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July 24, 2012, 09:53 AM ET
The Best Teams Since 1992 (Now Adjusted for League Quality!)

by Neil Paine

In this ESPN article, I looked at how each Dream Team stacked up next to each other talent-wise in an absolute sense, estimating league quality by looking at how age-adjusted Advanced Statistical Plus/Minus (ASPM) for the same cohorts of players changed from year-to-year. Relative to the 2008 season (which represented the average league quality over the 1992-2012 period), here’s how difficult each NBA season was:

Year	Avg Plyr Δ	Plyr Rel to 08	Tm Rel to 08
-------+---------------+---------------+------------
1992	 n/a		 0.3		 1.4
1993	 0.0		 0.3		 1.6
1994	-0.1		 0.2		 1.2
1995	-0.2		 0.1		 0.3
1996	-0.1		 0.0		-0.1
1997	-0.1		-0.1		-0.6
1998	 0.0		-0.1		-0.5
1999	 0.1		 0.0		 0.1
2000	 0.1		 0.1		 0.5
2001	-0.2		-0.1		-0.4
2002	 0.0		-0.1		-0.3
2003	-0.1		-0.2		-0.9
2004	 0.1		-0.1		-0.5
2005	-0.1		-0.2		-1.1
2006	 0.0		-0.2		-0.9
2007	 0.1		-0.1		-0.3
2008	 0.1		 0.0		 0.0
2009	 0.0		 0.0		-0.1
2010	 0.1		 0.1		 0.6
2011	 0.1		 0.2		 1.2
2012	 0.0		 0.2		 1.1
-------+---------------+---------------+------------

And here’s that in graphical form (in this case, relative to 1992):

NBA Talent

In a nutshell, expansion and dilution (plus the decline and retirement of numerous Hall of Famers in the late 90s/early 00s) dragged the league’s talent level down to its low point in 2004-05, when it was as easy to put up ASPM numbers as it has ever been over the 1992-2012 period. However, NBA talent has gradually climbed back since, reaching essentially the same difficulty level as the league had in 1992.

Anyway, using those numbers we can adjust team ASPM ratings (which are basically schedule-adjusted efficiency differentials) for the quality of the league to arrive at absolute team ratings relative to the 2008 season. Here are the best (regular-season) teams from 1992-2012 after that adjustment:

Team					Tm ASPM	Lg Qual	Adj ASPM
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
1.  1996 Chicago Bulls (72-10)		12.7	-0.1	12.5
2.  1992 Chicago Bulls (67-15)		10.4	 1.4	11.8
3.  1997 Chicago Bulls (69-13)		11.6	-0.6	11.0
4.  2008 Boston Celtics (66-16)		10.2	 0.0	10.2
5.  1994 Seattle SuperSonics (63-19)	 9.0	 1.2	10.2
6.  2009 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16)	 9.5	-0.1	 9.5
7.  2012 Chicago Bulls (50-16)		 8.2	 1.1	 9.3
8.  2000 Los Angeles Lakers (67-15)	 8.7	 0.5	 9.3
9.  2012 San Antonio Spurs (50-16)	 7.6	 1.1	 8.7
10. 2007 San Antonio Spurs (58-24)	 9.0	-0.3	 8.7
11. 2011 Miami Heat (58-24)		 7.4	 1.2	 8.6
12. 1995 Utah Jazz (60-22)		 8.2	 0.3	 8.4
13. 1993 Seattle SuperSonics (55-27)	 6.9	 1.6	 8.4
14. 2011 Chicago Bulls (62-20)		 7.1	 1.2	 8.4
15. 1995 Seattle SuperSonics (57-25)	 8.0	 0.3	 8.3
16. 2010 Orlando Magic (59-23)		 7.6	 0.6	 8.2
17. 2001 San Antonio Spurs (58-24)	 8.5	-0.4	 8.1
18. 1999 San Antonio Spurs (37-13)	 8.0	 0.1	 8.1
19. 1992 Portland Trail Blazers (57-25)	 6.7	 1.4	 8.1
20. 1993 Chicago Bulls (57-25)		 6.5	 1.6	 8.1
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
Team					Tm ASPM	Lg Qual	Adj ASPM
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
21. 1997 Utah Jazz (64-18)		 8.7	-0.6	 8.1
22. 1994 New York Knicks (57-25)	 6.9	 1.2	 8.1
23. 1993 Cleveland Cavaliers (54-28)	 6.4	 1.6	 8.0
24. 2009 Boston Celtics (62-20)		 7.9	-0.1	 7.9
25. 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19)	 6.7	 1.1	 7.8
26. 2008 Detroit Pistons (59-23)	 7.7	 0.0	 7.7
27. 1993 Phoenix Suns (62-20)		 6.1	 1.6	 7.7
28. 2011 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)	 6.4	 1.2	 7.6
29. 2007 Dallas Mavericks (67-15)	 7.9	-0.3	 7.6
30. 2004 San Antonio Spurs (57-25)	 8.1	-0.5	 7.6
31. 1993 New York Knicks (60-22)	 6.0	 1.6	 7.6
32. 1996 Seattle SuperSonics (64-18)	 7.7	-0.1	 7.5
33. 2005 San Antonio Spurs (59-23)	 8.5	-1.1	 7.4
34. 2000 Portland Trail Blazers (59-23)	 6.9	 0.5	 7.4
35. 2009 Los Angeles Lakers (65-17)	 7.4	-0.1	 7.4
36. 2002 Sacramento Kings (61-21)	 7.7	-0.3	 7.4
37. 2008 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)	 7.4	 0.0	 7.4
38. 2011 San Antonio Spurs (61-21)	 6.2	 1.2	 7.4
39. 2003 Dallas Mavericks (60-22)	 8.3	-0.9	 7.4
40. 1998 Chicago Bulls (62-20)		 7.8	-0.5	 7.3
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------

Here are the worst teams:

Team					Tm ASPM	Lg Qual	Adj ASPM
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
570. 2001 Washington Wizards (19-63)	 -7.1	-0.4	 -7.5
571. 2002 Memphis Grizzlies (23-59)	 -7.3	-0.3	 -7.6
572. 2006 New York Knicks (23-59)	 -6.7	-0.9	 -7.6
573. 2009 Washington Wizards (19-63)	 -7.6	-0.1	 -7.6
574. 1996 Toronto Raptors (21-61)	 -7.5	-0.1	 -7.7
575. 2011 Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63)	 -9.2	 1.2	 -8.0
576. 2008 Seattle SuperSonics (20-62)	 -8.2	 0.0	 -8.2
577. 2004 Orlando Magic (21-61)		 -7.7	-0.5	 -8.2
578. 2005 New Orleans Hornets (18-64)	 -7.2	-1.1	 -8.2
579. 1998 Vancouver Grizzlies (19-63)	 -7.8	-0.5	 -8.3
580. 1998 Los Angeles Clippers (17-65)	 -7.8	-0.5	 -8.3
581. 1995 Los Angeles Clippers (17-65)	 -8.8	 0.3	 -8.5
582. 1997 Dallas Mavericks (24-58)	 -8.0	-0.6	 -8.6
583. 2010 Minnesota T-Wolves (15-67)	 -9.2	 0.6	 -8.6
584. 1995 Minnesota T-Wolves (21-61)	 -8.9	 0.3	 -8.6
585. 2010 New Jersey Nets (12-70)	 -9.5	 0.6	 -8.9
586. 2009 Sacramento Kings (17-65)	 -8.8	-0.1	 -8.9
587. 2009 Los Angeles Clippers (19-63)	 -8.9	-0.1	 -9.0
588. 2001 Golden State Warriors (17-65)	 -8.6	-0.4	 -9.0
589. 2003 Denver Nuggets (17-65)	 -8.2	-0.9	 -9.1
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
Team					Tm ASPM	Lg Qual	Adj ASPM
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
590. 2008 Miami Heat (15-67)		 -9.2	 0.0	 -9.2
591. 1998 Toronto Raptors (16-66)	 -8.8	-0.5	 -9.3
592. 1999 Vancouver Grizzlies (8-42)	 -9.5	 0.1	 -9.4
593. 1997 San Antonio Spurs (20-62)	 -8.8	-0.6	 -9.4
594. 1999 Los Angeles Clippers (9-41)	 -9.5	 0.1	 -9.4
595. 2002 Chicago Bulls (21-61)		 -9.1	-0.3	 -9.4
596. 2000 Chicago Bulls (17-65)		-10.0	 0.5	 -9.5
597. 1999 Chicago Bulls (13-37)		 -9.6	 0.1	 -9.5
598. 1996 Philadelphia 76ers (18-64)	-10.1	-0.1	-10.2
599. 2001 Chicago Bulls (15-67)		 -9.8	-0.4	-10.2
600. 1998 Golden State Warriors (19-63)	 -9.7	-0.5	-10.2
601. 1996 Vancouver Grizzlies (15-67)	-10.3	-0.1	-10.4
602. 2000 Los Angeles Clippers (15-67)	-11.3	 0.5	-10.8
603. 2003 Cleveland Cavaliers (17-65)	 -9.9	-0.9	-10.8
604. 2006 Portland Trail Blazers (21-61)-10.1	-0.9	-11.0
605. 2005 Atlanta Hawks (13-69)		-10.1	-1.1	-11.2
606. 1997 Vancouver Grizzlies (14-68)	-11.1	-0.6	-11.8
607. 1993 Dallas Mavericks (11-71)	-14.4	 1.6	-12.8
608. 1998 Denver Nuggets (11-71)	-12.7	-0.5	-13.2
609. 2012 Charlotte Bobcats (7-59)	-14.8	 1.1	-13.7
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------

While we’re at it, here were the worst playoff teams over that span:

Team					Tm ASPM	Lg Qual	Adj ASPM
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
1.  1997 Los Angeles Clippers (36-46)	-2.7	-0.6	-3.3
2.  2005 New Jersey Nets (42-40)	-1.9	-1.1	-3.0
3.  1996 Sacramento Kings (39-43)	-2.8	-0.1	-2.9
4.  2004 Boston Celtics (36-46)		-2.0	-0.5	-2.5
5.  2004 New York Knicks (39-43)	-2.0	-0.5	-2.5
6.  1992 Miami Heat (38-44)		-3.9	 1.4	-2.5
7.  1997 Minnesota Timberwolves (40-42)	-1.8	-0.6	-2.5
8.  2008 Atlanta Hawks (37-45)		-2.3	 0.0	-2.3
9.  2005 Philadelphia 76ers (43-39)	-1.0	-1.1	-2.1
10. 2006 Milwaukee Bucks (40-42)	-1.1	-0.9	-2.0
11. 1998 Houston Rockets (41-41)	-1.3	-0.5	-1.8
12. 1995 Boston Celtics (35-47)		-2.0	 0.3	-1.7
13. 2005 Washington Wizards (45-37)	-0.6	-1.1	-1.7
14. 2003 Boston Celtics (44-38)		-0.7	-0.9	-1.6
15. 2007 Miami Heat (44-38)		-1.2	-0.3	-1.5
16. 2007 New Jersey Nets (41-41)	-1.1	-0.3	-1.4
17. 2003 Orlando Magic (42-40)		-0.2	-0.9	-1.2
18. 2004 New Orleans Hornets (41-41)	-0.6	-0.5	-1.1
19. 2010 Chicago Bulls (41-41)		-1.8	 0.6	-1.1
20. 2003 Milwaukee Bucks (42-40)	-0.2	-0.9	-1.1
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------

And the best teams to miss the playoffs:

Team					Tm ASPM	Lg Qual	Adj ASPM
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
1.  2011 Houston Rockets (43-39)	 2.4	 1.2	3.6
2.  1993 Orlando Magic (41-41)		 1.4	 1.6	2.9
3.  2001 Houston Rockets (45-37)	 2.8	-0.4	2.4
4.  2008 Golden State Warriors (48-34)	 2.4	 0.0	2.4
5.  1997 Cleveland Cavaliers (42-40)	 2.5	-0.6	1.9
6.  2012 Houston Rockets (34-32)	 0.6	 1.1	1.7
7.  2009 Phoenix Suns (46-36)		 1.7	-0.1	1.6
8.  1998 Detroit Pistons (37-45)	 2.1	-0.5	1.5
9.  2012 Phoenix Suns (33-33)		 0.1	 1.1	1.2
10. 2003 Houston Rockets (43-39)	 2.0	-0.9	1.1
11. 2000 Orlando Magic (41-41)		 0.5	 0.5	1.0
12. 2012 Milwaukee Bucks (31-35)	-0.1	 1.1	1.0
13. 1994 Charlotte Hornets (41-41)	-0.2	 1.2	1.0
14. 1997 Indiana Pacers (39-43)		 1.5	-0.6	0.9
15. 1996 Washington Bullets (39-43)	 1.0	-0.1	0.9
16. 2012 Portland Trail Blazers (28-38)	-0.3	 1.1	0.7
17. 2005 Minnesota Timberwolves (44-38)	 1.8	-1.1	0.7
18. 2011 Phoenix Suns (40-42)		-0.5	 1.2	0.7
19. 1993 Golden State Warriors (34-48)	-0.9	 1.6	0.6
20. 1999 Charlotte Hornets (26-24)	 0.5	 0.1	0.6
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------

The worst NBA Finals losers:

Team					Tm ASPM	Lg Qual	Adj ASPM
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
1.  1999 New York Knicks (27-23)	1.4	 0.1	1.5
2.  2005 Detroit Pistons (54-28)	3.8	-1.1	2.8
3.  2007 Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32)	3.7	-0.3	3.4
4.  2001 Philadelphia 76ers (56-26)	4.0	-0.4	3.7
5.  2002 New Jersey Nets (52-30)	4.0	-0.3	3.7
6.  2004 Los Angeles Lakers (56-26)	4.5	-0.5	3.9
7.  2003 New Jersey Nets (49-33)	4.9	-0.9	4.0
8.  2010 Boston Celtics (50-32)		3.6	 0.6	4.2
9.  2000 Indiana Pacers (56-26)		4.4	 0.5	4.9
10. 2006 Dallas Mavericks (60-22)	6.5	-0.9	5.6
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------

The best teams to miss the Finals:

Team					Tm ASPM	Lg Qual	Adj ASPM
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
1.  1994 Seattle SuperSonics (63-19)	9.0	 1.2	10.2
2.  2009 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16)	9.5	-0.1	 9.5
3.  2012 Chicago Bulls (50-16)		8.2	 1.1	 9.3
4.  2012 San Antonio Spurs (50-16)	7.6	 1.1	 8.7
5.  1995 Utah Jazz (60-22)		8.2	 0.3	 8.4
6.  1993 Seattle SuperSonics (55-27)	6.9	 1.6	 8.4
7.  2011 Chicago Bulls (62-20)		7.1	 1.2	 8.4
8.  1995 Seattle SuperSonics (57-25)	8.0	 0.3	 8.3
9.  2010 Orlando Magic (59-23)		7.6	 0.6	 8.2
10. 2001 San Antonio Spurs (58-24)	8.5	-0.4	 8.1
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------

And finally, a ranking of all NBA champs from 1992-2012:

Team					Tm ASPM	Lg Qual	Adj ASPM
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------
1.  1996 Chicago Bulls (72-10)		12.7	-0.1	12.5
2.  1992 Chicago Bulls (67-15)		10.4	 1.4	11.8
3.  1997 Chicago Bulls (69-13)		11.6	-0.6	11.0
4.  2008 Boston Celtics (66-16)		10.2	 0.0	10.2
5.  2000 Los Angeles Lakers (67-15)	 8.7	 0.5	 9.3
6.  2007 San Antonio Spurs (58-24)	 9.0	-0.3	 8.7
7.  1999 San Antonio Spurs (37-13)	 8.0	 0.1	 8.1
8.  1993 Chicago Bulls (57-25)		 6.5	 1.6	 8.1
9.  2005 San Antonio Spurs (59-23)	 8.5	-1.1	 7.4
10. 2009 Los Angeles Lakers (65-17)	 7.4	-0.1	 7.4
11. 1998 Chicago Bulls (62-20)		 7.8	-0.5	 7.3
12. 2002 Los Angeles Lakers (58-24)	 7.5	-0.3	 7.2
13. 2012 Miami Heat (46-20)		 6.0	 1.1	 7.1
14. 2011 Dallas Mavericks (57-25)	 4.7	 1.2	 5.9
15. 2010 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)	 5.0	 0.6	 5.6
16. 1994 Houston Rockets (58-24)	 4.3	 1.2	 5.4
17. 2004 Detroit Pistons (54-28)	 5.8	-0.5	 5.2
18. 2003 San Antonio Spurs (60-22)	 5.9	-0.9	 5.0
19. 2001 Los Angeles Lakers (56-26)	 3.8	-0.4	 3.4
20. 2006 Miami Heat (52-30)		 3.9	-0.9	 3.0
21. 1995 Houston Rockets (47-35)	 2.4	 0.3	 2.7
---------------------------------------+-------+-------+--------

Email Neil at np@sports-reference.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Neil_Paine.

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