Started From the Bottom Now You're Where?

With the season winding down I thought I’d take a look at how teams fare after finishing with one of the two worst records in the NBA. The Sixers are probably going to catch the Bucks for the worst record but I feel confident in saying the Bucks will finish no better than the second worst team in the NBA.

I started with the 2001-2002 season and went through the 2011-12, so 11 years. Two teams tied for the second worst record in two separate seasons, so there are 24 teams to gather data from.

I’ll start with how the teams fared the year after finishing with one of the worst two records. Only four teams wound up making the playoffs the following season, five if the Bobcats make the playoffs this year. The four were:

The 2003-04 Denver Nuggets. A year after finishing with a 17-65 record, the Nuggets won 43 games and finished as the 8 seed in the West. Given their offseason it was not surprising to see them make such a big leap. They drafted Carmelo Anthony, signed Andre Miller, and had a healthy Marcus Camby.

The 2004-05 Chicago Bulls. A year after going 23-59, the Bulls finished with a record of 47-35 and the 4 seed in the East. The Bulls got Ben Gordon and Luol Deng through the 2004 NBA draft, both contributed to the Bulls success in their rookie seasons. They also benefitted from Eddy Curry having a solid 4th year, as well as Tyson Chandler developing, and Kirk Hinrich having a solid second year.

The 2007-08 Boston Celtics. The Celtics achieved the very difficult task of going from (second) worst to first. After finishing with the second worst record in the NBA, the Celtics won the NBA championship the next season. They accomplished this by acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

The 2008-09 Miami Heat. The Heat caught the injury bug in the 2007-08 season when Ricky Davis was the only player on the team to play in more than 70 games, yikes. They finished with a 15-67 record and Dwyane Wade only played in 51 games that year. With a healthy Wade it wasn’t hard to predict that the Heat would bounce back. They ended up the following year as the 5 seed in the East with a 43-39 record.

Let’s move onto some numbers. I took the average win% of the two worst teams in the league, then took the average of the team’s win% the following year, and found the average improvement. What I found interesting is that no team finished with a worse record the follow year and only one team did not improve their record.

The average win% of the two worst teams in league was:

22.6% or around 18.5 wins.

The average win% the following year was:

39% or 31.98 wins, which is a 13.48 win improvement.

Even with taking out the 4 playoff teams the average win improvement was just above 10 games, going from 18.32 wins to 28.4 wins.

Those numbers were pretty surprising and so was the fact that only one team in that 11 year span was ever one of the worst two teams in consecutive years, the Timberwolves in 2010 and 2011. If I had included last season, Charlotte would be the second because they finished with one of the worst two records last season and the season before. Those two occurrences were two of only three times where a team was one of the two worst teams again before they made the playoffs. So it’s more likely for a team to make the playoffs before they become one of the worst two teams in the league again.

So you might be thinking now, "Great, the Bucks are going to make the playoffs and won’t be one of the worst teams in the league again." Well I’m here to tell you to be patient and not get too excited yet. I also looked at how long it usually took teams to make it back to the playoffs after finishing with one of the worst two records. On average I found that it takes a team 3 years to make it back to the playoffs and like I said earlier only 4 have made it the season after finishing with one of the worst two records. So teams aren’t likely to be one of the two worst teams again but they also aren’t likely to make the playoffs right away.

So I hope you all find this information as helpful as I did and can help give you a peek at what the Bucks could be in for in the coming years. From this information I think we can make a reasonable guess that the Bucks will win around 30 wins next season and will be back in the playoffs sometime around the 2016-17 season.

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