The Best Team for Each Team

Posted on June 15, 2007 by


After the Finals ended last night I sat down to write my thoughts on Game Four. Too many story lines came to mind, though, and rather than write these all out I just went to bed.

Today I am a bit short on time, so all I can do is offer thoughts on something I heard repeated throughout the Finals: The 2006-07 version of the Cleveland Cavaliers was the best team in franchise history.

Not the Best

Before the Finals began I posted the Wins Produced for the Cavaliers the past two seasons.

Table One: The Cleveland Cavaliers in 2005-06 and 2006-07

Cleveland’s Wins Produced in 2005-06 summed to 47.0. This past season the player’s Wins Produced summed to 51.3. So the Cavaliers did improve, but not by much. The only real difference between each version of this team was that Anderson Varejao produced 3.1 wins in 763 minutes in 2005-06 and 7.3 wins in 1,932 minutes this past season. The increased output from Varejao, which came about because he simply played more minutes, produced the small improvement we observed.

So how did the Cavaliers go from a second round exit in 2006 to the NBA Finals in 2007? One could simply reference the element of chance inherent in a seven game series. Certainly the Cavaliers defeating the Pistons in double overtime in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals reflected a fair amount of chance (a double overtime game can go either way).

Beyond chance, though, one has to note the Cavaliers apparent strategy entering the 2006-07 season. Rather than improve the team’s roster – which is the path teams typically follow when trying to getting better – the Cavaliers focused on making their competition in the East a bit worse. So LeBron talked Ben Wallace into leaving the Pistons for the Bulls. And the rest of the Cavs poked needles in dolls of Shaq and Flash, which resulted in the injuries that derailed the Heat’s effort to repeat. With the competition sufficiently weakened, the Cavaliers were able to give us the illusion that their team actually had improved substantially.

The numbers, though, tell us that this team did not improve very much at all. The team in 2006-07 was not much better than this team in 2005-06. And neither of these teams were the best in franchise history. The following table reports the top ten Cleveland teams – in terms of efficiency differential.

Table Two: The Best Cleveland Teams

The last two editions of the Cavaliers do rank in the top ten in team history. But the teams from the late 1980s and early 1990s – led by Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, and Larry Nance – were better teams. Unfortunately these teams played at the same time as Michael Jordan’s Bulls and the “Bad Boys” from Detroit. So the Cavs from that time period could never make it to the Finals.

The Best from Each Team

The examination of the best in Cleveland’s history led me to wonder which team was the best in each franchise’s history. The following table reports the best efficiency differential – in the regular season (playoffs are ignored) – for each franchise.

Table Three: The Best Team for Each Team

Although the 2006-07 edition of the Cavaliers was not Cleveland’s best team, this year’s edition of the Spurs was the best team in San Antonio’s history. San Antonio, though, was not the only franchise to offer their best in 2006-07. The Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns also had their best team this past season (the Bobcats did also, but not sure that means much). Yes, two teams that could not even get to the conference finals were the best teams – in terms of efficiency differential – in their franchise’s history.

A few other items of interest from this list:

– the only franchise to have a positive efficiency in double digits is the Chicago Bulls. And the Bulls did it three times: 1991-92, 1995-96, 1996-97. Thirteen times a team has had a negative efficiency differential in double digits. Perhaps I should comment on that sometime in the future.

– only three of these teams won the NBA title. It’s important to remember that these are the best teams in each franchise’s history, not necessarily the best team in that particular year. For example, Utah’s best team in 1996-97 faced a Bulls team in the Finals that was even better.

other than the Bobcats, the Clippers best team is the worst on this list. The best efficiency differential for a Clippers team is 1.7. Since 1974 there have been 316 teams to post a better mark than 1.7.

– the Nuggets and Wizards had their best team in the 1970s. Not sure what this means, but it’s something I noticed.

Okay, I best get to my work today. I hope to write more on the Finals this weekend.

– DJ