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In 1972-1973, the Philadelphia 76ers set the mark for fewest victories in a full NBA season, managing to win just 9 of their 82 games. This is generally regarded as the worst team in NBA history, and their win total has been established as the baseline for collective futility. Since 1973, many statistical tools have been created for evaluating basketball teams. Several of them have proven to be more accurate in predicting future success than a team’s record, and therefore may be a better measure of a team’s actual quality. Most of these statistical tools are built around scoring margin, which adds an extra level of information about a team’s competitiveness.
For example, the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies have both won 25 games so far this season. The Grizzlies have an average per game scoring margin of +1.6 points. The Jazz have an average per game scoring margin of -0.6 points. The Jazz have been able to sneak to 25 wins by pulling out some close games will losing by wider margins in others. Although they have both reached the same win total, we can point to theGrizzlies as the better team because scoring margin reveals that they’ve been more competitive in their games. (The Grizzlies have also played just 45 games, the Jazz have played 47).
One tool built on scoring margin is Basketball-Reference’s Simple Rating System. This system takes into account average point differential and also the difficulty of the opponent, giving us even more information about a team’s quality that just it’s record or scoring margin alone. Turning the lens to the NBA, we find a new team in the historical cellar, built on a different floor of futility. Your new worst team of all time is the 1992-1993 Dallas Mavericks. Just one step up from them, and one step below the 1972-1973 Sixers, with a SRS of -12.70, is this season’s incarnation of the Charlotte Bobcats.
After 44 games, the Bobcats have racked up just 7 wins. They’ll likely pass the Sixers’ total of 9 but, especially in a shortened season, that win total will obscure how really awful they’ve been.
Pick your favorite statistical tool and the Bobcats are likely to be at the bottom. They have just two players, Kemba Walker and D.J. Augustin, with a PER above the league average. Each comes in at 15.2, a sliver above 15.0, the average mark. By Wins Produced per 48 minutes, they have just three above average players, Derrick Brown, Bismack Biyombo and Joel Pryzbilla. The contributions of those three are more than cancelled out by the five players, Corey Maggette, Corey Higgins, Tyrus Thomas, Matt Carroll and Byron Mullens, who are producing negative wins. They don’t have a single player ranked in the top 100 in the NBA’s Efficiency Rating.
The Bobcats have the lowest Offensive Rating in the league at 95.5, a full 4.4 points per 100 possessions worse than the 29th ranked offense, belonging to the Toronto Raptors. They also have the league’s second-worst Defensive Rating, at 109.8. Simple subtraction reveals that over the course of 100 possessions the Bobcats would be outscored by an average of 14.3 points.
In 44 games, they’ve already lost by 30 or more points 8 times. That means that 18% of the time they’ve taken the floor they have ended up losing, epically. Only two teams, the 1991 Nuggets and the 1994 76ers, have had more 30 points losses in a season. Both of those marks were set in full seasons, and the Bobcats still have 22 games to catch them. An enormous talent deficit, inconsistent effort and a striking lack of execution; the Charlotte Bobcats are the total package.
14 of their remaining games come against teams in the bottom half of the league, meaning the strength of schedule portion of the Bobcats’ Simple Rating is likely to decrease. They’ve already earned themselves a seat at the table. But if the Bobcats keep losing, and losing big, it’s not unthinkable that they could move themselves to the head of that table, as the worst NBA team of all time.