This time, instead of focusing on the players, we’re looking at teams, and instead of looking at stats, we’re looking at wins, which I suggest are the ultimate team statistic. It doesn’t matter how many rebounds a team gets, or how efficient their shooting is, or how many points the other team scores, as long as the team scores more and wins the game. At the end of the season, the team which has accumulated the most wins is the best team.*
With that said, let me introduce the following graphic, which depicts every franchise playing in the modern era of the NBA, over time (click it for a bigger version). Top to bottom, the teams are ordered by winning percentage over the modern period, and the color value of each team-season dot is adjusted based on the number of wins for that team for that season (note the universally darker hues for the strike-shortened 1999 season). Finally, the numbers in white depict per-game point differential, for comparison’s sake.
First, I would direct your attention toward the overall lightness of the Lakers’ dots; except for a few post-Magic years, they have generally been pretty competitive. On the other side of the coin, note how dismal both the Clippers and Warriors have been, for practically the whole period (the Kings have been marginally better, but even the San Diego Clippers, “sdc”, were terrible). Apparently, basketball talent is not distributed equally across all California teams. Secondly, I would note how well the coloration works as a device to illuminate variance in performance, especially for one team over time. Look at the boom and bust periods for the Mavericks, for example, or note how easily one can pick out the Bulls six championship seasons, and how just as easily one can identify the season Jordan finally left Chicago for good.
Let me know if you notice any other interesting trends, or find the graphic interesting or useful… or misleading.
* To really find the best team, one may want to adjust for strength of schedule, and look at the success of opponents against whom the team won and lost — in the near future, I will introduce just such a means of adjustment, which I believe identifies the true best team in any league.