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 4. 2014 – 2015 Brooklyn Nets
Winning %: .463 Offensive Rtg:104.9 Defensive Rtg: 107.4 Overall +/-: -2.5
Best Player: Brook Lopez
Total Points: 780
The ‘14-’15 Brooklyn Nets are probably the first abject disaster to make this list and while they certainly are not the last they fairly unique. Brook Lopez likely could have been the BP for the Nets every year they qualified for this list if he had managed to stay healthy. During this season he managed to stay healthy for 72 games but his team didn’t manage to break .500 on the season. In spite of his health, Lopez could do nothing to help elevate the teams bottom third offense and defense or stymie the multiple five-game losing streaks that season. Furthermore, former BPs Joe Johnson had a pedestrian season and Deron Williams only started 50 games. In many ways, this team was already paying for the sins of their trade for the old Boston legends as it was clear there was no much future ahead.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this team is that they were probably the hardest playoff out of any in the top ten list. With Lionel Hollins replacing Jason Kidd, after his failed coup attempt, there was not much expectation with regards to where the Nets would finish. Yet even as most of these teams end up facing a one or two seed, against which they are completely overmatched and are lucky to get a game.
The Nets instead managed to grab two games off of the number one seeded Atlanta Hawks. Brooklyn managed to win its first two games at home to tie up the series with Lopez averaging almost 20 points and 9 rebounds a game. In the end, they were out-coached and overmatched against an Atlanta team that inexplicably won 60 games that season and won the last two games of the series by 40 points.
No 3. 2014 – 2015 Boston Celtics
Winning %: .488 Offensive Rtg:104.7 Defensive Rtg: 104.5 Overall +/-: -0.2
Best Player: Avery Bradley
Total Points: 790
Boston Celtics fans probably remember this season as the first step towards what has been an upward trend since that Brooklyn trade. Just one season after trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics finished one slot above their trade partner. On balance it may seem strange that the team with the better +/- and defensive rating would be lower on the list but much of it has to do with Avery Bradley and team construction.
Bradley was their most consistent and efficient player that season but the defensive metrics don’t always offer the best measuring stick. With a stifling 104.5 defensive rating, which placed just outside of the top 10 that season, Boston managed to keep themselves in games despite Bradley scoring almost 300 more points than the next closest player. Bradley had some of the worst counting stats and shooting slashes of any BP and finished with a negative +/- on the season.
In what was Brad Stevens debut season as an NBA head coach, Stevens was in many ways playing with house money. Most of Boston’s rabid fan base was focused on the king’s ransom that Brooklyn used to take contracts off of their hands. Truly it was a shrewd play as Boston has not missed the playoffs since and gotten incrementally better. Yet for all of the good, there were some awful components to this team that somehow managed to finish second in their division despite the losing record.
Players like Evan Turner and Brandon Bass were either ineffective or injured all season, future MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas would only play 21 games, and no player other than Bradley would start more than 58 games all season. It is a testament Stevens’ creativity that the Celtics made the playoffs at all and a lack of depth in the Eastern Conference meant they could finish as not the worst team record wise. In truth, the poor level of talent can be seen by the reality that teams three and four on this list are separated by just 10 points, which per the grading scale, makes them virtually even.