Each NBA Franchise's Best Team Ever
Figuring out how modern-day offenses and defenses stack up against the units of the 1950s and '60s isn't exactly an easy task, but it's quite necessary when attempting to determine the best teams in each of the 30 current franchises' histories.
Just looking at points scored and allowed doesn't do the trick because that doesn't give pace an opportunity to come into play. For that reason, defensive and offensive ratings—pace-neutral metrics that show how many points a team allows and scores per 100 possessions—are much better gauges to measure prowess on those ends of the court.
But when attempting to rank teams historically, as we're doing here, that's still not good enough. After all, not every team with identical defensive ratings is on the same level. Nor is every team with an identical offensive rating equally competent at scoring the rock.
If two teams gave up 95 points per 100 possessions, which is worse—Team A, which did so during a year in which defenses rose to the top of the heap, or Team B, which did so when everyone was scoring points like the video game sliders were all the way up?
Team A should be the easy answer because context is crucially important. That, in a nutshell, is why DRtng+, or adjusted defensive rating, is the best inter-era metric for comparing defensive performances.
The same holds true for ORtng+ or adjusted offensive efficiency.
Calculating these metrics isn't particularly troublesome: Just divide the league-average defensive rating from the year in question by the team's defensive rating, then multiply the result by 100 to achieve DRtng+. Similarly, ORtng+ is derived by dividing the team's offensive rating by the league average and then multiplying by 100.
A score of 100 means the defense or offense was perfectly average that year. That does tend to happen fairly often, given that we're working with the 1,315 teams throughout league history for which we have data.
The final step in determining the strength of a team is averaging the two metrics. The result, called TeamRtng+, weights offense and defense evenly to ascertain the overall effectiveness of any team in NBA history.
When determining the top squads throughout the NBA's many seasons, the style of play doesn't factor into the equation. Neither does points scored or allowed per game. Nor does memorability, subjectivity or win-loss records.
TeamRtng+ is all that comes into play. We'll be looking at the best team in each franchise's history, counting down toward the best squad of all time. Analyses like this have been run before, notably by Hardwood Paroxysm's Andrew Lynch and Ian Levy, but this is taking it to a whole new level by calculating things before and after the 1976 ABA/NBA merger.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com. This introduction is an adapted form of what was used when ranking the top 20 offenses in NBA history as well as the top 20 defenses, bottom 20 defenses and bottom 20 offenses throughout the same period.
30. 1994-95 Charlotte Hornets: 101.64
Rank in NBA History: No. 329
Even when allowing the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets, which came into existence as an expansion team in 2004-05, to subsume the history of the old Charlotte Hornets, who exited the league three years prior, the franchise still has the worst of all the best teams.
Though the 1996-97 Hornets won the most games in franchise history (54), it's this squad from two years earlier that takes the cake, thanks primarily to its defensive efforts. Though Larry Johnson was throwing down monstrous dunks, Muggsy Bogues was running the point and plenty of players were splashing in deep jumpers, the identity of the squad involved shutting down the opposition.
Other than Robert Parish, who was 41 years old at the time, almost the entire roster was comprised of players in their primes or guys who weren't far removed from it. In addition to the aforementioned names, you've probably heard of Dell Curry, Michael Adams, Hersey Hawkins and Alonzo Mourning.
Though this was a balanced team with five players who earned at least five win shares, it was still Mourning who emerged as the unquestioned leader, especially on the defensive end.
Runner-Up: 1999-00 Charlotte Hornets, 101.43 (No. 366)
29. 2013-14 Toronto Raptors: 101.65
Rank in NBA History: No. 325
Think about how much better this team would have fared if Rudy Gay hadn't ever been on it.
The small forward played his final game for the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 6, departing from the lineup when the team was only 6-12, which gave it a winning percentage of just 0.333. From that point forward, the Canadian franchise went 42-22, good for a 0.656 winning percentage.
That's a pretty substantial difference, and it happened largely because Toronto was able to hand over more ball-handling responsibilities to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, both of whom were deserving All-Star candidates, admittedly in a weak Eastern Conference.
It was balance that allowed this team to surpass the Chris Bosh squads of old, as the mix of players was able to thrive on both ends of the court. But this won't be the Toronto placeholder for long.
Every key piece is back in the lineup, and there's enough young talent for Toronto to basically ensure that 2014-15 is more successful that the past year, which is already the top season in franchise history.
"We feel continuity is big for us," Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri explained to the assembled masses at media day, per the National Post's Eric Koreen. "Consistency is really big for winning teams. That formula has proven to work. We hope that it works for us."
It should, and Toronto is already working with a nice starting point.
Runner-Up: 2007-08 Toronto Raptors, 101.49 (No. 351)
28. 2012-13 Memphis Grizzlies: 102.32
Rank in NBA History: No. 212
Even though the 2012-13 Memphis Grizzlies were a below-average team on the offensive end of the court, they were so good at preventing points that they still emerged as the top squad in franchise history.
Marc Gasol anchored the paint, winning Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts, but it's not as though he was the only stalwart on the less-glamorous end. With Tony Allen and Mike Conley guarding perimeter players, it was tough enough for guards to gain penetration, and the entire team functioned as a well-oiled unit at all times.
"Grit and grind" was truly the mentality of this team, which held opponents to just 89.3 points per game, the top mark in the Association. That wasn't just the result of a slow pace either; the Grizz allowed only 100.3 points per 100 possessions, which was the No. 2 mark throughout the league.
If this team had been adequate on the offensive end of the court, there's no telling how far it could have advanced. Even with its subpar scoring abilities, it still managed to take down the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder before it was swept out of the Western Conference Finals by the juggernaut that was the San Antonio Spurs.
Runner-Up: 2005-06 Memphis Grizzlies, 102.12 (No. 244)
27. 2012-13 Denver Nuggets: 102.51
Rank in NBA History: No. 182
Let's stick with another team from the same year.
The Denver Nuggets were unbeatable at home during the 2012-13 season, posting a ridiculous 38-3 record within the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center. Using the altitude to their advantage and utilizing a quick pace, the Nuggets actually outscored their opponents by over 10 points per game when playing in the Mile High City.
Things weren't as smooth on the road, but this team still managed to win a franchise-best 57 games. Well, a franchise-best mark if you don't count the ABA squads of the mid-1970s, which we aren't for the purposes of these rankings.
With a balanced and deep roster, Denver benefited greatly from the presence of Andre Iguodala, who had only just been acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers as part of the multi-team trade that sent Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Iguodala's offensive versatility created so many possibilities, and his all-around defensive excellence helped this run-and-gun team remain at least adequate on that end.
Of course, as so many George Karl-coached teams were wont to do, the Nuggets bowed out of the playoffs too early. It only took six massively entertaining games against the Golden State Warriors for Denver to watch the rest of the postseason from home.
Runner-Up: 1976-77 Denver Nuggets, 102.37 (No. 201)
26. 2006-07 Houston Rockets: 102.65
Rank in NBA History: No. 169
Surprised that you don't see Hakeem Olajuwon staring back at you?
Titles are not the basis of these analyses, and the 1993-94 Houston Rockets finished at No. 228 among every team in NBA history. Not only were the 2006-07 Rockets better, despite a first-round exit against the Utah Jazz, but so too were the 2007-08 and 1996-97 versions, though the latter comes in only slightly ahead.
In the interest of a direct comparison, here are the relevant numbers:
The earlier iteration was a slightly better team on the offensive end, but it couldn't touch the efforts of a squad that boasted the services of an in-his-prime Shane Battier, a locked-in Rafer Alston, a fully engaged version of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming protecting the rim. And that's saying nothing of Chuck Hayes' energy as well as a 40-year-old Dikembe Mutombo's contributions.
Battier and Ming were the only Houston players to receive Defensive Player of the Year votes in 2007, but this was a defense-by-committee squad through and through.
Other teams in Rockets history have enjoyed far more playoff success, but that doesn't detract from the excellence of this underrated unit.
Runner-Up: 2007-08 Houston Rockets, 102.58 (No. 176)
25. 2007-08 New Orleans Hornets: 102.71
Rank in NBA History: No. 154
It's amazing how much of an aberration this team was.
In the 13 seasons of this franchise's history, only the 2007-08 New Orleans Hornets managed to finish the year as one of the 400 best teams in the annals of the Association. That's it. The previous year's version was all the way back at No. 866, and the next year's squad was at No. 508.
There weren't any major personnel changes that led to such an outburst. Everyone just stayed healthy.
In 2006-07, Tyson Chandler played in 73 games, while Chris Paul and David West suited up 64 and 52 times respectively. But during the greatest season in franchise history, one that Anthony Davis should hope to top relatively soon, each member of that trio was on the floor at least 76 times. Paul even played 80 of 82 games, emerging as the very best point guard in basketball.
In fact, Paul's efforts in 2007-08 rank right up near the top of any single season enjoyed by a 1-guard throughout NBA history, and that made all the difference.
The Wake Forest product averaged 21.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 11.6 assists and 2.7 steals per game while shooting 48.8 percent from the field. With a 28.3 player efficiency rating, he earned 17.8 win shares (0.284 per 48 minutes) and routinely torched the opposition before shutting it down on defense.
Paul was simply phenomenal, and so too was his team.
Runner-Up: 2002-03 New Orleans Hornets, 101.13 (No. 430)
24. 2002-03 New Jersey Nets: 102.9
Rank in NBA History: No. 136
It was defense that carried these New Jersey Nets to so much success.
Throughout the 2002-03 campaign, this team allowed only 90.1 points per game, taking advantage of an era of NBA basketball that made it rather difficult for teams to score at high levels. The defensive rating of 98.1 was tops in the league, and it helped the Nets win 49 games before making it all the way to the NBA Finals, where they'd be defeated by the San Antonio Spurs.
Was New Jersey glamorous? Not really, even though Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles were all entertaining offensive players. They just played tough ball, grinding out possessions and systematically dismantling the opposition.
It's also worth noting just how good Kidd was during this early stage of his career.
The Nets outscored their opponents by an additional 11 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, which is an insane amount of impact for any one player, especially one who spent such little time sitting on the bench and catching his breath. Without him, the offense completely stagnated.
But when he played, it was just good enough to complement a dominant defense.
Runner-Up: 2001-02 New Jersey Nets, 102.27 (No. 219)
23. 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves: 103.06
Rank in NBA History: No. 120
Most of the squads you've come across thus far in the countdown have been teams that excelled on one end of the court, usually at the expense of the other. But not these Minnesota Timberwolves, who were well above-average whether they were trying to score or attempting to prevent the opposition from doing the same.
Of course, that's made easier when you have one of the best two-way power forwards in the history of the sport anchoring your team—Kevin Garnett.
Though it wasn't until later in his career that Garnett would win Defensive Player of the Year, he was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player after carrying the 2003-04 Timberwolves to a 58-win season. Not only did he score 24.2 points per game and lead the league in rebounding, but he threw up five assists during the average contest and thrived on the defensive end.
His 1.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per outing are impressive enough. But how about earning eight defensive win shares? How about posting a career-best 92 defensive rating while protecting the rim during live action and after a whistle blew to stop play?
Sam Cassell, Fred Hoiberg, Latrell Sprewell and Trenton Hassell all deserve plenty of credit, but make no mistake about it. This team was all about Garnett.
Runner-Up: 2001-02 Minnesota Timberwolves, 101.77 (No. 292)
22. 1975-76 Golden State Warriors: 103.18
Rank in NBA History: No. 107
Now it's time to go old school as we sneak ever closer to the top 100 teams in basketball history.
Though it was the 1974-75 Golden State Warriors that won this franchise's first title since leaving Philadelphia and moving to the Bay Area, it's actually the team from the very next year that emerges as the best ever. For those of you who are curious, the title-winning Dubs checked in at No. 339, though they outperformed that during the playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns would get the better of the 1975-76 squad during the Western Conference Finals, but picking up Gus Williams and handing Phil Smith a much larger role made all the difference during the regular season.
The former, then a rookie out of USC, averaged 11.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game while making a big defensive impact. The latter trailed only Rick Barry in scoring, putting up 20 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists during a typical contest.
There was just more talent in place, and Barry was still playing out his prime, torturing defenses with his creativity, size and outside shooting. Plus, we can't forget about Jamaal Wilkes, whose 8.3 win shares allowed him to emerge as the second-most-valuable contributor on the roster.
Runner-Up: 1963-64 San Francisco Warriors, 102.54 (No. 178)
21. 2003-04 Indiana Pacers: 103.37
Rank in NBA History: No. 88
And now we're well within the top 100. In fact, the Indiana Pacers actually have two squads in that select group of teams throughout NBA history: the one that's featured here and the runner-up from 1997-98.
Although the 2003-04 Indiana Pacers were a decent offensive team, thanks to Ron Artest's high-volume contributions and the overall excellence of Jermaine O'Neal, this roster was all about locking down on the defensive end of the court.
Bolstered by the No. 3 defensive rating in the league, the Pacers won 61 games and would advance through the playoffs until they were knocked off by the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals.
O'Neal (6.3), Artest (5.2), Al Harrington (4.1) and Jeff Foster (3.8) all chipped in with at least three defensive win shares, and Reggie Miller, Jamaal Tinsley, Fred Jones and Anthony Johnson each added more than two of their own. Everyone bought into the defensive efforts, and Rick Carlisle did a masterful job meshing together the talents from the sidelines.
Interestingly enough, the 2004-05 iteration may have been even better. The Pacers were about to be 7-2 when all hell broke loose in Auburn Hills, and the Malice at the Palace basically ended their hopes of enjoying a successful follow-up campaign after the 2003-04 exploits.
Runner-Up: 1997-98 Indiana Pacers, 103.29 (No. 98)
20. 2013-14 Los Angeles Clippers: 103.44
Rank in NBA History: No. 81
The Los Angeles Clippers have long had a tortured existence, but everything seems to be moving in the right direction ever since Chris Paul was acquired from the New Orleans Hornets after the 2010-11 season. Just take a look at how the ensuing teams have fared for this downtrodden franchise:
- 2010-11 Los Angeles Clippers: 98.42 TeamRtng+ (No. 1013 all time)
- 2011-12 Los Angeles Clippers: 101.34 (No. 378)
- 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers: 103.33 (No. 94)
- 2013-14 Los Angeles Clippers: 103.44 (No. 81)
That's a gargantuan leap followed by some steady improvement.
With Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan leading the on-court charge, the Clippers now have one of the best trios in the current NBA. It helps that Doc Rivers is on the sideline as well, and this squad is only going to get better as the young guns continue to improve, especially now that the second unit's frontcourt has been shored up to some extent.
The 2013-14 iteration was a fantastic team, even if it failed to excel in the playoffs. But chances are it won't be the best squad in this franchise's history come this time next year.
Runner-Up: 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers, 103.33 (No. 94)
19. 1986-87 Atlanta Hawks: 103.46
Rank in NBA History: No. 79
Surprisingly, no squad led by Bob Pettit comes in at the top for this franchise. In fact, the best version of the St. Louis Hawks checks in all the way back at No. 292 behind a handful of Atlanta-based units.
Instead, it's the other all-time great from Hawks history leading the charge—Dominique Wilkins.
Then again, Wilkins wasn't exactly the only standout on this roster, even if he did average 29 points per game and lead the team with an impressive 12.2 win shares. Doc Rivers averaged a strong points-and-assists double-double while running the point, and Kevin Willis did the same with his scoring and rebounding efforts, just from the center position.
Playing at the Omni Coliseum, the Hawks weren't really geared toward any one end of the court. When Wilkins was going off, it was impossible to hold them down on offense, but they had plenty of interior presences and a pesky set of guards on the interior as well. Balance was just the name of the game.
Unfortunately, the balance only took them so far.
The Bad Boys were in the same conference, so a five-game series with the Detroit Pistons put a stop to Atlanta's short-lived run through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Runner-Up: 1996-97 Atlanta Hawks, 102.99 (No. 126)
18. 2006-07 Phoenix Suns: 103.52
Rank in NBA History: No. 70
One of the biggest myths throughout NBA history is that these Phoenix Suns were terrible on the defensive end.
Though it's Mike D'Antoni's "seven seconds or less" offense that carried this team, the Suns were still adequate at preventing points. As much attention as Steve Nash's brilliance, Amar'e Stoudemire's rim-seeking activities and Shawn Marion's overall excellence drew, the Suns actually finished with a defensive rating that was ever so slightly above the league average.
And when you're one of the best offensive teams in NBA history, that's good enough.
Amazingly enough, these Suns managed to roster five players who scored at least 14 points per game, and Boris Diaw added another 9.7 of his own. In addition to the aforementioned trio, Leandro Barbosa and Raja Bell thrived in the uptempo system, using their speed and shooting ability to further torture defenses.
The other Suns teams from this era were all quite good, but this one had the best chemistry, enduring health and quite a bit of two-way talent.
Runner-Up: 2004-05 Phoenix Suns, 103.49 (No. 74)
17. 1974-75 Washington Bullets: 103.66
Rank in NBA History: No. 62
Here's another massive aberration.
In 1973-74, the Capital Bullets couldn't figure out how to score, and an inconsistent bench prevented them from enjoying too much success on the defensive end of the court. Then the franchise moved to Washington, where Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes pieced together one of the greatest defenses in NBA history. In fact, the 107.01 DRtng+ is the No. 20 mark of all time.
With the dynamic duo continuing to age and Kevin Porter leaving for the Detroit Pistons, the 1975-76 bunch wasn't as successful either. While the 1974-75 iteration ranks No. 62 throughout NBA history, the years before and after are No. 509 and No. 422 respectively.
Playing in the Capital Centre, the 1974-75 bunch went 36-5 at home, reveling in the support of its fans and making it a nightmare for any team to travel to Landover, Maryland. However, Washington still wouldn't win a title, as the Golden State Warriors swept them in the NBA Finals.
Nonetheless, these Bullets still won 60 games behind the strength of their defense. The postseason is obviously important, but as we've noted multiple times, it doesn't factor into the rankings.
Runner-Up: 1978-79 Washington Bullets, 102.27 (No. 221)
16. 2001-02 Sacramento Kings: 103.83
Rank in NBA History: No. 51
Cue the sounds of every Sacramento Kings fan old enough to remember the 2001-02 season letting out a simultaneous and prolonged groan. After all, who could forget the controversial series against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals?
"Although no teams are specifically named, it is not hard to deduce the game in question," Chris Sheridan wrote for ESPN.com back in 2008, referring to comments from Tim Donaghy about the alleged fixing of a certain playoff series. "The Lakers-Kings series was the only one that postseason that went seven games, and the officiating in Game 6 was so questionable that consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader called for a formal investigation."
Regardless of what happened in the WCF, the Kings were strong enough to make it there.
Without a title to their credit, they're largely overlooked in NBA history, but this roster was loaded with talent between Peja Stojakovic, Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, Vlade Divac and Hedo Turkoglu. And it was a balanced squad, one that finished No. 3 in offensive rating and No. 6 in defensive rating during the 2001-02 season.
The other Sac-Town teams of this era were strong as well, but this was the crowning jewel for a once-perennial Western Conference competitor so many seem to have forgotten about.
Runner-Up: 2002-03 Sacramento Kings, 103.38 (No. 86)
15. 2009-10 Orlando Magic: 103.85
Rank in NBA History: No. 49
Here's your friendly reminder that Dwight Howard used to be really, really, really good.
He remains one of the elite centers in the NBA to this day, but the impact he made during his Orlando Magic days was just ridiculous. Defenses were forced to pick their poison each and every night, either letting him torture them in one-on-one situations while shutting down the perimeter or throwing double-teams at him but leaving themselves vulnerable to the bevy of shooters on this roster.
It was the classic lose-lose scenario, and it occurred while Howard was also anchoring a stellar Orlando defense, one that was actually better than the offense boasted by this year's Magic squad. Of course, that system doesn't work without shooters, though.
It wasn't all about Howard, important as he may have been.
Stan Van Gundy had plenty of shooters at his disposal. Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and Jason Williams all averaged at least one triple per game, which makes for quite the rotating horde of threats from the perimeter.
As good as the Magic teams with Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway were, this one was better.
Runner-Up: 2008-09 Orlando Magic, 103.56 (No. 68)
14. 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers: 103.98
Rank in NBA History: No. 36
That Wilt Chamberlain guy was pretty good.
During the 1966-67 season, his second full year with the Philadelphia 76ers, he averaged 24.1 points, 24.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game. He was the do-everything standout for this Philly squad, even serving as a de facto point center for much of the game.
The result? Not only did the Sixers win 68 games, but Chamberlain earned a league-best 21.9 win shares while posting a 26.5 PER that also paced the NBA. He was the dominant individual on the league's dominant team, so it should come as no surprise that he was granted the MVP for his efforts.
But it's not as though this was a one-man team.
Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham and just about everyone else would have something to say about that. Walker in particular enjoyed a fantastic season, earning 10.1 win shares of his own.
Runner-Up: 1967-68 Philadelphia 76ers, 103.74 (No. 55)
13. 1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers: 104.0
Rank in NBA History: No. 34
Though the 1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers had a slight offensive tilt, thanks to the high-flying proclivities of Clyde Drexler, they were still an extremely balanced team.
Not only did Buck Williams and Clifford Robinson do a fantastic job protecting the paint, but the perimeter stoppers were quite solid as well. Drexler and Terry Porter might not get much credit as defensive aces, but they both thrived in this Rip City system.
During the regular season, Portland was a juggernaut.
While winning 63 games, the Blazers scored 112.8 points per 100 possessions, a number that left them trailing only the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. Simultaneously, they held the opposition to 104.3 points over the same average span, which put them at No. 3, behind just the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.
It was a devastating combination, one that actually helped them get off to a 19-1 start at the beginning of the campaign. Sadly, things wouldn't end as well as they started.
Despite the fantastic nature of the regular season, Portland bowed out in six games when it faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Runner-Up: 1998-99 Portland Trail Blazers, 103.57 (No. 67)
12. 2007-08 Detroit Pistons: 104.05
Rank in NBA History: No. 32
What? Not the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons?
While the title-winning bunch did come in as the No. 74 team of all time, it doesn't fare as well as you might expect, thanks to an offense that was slightly below the league average. When we're this far up in the historical stratosphere, it's inordinately difficult to finish at the top without two-way play.
In fact, 2003-04 ranks behind these 2007-08 Pistons, which achieved a nice blend of offense and defense while maintaining the franchise identity, as well as the 2005-06 version of the squad. Third place isn't exactly something to be ashamed of, especially when the team defied the odds and took home the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
While 2003-04's 107.86 DRtng+ is absolutely incredible—and would look even better if only the portion of the season in which Rasheed Wallace played counted—it's only 3.39 points better than the 2007-08 squad's point-preventing unit. Meanwhile, the more recent edition was 4.5 points better in terms of ORtng+.
That's enough of a difference for this representative to take the cake.
Runner-Up: 2005-06 Detroit Pistons, 103.67 (No. 61)
11. 2002-03 Dallas Mavericks: 104.06
Rank in NBA History: No. 29
The Dallas Mavericks have advanced to the NBA Finals only twice in their history. They lost to the Miami Heat in 2006, and they got their revenge five years later. But both of those squads used surprising postseason runs rather than regular-season excellence, and that's why neither is represented here.
Taking that one step further, the 2005-06 Mavericks rank No. 105 all time, and the 2010-11 Mavs check in at No. 229.
Instead, it's the 60-win team from 2002-03 that steps forward as the franchise representative, thanks primarily to a dominant offense and a defense that was still slightly above the league average.
With a prime Dirk Nowitzki posting an efficient 25.1 points per game, Michael Finley pouring in another 19.3 during the average contest and Steve Nash keeping the offense moving with his 17.7 points and 7.3 assists per outing, these Mavs were quite the dynamic bunch. They excelled inside and out, and they did so while maximizing the effectiveness of each possession.
Not only did Dallas lead the NBA in free-throw percentage, but it also paced the Association in turnover percentage. When a team already shoots efficiently and has plenty of offensive talent, that's quite the deadly combination.
Runner-Up: 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks, 103.85 (No. 48)
10. 2012-13 Miami Heat: 104.08
Rank in NBA History: No. 26
When the Miami Heat hit their stride during the brief LeBron James era, they were absolutely unstoppable. Never was that more true than during the 2012-13 season, when there was a healthy mix of star power and veteran talent coming off the bench.
Though the season as a whole leaves those Heat as "only" the No. 26 team of all time, there was one stretch in which they played like a top-five unit. After losing to the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 1, Miami's record had dropped to just 29-14, and there was some concern that another title would be hard to come by.
So much for that.
The Heat wouldn't lose again until March 27, reeling off 27 consecutive victories. There were scares throughout, but Miami managed to stave off late runs and make huge comebacks to preserve the impressive streak, allowing it to get back on track and well above even the most optimistic expectations.
With a trap-heavy defense and an offensive assault that featured only the most efficient shots, there was just no stopping this team on either end. Only the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers have ever put together a longer streak than this squad.
Runner-Up: 2010-11 Miami Heat, 103.89 (No. 44)
9. 1969-70 New York Knicks: 104.23
Rank in NBA History: No. 21
How exactly did you score on these New York Knicks?
With a 92.4 defensive rating, they finished No. 1 in that category during the 1969-70 season, and it wasn't even close. The next-best mark belonged to the San Diego Rockets (96.8), and only the Baltimore Bullets joined them below 97 points allowed per 100 possessions.
How? There was just too much talent in every area.
Walt Frazier ran the point and prevented other guards from getting any easy buckets. Dave DeBusschere was a versatile forward who could lock down pretty much any player. Willis Reed protected the rim as well as anyone at that time. Somehow, all three of those players finished among the top five in defensive win shares on the season.
In terms of DRtng+, only 17 teams have ever been better. But of those 17, just three managed to surpass New York's 101.31 ORtng+, which made them far more balanced than they needed to be with so many potent point-preventing powerhouses.
Runner-Up: 1993-94 New York Knicks, 103.84 (No. 50)
8. 1996-97 Utah Jazz: 104.53
Rank in NBA History: No. 15
You knew this was going to be a John Stockton and Karl Malone squad from the 1990s, right?
To find anything else, you have to go all the way down to No. 5 on the franchise leaderboard, when Deron Williams was leading the 2007-08 Utah Jazz.
With Jerry Sloan at the helm and one of the best duos in NBA history running the pick-and-roll to perfection, the Jazz were just a machine on the offensive end. It didn't hurt that they also rostered so many potent shooters—Jeff Hornacek and Bryon Russell chief among them.
Stopping Utah from scoring was just a fruitless task. Not only did the Jazz pace the NBA in effective field-goal percentage, but they also got to the charity stripe with more frequency than any other team in the league, at least when compared to the number of shots they took from the field.
But dominant as the Jazz were offensively, they were still quite good on the less-glamorous end. Malone is a tremendously underrated defender now that so much time has lapsed between his prime and the current day, and Stockton's peskiness on the perimeter always made for a tough matchup.
Runner-Up: 1994-95 Utah Jazz, 104.0 (No. 33)
7. 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs: 104.67
- 1998-99: 104.67 TeamRtng+ (No. 10)
- 2006-07: 104.57 (No. 12)
- 2004-05: 104.35 (No. 18)
- 2003-04: 104.34 (No. 19)
- 2000-01: 104.30 (No. 20)
- 2013-14: 103.88 (No. 45)
- 2005-06: 103.83 (No. 52)
- 2011-12: 103.69 (No. 59)
- 2001-02: 103.36 (No. 89)
Rank in NBA History: No. 10
It's a bit unfair just how many dominant teams this franchise has boasted. I mean, take a gander at how many seasons have finished with the San Antonio Spurs claiming one of the 100-best squads of all time:
That's just ridiculous, especially because there are another seven between 100 and 150.
But the 1998-99 team, one that featured both David Robinson and Tim Duncan in their primes, was the best of the bunch. It was virtually impossible to score near the basket with those two protecting the rim, and Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott and Mario Elie made the perimeter into a nightmare as well.
In fact, these Spurs lay claim to the No. 12 DRtng+ of all time, and they did so while putting forth an offensive unit that was quite effective as well. No one stood a chance, especially during a lockout-shortened season that made offense even harder than it otherwise would have been.
By the end of the season, they were better than ever too. After starting off 7-9, the Spurs reeled off 30 wins in 34 attempts to close the regular season on a sensational pace.
Runner-Up: 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs: 104.57 (No. 12)
6. 2012-13 Oklahoma City Thunder: 104.68
Rank in NBA History: No. 9
Would history remember the 2012-13 Oklahoma City Thunder differently if Patrick Beverley didn't exist?
OKC hadn't skipped a beat after trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets, instead getting better by giving the ball to the incumbent stars with even more frequency and filling the bearded void with Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson. Internal improvement was the theme of the year, just as it so often is for this small-market franchise.
During the regular season, everything went swimmingly. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were flat-out dominant, combining to earn 30.5 win shares. Serge Ibaka was pretty darn effective as well, protecting the rim with his swatting tendencies and remaining a mid-level contributor on the offensive end.
The Thunder ended up leading the NBA in offensive rating and still managed a fourth-place finish in defensive rating. But then the postseason came around, and Beverley and Westbrook collided, knocking the OKC point guard out for the rest of the playoffs.
It was a devastating loss, one that forced Durant to take on far too many offensive responsibilities. Despite being the league's best team during the regular season, the Thunder struggled to get past the Rockets and then were quickly knocked out of contention by the Memphis Grizzlies, which you'll remember were featured near the very beginning of this article.
Runner-Up: 1993-94 Seattle SuperSonics, 104.62 (No. 11)
5. 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers: 104.77
Rank in NBA History: No. 8
Don't be quick to assume that LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are immediately going to form the best team the Cleveland Cavaliers have ever had. They might make up the best offense, but until they figure out the defensive end of the court, it'll be impossible to top this 2008-09 unit.
That's not an insult to the current iteration, just an acknowledgment of how ridiculously good the Cavs were during their 66-win season. Not only did they finish No. 4 in offensive rating, but their defensive rating was so excellent that only the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics allowed fewer points per 100 possessions.
That's a brutal combination, and it's what happens when you surround James with complementary talent while allowing him to serve as the unquestioned featured player. The four-time MVP's supporting cast got knocked quite often during his Cleveland days, but Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Delonte West and Zydrunas Ilgauskas actually made quite positive impacts in 2008-09.
Cleveland was knocked out of the running by the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, but can you imagine how different the next few years of NBA history would've been if that hadn't been the case?
Runner-Up: 1988-89 Cleveland Cavaliers: 103.68 (No. 60)
4. 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers: 105.52
Rank in NBA History: No. 5
Perhaps the greatest testament to the historical excellence of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise is how many dominant runs it's enjoyed.
Would you have been surprised to see one of George Mikan's Minneapolis teams as the representative? How about the Showtime Lakers with Magic Johnson running the show? Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal's teams are strong candidates as well, and we can't just overlook what happened when Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were sharing the frontcourt.
Despite the wealth of eras that could produce the Lakers' all-time champion, it's Wilt Chamberlain who does the trick. With him next to Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, the 1971-72 Lakers couldn't be stopped, winning 69 games and then stomping the postseason competition to earn a title.
But the most interesting part of the season involves Elgin Baylor, who retired nine games into the campaign, calling it quits in the aftermath of a lingering knee injury. Once the legend hung up his sneakers, the Lakers immediately reeled off 33 consecutive victories, which remains the all-time record.
I mean that literally. It was so immediate that the streak began the game after Baylor retired.
The Lakers finished the season in the top two for both offensive and defensive ratings. They were unbelievably good on both ends of the court, and the inspiration of playing for the fallen franchise legend couldn't have hurt their motivation levels.
Runner-Up: 1999-00 Los Angeles Lakers, 104.54 (No. 14)
3. 2007-08 Boston Celtics: 105.6
Rank in NBA History: No. 4
Never has there been a bigger one-season turnaround.
In 2006-07, the Boston Celtics finished with a TeamRtng+ of just 98.26. Below average on both ends of the court, they're now the No. 706 team of all time.
It only took a single offseason for them to move up 702 spots, and they did so by acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, then allowing Doc Rivers to utilize their talents properly and create one of the best defenses in NBA history. The chemistry was immediately there, and it allowed the C's to work as one and suffocate opponents all year long.
With a 108.7 DRtng+, this Boston group actually ranks as the No. 8 defense of all time. But even more impressively, it's the only top-10 defense that was actually above average on the offensive end. That's what makes the difference and allows this Beantown bunch to push past the great C's teams of the Bill Russell and Larry Bird eras.
I have to admit that I was surprised when I saw this group pop out as the No. 4 team of all time. It's easy to remember they were great, but even some of the most positive memories sell them a bit short.
The defense was just that good, especially since it was accompanied by such a strong group of scorers.
Runner-Up: 1985-86 Boston Celtics, 104.39 (No. 17)
2. 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks: 105.65
Rank in NBA History: No. 3
It's always a good thing when you lead the league in effective field-goal percentage on offense and hold your opponents to the lowest such mark. That's what the Milwaukee Bucks did in 1970-71, boosted by the arrival of Oscar Robertson, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played out his second season.
Robertson averaged 19.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game during his first go-round in Milwaukee, shooting 49.6 percent from the floor and providing a nice defensive boost on the perimeter. But Abdul-Jabbar was just unstoppable, posting 31.7 points and 16 rebounds per game during the average contest.
Somehow, the center shot 57.7 percent from the field, had a 29.0 PER and earned 22.3 win shares. Both those advanced metrics paced the NBA in 1970-71, and that's saying little about his defensive impact, which was immense given his size, intelligence and keen understanding of how important protecting the rim was.
Only putting those two players on the court and surrounding them with scrubs likely would've led to Milwaukee making the playoffs at the very least. But that's not what happened, as Bob Dandridge, Jon McGlocklin, Greg Smith, Bob Boozer and Lucius Allen all made positive contributions, though not all of them were in their impressive primes.
It's also worth noting that while next year's Bucks were a top-10 squad throughout all of basketball history, Milwaukee wouldn't re-enter the top 25 until the mid-'80s.
Runner-Up: 1971-72 Milwaukee Bucks, 105.26 (No. 6)
1. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls: 106.38
Rank in NBA History: No. 1
Win-loss records can often be misleading, but that's not the case for the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who boast both the top record in NBA history and the highest TeamRtng+, which is actually significantly higher than that earned by any other squad throughout all the years the Association has been around.
The Bulls led the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating, and the combination just wasn't fair for the rest of the league. It was impossible to score against Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, three of the best defenders of all time, but it was similarly difficult to prevent Chicago from scoring.
After all, the triangle was in full swing, and players like Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr and Ron Harper thrived alongside their superstar teammates. Focusing too much defensive attention on Jordan was a recipe for failure, but so too was leaving him alone in one-on-one situations.
There was just no way to beat this team, which was obviously reflected in its 72-10 record. Amazingly enough, only two of those losses came by double digits, and the Bulls were three-made baskets away from going an even more stellar 75-7.
As if 72 wins wasn't good enough...
What would the Bulls do for an encore? Nothing special. They just became the second-greatest team of all time in 1996-97.
Runner-Up: 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, 105.71 (No. 2)