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 7. 2014 – 2015 Milwaukee Bucks
Winning %: .500 Offensive Rtg:102.7 Defensive Rtg: 102.2 Overall +/-: .5
Best Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Total Points: 722
As one of only two players on the team to average over 30 mins and play in more than 58 games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first season was brutal. Early in the season, they lost their prized draft pick, Jabari Parker, then Brandon Knight went down and the team finished with the 22nd worst offense that season. Giannis, for his part, averaged 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and flashed some of the potential that led him to be an early MVP candidate this past season.
For all of his efforts, he still posted some of the lowest counting stats of any BP, did not offer anything from the three-point line, and was certainly too young for the moment. With the eighth overall defense, that season the Bucks struggled their way to .500 in a season where the Eastern Conference had sub .500 playoff team. In an average year, a team like this would likely not make the playoffs if only because of attrition, youth, and lack of cohesion. It was during this same season that Larry Sanders, their highest paid player, walked away from basketball due to mental health and substance issues. While to some degree it is impressive that they managed to break even in a tumultuous season, the likely never had any business getting there.
No 6. 2009 – 2010 Charlotte Bobcats
Winning %: .537 Offensive Rtg:104.4 Defensive Rtg: 102.8 Overall +/-: 1.6
Best Player: Gerald Wallace
Total Points: 730
With the second highest BP +/- on this list, Gerald Wallace played the season of his career and helped elevate this otherwise terrible team. This team averaged a putrid 95.3 points per game which was 28th in the league that season. Yet Wallace posted nightly averages of 18.2-10-2.1 while also shooting around 37% from three and managed to land in the all-star game. What is most impressive is that he did all of that averaging 41(!!!) minutes per game and played in 76 games. Only Stephen Jackson averaged anywhere near that number for the Bobcats that seasons with a still whopping 39.3.
Wallace also anchored the best defense in the NBA and the team overall in +/- and, with Tyson Chandler, routinely allowed the Bobcats to hang around late into games. When this team made it to the playoffs Wallace was unable to post a positive +/- and overall they were simply unable to deal with the Orland Magic’s 4-Out approach. As a team, they defended three-pointers well throughout the season, but in the playoffs, they simply could not match the production from beyond the arc that supplemented the rebounding prowess of Dwight Howard.
No 5. 2015 – 2016 Memphis Grizzlies
Winning %: .512 Offensive Rtg:105.4 Defensive Rtg: 107.8 Overall +/-: -2.4
Best Player: Zach Randolph
Total Points: 741
In a season where the normally stout Memphis Grizzlies’ defensive rating that finished 19th Zach Randolph filled the BP role. With Mike Conley and Marc Gasol each playing only 50 games, Randolph finished as the most traditionally productive and still only logged 68 games. While his contribution to the game is as quantifiable as it is ideological, the Grizzlies also relied on players like Lance Stevenson and Mario Chalmers to play significant minutes.
In what proved to be Dave Joerger’s final season, and the beginning of the end of the “Grit n Grind” era, the Grizzlies had doubled down. Choosing to lean on defensive oriented non-scorers dragged their offensive rating down in order to keep the pace slow and hang around high scoring Western Conference teams. This backfired however as two of the best positional defenders each lost 30 games forcing ancillary defenders into starting roles. In the end, the NBA had largely passed the Grizzlies by as they finished in the bottom five in both three-point attempts and shooting percentage. The Grizzlies may still feature Conley and Gasol but as recent as 2016 it was clear that Memphis needs to begin the rebuild.
Read teams 10-8 here.