Which group is your best of all time? To answer this question with much more rigor than it is typically debated in sports pubs, in 2015 I ranked every team since moments played were tracked in 1951-52 (sorry to the 1949-50 Minneapolis Lakers) according to their performance in the regular season and playoffs.
Three years later, it’s time for an upgrade with a brand new No. 1, and a lot of other newcomers to the record as a result of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors dominating the competition in their respective conferences.
The method
For winners, I took the average of the stage differential during the regular season and their stage differential in the playoffs in addition to the point differential of their opponents. That tells us how many points per game better than an ordinary team each winner was, giving equal weight to the postseason as the regular time to reward the most important games.
For non-champions, the starting point is the same, but their playoff differential was adjusted by effectively giving them a five-point loss for each game they came up short of this name. That has little impact on teams like the 2012-13 San Antonio Spurs, who lost in Game 7 of the Finals, but it harshly penalizes teams which rolled up big success margins early in the playoffs before falling short in the conference finals.
The adjustment deals with leaguewide caliber of play. It’s not surprising that some of the best single-season team performances in NBA history came from the early 1970s, once the league had expanded rapidly and battled the ABA for incoming draft selections. The redistribution of gift enabled stars to glow even more brightly. For every season, I quantified how players saw their moments per match increase or decrease the subsequent season as compared to what we’d expect given their age. More minutes indicates a weaker league, while fewer minutes suggests one that’s gotten more powerful.
Each year is ranked relative to 2017-18, from a high of 21 percent more powerful in 1965-66, the previous year that the NBA had only nine teams, to a low of 10 percent poorer in 2004-05, the last time the league expanded. That adjustment is multiplied from the group’s average regular-season and playoff scores to provide a last score greater than an average team this season.

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