Statitudes Statitudes


Dismal Denver

The Nuggets are simply the worst offensive team ever

Posted: Tuesday January 07, 2003 1:04 AM

By John Hollinger,

How bad an offensive team are the Nuggets this year? Let us count the ways:


Worst scoring seasons
Lowest per-game average since inception of shot clock
Team  Year  PPG 
Denver   2002-03   80.8  
Chicago  1998-99  81.9 
Chicago  1999-00  84.8 
Miami  2002-03  85.6 
Atlanta  1998-99  86.3 
No team has averaged fewer than 80 points a game in the 48 seasons since the shot clock was introduced before the 1954-55 season. The worst mark since was 81.9 by the 1998-99 Bulls, and a year later the same Bulls averaged 84.8. Those are the only two teams in history to average below 85 with a shot clock.

But this year's Nuggets average 80.8. They're not even within screaming distance of the other worst scoring teams of all time -- including the horrendous post-Jordan Bulls -- much less anywhere close to teams that actually were decent.

Field Goals

Brick city
Worst field goal shooting since 1960-61
Team  Year  Pct. 
Denver   2002-03   .398  
Boston  1960-61  .398 
Chicago  1998-99  .401 
Los Angeles  1960-61  .403 
San Francisco  1964-65  .403 
New Jersey  1998-99  .406 
San Diego  1967-78  .406 
Detroit  1965-66  .409 
Golden State  2000-01  .409 
Atlanta  1998-99  .409 
The Nuggets are shooting an abysmal 39.8 pecent from the field this season. While their performance in this category isn't record-breaking -- the Milwaukee Hawks shot 36.2 percent in 1954-55 -- it is on pace to be the worst in more than 40 years. As with scoring, the post-Jordan Bulls are the current owners of this dishonor, shooting 40.1 percent in 1998-99.

Prior to that, no team shot below 40 percent since the Boston Celtics shot 39.8 in 1960-61. Ironically, the Celtics won the title that year, one of three times in the '60s they won a championship despite finishing last in field-goal percentage -- the only times in NBA history that has happened. But I digress...

Free Throws

Foul play
Fewest free throws per game
Team  Year  FT/Gm 
Denver   2002-03   14.7  
Boston  1998-99  14.9 
Seattle  2002-03  14.9 
Vancouver  1996-97  15.0 
Miami  2001-02  15.1 
You might think that at least the Nuggets can handle freebies, but actually they're terrible here, too. The Nuggets' 69.3 percent mark from the line ranks -- you guessed it -- last in the NBA.

At least they can thank Wilt Chamberlain for keeping them out of the record books on this count. Wilt's 1967-68 Philadelphia team owns the mark at 63.5 percent, led by the Dipper's 38 percent mark.

However, Denver's bad aim, combined with its inability to get to the line in the first place (only the Knicks, Sonics and Heat have fewer attempts), has the Nuggets averaging just 14.7 made free throws per game. The Celtics of 1998-99 currently own the mark for fewest made free throws in a season at 14.9 per game, meaning the record-book publishers can likely get another spot warm for the Nuggets.


OK, so the Nuggets can't shoot from the field, and they can't shoot once they get to the line. But at least they can avoid mistakes. Anyone can do that, right?

Actually, wrong. The Nuggets have the most turnovers in the NBA this season at 18.5 per game. They're on pace to commit more than 1,500 turnovers this season. That would be the most since the 1999-2000 Bulls committed 1,557. At least they won't set a record in this category -- they'll have to settle for running away with the league lead.

Summing it up

Taking it as a whole, the Nuggets are last in scoring, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and turnovers. In three of those categories, the Nuggets are so bad they're setting records. In fact, this year's Nuggets are so bad that they compare poorly even when put beside the other worst offensive teams in league history.

To illustrate this best, let's compare the Nuggets to the worst teams of the past 15 years. I intentionally chose recent teams becuase everyone remembers just how awful these clubs were.

We'll stack the Nuggets against them using at tool I call Offensive Efficiency, which estimates how many points a team scores for each 100 possessions -- which is about how many a team has in an NBA game.

(All you stat-heads: To compute a team's Offensive Efficiency, take its free-throw attempts and multiply by 0.44. Add field-goal attempts and turnovers, and subtract offensive rebounds. Take total points and divide by this number, and multiply the result by 100.)

Since the NBA has become progressively lower scoring over the past 15 years, we'll compare each team to the league average in Offensive Efficiency that season. For example, the 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks had an Offensive Efficiency of 96.3 in a year when the league average was 105.1, so they would be 8.8 points below average.

The envelope please:

Offensive disasters
Lowest offensive efficiency relative to league, 1989-2003
Year  Team  Off. Eff.  Lg. Avg.  Difference  W-L 
2002-03   Denver   85.2   99.5   14.3   7-25  
1988-89  Miami  94.7  104.6  9.9  15-67  
1995-96  Vancouver  95.8  105.4  9.6  16-66  
1997-98  Golden State  93.4  102.7  9.3  18-64  
1998-99  Chicago  90.7  100.0  9.3  13-37 
1999-00  Chicago  92.6  101.9  9.3  17-65  
1992-93  Dallas  96.3  105.1  8.8  11-71 
1989-90  Miami  96.4  105.0  8.6  18-64 
1989-90  New Jersey  97.2  105.0  7.8  17-65  
1991-92  Denver  97.5  105.0  7.5  24-58  
Looking at this chart shows the Nuggets are more than 14 points below the league average per 100 possessions -- and more than four points worse than any team of the past 15 years, including such doozies as the expansion Miami Heat and Vancouver Grizzlies.

The conclusion, then, isn't just that the Nuggets are the worst offensive team in history. It's that they're the Tiger Woods of bad offenses, blowing away the competition in a manner heretofore unseen -- and hopefully, not seen again.

John Hollinger covers the NBA for and is the author of Pro Basketball Prospectus.

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