The Best Game of Each Season
I love looking over classic data. Basketball-Reference has boxscores back to 1986 for the regular season. It’s a ton of fun to review old games and today I thought I’d start a series on the best games of the past. We have twenty five years of regular season data so I figured I’d break it in two and review the best game of each regular season using the Wins Produced Metric. Here’s a snap shot (and I’ll even follow up each with some commentary on the stats).
Table 1: Best game of the season for the 1986 to 1997 seasons.
1986 Game of the Season: Larry Bird in 91-74 Boston Celtics victory over New York Knicks on 2/25/1986
The 1986 season unsurprisingly features Larry Bird doing everything. In a comfortable win Bird put up a triple double by shooting efficiently, sharing the ball and rebounding. This was business as usual according to the Youtube video.
1987 Game of the Season: Charles Barkley in 108-103 Philadelphia 76ers victory over New York Knicks on 1/27/1987
Barkley put up a 20 point 20 rebound night. He tacked on seven steals and assists. His turnovers were a bit high but we’ll look the other way on this otherwise stellar performance.
1988 Game of the Season: Charles Oakley in 103-107 Chicago Bulls loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on 4/22/1988
Despite pulling down over 60% of his teams rebounds and shooting at a ridiculous rate Oakley wasn’t able to keep the Bulls from losing to the Cavs. His numbers merit him the rare honor of earning a Perfect Game (WP of over 1.0) but sadly his team let him down.
1989 Game of the Season: Charles Barkley in 114-106 Philadelphia 76ers victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on 11/30/1988
Sir Charles ups his previous 20 and 20 performance to a 40 and 20. His true shooting percentage mark of 0.827 is ridiculous. As before, he even managed to tack on some steals and assists for good measure. Such numbers make him the second player in our data to earn a Perfect Game.
1990 Game of the Season: Michael Jordan in 117-113 Chicago Bulls victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on 3/28/1990
Come on, you knew it wouldn’t be long before he showed up, right? Jordan gets on this list by doing what he did best – score. Of course his rebounding in this game was also amazing. Tack on passing, stealing, while limiting turnovers and we have yet another Perfect Game.
1991 Game of the Season: Dennis Rodman in 118-107 Detroit Pistons victory over the Denver Nuggets on 1/21/1991
Rodman gets on this list in large part to his primary skill of rebounding. Of course in this game he also showed he was capable of carrying the offensive load. Yes, Rodman was able to put up 34 points on highly efficient shooting. His other numbers aren’t too impressive but turns out those two things win games.
1992 Game of the Season: Dennis Rodman in 117-95 Detroit Pistons victory over the Orlando Magic on 2/18/1992
Dennis Rodman earns a Perfect Game and wins back to back games of the season. His rebounding numbers are great to go along with a decent number of assists. His scoring may seem low, but he managed 18 points on a mere ten shots from the field and no trips to the line.
1993 Game of the Season: Charles Barkley in 111-105 Phoenix Suns victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on 11/7/1992
Barkley makes it back onto the list with yet another Perfect Game following his typical line 20+ points to go with 20+ rebounds. He also tacks on his assists, but his steals are lacking. We’ll forgive him.
1994 Game of the Season: Shaquille O’Neal in 87-85 Orlando Magic victory over the New Jersey Nets on 11/20/1993
Shaq’s 24 points seem low for Superman in his prime. Of course, the real secret to Shaq’s greatness this game was in his rebounding and blocking. He exceeded 25 boards and 15 blocks to help his Magic eke out a close victory and earn himself his first Perfect Game.
1995 Game of the Season: Willie Burton in 105-90 Philadelphia 76ers victory over the Miami Heat on 12/13/1994
A little over a month after being waived by the Heat Burton managed to exact revenge. While many of the other Games of the Season involve multi-faceted attacks, Willie stuck to scoring to win his title. Willie went 12 for 19 from the field and tacked on 24 points in 28 trips to the charity stripe to earn top honors for the year. This game is evidence that for one game, most NBA player can be amazing. Of course, the truly amazing players can put up great numbers in more than one game.
1996 Game of the Season: Michael Jordan in 102-81 Chicago Bulls victory over the Detroit Pistons on 3/7/1996
1997 Game of the Season: Charles Barkley in 110-95 Houston Rockets victory over the Phoenix Suns on 11/2/1996
With the exclusion of Burton in the 1995 season, many of these names were not at all surprising. We’ll have to see if any of them stick around for the next list! I do enjoy the fact that Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman both show up as many times as Michael Jordan. I hope you enjoy this article and I’m curious if there will be a bump on Willie Burton searches.