Posted by Neil Paine on August 16, 2010
There are a lot of attributes that I've looked into as the hallmarks of great teams, including dominant wins, ideal usage allocations, and superior playoff point differentials. But here's another characteristic to throw onto that heap -- season-long performance vs. playoff teams.
Since the playoffs only feature the league's best teams -- a.k.a. those through which the path to a championship runs -- you could argue that we should judge a good team's ability by its performance vs. fellow postseason participants. Or at least that's the premise here: for every season since 2000, I whittled down the NBA schedule (regular-season and playoffs) to just include games between 2 playoff teams. Then I ran the Simple Rating System formula on those games, adjusting for a home-court advantage of 3.3 PPG and setting the results relative to the overall league average of 0.0 (to keep things on the familiar SRS scale).
The results are the teams that performed the best vs. playoff teams during the year in question:
Back in April, that result seemed surprising, perhaps even a glitch in WhatIfSports' programming... but maybe it shouldn't have. San Antonio simply dominated the league's good teams in '05: they had 43 wins over playoff teams, and 28 of them came by 10 or more points (by comparison, the 2000 Lakers had 6 fewer wins of 10+ pts despite winning 6 more total games; likewise, the '03 Spurs were even less dominant, winning just 19 of 48 by 10+). And along with the 4th-best scoring differential vs. playoff teams of any squad since 2000 (+5.4 PPG), in the playoffs San Antonio went through Phoenix (+7.8 SRS vs. playoff teams), Detroit (+5.9), Seattle (+4.0), and Denver (+3.6), one of the toughest gauntlets any team on this list had to run.
Because they were geared toward defense and ball control, because they were just one of four nonconsecutive Spurs title teams, and especially because they went 7 games against Detroit (another team geared toward defense and ball control) in David Stern's nightmare Finals, the 2005 Spurs have been consistently overlooked as a great team. However, with their ability to dominate the cream of the NBA's crop, perhaps it's finally time to give that San Antonio squad the respect they deserve.