The goal of this project is to figure out which teams were the worst to make the playoffs in the last 10 NBA seasons. To measure this I had to first decide on what constituted “bad” playoff teams. I figured that the best baseline measure was winning percentage and that the line of demarcation between a five seed and a four seed was around the .545 mark. Any team below that mark, and also finishing fifth or worse in the conference would be eligible for the data pool. The fifth seed and worse designation were not arbitrary as the Eastern Conference teams at times struggled to break .540 even at the fourth seed.
Conversely, the Western Conference had seasons(!!) where the playoff field featured only teams a winning percentage of .610 or higher. In order to limit the field to teams that likely were not considered “elite”, I made the decision to only take the worst seeded team from any conference that featured only teams that finished above .545. These teams represent control groups for the scoring system described below based on important team and individual stats.
Each team who qualified was examined and cataloged based on the following criteria: winning percentage, overall plus/minus, offensive rating, and defensive rating. In addition to examining the team stats, the best player was determined based upon the following: average points per game, average rebounds per game, average assists per game, traditional shooting slashes, games started, and overall plus/minus. The Best Player, or BP, was a distinction was important because it would later effect scoring relative to the production of other players within the pool and not against the league at-large. Additionally, teams could be scored on whether or not the team had an individual player selected for that season’s all-star game.
Upon collecting the counting stats stated above, each team was ranked from worst-to-best and given a score based on where they placed. The higher the placing, the higher the score and the higher the score the worse the team. The highest maximum score for any one category was 150 points based on the goal of achieving 15 total teams. While the other five teams were not the focus, the goal was to parse out any anomalies that may have appeared. By the end the scores ranged from 20-830 with BP real plus/minus often directly correlating to the team’s final score.
No 10. 2013 – 2014 Brooklyn Nets
Winning %: .537 Offensive Rtg:106.7 Defensive Rtg: 107.7 Overall +/-: -1
Best Player: Joe Johnson
Total Points: 590
The 2014 Brooklyn Nets were a weird team, to say the least. They spent a majority of the season calling out Lebron James and the Miami Heat. They swung an ill-fated early season trade to obtain former Celtic legends Paul Peirce and Kevin Garnett. In that trade, the Nets front office more or less sold on their future for a team that finished with a negative +/-. Early in the season, Brook Lopez was lost to a foot surgery that concerned many regarding the 7fters future. Deron Williams, arguably their best player the season before, played about a third fewer games than Joe Johnson. Johnson conversely played all but three games, made an all-star team, and was by far their most consistent player.
They finished in the bottom 10 three times over the scoring process and were mostly buoyed by the Eastern Conference featuring two other teams with an equal or worse winning percentage that season. Both teams finished 14th and 15th respectively suggesting there was not much separation between the teams in that season. Additionally, for that season, Joe Johnson posted the fewest in each of the BP counting stats and the lowest overall +/-. It’s pretty clear why the ‘13 – ‘14 Nets weren’t very good with a BP having a solid if unspectacular season, and the remaining players in and out of the line-up, it’s a wonder this team managed to finish above .500.
No 9. 2008 – 2009 Detroit Pistons
Winning %: .476 Offensive Rtg:107.4 Defensive Rtg: 108 Overall +/-: -.6
Best Player: Tayshaun Prince
Total Points: 600
When the 2008 – 2009 Detroit Pistons’ season ended at Lebron James hands, it was largely a coup de’ grace. Struggling into the playoffs as the first sub .500 team to make this list, this iteration of the Pistons featured Tayshaun Prince’s best season in the NBA. Posting respectable 45-39.7-77.8 shooting slashes, Prince prevented their abysmal offense from falling to league-worst levels. However, Prince is also the first negative overall +/- on the list and the fifth worst among teams in the bottom ten, and in the bottom ten amongst the entire field.
Instead of placing the burden on one star, which they certainly did not have, the Pistons focused on a more spread out approach. With many starters comfortably into their 30’s Prince, who didn’t miss a game, was the only player to start more than 65 games. They lost their last three games of the season and backpedaled into the postseason. In many ways, this was simply the last hurrah for a roster that likely had passed its expiration date as of that season.
No 8. 2011 – 2012 New York Knicks
Winning %: .545 Offensive Rtg:104.4 Defensive Rtg: 101.1 Overall +/-: 3.3
Best Player: Carmelo Anthony
Total Points: 611
The 2011 – 2012 New York Knicks were likely Carmelo Anthony’s last push in his prime. Melo was frequently able to score just enough points to allow the teams defensive ace, Tyson Chandler, strangle the opposing offense. With a defense that finished fifth overall, the Knicks were able to ride a good-but-not-great year into a first-round exit.
With a lockout-shortened season, the Knicks managed to dodge some of their usual issues with regards to player health and consistency. Moreover, Jeremy Lin caught fire during the stretch where both Melo and Amar’e Stoudamire went down. Likely this season represents a bit of a statistical anomaly posting the second highest overall +/- in the top 10. The only explanation is that Tyson Chandler was a monster that year partnering with Landry Fields to produce a terrifying front wall. Due to the lack of reasonable defensive metrics, he couldn’t be selected to be the teams best player. In a revision of this list, the team may place higher due to his individual efforts.