Can you truly determine which teams are, in fact, the best in NBA history? According to the fine people at FiveThirtyEight, you absolutely can. These folks are all about using statistical analyses to calculate objective answers. With regard to the best teams in NBA history, FiveThirtyEight determined their exact Elo rating. What’s that? We’re glad you asked. There is a more detailed explanation of this term, but simply put:
Elo is like the iPad of sports power ratings: Their design is quite simple, and they do a lot with a little, depending only on the final score of each game and where it was played. Teams always gain Elo points after winning games — although more for upset wins and for winning by wider margins — and lose ground after losing them. They account for both regular-season and playoff games.
When you want to dissect a team’s Elo rating, you only need to focus on the wins and losses. However, there is a lot that goes into those two categories. You must consider the margin of victory; whether the game was on the road; and the strength of the team’s opponent. You also have to consider so much more.
Fortunately, someone else did all the heavy lifting. Based on FiveThirtyEight’s calculations, if a team has an Elo rating over 1700, then that team is a legitimate contender. However, if a club scores over 1800, it’s among the best of the best. If you don’t like using statistics to come to this sort of conclusion, then you may not agree. But no matter what you think, this process certainly has merit. Based on Elo ratings, here’s a look at the 10 best NBA teams of all time.
10. 1997–98 Chicago Bulls
Blend Elo: 1764
Final regular-season record: 62-20
After finishing the regular season with a 62-20 record and going 15-6 in the postseason, the 1997–98 Chicago Bulls took home the NBA title, while completing the second three-peat in franchise history. This group, led by Michael Jordan (who averaged 28.7 points in the regular season) was third in the NBA in opponents’ points per game (89.6), third in defensive rating (99.8), and ninth in offensive rating (107.7).
This team may have scored a composite Elo of 1764, however, at one point during the year this group achieved a peak Elo rating of 1788. When it was all said and done, these Bulls finished the year with an average Elo rating of 1719 and a season-ending tally of 1785. Of course, in the end, this team will always be remembered for Jordan’s game winner against the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals.