The Washington Wizards' march to their best regular season performance in over three decades has served as a gentle reminder that there's been a lot of bad basketball in Washington over the years. But every once in a while, you get served with a very blunt reminder that makes you just can't avoid.
Today's reminder comes from FiveThirtyEight, who ranked every team in NBA history, based on Elo Ratings. Here's an explanation on how Elo ratings work:
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. If you want (much, much) more detail, see here. For the rest of you, here's a quick guide on how to interpret different Elo ratings and about how many wins they'd translate into over the course of an 82-game regular season.
Elo ratings above 1800, which imply a team would be able to sustain at least a 67-15 record over the long term, are extremely rare. Only three teams have achieved them: the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (whose 1853 Elo rating from June 9, 1996, is the all-time record), the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls and the 1985-86 Boston Celtics. This year's Golden State Warriors have a chance at an 1800-plus rating, depending on how the rest of the playoffs go.
If you head over to check out the full rankings, you'll notice it takes a while for you to find a team from Washington. The 1974-75 Washington Bullets, who went 60-22 and lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals are the first team to show up on the list, all the way down in 208th. The franchise doesn't show up again until slot 266, with the 1978-79 team that went 54-28 and lost to Seattle in the NBA Finals.
You have to scroll down even further to find the only team that brought a title to Washington. The 1977-78 Bullets, who won the NBA Finals, come in 346th in the all-time rankings. If that number seems ridiculously low, keep in mind the Bullets finished that season 44-38 before they started clicking in the playoffs. Also, as they explain, the numbers are skewed against teams that performed better when the league had less teams:
The list might seem to be biased toward relatively recent teams: Among the top 50 seasons all-time, only six from before 1980 make the list. This is mostly a consequence of there being more teams than there once were. Simply put, it's much more impressive to be the best team in a 30-team league than in a 10-team league.
As far as post-name change history goes, the best team in Wizards history is the one we just saw wrap up their season. The 2014-15 Wizards came in 519th place, just edging out the 2013-14 Wizards, who finished 527th.
On the other end of the spectrum, the worst team in franchise history according to the rankings were the 1992-93 Bullets, who finished 1,362nd place out of 1,482 teams. The next-worse team was 2008-09 Wizards, whose three best shooters by field goal percentage were Darius Songaila, JaVale McGee and Etan Thomas. If that stat seems depressing, just imagine spending a year blogging about it.