Which group is the greatest of all time? To answer this question with much more rigor than it’s normally 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) based on their performance in both the regular season and playoffs.
Three years later, it is time for an update with a new No. 1, and several other newcomers to the list 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 their point differential during the regular season and their point differential in the playoffs in addition to the point differential of their opponents. That tells us just how many points each game better than an ordinary 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 the same, but their playoff differential was also adjusted by effectively giving them a five-point reduction for every game they came up short of this name. That has little impact 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 success margins early in the playoffs before falling short in the conference finals.
The adjustment deals with leaguewide caliber of play. It is not surprising that some of the greatest single-season team performances in NBA history arrived in the early 1970s, when the league had expanded quickly and also battled with the ABA for incoming draft selections. The redistribution of gift enabled stars to glow more brightly. For every season, I measured how gamers saw their minutes per game increase or reduce the following season as compared to what we’d expect given their era. More minutes suggests a poorer league, while fewer minutes suggests one that’s gotten more powerful.
Each year is rated relative to 2017-18, from a high of 21 percent more powerful in 1965-66, the previous year that the NBA had only nine teams, to a low of 10 percent poorer in 2004-05, the last time that the league enlarged. That adjustment is multiplied by the group’s typical regular-season and playoff scores to provide a last rating greater than an average team this season.
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