Which group is the greatest of all time? To answer this question with much more rigor than it’s typically debated in sports pubs, in 2015 I rated 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 after, it’s time for an update with a new No. 1, plus a lot of other newcomers to the record thanks to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors dominating the competition in their respective conventions.
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 their opponents. That tells us just how many points each game better than an ordinary team each winner was, giving equal weight to the postseason as the regular time to reward the most important games.
For non-champions, the starting 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 that rolled up big victory margins early in the playoffs before falling short in the conference finals.
The last adjustment deals with all caliber of drama. It is not surprising 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 the ABA for incoming draft selections. The redistribution of talent enabled stars to shine even more brightly. For every season, I quantified how gamers watched their minutes per game increase or decrease the following 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 ranked relative to 2017-18, from a high of 21 percent more powerful in 1965-66, the last year that the NBA had just nine teams, to a low of 10 percent weaker in 2004-05, the last time that the league enlarged. That modification is multiplied by the group’s average regular-season and playoff scores to give a final score better than an average team this season.
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