ASLS vault: The Best NBA Teams since the merger

Posted on 06/18/2011 by


This here is a repost by request. It’s also a bonus post.
It’s a by request bonus post from the vault.
I’ll get something else out tomorrow. But for now? Enjoy.

Who’s  the best basketball team of all time?

This is a question that’s guaranteed to spark animated and passionate discussion among all fans of the NBA. The numbers tell us one thing but our heart argues another. But at the end of the day we are left with no clear and definitive answers. But with the tools at our disposal we might be able to change that.

In two earlier posts ( Measuring the Quality of Basketball in the NBA & Measuring the Quality of Basketball in the NBA Take 2: Adjusting for Pace), I took on the challenge of ranking the quality of basketball in the NBA. In this post my intent is to expand that analysis and take a first stab at ranking all the NBA teams since the merger.Remember satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.

First let’s review and update our previous analysis (I went back and rechecked all the numbers on this) and then we move on to the main event.

Calculating Pace in the NBA

To calculate pace  in the NBA we need to estimate the number of possesions per game in the NBA. In the world of Wins Produced (and really in the world of basketball) possession of the ball is currency and what you do with it is what determines whether you win or lose. To quote another sage: “Ball don’t Lie”. So for any truly comparative measure of true basketball productivity and quality (our value delivered) adjusting for the possessions (our spend) is critical.

How do we calculate the number of possessions?    Initially I used :

Possessions = .96 * (FGA − ORb + TO + (.44 * FTA)) (source)

But for this analysis I will use:

Possessions =FGA − ORb + TO + (.44 * FTA) which is the approximation Prof. Berri uses.

If we calculate possessions per game since 1978 (adjusting for overtimes) looks like this:

Or as a pretty chart:

So the pace of the NBA slowed significantly and at a consistent rate from 1978 (218.8 poss. a game) to a low of 181.8 poss a game in 1999 before picking back up to about 190 possession per game (95 per team) since. With this information we can now adjust  or quality measure accordingly.

Average Player Productivity &Pace Adjusted Quality in the NBA

The following Table contains (for every year since the merger):

  • Team productivity per 48 minutes played based on simply adding the average production (ADJP48 click here for detail) for all 5 position (Center,Power Forward, Small Forward, Shooting Guard &Point Guard).
  • Average Player Productivity which is Team Productivity per 48 divided by five.
  • Average number of possessions per game
  • Productivity per 200 possesions =  (Avg Player Productivity per Game (ADJP48)/Avg Number of Possessions per Game)*200

In table form this looks like:

As graph it looks like:

So once we adjust for pace, we see that the league had a golden era from 1991 thru 1997 but the last three Years have actually been better for quality than anything in the data set. Now let use this to rank all the NBA teams since the merger.

Ranking the Teams:

I did the ranking the following way:

  • I got the Wins Produced numbers for each team based on the Automated build from Andres Alvarez, Prof. Berri’s numbers as well as my own WORP (Wins over replacement player).
  • Equivalent WP48 is the average of the three Win Produced Calculations divided by total games played (adjusted for ovetime)
  • Avg win production is Team productivity per 48 minutes played based on simply adding the average production (ADJP48 click here for detail) for all 5 position (Center,Power Forward, Small Forward, Shooting Guard &Point Guard).
  • Raw wins per game is Equivalent WP48 + Avg.Win Production -.100. This is the Raw wins generated by that team per 48 minutes played without accounting for the opponent.
  • Pace adjusted Raw Wins per game adjust everything based on 200 possesions versus the average number of possessions for that season. So the 96 Bulls for example see their numbers increase by a factor 0f 200/187.595.
  • Finally Adjusted wins calculates the amount of wins this team would be expected to have against the league average opponent since the merger ( who posts a raw win total of 1.981 pace adjustedraw wins per game). To illustrate, the 2009 Celtics generated 2.344 pace adjusted raw wins. So, (2.344 -1.981 +.500) * 82 =70.8 wins against the league avg. opponent since the merger.

Here’s the Top 30 regular season teams since the merger:

The Jordan/Rodman/Pippen Bulls dominate this list taking the top two slots. The 2008 Celtics place third and the 2009 Cavaliers get the dubious distinction of best team ever not to win it all (or even reach the finals). Some small consolation for the Cavs in that there are 11 teams on this list from the last three years (Boston,Cleveland,LA,Orlando twice Detroit, Portland, Utah once) and only three champions. Overall the top 30 contains only ten champions and Utah and Seattle get four appearances without a title. In fact, the overwhelming conclusion is that you can build an all-time team but you still have about a one in three chance to win it all.

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