Ranking the 50 Best NBA Teams of All Time
The NBA (or BAA, as it was originally known) has been around since the 1946-47 campaign.
That season, the Philadelphia Warriors, led by Joe Fulks, won the title. He was the league's leading scorer with 23.2 points on 30.5 percent shooting.
Basketball has changed quite a bit since then. And most of the teams and stars detailed below did a lot to spur that evolution.
The NBA's most dominant teams, the subject of this countdown, force adaptation. Think about the league's response to the recent Golden State Warriors dynasty.
The Warriors forced almost everyone else to embrace, to some extent, the pursuit of positionless basketball, precision shooting and motion-heavy offense.
The best teams across history were similarly influential.
Before we get to the top 50, though, some words on how we reached this order...
The methodology for this project was fairly complex.
Initially, all 1,507 teams across league history were examined using the following numbers:
- Playoff and regular-season winning percentage
- Playoff and regular-season simple rating system (combination of point differential and strength of schedule)
- Playoff and regular-season relative offensive rating (team's points per 100 possessions minus the league average)
- Playoff and regular-season relative defensive rating (team's points allowed per 100 possessions minus the league average)
- Playoff and regular-season net rating (points per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions)
From there, one hard-and-fast rule was instituted: To qualify for the final list, teams had to make it to the NBA Finals. That eliminated a couple of regular-season powerhouses that fell apart in the playoffs, including the 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers.
Then, the entire remaining group was sorted by the average of their ranks in the numbers above with extra weight given to regular-season and postseason winning percentage and postseason net rating.
Points were also awarded to each team based on whether it won the title.
That gave us a baseline. A couple of judgment calls were made here and there. For the most part, though, the statistical criteria remained our guide.
One final note: Using numbers like relative offensive and defensive rating means these teams were mostly viewed through the lens of "How thoroughly did this squad dominate that season?"
Meaningful comparisons between teams of the 1950s or 1960s and teams of today, the 2000s or even the 1990s are impossible. The game has changed too much. There's no way to know what Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain would look like in 2019-20 (or with 2019-20 fitness, nutrition and equipment).
Cross-era comparisons are unavoidable in certain situations, though. That's the nature of an all-time top 50.
I don't begrudge spirited reactions to any of the following placements. And I encourage debate over which teams should be higher or lower.
Have at it...
50. 1993-94 Houston Rockets
Believe it or not, Hakeem Olajuwon's title teams actually struggled a bit under the objective criteria. Among every team sampled (so we're talking all of NBA history here), regular-season relative defensive rating was the only number in which the 1993-94 Houston Rockets ranked in the top 50. And they fared much better than the 1994-95 team.
When the 1990s teams were separated from the group, this Rockets squad still didn't crack the top 10. It just didn't feel right to omit Olajuwon and the only team to interrupt MJ's reign, though. So, this is one of those judgment calls mentioned in the methodology slide.
This particular Houston squad featured Hakeem's lone MVP season and his second-best individual campaign by box plus/minus. He averaged 41.0 minutes, 27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 3.7 blocks and 1.6 steals.
Then he somehow got even better in the playoffs, posting 28.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 4.0 blocks and 1.7 steals in 43.0 minutes per game.
With MJ off playing baseball, the league suddenly belonged to The Dream.
"It's a joke how good he is," Indiana Pacers president Donnie Walsh said ahead of the 1994 Finals. "He's the best player in the league, and there's nothing you can do with him."
With Jordan gone, that was a tough sentiment to challenge, especially after the Rockets secured that 1994 championship.
This wasn't entirely a one-man show, though. Houston also received solid contributions from a young Robert Horry, Otis Thorpe, Kenny Smith, Vernon Maxwell, Mario Elie and Sam Cassell that season.
And, as seems to be the case with the modern Rockets, they were ahead of the analytical curve, leading the NBA in three-point attempts per 100 possessions.
The attack wasn't quite as triple-heavy as those of today's teams, but the philosophy of surrounding a dominant big with shooting is something that still resonates.
49. 2005-06 Miami Heat
Wade's 27.2 points, 6.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game were remarkable numbers for a 24-year-old near the outset of his career. James Harden, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Russell Westbrook are the only other players in league history to hit all four marks in a season, and LeBron was the only one to do so at a younger age.
In that series alone, Wade averaged 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.0 blocks. He was utterly dominant as Miami won four straight games after falling down 2-0 to the Dallas Mavericks.
"This went way beyond just passing the torch," ESPN's Bill Simmons wrote of the dynamic between Wade and Shaq after the Finals. "Holding that [Finals] MVP trophy over his head, Dwyane Wade realized he was the best player in the league."
Wade would go on to have better individual seasons (though he never won a regular-season MVP) and win two more titles, but 2005-06 may well have been his narrative peak. On a team with a big man who had seemingly owned the league for years, Wade became "The Man."
Elsewhere on this roster, the Heat had solid depth and experience from the likes of Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton and James Posey. A 25-year-old Udonis Haslem was a key cog. And though he was in his age-33 season, Shaq still averaged 20.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
48. 1974-75 Golden State Warriors
After a relatively quiet regular season (they finished fourth in the league in simple rating system), the 1974-75 Golden State Warriors rode an all-time great postseason performance from Rick Barry to an epic upset in the Finals.
Over the course of 17 playoff games, Barry put up 28.2 points, 6.1 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 0.9 blocks. He had 33 percent more playoff wins over replacement player than the man in second place in that category (Wes Unseld).
In the Finals, he and the Warriors faced a juggernaut. The 1974-75 Washington Bullets went 60-22 in the regular season. They led the league in simple rating system. They boasted an all-time great frontcourt with Unseld and Elvin Hayes.
But Golden State pulled together to shock the world.
"It's the greatest upset in the history of the NBA, by far, there's nothing even comparable to it," Barry told the Times-Standard in 2013. "And to have been a part of that, and to have lived through it, with the guys, was really special."
The Warriors had eight players who averaged at least six points in the playoffs. Jamaal Wilkes, another Hall of Famer, was particularly helpful with averages of 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals.
After those two, it really was a balanced, gritty team effort that led to the championship. Of the numbers relied upon for this exercise, playoff winning percentage and playoff relative defensive rating are where this team performed best. And their defense was significantly better in the playoffs than it was during the regular season.
The concerted effort it took to make that improvement did not come from one superstar.
"Well, you said the one word that it was about, it was about a 'team,'" Barry said. "It was about a group of young men who were willing to put their egos aside, and go out and do what was best for the team."
47. 1973-74 Boston Celtics
Bill Russell and Larry Bird get the bulk of the historical attention paid to this organization—and rightfully so—but the 1973-74 Boston Celtics had a few of their own legends who helped secure a title.
John Havlicek, Dave Cowens and Jo Jo White, all Hall of Famers, were the top three scorers. And their averages ranged from 22.6 points to 18.1, demonstrating Boston's balanced attack.
Some other names you'll recognize from this roster include Paul Silas, Don Nelson and Hall of Famer Paul Westphal, who went on to enjoy a much bigger role later in his career.
In that postseason, Havlicek and Cowens found an even higher level of play than they displayed in the regular season. Havlicek went for 27.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Cowens put up 20.5 points, 13.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
In the Finals, they topped a Milwaukee Bucks squad that included legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.
46. 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers
The 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers are more of a folktale than a title-winning NBA team.
Their best player, Hall of Famer Bill Walton, was an offensive pioneer for today's point centers, but he may have been even more impactful on defense. And he did much of his damage in Portland while rocking a beard, mop of red hair and outspoken politics that were all thoroughly '70s.
Nothing spoke louder than his game, though.
"If you talk to people who have been around the league," longtime Portland play-by-play announcer Bill Schonely said in 2017, "they'll tell you that if Bill Walton would have been healthy for a longer period, he might have gone down as the best center ever."
In 1976-77, Walton averaged 18.6 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.2 blocks and 1.0 steals. He trailed only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bobby Jones in box plus/minus. And he maintained his dominant performance through the postseason.
In fact, his average for assists increased to 5.5 in the playoffs. And in the 1977 Finals against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers, he put up an absurd 18.5 points, 19.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 3.7 blocks and 1.0 steals on the way to the Finals MVP.
This wasn't a one-man show, though. Eight Blazers averaged at least 8.0 points per game that season. Seven averaged at least 2.0 assists. Maurice Lucas and Lionel Hollins were both multi-time All-Defense selections.
Walton was certainly the main attraction, but this was a well-rounded team with a defense that stifled opponents through the playoffs.
45. 1983-84 Boston Celtics
The 1983-84 Boston Celtics were led by the same top two scorers (Larry Bird and Robert Parish) as the title-winning 1980-81 team, but they also benefited from Kevin McHale's breakout campaign and the arrival of All-Star Dennis Johnson.
In the second year of the award's existence, McHale won Sixth Man of the Year behind 18.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in just 31.4 minutes. He was an integral part of a three-big rotation with Bird (24.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.8 steals) and Parish (19.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks).
Johnson, meanwhile, was a second-team All-Defense selection in 1983-84, and he provided a boost to the offense as well. He was fourth on the team in scoring at 13.2 points per game. Cedric Maxwell and Gerald Henderson, two more holdovers from the 1980-81 team, also averaged double figures.
That postseason, though, it was all about Bird. He led the team in points (27.5), rebounds (11.0), assists (5.9) and steals (2.3) per game. He had a 60.7 true shooting percentage and collected 8.0 wins over replacement player (value over replacement player times 2.7).
LeBron James (three times) and Tim Duncan (2003) are the only players in league history to total more in a single postseason.
"He's the best all-around player I've ever seen," Celtics coach K.C. Jones said that year. "He can do it all, and he makes everybody around him better. He's a winner. I can't imagine this team without him."
44. 1996-97 Utah Jazz
The 1996-97 Utah Jazz were a powerhouse that just happened to peak in the middle of Jordan's second three-peat.
Karl Malone won the MVP that season with averages of 27.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.4 steals. The Jazz, who went 64-18, were plus-11.7 points per 100 possessions with Malone on the floor and minus-10.2 with him off.
John Stockton was a few years past his prime, but he was still plenty impactful too. His 14.4 points and 10.5 assists gave him a 10th straight campaign with a double-double average (he put up 15.6 points, 12.8 assists and 2.6 steals over that decade-long stretch).
And Jeff Hornacek (14.5 points and 4.4 assists with a 59.6 true shooting percentage) and Bryon Russell (10.8 points with a 60.0 true shooting percentage) were solid too. They ranked 22nd and 48th, respectively, in box plus/minus that season, giving Utah four players in the top 50 (Malone and Stockton were third and fifth).
But after a relatively painless 11-3 run through the first three rounds of the playoffs, Utah found itself matched up against Jordan, Pippen, Dennis Rodman and the reigning champion Bulls.
Chicago won the series in six games, but the Jazz were only outscored by four points in the aggregate.
43. 2018-19 Toronto Raptors
But this team deserves credit, not just for ending the Kevin Durant era in Golden State, but for what it did all season.
In the preceding offseason, the Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The move instantly vaulted them into title contention.
And though Leonard would go on to miss around a quarter of the season due to "load management," he finished ninth in MVP voting. And when he shared the floor with Green and Kyle Lowry, Toronto was plus-14.0 points per 100 possessions (98th percentile).
The Raptors displayed championship-caliber basketball throughout 2018-19, and they and their superstar ratcheted things up in the playoffs.
Leonard averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.3 threes and 1.7 steals in the postseason. He had a 61.9 true shooting percentage and totaled 7.8 wins over replacement player (value over replacement player times 2.7).
LeBron James (three times), Larry Bird and Tim Duncan are the only players in league history to pile up more wins over replacement player in a single playoffs.
Throughout that run to the title, Kawhi was accompanied by a feeling of inevitability. Every drive and pull-up jumper seemed destined for the bottom of the net. His lockdown defense led in part to a massive postseason net rating swing of plus-15.9.
The cold, calculated dominance led to a Terminator spot after the season.
"He appears to be a robot built to destroy the NBA," Ben Cohen and Andrew Beaton wrote for the Wall Street Journal. "A coach once speculated that he bleeds anti-freeze."
The 2018-19 season did little to prove otherwise.
42. 1999-00 Los Angeles Lakers
The first Shaq-and-Kobe title, won by the 1999-00 Los Angeles Lakers, came in large part due to the big fella.
In his first and only MVP season, O'Neal averaged 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.0 blocks. The Lakers were plus-10.4 points per 100 possessions with Shaq on the floor and minus-0.5 with him off.
And he clearly wasn't satisfied with that level of regular-season production.
In the Finals, he took it up another notch. In six games against the Indiana Pacers, O'Neal averaged 38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 2.3 assists.
But even if Shaq was the biggest reason the Lakers won the title in 2000, he certainly wasn't the only one.
In his age-21 season, Kobe averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists. Ron Harper carried over his role from the dynastic Chicago Bulls as head coach Phil Jackson's triangle point guard. Rick Fox and Robert Horry were both growing into the roles they'd enjoy for much of the three-peat.
That wasn't all, though. This team also featured Glen Rice, who most know as a Charlotte Hornet (understandable since his three All-Star appearances came with that team).
L.A.'s top three-man lineup by raw plus-minus in 1999-00 featured Shaq, Harper and Rice. And in the playoffs, Rice shot 41.8 percent from three.
Again, it's obvious why Shaq and Kobe were the faces of the early-2000s Lakers, but there were plenty of solid players around them.
41. 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs
The 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs were led by a dominant Tim Duncan, who averaged 23.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.9 blocks on the way to his second consecutive MVP. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only player in league history to match or exceed all those marks in a single season.
This was also the first season for Manu Ginobili, the last season for David Robinson and a breakout campaign for Tony Parker.
As a rookie, Ginobili was second on the Spurs in playoff wins over replacement player. And despite his advancing years, Robinson was still a force on defense. When he was on the floor, San Antonio allowed 4.7 fewer points per 100 possessions. Parker, in just his second season, was second on the team in scoring, averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 assists during the regular season.
But in typically Spursian fashion, this team was about more than the big names. San Antonio had nine players with at least 500 minutes and an above-replacement-level BPM, and the group's connectivity on defense led to a stifling effort in the postseason.
Teams scored an average of 105.1 points per 100 possessions in the 2003 playoffs. San Antonio allowed just 97.7, giving it the best playoff relative defensive rating of the 2000s teams sampled.
40. 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons are often held out as the prime example of a team winning a championship without a star, but let's examine that notion a bit further.
While they certainly didn't have anyone on the level of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal or Tim Duncan, a handful of these Pistons played at or near a star level (even if only one, Ben Wallace, was named an All-Star).
Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace finished the 2003-04 campaign 16th, 21st and 47th, respectively, in BPM. Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton were both in the top 75, as well.
But there's a reason the team is talked about the way it is. It absolutely embodied the "greater than the sum of its parts" cliche.
Over the 523 postseason minutes in which Billups, Hamilton, Prince and the two Wallaces shared the floor, Detroit was a staggering plus-14.6 points per 100 possessions. Against the Los Angeles Lakers alone, that five-man lineup was plus-41 in 121 Finals minutes.
The Pistons dominated a team that included multiple legends.
"We had a team and we played as a unit," Ben Wallace told ABC's Mike Lacett. "And when we came together and we all played our part, it was like a perfect song and dance.'
39. 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks
That postseason, Dirk Nowitzki and his Dallas teammates made a habit of surprising the competition. And they helped set a trend that would dominate the decade.
Jump-shooting teams can win titles.
Jason Kidd and Jason Terry were first and second in threes made during those playoffs. Peja Stojakovic, Deshawn Stevenson and Dirk were all in the top 12.
The spacing provided by Dallas' modern pick-and-roll attack left the middle of the floor open for Tyson Chandler's dives to the rim or Nowitzki's mid-range clinics.
Ultimately, the 2011 playoffs belonged to Dirk.
LeBron, Wade and Bosh had formed the Heatles the previous summer. They were the story all season. Then Dirk seized control of the narrative, averaging 27.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 threes while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 46.0 percent from three during the postseason.
It was a triumph that came on the back of years of struggles.
"If you’re in this league for 13 years and just battling in the playoffs and always coming up short, this is extra special," Nowitzki said after beating the Heat, per Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post.
This Mavericks squad may not have been the best team of the 2010s, but it has an argument for the best story.
38. 1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers
Fresh off the 1979 NCAA title game that birthed a yearslong rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the former led the 1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA title in his first season as a pro.
The rookie Magic averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.4 steals. His 4.8 box plus/minus is the sixth-best ever for a first-year player.
And with superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out for the sixth game of the Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, Magic started at center and went for a ridiculous 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists to clinch the title.
To this day, his wire-to-wire accomplishments as a rookie are hard to believe.
He had plenty of help, of course. The team's two leading scorers, Abdul-Jabbar (24.8 points per game) and Wilkes (20.0), are both in the Hall of Fame.
Though he was in his age-32 season, Kareem was still perhaps the NBA's best player. He was the MVP and trailed only Julius Erving in box plus/minus. Beyond the scoring, he averaged 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per game.
This team also featured a post-prime version of Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood, multi-time All-Star Norm Nixon and defensive stalwart Michael Cooper.
Two of the top five players of all time took them a long way toward a title, but the depth was certainly important too.
37. 1958-59 Boston Celtics
Bill Russell was the clear leader of the 1958-59 Boston Celtics.
In his third NBA season, Russell led the way to his second title with averages of 16.7 points, 23.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists. His 45.7 field-goal percentage was also 6.2 points above the league average.
This team's 52-20 record, league-leading simple rating system and stifling postseason defense were the products of a team effort, though.
Beyond Russell, this roster featured six more Hall of Famers: Bill Sharman, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey, Sam Jones and K.C. Jones.
Of course, all of their Hall of Fame resumes are more than buoyed by the fact that they won multiple titles behind Russell's leadership, but most of those players were instrumental in 1958-59.
Sharman averaged a team-leading 20.4 points. Cousy contributed 20.0 points, 8.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds. Heinsohn went for 18.8 points and 9.7 rebounds. Ramsey averaged 15.4 points. And Sam Jones was also a double-figures scorer.
Russell was the anchor, and it's tough to imagine near as much success in the '50s and '60s without him, but the Celtics featured talent up and down the roster.
36. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors
The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors didn't win the title, but their 73 regular-season wins are an all-time NBA record. And they were led by Stephen Curry, who may have had the greatest individual offensive season ever.
Curry's 10.3 offensive box plus/minus in 2015-16 is the highest mark in league history (and by a pretty comfortable margin).
That season, he averaged 31.9 points (11th all-time), 7.1 assists and 5.4 threes (first all-time) per 75 possessions. And here's the kicker: His 66.9 true shooting percentage was a whopping 12.8 points better than the league average.
No one has ever combined that level of volume with that level of efficiency. The only player who has come close? Curry, two years later.
In his second consecutive MVP campaign, Curry wreaked havoc, both on and off the ball. Wherever he was, regardless of how far he was from the rim, teams had to pay attention. And that made life exponentially easier for everyone else.
When he was on the floor, the Warriors were plus-17.5 points per 100 possessions, compared to minus-3.8 when he was off. Among players with at least 500 minutes, that 21.3-point swing was topped only by... teammate Draymond Green.
Draymond was outstanding that season, with averages of 14.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks. His 13 triple-doubles trailed only Russell Westbrook's total that season. And he finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting (not to mention seventh in MVP voting).
Rounding out Golden State's pre-KD Big Three, of course, was Klay Thompson. That season, he averaged 22.1 points and 3.5 threes while shooting 42.5 percent from deep and often saving Curry from the hassle of defending opposing 1s.
Those three, along with Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and the rest of the roster, put together quite possibly the greatest regular season of all time.
And had Green been able to refrain from carrying out his infamous mid-Finals retaliation, which led to a Game 5 suspension, the Warriors would have had a much better shot at avoiding the meltdown that now mars this team's legacy.
35. 1969-70 New York Knicks
The 1969-70 New York Knicks were the first of two teams to bring a title to Madison Square Garden, thanks to a balanced scoring attack and two superstars at the top of the roster.
Willis Reed, that season's MVP, led the way with 21.7 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Walt Frazier went for 20.9 points, 8.2 assists and 6.0 rebounds.
Then, a group of six players that included Hall of Famers Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley averaged between 14.9 and 7.7 points.
That postseason, Reed took his game to another level, averaging 23.7 points and 13.8 rebounds. But the title pursuit seemed on the brink of collapse when he went down with a torn thigh muscle in Game 5 of the Finals.
"There goes the series!" Frazier said of his thoughts at the time of Reed's injury. "When The Captain was lying on the floor in pain, I wasn't sure if he could return or not."
Frazier's play following Reed's injury did not match that sentiment.
The 1969-70 Los Angeles Lakers, which featured Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, won a Game 6 Reed missed by 22 points, forcing a Game 7.
Then Frazier went for 36 points and 19 assists in the clincher that may be best known for Reed's iconic walk from the tunnel to the court.
He only mustered four points on that injured thigh, but the emotional boost he provided helped the Knicks upend the star-studded Lakers.
34. 2004-05 San Antonio Spurs
If this article were about the most influential teams in NBA history, the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns may well have this spot.
The "Seven Seconds or Less" offense led by Steve Nash lit the NBA up to the tune of a league-best 62 wins, and the spread pick-and-roll principles it employed can be seen in the DNA of most current teams.
But when Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson matched up with the 2004-05 San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, they were beaten handily.
San Antonio slowed things down and held the Suns to 104.0 points per game in that series, over six points below their league-leading regular-season average (110.4). They also hummed like Phoenix previously had on the other end.
The Spurs scored 118.6 points per 100 possessions in that series, and the Big Three was predictably stellar. Duncan averaged 27.4 points and 13.8 rebounds. Manu went for 22.2 points, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Parker added 20.4 points and 4.2 assists per contest.
In the Finals, San Antonio was pushed to a Game 7 against the defending champion Pistons. Detroit actually scored more points over the entire series, but the Spurs ground out the victory.
33. 1972-73 New York Knicks
Three years after beating the Lakers for the organization's first NBA title, the 1972-73 New York Knicks made it back to the mountaintop. By this point, the team was Walt Frazier's.
Frazier led the team in scoring (21.1) and assists (5.9) and was third in rebounds (7.3) behind DeBusschere and Reed. He was the engine for a team loaded with talent.
DeBusschere, Bradley, Jerry Lucas and Reed made up the rotation of forwards and centers (all would eventually make the Hall of Fame), and Earl Monroe gave Frazier a backcourt mate who had previously proved himself one of the league's best scorers with the Baltimore Bullets.
He took a lesser role with the Knicks, but Monroe still averaged 15.5 points and shot a field-goal percentage well above the league average. With those two to attack from the perimeter while DeBusschere (16.3 points per game) and Bradley (16.1) did damage inside, the Knicks had the third-best offense in the league.
They were top-four on defense as well, thanks in large part to the presence of Reed and Lucas inside, as well as the gritty Phil Jackson.
The whole squad came together brilliantly in the playoffs and beat West, Chamberlain and the Lakers for the second time in the Finals.
32. 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers
By the time the 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship, Magic Johnson had established himself as the new face of the franchise.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the legend firmly entrenched in the GOAT debate, but Johnson led the team in box plus/minus for the second straight season. And his basic averages of 18.6 points, a team-leading 9.6 rebounds and a team-best 9.5 assists were eye-popping.
The Showtime era was in its infancy, and Magic was the conductor.
Kareem still had plenty to offer, though. His 23.9 points per game led the team, and he managed 8.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.7 blocks in his age-34 season.
Hall of Famer Jamaal Wilkes added another 21.1 points. Norm Nixon pitched in 17.6. Mitch Kupchak went for 14.3. And Michael Cooper maintained his brilliant perimeter defense and averaged 11.9 points of his own.
Altogether, this team was a dominant force. And with its second title in three years, it was clear it would be a factor for most of the 1980s.
31. 1963-64 Boston Celtics
The 1962-63 campaign was Bob Cousy's last (until he came back for a seven-game stint with the Cincinnati Royals in 1969-70), but one of the game's most decorated organizations barely missed a beat, thanks in large part to the arrival of John Havlicek that same season.
The next, in which the 1963-64 Boston Celtics secured Bill Russell's seventh of 11 titles, saw Havlicek take off to the tune of a team-leading 19.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
The team also featured Hall of Famers Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, Tom Sanders, Frank Ramsey, K.C. Jones and Clyde Lovelette
Of course, the unquestioned leader remained Russell. He averaged 24.7 rebounds and 15.0 points. His 4.7 assists trailed only K.C. Jones' mark in that category. And in the Finals, he went toe to toe with, and came out on top of, Wilt Chamberlain.
Russell's team- and defense-first approach to the game made him the more successful player (in terms of team accomplishments) despite inferior individual numbers.
30. 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers
The third team of the Shaq-and-Kobe three-peat, the 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers were clearly headlined by those two stars, but they received major contributions from a couple of role players in the playoffs.
Believe it or not, Robert Horry was second to O'Neal among Lakers in postseason BPM thanks to his versatile defense at the 4 and a 38.7 three-point percentage.
Rick Fox was key, as well. He did a little bit of everything for L.A. during those playoffs, averaging 9.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals. The Lakers were plus-8.4 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, compared to minus-8.1 when he was off.
And finally, there was Derek Fisher, who ascended to his role as the Lakers' starting point guard during this postseason (he would later relinquish it in 2003-04 before returning to the Lakers in 2007-08). His 10.2 playoff points per game and timely shooting came in handy on more than one occasion.
But again, this is about Shaq and Kobe, and they were a force in 2001-02.
The Lakers had entered the "cruise control during the regular season" portion of the dynasty, but O'Neal (who only played 67 games) and Bryant finished the season fifth and ninth, respectively, in wins over replacement player (first and third in the playoffs).
They combined to average 52.4 points, 16.2 rebounds and 8.5 assists, and over 60 percent of the team's regular-season wins over replacement player came from them.
This season isn't without controversy, though. The 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Sacramento Kings are an NBA conspiracy theorist's playground.
The Kings, who were the top seed in the West, led the series 3-2 heading into Game 6. A 40-25 disparity in free-throw attempts in the series' penultimate game raised red flags for plenty of fans. They started waving furiously in 2008 when former referee Tim Donaghy claimed that contest was fixed.
Others pushed back in an oral history on Grantland.
"My background is well documented, and I've been dealing with criminals for a long time," said Bob Delaney, who officiated Game 6 and was a police officer prior to his career with the league. "Criminals will step on anybody's head to get out of the water, to get out of the pool ... It didn't surprise me or quite honestly concern me, because I know my own character, I know who I am—my resume is more than a little bit stronger than Tim Donaghy's."
Regardless of what happened in Game 6, the Kings had another shot to end the Lakers' dynasty in Sacramento during Game 7. They came up short.
29. 2011-12 Miami Heat
LeBron's first championship team, the 2011-12 Miami Heat, was buoyed by one of the 2010s more dominant playoff runs. Of the 2010s teams sampled, the Heat were in the top 10 in playoff winning percentage, relative offensive rating and net rating. And of course, they won the title.
Fresh off its loss to Dallas in the 2011 Finals, Miami would not be denied in 2012. The key to reaching the next level was, perhaps, Wade and LeBron figuring out how to coexist.
In 2012, the former explained his sacrifice to ESPN's Israel Gutierrez:
"It was probably one of the hardest things I had to do in sports was to, in a sense, take a step back. A lot of people don't understand. They'll say, 'Why would you do that?' To me, I want more success from winning. I don't want another scoring title. I'm just trying to win.
"I felt that it had to come from nobody but me, to say, 'Go ahead, man. You're the best player in the world. We'll follow your lead.' Once I said that, I thought he kind of exhaled a little bit."
Behind averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals, LeBron was the 2012 league MVP. Wade and Bosh did plenty of damage as the second and third options. In fact, Wade finished 10th in MVP voting. And Bosh was an All-Star.
The 2011-12 season was also Shane Battier's first in Miami. He didn't have a huge role in the regular season, but moving him into the starting five for most of the playoffs unlocked small-ball possibilities that helped the team for the rest of the Heatles era.
With LeBron, Battier, Bosh and Wade all on the floor, Miami was able to switch and rotate in ways that are now commonplace in today's game.
People often try to attach asterisks to championships. This one is sometimes derided for punctuating a lockout-shortened season. But few teams across history packed a roster with as much pure talent. And this was the season that talent fused with a little chemistry.
28. 1980-81 Boston Celtics
A year after losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the postseason, Larry Bird and the 1980-81 Boston Celtics dominated the league in the Hall of Famer's second campaign.
As an NBA sophomore, Bird averaged 21.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.8 blocks. It was clear he was on the way to a dominant career, but he certainly wasn't a one-man show on this team.
In fact, Robert Parish, another Hall of Famer, was Boston's team leader in box plus/minus that season. And his basic averages of 18.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.8 assists in just 28.0 minutes were nothing to sneeze at.
This team also had a rookie Kevin McHale, who averaged 10.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just 20.1 minutes, as well as an unlikely Finals MVP in Cedric Maxwell.
In six Finals games against the Houston Rockets, Maxwell averaged 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.0 blocks while shooting 56.8 percent from the field.
This may have been something of an "Andre Iguodala in 2015" situation, though. Stephen Curry had the Warriors' highest average game score during those Finals, and Bird led the '81 Celtics in that same number.
Against the Rockets, he put up 15.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.3 steals.
"I was surprised," Boston coach Bill Fitch said of Maxwell winning the award. "I assumed it would be Bird."
There really wasn't a wrong answer here, though. Iguodala's defense was a critical component of the Warriors' win in 2015, and it's tough to imagine the Celtics topping Moses Malone and the Rockets without their leading scorer in that series.
27. 1964-65 Boston Celtics
For over a decade, Bill Russell and the Celtics essentially owned the NBA during its formative years. He won his first title in 1957 and his 11th in 1969. Picking one squad from that bunch is tough.
If we had made the statistical criteria already detailed the ultimate arbiter of these rankings, the 1963-64 squad would've been in the top 10 for pre-90s teams.
But three more regular-season wins, a better simple rating system, Sam Jones' peak season and overcoming a monster Wilt Chamberlain performance in the playoffs gave the edge to the 1964-65 Boston Celtics.
That season, Russell won his fifth and final MVP award behind averages of 24.1 rebounds, 14.1 points and 5.3 assists. As mentioned, Jones was phenomenal too. He put up a team-leading 25.9 points. John Havlicek added another 18.3. And a supporting cast that included Tom Heinsohn, Tom Sanders, Willie Naulls and K.C. Jones provided plenty of help along the way.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Celtics came up against Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. The legendary big man averaged 31.4 rebounds and 30.1 points, but the balanced, team-first approach of the Celtics led to a Game 7 win for Boston that included one of the game's most legendary moments.
With five seconds to go and the Celtics up by one, Philadelphia's Hal Greer attempted to inbound the ball from the baseline toward the wing. Havlicek jumped the passing lane and tipped the ball back to Sam Jones, who dribbled up the floor and ran out the clock.
Johnny Most's "Havlicek stole the ball!" remains one of the widely known calls in NBA history.
Boston would go on to dominate the Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, capping off perhaps the best single season of the team's Russell era.
26. 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs
The 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs featured the legendary Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker at or near the peak of their powers.
Duncan averaged 20.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.4 blocks. Tony Parker added 18.6 points and 5.5 assists per game, and Manu Ginobili provided 16.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.7 threes per contest off the bench while leading the team in BPM.
There was a Jedi-like balance between those three throughout the season and into the playoffs. Across all regular-season and postseason minutes, San Antonio was plus-13.8 points per 100 possessions when all three were on the floor.
But in typical form for Gregg Popovich-coached teams, there was plenty of support for the stars, too.
Bruce Bowen was a first-team All-Defensive selection and shot 38.4 percent from three. Michael Finley averaged 9.0 points off the bench. Brent Barry had an all-time-great shooting season.
With the three stars jelling and the role players more than living up to their end of the bargain, the Spurs cruised to a 16-4 record in the playoffs (including a sweep in the Finals).
Like the Lakers' 2001-02 playoff run, though, this one wasn't as squeaky-clean as the record might suggest.
In Game 4 of San Antonio's second-round series against the Phoenix Suns, Robert Horry hit Steve Nash with a "hockey-style" check that drew Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw off the bench to defend their point guard.
Both forwards, who were first and sixth, respectively, in scoring for the Suns that season, were suspended for Game 5. The Spurs won the last two games of the series before cruising through the rest of the postseason.
25. 1989-90 Detroit Pistons
The 1989-90 Detroit Pistons won the organization's second consecutive title behind Isiah Thomas, one of the greatest postseason performers in NBA history.
For his career, Thomas is 16th in NBA history in playoff box plus/minus. And in that particular postseason, he averaged 20.5 points, 8.2 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals.
"Thomas, at 6 feet, is the only small man in the league who can make the game his," Michael Wilbon wrote in June of 1990. "... Ever since throwing that errant pass to Larry Bird in Boston Garden three years ago, Isiah Thomas has been as clutch a player as there is in the league. Jordan included."
In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bulls, Thomas did indeed make the game his, finishing with 21 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. For the second straight year, he led his team over the game's brightest individual star.
But these Pistons were much more than a one-man show. Joe Dumars averaged 17.8 points and shot 40.0 percent from three that season. James Edwards pitched in with 14.5 points. Mark Aguirre added 14.1. And Vinnie Johnson put up 9.8 off the bench.
Of course, it wasn't all about guards and wings. One of the hallmarks of this team was the bruising corps of big men. John Salley was an elite rim protector, averaging 1.9 blocks in just 23.3 minutes. Dennis Rodman won his second straight Defensive Player of the Year. And Bill Laimbeer was an early pioneer for stretch bigs. He averaged 12.1 points and a team-leading 2.0 three-point attempts per game while shooting 36.1 percent from deep.
This squad was deep, gritty and led by a superstar.
24. 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs
From the champions who opened the decade to the ones who closed it, the 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs featured one of the best frontcourts in NBA history.
San Antonio's so-called Twin Towers boasted Tim Duncan and David Robinson, two defensive juggernauts with plenty of offensive skill to boot.
In just his second season, Duncan averaged 21.7 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.4 assists. He finished third in MVP voting.
Robinson, meanwhile, may have been past his prime, but he still managed to put up 15.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 2.1 assists per game.
When both were on the floor, the Spurs were plus-12.7 points per 100 possessions. And they were even more dominant in the heightened intensity of the playoffs. Their two-man net rating that postseason was plus-19.3.
It wasn't always smooth sailing, though. San Antonio started the season 6-8, and the offense appeared congested. It wasn't until Robinson, who entered that campaign trailing only MJ in career box plus/minus, took something of a backseat that things started to click.
"If he was a jerk, if he had no character, if he wasn't smart enough to know it's for the good of the team, I'd have all kinds of problems," Popovich said.
Robinson's example of selflessness seemed to rub off on Duncan, who led the Spurs through one of the game's greatest stretches of team basketball with the same sort of humility.
Elsewhere on the 1998-99 roster, the Spurs got solid contributions from Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson, Mario Elie and Jaren Jackson. But ultimately, this title-winning team was mostly about the Hall of Fame bigs.
23. 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers
Well, let's examine.
For one, they had a better version of Kobe. His 5.9 BPM this season was better than any mark he put up during the three-peat, and his 50.2 effective field-goal percentage was tied for the third-highest mark of his career (barely trailing his 2012-13 and 2007-08 campaigns).
Then, in the playoffs, Kobe was even better. In fact, the 2009 postseason may have been the best of his career.
He put up postseason career bests in offensive box plus/minus, defensive box plus/minus and turnover percentage thanks to averages of 30.2 points, 5.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 2.6 turnovers and 1.7 steals. During those playoffs, L.A. was plus-9.7 points per 100 possessions with Kobe on the floor and minus-2.7 with him off.
But this team was much more than prime Kobe. With Pau, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher and others, it was perhaps deeper than any of the three-peat Lakers teams. The 2008-09 squad had eight players with 500-plus minutes and an above-average BPM. L.A. averaged six such players from 1999-00 to 2001-02.
On a less mathematical level, it's worth pointing out how good Odom and Ariza were during this era. Both had skill sets that were ahead of their time. Odom was a playmaking 4 who could dominate the glass, and Ariza was the kind of switchy three-and-D combo forward teams are constantly after these days.
Timely contributions from other names you likely remember, like Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar, helped the stars at the top of this roster push through a relatively comfortable postseason. They faced a Game 7 in the second round, but their 7.9 playoff net rating is the third-best of the teams sampled from the 1999-2000 season to the 2008-09 season.
22. 2007-08 Boston Celtics
Few superteams across NBA history came together as seamlessly as the 2007-08 Boston Celtics.
The previous offseason was filled with fireworks for the Celtics.
On June 28, 2007, Boston made a draft-night deal that sent Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and a second-round pick to the Seattle Supersonics for Glen Davis and Ray Allen, the latter of whom was coming off an age-31 season in which he averaged 26.4 points and 3.0 threes while shooting 37.2 percent from deep.
But Boston wasn't done there. Just over a month later, it traded Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and two first-round picks for Kevin Garnett. The 2003-04 MVP had just averaged 22.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.7 blocks for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"I couldn't ask for a better situation," Garnett said after the trade. "I asked for veterans, I didn't expect to get a seven-time All-Star or a [10-time] All-Star. This is a dream come true. I feel like a rookie again."
The 10-time All-Star he was referring to, of course, was Paul Pierce, the longtime Celtic he and Allen would be joining in Boston. From the outset, all three seemed to fit together perfectly.
Boston went 66-16 during the 2007-08 season. Among the teams sampled from 2000 to 2009 for this exercise, the Celtics finished first in simple rating system, net rating and relative defensive rating, and it's that last number that really sets this team apart.
These Celtics were a defensive juggernaut. The 1963-64 and 1964-65 Celtics, the 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks and the 2003-04 San Antonio Spurs are the only teams in league history with better relative defensive ratings.
When KG was on the floor, Boston's opponents scored 97.6 points per 100 possessions and had a 45.0 effective field-goal percentage. The league averages for those marks in 2007-08 were 107.5 and 49.7, respectively.
Seemingly every rotation was made perfectly. KG was the vocal middle linebacker who managed everything, and everyone on the roster appeared committed to their assignments. Leon Powe was the only player with at least 500 minutes and a below-average defensive box plus/minus.
On the other end, the Celtics weren't quite as dominant, but the three superstars and second-year point guard Rajon Rondo did more than enough to carry the offense. When all four were on the floor, Boston scored 112.5 points per 100 possessions.
With a star-studded starting five and a deep and dedicated defense, Boston ran roughshod through the NBA and capped a championship season with a 4-2 win over Kobe, Pau and the Lakers in the Finals.
21. 1992-93 Chicago Bulls
In Jordan's final pre-baseball season, he averaged 32.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.8 steals. He totaled 27.5 wins over replacement player (value over replacement player times 2.7). The rest of the 1992-93 Chicago Bulls totaled 19.7.
Of course, this team had plenty of talent beyond MJ. Horace Grant averaged double figures and provided his typically versatile defense. B.J. Armstrong was one of the game's best three-point threats. And Pippen was named to his fourth All-Star team thanks to point forward abilities that were far less common in the early '90s.
But the clearest difference between Chicago and the rest of the league was the presence of the GOAT, who was motivated in part by a rival winning that regular season's MVP honors.
"I was a little bit upset that I didn't get the MVP that year and they gave it to Charles Barkley," Jordan said during ESPN's The Last Dance. "But with that said, OK, fine, you can have that. I'm going to get this."
"This" was the title. And that postseason, MJ averaged 35.1 points and 6.0 assists while shooting 38.9 percent from deep and connecting on a playoff career-high 28 threes.
20. 1991-92 Chicago Bulls
On the off chance there's anyone left who thinks Jordan might've had a tougher time dominating today's three-heavy game, they need not look much further than the 1991-92 Chicago Bulls' Finals victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
"Clyde was a threat," Jordan said of Portland's Clyde Drexler during The Last Dance. "But me being compared to him, I took offense to that."
In Game 1 against Drexler's Blazers, Jordan drilled six threes in the first half before giving the world his famous shrug. Jordan would finish that 33-point blowout with 39 points and 11 assists.
For the series, he averaged 35.8 points and shot 42.9 percent from three (Drexler averaged 24.8 points and shot 15.0 percent from deep).
In the regular season, the Bulls got a monster season out of Pippen. The do-it-all forward averaged 21.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks. Grant was stellar, as well, averaging 14.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.2 steals. And after that, Chicago had four more players between 7.0 and 9.9 points per game.
Though many of the names were the same, this was a deeper and more balanced team than the 1992-93 version. That was largely because of better performances from Pippen and Grant.
19. 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers
The 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers have a few claims to fame.
They ended a major sports championship drought for the city that dated back to 1964, when the Browns finished at the top of the NFL.
They pulled off a historic series comeback after falling behind 3-1, made all the more impressive by the fact that it came against a 73-win team.
And they gave LeBron a title that he and some of his supporters point to as the one that put him over the top in the GOAT debate.
In that Finals series, LeBron led the Cavs in every major statistical category, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks. His 13.7 box plus/minus is the third-highest Finals mark on record.
Then there's Kevin Love, who was played off the floor by fast-paced Golden State on more than one occasion. But his clutch defense on Curry's late-game heave in Game 7 is one of the lasting images of the season.
Like every other team on this list, though, the Cavs were about more than their stars. JR Smith, Tristan Thompson, Richard Jefferson, Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye all made meaningful contributions, as well.
18. 2017-18 Golden State Warriors
The 2017-18 Golden State Warriors were deep into the regular-season cruise-control portion of the mini-dynasty. They finished that season third in simple rating system, behind the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors.
And that Rockets team led by Chris Paul and James Harden put a very real scare into the defending champions in the Western Conference Finals. Had CP3 not been hurt in Game 5 of that series, we may not be talking about the 2017-18 Warriors in this forum.
But in the other three series that postseason, the Warriors were utterly dominant. Golden State went 12-2 against the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans and Cleveland Cavaliers, including a Finals sweep over the Cavs. In the end, this Warriors squad had the second-best postseason net rating of all the 2010s teams sampled.
This was also the season that may have led to "KD has overtaken LeBron" takes being more common. It was the second year in a row that Durant was able to top LeBron in the Finals. And he took home Finals MVP after both series. His 12.7 box plus/minus over those nine games topped LeBron's 11.8.
17. 2012-13 Miami Heat
The 2012-13 Miami Heat rode the momentum of the 2012 championship into a dominant regular season that included a 27-game winning streak (the second-longest in league history within a single season).
They finished with a league-best 66 wins, LeBron won his second straight MVP, and Wade finished 10th in MVP voting.
All the wrinkles that needed ironing out from the first couple years of this Heat era were now smooth. And the addition of Ray Allen made the team even smoother.
In his age-37 season, Allen averaged 10.9 points and 1.8 threes off the bench while shooting 41.9 percent from deep. And in the Finals, he hit one of the biggest and most memorable shots in league history.
With time winding down in Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs, Allen scrambled to the corner following an offensive rebound from Chris Bosh. He got his feet back just far enough upon catching the kick-out. The ball seemed to leave his hands in the same motion as the catch. And it couldn't have gone through the rim much cleaner.
The three effectively sent Game 6 into overtime. Miami went on to win that and Game 7, giving the Heatles their repeat championship.
This obviously wasn't a breeze, though. Miami was pushed to the brink (and over it) on multiple occasions during this era. This particular squad was 11th among the 2010s teams sampled in playoff net rating.
16. 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs
On the other end of Allen's historic shot was a devastated loser. But the feelings that series planted in the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs fueled one of the NBA's greatest revenge stories.
Grantland's Zach Lowe packed several of the themes into one paragraph:
"The Spurs’ fifth championship symbolizes everything we’ve been bringing up all year: the triumph of the NBA’s beautiful game; the crowning achievement for three stars who took less money to stay together; a cathartic response from perhaps the most crushing defeat in NBA history; and the end point of the franchise’s evolution from pound-the-post bully ball to a fast-paced, triple-happy style of play that put them ahead of almost every other team in adapting to the NBA’s newer rules."
The Spurs' beautiful, team-first approach led to the best record (62-20) and simple rating system (8.0) in the NBA in 2013-14.
Near the twilight of their careers, Tony Parker (16.7) and Tim Duncan (15.1) were still the team's leading scorers. Manu Ginobili added 12.3 in 22.8 minutes off the bench. And Kawhi Leonard (12.8) was starting to emerge as the heir apparent to the Big Three.
The hallmark of this squad may have been the balance evident in those scoring averages. The Spurs had nine players between 16.7 and 8.2 points per game. No one on the team topped 30 minutes per game. And their 25.2 assists per contest led the NBA.
The chemistry of these Spurs was palpable. And it reached its zenith in the Finals, when they got a rematch against LeBron's Heat.
There, San Antonio exacted revenge in about as convincing a fashion as possible. The Spurs were plus-70 in that series, the best mark in Finals history.
15. 1997-98 Chicago Bulls
The subject of The Last Dance, the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls may have missed Pippen for much of the season and been mired in drama for most of it, but they still emerged from the playoffs as champions.
For the second straight season, the Bulls topped the Jazz in the Finals. And this series gave us one of the most iconic images and moments of Jordan's career.
With time winding down in Game 6 and Chicago in possession (thanks to Jordan stealing the ball from Malone a few seconds earlier), Jordan isolated on Bryon Russell on the left wing. After a hard dribble right, Jordan stopped, crossed over to his left, sent Russell flying and shot the pull-up that proved to be the Finals sealer.
The familiar follow-through was the perfect way to end his run with the Bulls.
That regular season, Jordan had finally started to show signs of mortality. His 6.9 box plus/minus trailed those of Robinson and Malone, and it was the second-lowest mark of his career (only his truncated 1994-95 was worse).
But when it mattered most, Jordan was able to once again assert his dominance. That postseason, he averaged 32.4 points and comfortably led the NBA in wins over replacement player.
It's always worth remembering Jordan didn't win these titles by himself, though. During the playoffs, Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr and Scott Burrell all posted above-average box plus/minuses. And Dennis Rodman was still one of the game's best rebounders and a versatile defender.
Jordan is the greatest player of all time, but he had plenty of teammates who accentuated his abilities.
14. 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers
Wilt Chamberlain spent much of his career putting up perhaps the gaudiest numbers the league has ever seen while always falling short of Bill Russell in terms of team accomplishments.
But in 1967, he and the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers broke through.
That season, Wilt averaged 24.1 points (a career low at the time), 24.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists (a career high, by far, at the time).
The additional trust in teammates went a long way toward unleashing Hall of Famers Hal Greer, Chet Walker and Billy Cunningham. Those three provided a balanced scoring attack from all over the floor that perfectly supplemented Chamberlain's dominance.
- Greer: 22.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists
- Walker: 19.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists
- Cunningham: 18.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Put it all together and it isn't hard to see why Philadelphia's immense talent overwhelmed the league to the tune of 68 wins and the best simple rating system of the 1960s.
In the playoffs, Wali Jones got in on the balancing act, averaging 17.5 points. And Greer shot up to 27.7. But it was Wilt's performance in the Eastern Division Finals that really stands out.
Against the venerable Russell, Chamberlain averaged 32.0 rebounds, 21.6 points and 10.0 assists in dispatching the Celtics in five games.
Rick Barry and the San Francisco Warriors offered a bit more resistance in the Finals, but Philly appeared a team of destiny once it vanquished Boston.
13. 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers
Much has been made of the "Big Three" model of roster construction since Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces on the Celtics for the 2007-08 season, but they certainly weren't the first legendary trio to dominate an NBA season.
Led by the balanced scoring of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Magic Johnson, as well as the inspired floor generalship of Magic, the 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers cruised to 62 wins in the regular season and a 15-4 record in the playoffs.
In his age-37 season, Kareem led the team in scoring at 22.0 points. He also managed 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 blocks. It was clear he was closing in on the twilight of his career, but he was still named to the All-NBA second team.
Worthy, meanwhile, in just his third NBA season, averaged 17.6 points and shot 57.2 percent from the field. The league average that season was 49.1 percent.
And then, of course, there was Magic. He averaged 18.3 points, 12.6 assists and 6.2 rebounds. And he was the conductor of "Showtime." His vision, unselfishness, passing ability and desire to get the ball quickly up and down the floor made this one of the most dynamic offenses in league history.
L.A.'s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) was 6.2 points better than the 1984-85 average. And the team's 55.1 effective field-goal percentage was an epic outlier. The distance between it and the San Antonio Spurs' second-place 51.7 was the same as the distance between second place and 19th place.
The dominance continued well into the playoffs too. The Lakers went 11-2 through the first three rounds, before avenging a 1984 Finals loss against the Boston Celtics. In 1985, L.A. ousted its rivals in six games.
12. 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers
Sixteen years after winning a championship with the organization in 1967, Billy Cunningham led the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers back to the mountaintop. Of course, he had plenty of talent to work with.
Moses Malone was that season's MVP, thanks to monster averages of 24.5 points, 15.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in his first season in Philly.
Julius Erving, in his age-32 season, contributed 21.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.6 steals. Andrew Toney added 19.7 points. And Maurice Cheeks was the steady hand at the wheel, with averages of 12.5 points, 6.9 assists and 2.3 steals.
Those four, with Hall of Famer Bobby Jones coming off the bench, gave the Sixers a dominant rotation that led to an NBA-best 65 wins and loads of confidence for Malone heading into the playoffs.
His prediction for the postseason? "Fo', Fo', Fo'," or three straight sweeps.
Philadelphia couldn't quite back up Malone's prognostication, but it sure came close. After sweeping the New York Knicks in the first round, the Sixers went up 3-0 against the Milwaukee Bucks, who stole Game 4 before losing the series three days later.
In the end, Philly went 12-1 in a dominant postseason that included a sweep of Magic and Kareem's Lakers.
11. 1988-89 Detroit Pistons
On February 14, 1989, the 1988-89 Detroit Pistons beat the Los Angeles Lakers to move to 32-13 on the season.
Detroit's leading scorer, Adrian Dantley, put up 19 points in what would be his final game with a team he helped to a 58-win pace through 45 contests.
Keith Langlois of the team's website explained the lead-up to a trade that shocked the league and its fans:
"The body language of the Bad Boys was worrisome. Chuck Daly tipped [general manager Jack McCloskey] off that Adrian Dantley had become sullen, and both men were concerned his mood threatened to make for a toxic locker room.
"McCloskey pulled Dantley aside one day after a Pistons practice. They met in the tiny officials locker room at The Palace, off the tunnel entrance, and McCloskey pressed for an explanation. Dantley demurred.
"McCloskey finally told him bluntly: 'Adrian, if you don't want to talk about it, I'm going to trade you, and I'm not kidding you. I'm going to trade you. I'm not going to have you break up this team. I'm not saying you're at fault, but you know something that I don't know. I told him, flat out, 'I'm going to trade you,' and I think it was just two days later we flew down to Dallas and made the trade.'"
Detroit had just made the Finals with Dantley in 1988. The Pistons lost to the Lakers in seven games. And with things chugging along at a seemingly fine pace, trading Dantley was, to put it mildly, bold.
But over the remainder of the season, the Pistons went 31-6. Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Mark Aguirre (acquired in the Dantley deal) led the scoring charge. Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Rick Mahorn and John Salley largely provided the "Bad Boys" philosophy. And everyone coalesced to dominate in the playoffs.
Detroit went 15-2 that postseason, with the only two losses coming against Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. The next series, against the Lakers squad that beat them one year earlier, was a sweep.
10. 2014-15 Golden State Warriors
You may be surprised to find the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors ahead of both the 2015-16 and 2017-18 versions, but they were in the top 10 of all 2010s teams sampled in all but one category (playoff relative offensive rating).
Throughout that season, the Warriors dominated their competition. And they had a couple things going for them that other Warriors teams did not.
For one, 2014-15 was arguably the best season of Klay Thompson's career. He posted career highs in assists per game (2.9), offensive box plus/minus (4.5) and defensive box plus/minus (minus-0.1).
This team was also the beneficiary of one of Andrew Bogut's best seasons. He led the NBA in defensive box plus/minus, finished sixth in Defensive Player of the Year voting and averaged 4.2 assists per 75 possessions (first by a long shot among 7-footers).
Of course, 2014-15 was also Stephen Curry's first MVP campaign. And his production looks tame in comparison to 2015-16 in part because of this squad's depth. Eight players played at least 500 minutes and had an above-average box plus/minus (12 were above replacement level).
We were also introduced to the so-called "death lineup" during this season. Small ball took on new life thanks to Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. When those five shared the floor, Golden State was plus-27.0 points per 100 possessions (plus-16.7 in the playoffs).
These Warriors are sort of the forgotten group when looking at the entire dynasty. Some are quick to point out the injuries suffered by other teams during their playoff run, but all the numbers indicate they dominated the NBA during Steve Kerr's first season at the helm.
9. 1996-97 Chicago Bulls
They were an utterly dominant 69-13, with an offense that scored 7.7 more points per 100 possessions and allowed 4.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than that season's average team.
At the time, Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum wondered if that was a good thing:
"The NBA should write B.B. King a nice royalty check, because one of his hits is the theme song for this season. The Thrill Is Gone, baby, and it's been gone for quite a while, probably since Michael Jordan laced 'em up in training camp. Seven weeks remain in the regular season, but is there any reason the engravers should not get started on the championship trophy right now?"
Modern NBA fans know this feeling well. It accompanied much of the Golden State Warriors' three seasons with Kevin Durant. And that's not the only similarity here.
The length and athleticism of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Kukoc allowed the Bulls to play something of a positionless game akin to today's. Chicago was plus-29.1 points per 100 possessions when those four were in the game, the best mark in the league among four-man lineups with at least as many minutes.
Round that lineup up with Steve Kerr and the net rating jumps to 38.7.
The Bulls seemingly discovered the key to modern basketball almost 20 years before the NBA at large.
8. 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers
Fresh off their first NBA title together, Shaq and Kobe led a 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers squad that seemed to ease off the gas a bit during the regular season.
Among the teams sampled from 2000 to 2009 for this exercise, this one ranks 20th or worse in regular-season win percentage, simple rating system, relative defensive rating and net rating. They didn't even have the top record in the West when the 2000-01 campaign wrapped.
But none of that mattered in the playoffs when the Lakers authored one of the most dominant postseason runs in NBA history.
L.A. destroyed every team in its path, sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and top-seeded San Antonio Spurs on a run through the West. In Game 1 of the Finals, Allen Iverson scored 48 points in a Philadelphia 76ers win, but the Lakers quickly got back on track, winning the next four games by an average of 10 points.
In the Finals, Shaq averaged 33.0 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.4 blocks. (Over the course of the three-peat, he averaged 35.9 points, 15.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.9 blocks in 15 Finals games.)
This season could also be pointed to as the one in which Kobe reached true superstar status.
In 1999-00, he was 12th in the league in BPM, but his 22.5 points per game suggested he was a clear No. 2 to Shaq. In 2000-01, his average jumped all the way to 28.5 points, just two-tenths of a point shy of O'Neal's. He also finished in the top 10 of MVP voting for the first of what would eventually be 12 times.
Shaq and Kobe were clearly dynamic together on their way to championship No. 1. But they really started to stake their claim as one of the best duos of all time in 2000-01.
7. 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers
After years of a fairly evenhanded partnership between Magic and Kareem (and eventually Worthy), the 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers were very much Magic's team.
That season, he won his first of three league MVPs behind a 65-17 record and averages of 23.9 points, 12.2 assists and 6.3 rebounds. He had nearly as many wins over replacement player as the rest of L.A.'s roster combined.
The role of No. 1 option was new to Magic, but he was more than up to the task.
"I was ready to become a scorer," he said, per Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum. "I'm one of those players who can just turn the scoring on and off."
"On" is something of an understatement when describing Magic's own offense in 1986-87. He was 10th in the league in points per game, but when you limit the sample to those who matched or exceeded his 60.2 true shooting percentage, he trailed only Bird and McHale. Those two, of course, fell well shy of Magic's assist numbers (they combined for 10.2 per game).
Though Magic was clearly the engine of this team, he still received solid support from his teammates. Worthy was second on the team in scoring at 19.4 points per game. Kareem, in his age-39 campaign, added 17.5. And a rapidly developing Byron Scott pitched in another 17.0.
This team also featured Michael Cooper, one of the game's greatest defenders. He made eight All-Defense teams over the course of his career, but 1986-87 may have been his peak.
"Here is a player who guards Larry Bird like no one else," Sports Illustrated's Ralph Wiley wrote of Cooper shortly before he was named Defensive Player of the Year. "...whose idea of Nirvana is defending one-on-one against Bird or Michael Jordan."
With his perimeter defense supporting the absurd offense engineered by Magic, the Lakers were a juggernaut. And that's exactly how they played in a 15-3 postseason that included a six-game Finals win over the Celtics.
6. 1990-91 Chicago Bulls
The 1990-91 Chicago Bulls, Jordan's first title team, weren't quite as dominant as the 1996-97 squad in the regular season, but their playoff dominance gives them the edge.
- 1991 playoff Bulls: .882 winning percentage, 6.3 relative offensive rating, minus-6.9 relative defensive rating (minus is good here), 13.2 net rating
- 1997 playoff Bulls: .789 winning percentage, 0.8 relative offensive rating, minus-5.7 relative defensive rating, 6.5 net rating
The 1990-91 squad steamrolled the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons in an 11-1 run through the Eastern Conference. And in the Finals, they dominated Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in five games.
The 49-point spread over the course of the series is tied with the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth-biggest in Finals history (and it's the biggest of any Bulls team).
In terms of individual performances, Jordan was, as you might expect, absurd. He averaged 31.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.0 blocks in the regular season. He upped that assist average to 8.4 in the playoffs.
Scottie Pippen was growing into the dominant point forward he'd one day become. He averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks in the regular season.
Those two, of course, were the foundation, but there were plenty of contributions from other Bulls. Grant was a defensive anchor and solid finisher. Armstrong was a spark plug off the bench. John Paxson and Craig Hodges were two of the game's best floor-spacers.
Jordan had been established as a phenom long before 1991, but it wasn't until this specific supporting cast came along that he was able to break through for a title.
5. 1985-86 Boston Celtics
The 1985-86 Boston Celtics may well have been the best basketball team of the 1980s. Not only do they have the decade's best simple rating system, they boasted an MVP in Larry Bird, Sixth Man of the Year and former MVP Bill Walton, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish still in (or near) their peaks and a solid supporting cast around the stars.
Bird, of course, was the clear No. 1. He led the team in points (25.8), rebounds (9.8), assists (6.8) and steals (2.0) per game while leading the entire league in box plus/minus (by a landslide). He also shot 42.3 percent from deep and hit 1.0 threes per game, a mark that trailed only Craig Hodges' 1.1.
He was undeniably the best player in the NBA that season. And he was starting to generate buzz of an even loftier distinction.
"He's the best player ever," Don Nelson, then coaching the Milwaukee Bucks, said in 1986. "The Celtics play on a different level. Bird? Well, he's on his own level."
That level the rest of the Celtics played on wasn't bad, either.
McHale was 10th in the league in box plus/minus. Walton and Parish were 23rd and 33rd, respectively. Facing that three-big rotation was daunting for the opposition.
McHale averaged 21.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. Parish added 16.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 31.7 minutes. Walton, in just 19.3 minutes per game, pitched in with 7.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.3 blocks.
With those three, it's no wonder Boston finished fourth in blocks per game that season (behind Manute Bol's Washington Wizards', Mark Eaton's Utah Jazz and Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets).
The guards on this team did plenty too. Dennis Johnson, who made five All-Star teams prior to 1985-86, was good for 15.6 points and 5.8 assists. Danny Ainge added 10.7 points and 5.1 assists.
Altogether, the rotation seemed about as close to flawless as rotations get. And the Celtics annihilated the rest of the NBA on the way to 67 wins in the regular season and a 15-3 romp to the championship.
4. 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers
The 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers were led by three experienced and hungry Hall of Famers.
Wilt Chamberlain had won a title with the 76ers in the '60s, but after spending much of his career chasing Bill Russell, another one would do wonders for his legacy.
Jerry West, meanwhile, had dominated the NBA as a scorer for 11 seasons prior to 1971-72 (he had the sixth-highest career scoring average of all time to that point) but had never won a title. His biggest postseason honor was being the only player to win Finals MVP in a losing effort (he's still alone on that front).
And though Gail Goodrich hadn't been around as long West and Chamberlain, he too was in search of his first championship.
(Elgin Baylor was on this squad too, though only for nine games.)
Jim McMillian and Happy Hairston didn't garner the same level of accolades during their careers, but they were certainly critical to the success of this particular team.
Those five were the leaders of a 69-13 Lakers squad that has the third-best simple rating system in NBA history. They destroyed their competition, running off an NBA-record 33 straight wins from November 5 to January 7.
Behind Goodrich (25.9 points and 4.5 assists), West (25.8 points and a league-leading 9.7 assists) and McMillian (18.8 points), they led the league in points per 100 possessions. Chamberlain (19.2 points and 14.8 rebounds in his second-to-last season) and Hairston (13.1 points and 13.1 rebounds) anchored the season's No. 2 defense.
The dominance on both sides of the ball carried into the postseason, where L.A. went 12-3 and outscored opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions (the seventh-best playoff net rating of all time).
3. 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks
Far too often, the NBA's GOAT debate is limited to just Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
"You may not put him at the top of your list," William C. Rhoden wrote for The Undefeated. "...but if Abdul-Jabbar is not part of the discussion, you're having the wrong conversation."
As a member of the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, in just his second NBA season, Kareem won his first of six titles and first of six MVP awards. With averages of 31.7 points, 16.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists, it was clear the big man was going to be a fixture among the NBA's greats for a long time.
He had plenty of help in this campaign, though. Though he was well past his prime, Oscar Robertson averaged 19.4 points, 8.2 assists and 5.7 rebounds.
Bob Dandridge, who would go on to make four All-Star teams, one All-NBA team and one All-Defense team, added 18.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
Jon McGlocklin and Greg Smith both averaged double figures, as well.
With Kareem leading the way, these Bucks posted the best single-season simple rating system of all time. They went 12-2 and outscored opponents by 10.8 points per 100 possessions in the postseason.
From wire to wire, this was a completely and utterly dominant team performance.
2. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls
Prior to the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' 72 wins seemed like one of those unbreakable sports records.
That season, they led the NBA in simple rating system (their 11.8 is the second-best mark in NBA history), offensive rating and defensive rating.
Jordan averaged 30.4 points, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals. Pippen was good for 19.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists. Kukoc added 13.1 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 40.3 percent from three in 26.0 minutes off the bench. Kerr shot 51.5 percent from three on 2.9 attempts per game. And Rodman dominated the glass to the tune of 14.9 rebounds.
Jordan was the main attraction, with Pippen as a worthy supporting actor. But there was talent and laser-focused execution up and down this roster that lasted well beyond the 72-win regular season.
"We've had a very unique success this year, and I think we have a great team," Jordan said after securing the single-season wins record. "But we've still got a lot to prepare for. The regular season doesn't really count from here on out."
In the playoffs, Chicago was nearly as dominant, outscoring teams by 12.1 points per 100 possessions (the fourth-best playoff net rating of all time) and going 15-3 on the way to the title.
Fans may remember certain Bulls teams more than others. Statistically, 1995-96 was the climax of the Phil Jackson-led dynasty.
1. 2016-17 Golden State Warriors
The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors were a force unlike anything the NBA had ever seen.
Having both suddenly on the same team, one that also included Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, made the word "unfair" seem woefully inadequate.
These Warriors didn't experience the growing pains most superteams do in their first year. They cruised to 67 wins, the fourth-best simple rating system in league history and the best effective field-goal percentage (to that point).
Seven players averaged at least 22 points and posted a 56-plus effective field-goal percentage that season. Golden State had three of them (Curry, Durant and Thompson).
Durant's first season with the Warriors was perhaps the most seamless integration of a new superstar in NBA history.
Everyone's games seemed to complement each other perfectly. And they peaked at the exact right moment.
The Cleveland Cavaliers' Game 4 victory in the Finals was their only blemish in a 16-1 postseason. They were a whopping plus-230 over those 17 games, the best raw point differential for a single postseason in league history.
From the moment Durant announced his intentions to join Golden State through the title-sealing Game 5 against Cleveland, the final result of 2016-17 felt inevitable.