Commentary

Power Rankings: Best and worst over past six seasons

Originally Published: September 26, 2008
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

As we approach the seventh season that ESPN.com has entrusted me with its NBA Power Rankings, this seemed like the perfect appetizer.

Remember that "surprise" we vaguely mentioned in our final regular-season helping on April 14? As requested by a few loyal readers, we have tallied up how all 30 clubs have fared with the committee (of one) since the 2002-03 campaign.

We've clicked back through the archives to find the rankings highs, lows and average placement for every team in our weekly, thoroughly un-automated pulse take of the league. The annual batch of rankings that will take us into training camp for the start of the 2008-09 season is coming Monday.

You can rank the teams yourself or click here to comment on our first six years together.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
1 59 23 .720 1 10 3.17

High: Wk 18, 2007-08 (most recent of 36) | Low: Wk 7, 2002-03 (most recent of 2) | Rankings archive

Surely this outcome doesn't surprise you. The Spurs wound up halting the Lakers' three-peat run and winning the championship in the first season that the committee (of one) presided over these rankings and won two more titles after that. Then they've got a string of nine consecutive 50-win seasons going and generally rank as the franchise, from top to bottom, every other team wishes it could emulate. Who else could occupy this perch?

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
2 58 24 .707 1 15 4.23

High: Wk 12, 2006-07 (most recent of 30) | Low: Wk 22, 2007-08 | Rankings archive

Snicker all you want about the Mavs' playoff exploits since the 6:30 mark of the fourth quarter in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals. None of that considerable misery can change the fact that these rankings are a regular-season enterprise, which has made it impossible not to notice that Dallas has posted an average record of 58-24 over the past six seasons … and thus impossible not to rank these tortured souls accordingly.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
3 56 26 .683 1 13 5.15

High: Wk 16, 2007-08 (most recent of 25) | Low: Wk 2, 2006-07 | Rankings archive

Hard to imagine that anyone would claim that Detroit hasn't fully deserved its regular spot in our top five. Frustrated as Pistons fans might be to come away from six consecutive trips to the East finals with only one championship, there's been only one source of positive consistency emanating from the Leastern Conference since Michael Jordan's retirement … and this team is it.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
4 51 31 .622 1 27 8.59

High: Wk 4, 2007-08 (most recent of 15) | Low: Wk 16, 2003-04 (most recent of 2) | Rankings archive

Yet another illustration of Steve Nash's impact in his second stint as a Sun has been playing out right here in our domain. Even though Nash has been back on Planet Orange for just four of the past six seasons -- and even though the two seasons before his return were mostly forgettable -- Phoenix has nonetheless crashed the top five comfortably.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
5 47 35 .573 1 25 9.80

High: Wk 17, 2007-08 (most recent of 11) | Low: Wk 4, 2005-06 | Rankings archive

We're already bracing for a fresh batch of Laker Hater e-mails once folks see that Kobe and Co. "only" wound up with an average rank of 10th. Just don't forget how damaging that 34-48 season was in 2004-05 … and don't forget that lots of users out there still think we were way too soft on the 2002-03 Lakers. Our respect for those three-peaters was such that they never dropped below No. 15 despite starting that season 6-12 and 11-18.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
6 44 38 .537 1 29 11.53

High: Wk 1, 2004-05 (most recent of 3) | Low: Preseason, '07-08 (most recent of 2) | Rankings archive

Full disclosure: We're just as surprised as you by the Pacers' high standing, given what has the feel (at least to us) of a pretty steady decline since the infamous brawl in Detroit in November 2004. But the numbers say otherwise: Indy, indeed, has the eighth-best average record in the league over the six seasons in question and received an undeniable boost from a 61-win campaign in 2003-04, which it spent largely in the top three.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
7 47 35 .573 1 29 11.65

High: Wk 20, 2007-08 (most recent of 2) | Low: Wk 11, 2005-06 (most recent of 2) | Rankings archive

Our first season presiding over these rankings was also the season that the lottery-winning Rockets happily launched the Yao Ming era. For all of its problems in the playoffs since, there's no denying that Houston has been a fairly dependable force in the regular season, even in the face of the steady stream of injuries racked up by Yao and co-star Tracy McGrady.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
8 47 35 .573 1 30 12.03

High: Wk 20, 2003-04 (most recent of 9) | Low: Wk 1, 2007-08 | Rankings archive

The Kings held the title of basketball's "most entertaining team" for roughly half a decade. True, they weren't able to win it all during that run, but the final two seasons of Sacramento's glory days -- as well as some pesky play after acquiring Ron Artest late in the 2005-06 season and again last season when so little was expected -- have kept Sactown up here.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
9 44 38 .537 1 30 13.11

High: Wk 4, 2006-07 (most recent of 2) | Low: Preseason, 2003-04 | Rankings archive

It's one of the nicest things we can say about this Jazz and how quickly they rebounded into the league's elite after one of the game's greatest tag teams finally stopped picking and rolling together: John Stockton and Karl Malone were together for only one of the six seasons we're talking about here. And still Utah finds itself parked nicely in our upper third.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
10 44 38 .537 2 27 13.72

High: Wk 4, 2002-03 (most recent of 3) | Low: Wk 4, 2004-05 | Rankings archive

Just another sign of the tough times confronting the Nets (and Nets fans) as they adjust to life in full-on rebuilding mode: Indiana's surprising success in this history lesson means that New Jersey, while waiting for that move to Brooklyn, has to settle for third place among Leastern Conference teams in spite of the three Titanic Division titles it won in 2002-03, 2003-04 and 2005-06.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
11 41 41 .500 1 29 14.74

High: Wk 23, 2004-05 | Low: Wk 19, 2003-04 (most recent of 5) | Rankings archive

Pretty impressive placement for the Nuggets considering that the first season in this discussion was the 17-65 season under Jeff Bzdelik, which is also known as the 82 games of suffering that earned Denver the right to draft Carmelo Anthony. Yet you might recall that the '02-03 squad played so hard under Bzdelik that it only ranked last in the league -- No. 29 in those days -- five weeks out of 26. Every little bit helps.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
12 40 42 .488 1 30 14.92

High: Wk 13, 2003-04 | Low: Opening rank, 2007-08 (most recent of 9) | Rankings archive

Thanks largely to the latter years of Kevin Garnett's stubbornly loyal service, 'Sota checks in with an average weekly rank of 15. Even after the Wolves spent all but five weeks of its first post-KG season at No. 26 or lower. The obvious question: How long will the starting-over Wolves have to wait before they visit the glorious pastures of No. 15 (or thereabouts) again?

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
13 40 42 .488 1 30 14.93

High: Wk 13, 2007-08 | Low: Wk 14, 2004-05 (most recent of 7) | Rankings archive

The Hornets' move to New Orleans coincided with the committee's full-time move to ESPN. These events are in no way related but you know how we love our little factoids. Here's another: New Orleans was bottom of the pile (No. 30) seven times during Byron Scott's long first season as Hornets coach (18-64 in 2004-05) but weren't far away from recording one of the 10 highest averages regardless.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
14 40 42 .488 4 29 15.61

High: Wk 20, 2006-07 (most recent of 3) | Low: Wk 29, 2002-03 (most recent of 14) | Rankings archive

Think that LeBron fella has made a difference? Clevelanders won't want to relive those days, but be advised that the last Cavs team without LBJ placed last (No. 29) in the rankings in 15 of a possible 26 weeks. In the five seasons since The Global Icon arrived as the savior for his hometown team? It's a scandal any time they fall outside of the top 10.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
15 40 42 .488 1 30 15.94

High: Opener, 2006-07 (most recent of 4) | Low: Wk 24, 2007-08 (most recent of 10) | Rankings archive

The data is all here, but we still find it hard to believe that recent Hall of Fame inductee Pat Riley lived through seasons of 25-57 (2002-03) and 15-67 (2007-08) on our watch. Riles' title team in '06, which so dramatically shut us up, is no easier to figure when you click back to find that it justifiably failed to spend a single week of that irregular season at No. 1.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
16 41 41 .500 1 30 16.22

High: Wk 24, 2007-08 (most recent of 8) | Low: Wk 17, 2006-07 (most recent of 8) | Rankings archive

So just how far had the mighty Celts fallen before the summer of 2007 and the history-altering trades that netted Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett? An incredible season of resurrection, in which they won 66 games and ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 for 19 of a possible 26 weeks, was not enough to lift Boston into the top half of teams in this little exercise. Yikes.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
17 39 43 .476 3 29 16.94

High: Wk 2, 2005-06 | Low: Wk 7, 2003-04 | Rankings archive

One season of Michael Jordan at 40 alongside a half-his-age Kwame Brown, five seasons of scoring eruptions and one-of-a-kind commentary from Gilbert Arenas and too many injuries for the committee to count. The Wiz have achieved only modest success during our tenure, but I think we can all agree on this part: They sure haven't been boring.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
18 38 44 .463 1 29 17.22

High: Wk 5, 2007-08 | Low: Wk 16, 2003-04 (most recent of 12) | Rankings archive

Sixteen of the 30 teams on this list have experienced the unrivaled privilege of peering down on the rest of the league from the top spot in ESPN.com's NBA Power Rankings. After some rough, painful rides with Grant Hill and T-Mac when we were just starting out, Orlando was one of four teams to make that breakthrough last season, joining the Celtics, Hornets and Rockets in the 2007-08 club of first-time No. 1s.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
19 39 43 .476 6 28 17.86

High: Wk 12, 2007-08 | Low: Wk 14, 2004-05 (most recent of 4) | Rankings archive

Have to be honest: Golden State fared better than I would have expected. Two scrappy seasons in the mighty West under Eric Musselman, two wasted seasons under Mike Montgomery to extend its playoff drought to 12 consecutive misses and two winning seasons under Don Nelson doesn't sound like the right formula to land a team in the middle third. Does it?

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
20 40 42 .488 4 28 18.44

High: Wk 6, 2002-03 | Low: Wk 14, 2006-07 (most recent of 4) | Rankings archive

The best run in modern 76ers history -- Allen Iverson and Larry Brown co-existing long enough to lead Philly to the 2001 Finals -- occurred two seasons too soon to get on our rankings radar. The Sixers have endured a mostly sub-.500 existence since then, although you naturally expect that to change now that they've managed to lure Elton Brand out of Hollywood.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
21 34 48 .415 2 29 18.54

High: Wk 2, 2006-07 | Low: Wk 24, 2007-08 (most recent of 3) | Rankings archive

If we've shown favoritism to anyone over the years, it might be the Clippers. Only three teams in this conversation (New York, Atlanta and Charlotte) have registered a worse average record over the past six seasons than L.A.'s 34-48, but the Clips have nonetheless sneaked an average ranking of 18.54 out of us. Our superiors have officially launched an inquest.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
22 35 47 .427 3 30 18.82

High: Wk 16, 2002-03 | Low: Opening rank, 2006-07 (most recent of 5) | Rankings archive

Question: Why are Blazermaniacs so out-of-control giddy when they start talking about adding Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless to last season's 41-41 Cinderellas? Answer: Because the three seasons before what was supposed to be Oden's rookie year -- 32-50, 21-61 and 27-55 -- were the leanest witnessed in Portland since the club's first few years of existence in the early 1970s.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
23 36 46 .439 3 30 18.83

High: Wk 5, 2005-06 | Low: Wk 18, 2006-07 (most recent of 12) | Rankings archive

Since we've been on record for years with the claim that swapping Vancouver for Memphis might be the worst trade in NBA history, Gracelanders might be moved to suggest that we've graded the Grizz harder than we should have. But I really don't think so, because back-to-back seasons of 22-60 have more than offset the decent three-season run (50, 45, and 49 wins from 2003-04 through 2005-06) that preceded them.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
24 35 47 .427 4 29 18.90

High: Wk 8, 2005-06 (most recent of 2) | Low: Wk 23, 2007-08 (most recent of 6) | Rankings archive

The Bucks have actually advanced to the playoffs three times in the past six seasons. But they've also mowed through four coaches in that time -- Scott Skiles will, indeed, be the fifth under our microscope -- and haven't tasted a winning season since George Karl's 42-40 farewell in 2002-03. Which should explain Milwaukee's flirtation with the bottom five.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
25 35 47 .427 1 30 19.13

High: Wk 6, 2004-05 | Low: Wk 2, 2007-08 | Rankings archive

Kevin Durant's super young Sonics-turned-Thunder figure to make less of a first-season splash than the Hornets did in Oklahoma City. But the team that broke the hearts of Sonics diehards everywhere -- including several at the home office in Bristol -- can take a bit of encouragement from the fact that OKC and its loud crowds were very, very good to the Hornets, rankings-wise, as you'll find by clicking here.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
26 37 45 .451 4 30 19.28

High: Wk 4, 2006-07 | Low: Wk 3, 2004-05 (most recent of 4) | Rankings archive

There really isn't much separating No. 26 Chicago's average rank (19.28) from the team sitting in the No. 20 slot (Philadelphia at 18.44). But the Bulls' numbers unquestionably absorbed considerable (and deserved) punishment last season when -- in a rare scenario for teams down here -- they were widely expected to contend for the East title and wound up as a complete nonfactor in the playoff chase by winning just 33 games.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
27 34 48 .451 5 30 20.45

High: Wk 23, 2006-07 | Low: Wk 4, 2005-06 (most recent of 6) | Rankings archive

We've said it many times: If we were ranking cities, Toronto would never slip out of our top three. We've said this many times, too: If ESPN ever opens a Canadian bureau, we'll be first in the relocation line. But none of that can offset the suffocating nature of the Raptors' losing culture before Bryan Colangelo was hired away from Phoenix to run the franchise. The Raps averaged 29 wins from 2002-03 through 2005-06.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
28 31 51 .378 13 30 23.58

High: Wk 16, 2003-04 (most recent of 2) | Low: Wk 10, 2007-08 (most recent of 8) | Rankings archive

The Knicks' timing simply hasn't been the best. Since no one did Power Rankings back in the 1960s, which was the last time this signature franchise endured such an extended run of suckitude, I think it's rather safe to describe what the committee has seen as the darkest days in Madison Square Garden history. Which we find particularly painful, as you're well aware by now, because MSG is still our favorite building.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
29 28 54 .341 13 30 24.39

High: Wk 8, 2007-08 (most recent of 3) | Low: Wk 9, 2006-07 (most recent of 15) | Rankings archive

Last season's 37-45 sneak into the playoffs marked just the third time in nine attempts this millennium that the Hawks posted a higher win total over 82 games than they did in the 1999 lockout-shortened season when Atlanta went 31-19. So you had to know that the Hawks would land in the bottom five here, no matter how much they scared Boston in the playoffs.

RK TEAM AVG WAVG L PCT HI RK LO RK AVG RK
30 27 55 .329 14 30 25.91

High: Wk 3, 2007-08 | Low: Wk 2, 2006-07 (most recent of 14) | Rankings archive

We've only had the pleasure of four seasons of Bobcats basketball to work with … and corresponding victory totals of 18, 26, 33 and 32. So this is where the recent expansionists had to end up. Are we all in agreement?

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics