Can you truly determine which teams are, in fact, the best in the history of the National Basketball Association? According to the fine people at FiveThirtyEight, you absolutely can. These folks are all about using numbers and statistical analyses as a means of calculating objective answers.
With regard to the best teams in NBA history, FiveThirtyEight looked to determine 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 have to consider the margin of victory. You have to consider whether the game was on the road. You have to consider the strength of the team’s opponent. You 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 manages to score over 1800, it would find itself among the best of the best.
If you’re not one for using statistics to come to this sort of conclusion, then you may not agree with the finds. But no matter what you make think, there is certainly merit to this process. With that in mind, based on Elo ratings, here’s a look at the 10 best NBA teams of all time.