Posted by Neil Paine on March 17, 2010
Two weeks ago, I posted about the most dominant NBA teams of all time over the course of the entire season, and the results basically featured the usual suspects: the '96 Bulls, the '71 Bucks, the '86 Celtics, etc. However, I didn't have the 2001 Lakers on the list because they weren't dominant for the entire season -- because of some injuries (and because they felt they could "flip the switch" on when they really needed to), L.A. sleepwalked through the regular season, winning "just" 56 games after scorching the league to the tune of 67 in 2000 (they had to rattle off 8 straight at the end of the season to take the Pacific by a single game over Sacramento). They finished the regular season as the 2nd seed in the West behind San Antonio, and had the league's 6th-best SRS, hardly the stuff of a juggernaut... But in the playoffs, they were indeed able to flip the switch, unleashing a ridiculously dominant performance against Portland (#5 in SRS), Sacramento (#2), San Antonio (#1), and finally Philadelphia (#7), a run marred only by a single defeat in Game 1 of the Finals.
What's the point of me telling you all this? Well, it's simply to say that in an 82-game season, sometimes teams don't play their hardest until the playoffs, so we probably need an additional list that ranks teams based on how dominant they were in the playoffs alone. For that purpose, I ran the standard SRS for every team in NBA history over all of their games (regular-season and playoffs), and then isolated just their postseason games by modifying the SRS formula: playoff SRS = (avg. MOV in playoffs) + (avg. playoff opponent's full-season SRS). This will credit teams for their playoff performance while also taking into account how good their opponents had been all season long. Throwing out teams which did not win a title (again, how can you truly be the most dominant without winning it all?), you get this ranking of the most dominant playoff teams in NBA history:
And as you can see, the Lakers' tear in 2001 ranks first, having obliterated one of the hardest schedules of any champ en route to the 2nd-biggest playoff MOV average of all time.
Now, here's where the real fun begins... In honor of March Madness tipping off this week (and shamelessly appropriating an idea from PFR's Jason Lisk), let's use this ranking to determine our seeding and throw these teams into a bracket to see which NBA champ comes out on top. Like Jason, I'll use Whatifsports' sim engine for the matchups (mirroring a project I started but never finished years ago), and teams will be limited to the players they used in the playoffs of that season. Here are the brackets:
Who will win? Stay tuned to find out!