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 ranked every team since moments played were first tracked in 1951-52 (sorry to the 1949-50 Minneapolis Lakers) according to their performance in the regular season and playoffs.
Three decades later, it is time for an upgrade with a brand new No. 1, and several other newcomers to the record as a result of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors dominating the competition in their respective conferences.
For winners, I took the average of their point differential during the regular season and their point 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 champion was, giving equal weight to the postseason as the regular time to reward the most important games.
For non-champions, the beginning point is exactly 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 wrapped up large success margins early in the playoffs before falling short in the conference finals.
The adjustment deals with all caliber of play. It is no surprise that some of the best single-season team performances in NBA history arrived in the early 1970s, when the league had expanded quickly and battled with the ABA for incoming draft selections. The redistribution of gift allowed stars to shine more brightly. For each season, I quantified how gamers saw their minutes per game increase or reduce the subsequent season as compared to what we would expect given their age. More minutes suggests that a poorer league, while fewer moments suggests one that’s gotten stronger.
Each season is rated relative to 2017-18, from a high of 21 percent more powerful in 1965-66, the previous year the NBA had just nine teams, to a low of 10 percent weaker in 2004-05, the last time that the league expanded. That adjustment is multiplied by the team’s average regular-season and playoff scores to provide a last rating better than an average team this season.
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