Which group is the best of all time? To answer this question with much more rigor than it is normally debated in sports bars, in 2015 I rated every group since minutes played were tracked in 1951-52 (sorry to the 1949-50 Minneapolis Lakers) according to their performance in both the regular season and playoffs.
Three decades later, it’s time for an update using a new No. 1, and several other newcomers to the record as a result of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors dominating the contest in their respective conferences.
For winners, I took the average of the point differential during the regular season and their stage differential in the playoffs plus the point differential of the opponents. That tells us how many points per game better than an average team each winner was, giving equal weight to the postseason as the regular time to reward the most significant games.
For non-champions, the starting point is the same, but their playoff differential was adjusted by effectively giving them a five-point loss for each game they came up short of the name. That has little effect on teams like the 2012-13 San Antonio Spurs, who lost in Game 7 of the Finals, but it harshly penalizes teams which rolled up big victory margins early in the playoffs before falling short in the conference finals.
The previous adjustment deals with leaguewide quality of drama. It’s not surprising that some of the greatest single-season team performances in NBA history came in the early 1970s, once the league had expanded rapidly and also battled the ABA for incoming draft picks. The redistribution of gift allowed stars to shine more brightly. For each season, I measured how players watched their moments per game increase or reduce the following season compared to what we’d expect given their age. More minutes suggests a weaker league, while fewer moments indicates one that’s gotten more powerful.
Each year is ranked relative to 2017-18, from a high of 21 percent more powerful in 1965-66, the last year the NBA had only nine teams, to a low of 10 percent weaker in 2004-05, the last time the league enlarged. That modification is multiplied by the group’s typical regular-season and playoff scores to give a last score better than an ordinary team this year.
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