Are the Nets the Worst Team Ever?

After 48 games the New Jersey Nets have only managed to win four times.  Such a record projects to about seven wins across an entire season, or a record that would set the NBA’s mark for regular season futility.  And this begs the question, are the New Jersey Nets of the 2009-10 season really the worst team in NBA history?

Certainly the won-loss record says so.  But in evaluating teams, efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) gives us a better picture.  And that picture says the Nets are not quite the worst team ever.  Currently the Nets are posting the following numbers:

  • Points scored per 100 possessions (offensive efficiency): 94.8
  • Points surrendered per 100 possessions (defensive efficiency): 107.1
  • Efficiency differential: -12.4

Since the 1973-74 season (the first year we have enough data to calculate possessions), here are the lowest marks with respect to efficiency differential:

  • Dallas Mavericks [1992-93]: -14.7
  • Denver Nuggets [1997-98]: -12.6
  • LA Clippers [1999-00]: -11.9
  • Vancouver Grizzlies [1996-97]: -11.2
  • Houston Rockets [1982-83]: -11.0
  • Miami Heat [1988-89]: -10.9
  • LA Clippers [1986-87]: -10.7
  • Vancouver Grizzlies [1995-96]: -10.5
  • Philadelphia 76ers [1995-96]: -10.5
  • Portland Trail Blazers [2005-06]: -10.4

The Clippers and Grizzlies appear twice on this list (thought I would just mention that).  As for the Nets, their current mark ranks third.  So although this is the worst Nets team in history (their previous worst mark of -8.0 in 1987-88 currently ranks 40th since 1973-74), one could argue that the Nets in 2009-10 are not the worst team in NBA history.

Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that this team is very, very bad.  And naturally we wonder what happened.  To understand the wonder that is the 2009-10 Nets, we need to look at the individual players.  That look – presented in Table One – indicates that the productivity of the Nets this season has been worth 5.5 wins.  So again, the Nets are not quite as bad as they appear (but again, they are really, really bad).

Table One: The New Jersey Nets after 48 games in 2009-10

When we look at the performances of these players last year we see that the Nets should be bad, but not quite as horrible as we see.  Had each player on the Nets maintained the per-minute performance we saw last year, the Nets would expect to have a current mark of 14-34. This would still be the worst mark in the Eastern Conference, but actually better than the record currently posted by both the Golden State Warriors and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In looking at he numbers for each individual players we can start to assign some responsbility for the disaster that is the 2009-10 season.  Certainly much of the blame should be directed at the people who assembled this roster.  But we can also see from Table One that two of the team’s point guards have been a particular problem.  Rafer Alston and Devin Harris have combined to produce 5.5 fewer wins than we would expect given each player’s per-minute production in 2008-09.  So a good chunk of the team’s decline from bad to disaster can be linked to the production received from just two players. 

Luckily for the Nets, Alston has departed.   In addition, the Nets have also added Kris Humprhries, a slightly above average big man.  These two changes might give fans of this team hope. 

No, the Nets are not going to morph into a good team in the near future.  But they might progress to just bad.   And if that progression somehow produces six more wins across the team’s final 34 games, the Nets can avoid the distinction of posting the worst record in NBA history.  Yes, that isn’t much of a goal.  But in such a season, it’s about all the fans of this team have left. 

- DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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