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On a position-by-position basis the Bucks certainly do not fare well in comparison with the other teams, even the Lakers. Young Milwaukee Forwards Bob Dandridge and Greg Smith are not yet as good as the oldtime Minneapolis cornermen, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard. The Boston and Philadelphia lineups were stronger than the Bucks' at all positions other than the two filled by Jabbar and Robertson. And both teams boasted the superior bench strength Milwaukee lacks. Celtic John Havlicek and 76er Billy Cunningham, the sixth men during their clubs' best years, were the two forwards chosen to the NBA All-Star team last year.
However, a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED sampling of opinion from coaches and former players—almost all of whom agree with K. C. Jones—may hold the key to why Milwaukee is better than it appears. There are simply no quarrels left among pro basketball men over who the best center is—or was. They all concur on Kareem Jabbar, and many embellish their endorsements with loud huzzahs.
" Jabbar is the difference," explains Joe Mullaney, who coached the Lakers for two seasons before joining the ABA Colonels this year. "When you rate him, how far up the scale do you put him? Or do you go off the scale? Do you give him 10 on a scale of 10 or go ahead and give him a 40? He can so dominate a game."
"I think Jabbar combines pretty much what Russell and Chamberlain have individually specialized in," says Cincinnati Coach Bob Cousy. "And I think perhaps he has the physical ability to do both as well or better than either of them. The question is how long he can sustain it; whether he has the determination to sustain it, like Russell."
Since all the best teams have achieved excellence largely through the abilities of their extraordinary centers—Mikan, Russell, Chamberlain and Jabbar—it is possible that the Bucks, with the most talented of them all, can become the most dominant team without a full quota of strength at every position.
To stop Milwaukee, Jabbar must be contained. Buck Coach Larry Costello has designed his offense around winging the ball to Kareem in the low post and then letting the defense scramble as he wheels toward the basket or passes to an open teammate. How to stop it?
"I don't know whether it's worth going into," says Cousy of the Cincinnati approach to playing Jabbar. "You kind of play it by ear. We alternate double teaming on him. One quarter we'll send a double team in from behind. Another quarter from the front. I guess you could say we alternate strategy and get down on our knees and pray. There's just not a lot you can do."
"To play the Bucks effectively you have to make adjustments," agrees Celtic Coach Tom Heinsohn, whose team is the only one to beat the Bucks this year. " Jabbar's secret is that he is 7'4" and very smart. When you try to double-team him, he picks it up in a jiffy."