Which group is the best of all time? To answer that question with much more rigor than it is typically debated in sports bars, in 2015 I ranked every team since minutes played were first tracked in 1951-52 (sorry to the 1949-50 Minneapolis Lakers) according to their performance in both the regular season and playoffs.
Three years after, it is time for an upgrade 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 competition in their respective conventions.
For winners, I took the average of the point differential during the regular season and their point differential in the playoffs in addition to 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 season to reward the most significant 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 this name. That has little impact on teams such as the 2012-13 San Antonio Spurs, who lost in Game 7 of the Finals, but it harshly penalizes teams which rolled up big success margins early in the playoffs before falling short in the conference finals.
The adjustment deals with all quality of drama. It’s no surprise that some of the best single-season team performances in NBA history came from the early 1970s, once the league had expanded quickly and also battled with the ABA for incoming draft picks. The redistribution of talent enabled stars to glow even more brightly. For every season, I quantified how gamers saw their moments per match increase or reduce the subsequent season as compared to what we would expect given their era. More minutes indicates a weaker league, while fewer moments suggests one that has gotten more powerful.
Each season is rated 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 poorer in 2004-05, the last time that the league expanded. That adjustment is multiplied by the team’s typical regular-season and playoff scores to provide a final rating greater than an average team this season.
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