Grandal… The veteran Los Angeles Dodgers catcher signed a free agent deal with the Brewers for 2019 and made the ASG for the team. He became another “one-and-player” for the club when he signed a free agent deal with the White Sox for the 2020 season.