SLAM’s TOP 75 NBA Teams of All Time: No. 54-44
This week, SLAM is unveiling our TOP 75 NBA Teams of All Time list that exclusively ran in our special issue, SLAM Presents TOP 75 NBA Teams of All Time. This list is comprised of the best 75 individual season teams that dominated whoever it was they were playing against.
We’re gonna keep it real though: this list was pretty tough to put together. It was mostly guided by the idea that the way to measure the true quality of a team is to think about how much better they were than everyone else they played against. Some decent team in the 2000s would almost definitely destroy an excellent team from the ’70s if we teleported all of the players into the same dimension and let them go at it, but that’s not how this works. This is about dominating your era. Read here for No. 75-66, and 65-55.
Here’s our top 55-44 best teams of all time:
54. 1978-79 Seattle Supersonics
Coach: Lenny Wilkens
Roster: Dennis Awtrey, Fred Brown, Lars Hansen, Joe Hassett, Dennis Johnson, John Johnson, Tom LaGarde, Jackie Robinson, Lonnie Shelton, Jack Sikma, Paul Silas, Dick Snyder, Wally Walker, Gus Williams
For the greatest team in franchise history, it was all about balance. Seven players averaged double-figures for Seattle in ’78-79, led by the high-powered young backcourt duo of Gus Williams (19.2 ppg) and Dennis Johnson (15.9 ppg), while second-year big man Jack Sikma held it down in the paint to the tune of 15.6 and 12.4 per game. The Sonics rode that young core to the Finals, where they dropped the series opener in Washington before taking four straight from the Bullets.
53. 1974-75 Golden State Warriors
Coach: Al Attles
Roster: Rick Barry, Butch Beard, Steve Bracey, Bill Bridges, Derrek Dickey, Charles Dudley, Charles Johnson, George Johnson, Frank Kendrick, Jeff Mullins, Clifford Ray, Phil Smith, Jamaal Wilkes
Rick Barry led the NBA in free-throw percentage and steals in ’74-75, League-leading numbers
to go along with a casual 30.6 ppg, 6.2 apg and 5.7 rpg. The Dubs were solid, with silky-smooth rookie Jamaal Wilkes averaging 14.2 ppg and a steady backcourt pairing of Butch Beard and Charles Johnson. But it was Barry, a decade into a spectacular career, who carried Golden State to a Finals sweep of the Bullets for the franchise’s first championship since relocating to the Bay.
52. 1987-88 Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Pat Riley
Roster: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tony Campbell, Michael Cooper, AC Green, Magic Johnson, Jeff Lamp, Wes Matthews, Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott, Mike Smrek, Billy Thompson, Mychal Thompson, Ray Tolbert, Milt Wagner, James Worthy
It had been 19 years since an NBA champion successfully defended its title, so when Pat Riley guaranteed his Lakers would do just that after the ’87 Finals, the pressure was on. If not for Isiah Thomas’ injured ankle, Detroit might have made Riley a liar, but don’t tell a Laker fan that the last title of the Showtime era was a fluke. James Worthy confirmed his Hall of Fame bona fides with a 36-point triple-double in Game 7 to ensure his coach’s guarantee held up.
51. 2020-21 Milwaukee Bucks
Coach: Mike Budenholzer
Roster: Jaylen Adams, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, DJ Augustin, Elijah Bryant, Pat Connaughton, Torrey Craig, Mamadi Diakite, Donte DiVincenzo, Bryn Forbes, Jrue Holiday, Justin Jackson, Rodions Kurucs, Brook Lopez, Sam Merrill, Khris Middleton, Jordan Nwora, Bobby Portis, Jeff Teague, Axel Toupane, PJ Tucker, DJ Wilson
You can focus on the pandemic-shortened schedule, or the placement of Kevin Durant’s toe, but as time passes, what people will remember about the ’20-21 season will mostly come down to one dude: Giannis. A two-time League MVP who still faced skeptics who said he couldn’t produce when it mattered most, Antetokounmpo did just that, first against KD and the Nets (31.9 ppg, 12.9 rpg) in a seven-game Eastern Conference Semifinal thriller, then even more impressively against the Suns (35.2, 13.2) in the Finals.
50. 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Phil Jackson
Roster: Ron Artest, Shannon Brown, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, DJ Mbenga, Adam Morrison, Lamar Odom, Josh Powell, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton
It was Kobe’s team, but even prime Kobe knew he couldn’t do it alone. In 2010, with a title to defend and a matchup with the hated Celtics in the Finals, the Lakers’ star once again relied on the steadiness of Pau Gasol (18.6 ppg, 11.3 rpg), and got invaluable defense and clutch play from a resurgent Ron Artest. “Kobe passed me the ball!” the man now known as Metta Sandiford-Artest said after hitting a title-sealing three late in Game 7. Every Laker fan shared his joy.
49. 1973-74 Boston Celtics
Coach: Tom Heinsohn
Roster: Don Chaney, Dave Cowens, Steve Downing, Hank Finkel, Phil Hankinson, John Havlicek, Steve Kuberski, Don Nelson, Paul Silas, Paul Westphal, Jo Jo White, Art Williams
Russell and Cousy were retired, Red Auerbach was no longer on the bench, and it had been five long years since the Celtics last hung a banner from the Garden rafters. But with John Havlicek (22.6 ppg) still around and young Dave Cowens (19 ppg, 15.7 rpg) already looking like a future Hall of Famer, Boston decided five years was long enough. They needed seven games to take down Kareem, Oscar and the Bucks, but soon enough, Red was lighting that stogie once again.
48. 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks
Coach: Rick Carlisle
Roster: Alexis Ajinca, JJ Barea, Rodrigue Beaubois, Corey Brewer, Caron Butler, Brian Cardinal, Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood, Dominique Jones, Jason Kidd, Ian Mahinmi, Shawn Marion, Steve Novak, Dirk Nowitzki, Sasha Pavlovic, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry
There was still a sense that calling Dirk Nowitzki “the greatest European player of all time” was sort of a diss. Nobody doubted his production, but plenty of people questioned whether he could be that dude when it mattered. All questions were answered that June: With help from a veteran supporting cast that included Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler and 37-year-old Jason Kidd, Dirk averaged 26 points and 9.7 rebounds in the Finals to dispatch the Heatles and confirm his spot among the all-time greats.
47. 2005-06 Miami Heat
Coach: Stan Van Gundy, Pat Riley
Roster: Derek Anderson, Shandon Anderson, Earl Barron, Michael Doleac, Gerald Fitch, Udonis Haslem, Jason Kapono, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, James Posey, Wayne Simien, Dwyane Wade, Antoine Walker, Matt Walsh, Jason Williams, Dorell Wright
A decade dominated by the Lakers and Spurs didn’t leave much room for Eastern Conference contenders, but in ’06, a Miami team loaded with loose parts and a wild array of past-their-prime big-name vets coalesced around a dynamic third-year guard from Marquette. Sure, Dwyane Wade benefitted from some friendly officiating in a Finals matchup that Dirk and the Mavs are probably still mad about, but mostly, Flash earned what he got in leading the Heat out of a 0-2 Finals hole and on to the title.
46. 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
Coach: Larry Brown
Roster: Chucky Atkins, Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell, Hubert Davis, Tremaine Fowlkes, Darvin Ham, Richard Hamilton, Lindsey Hunter, Mike James, Darko Milicic, Mehmet Okur, Tayshaun Prince, Zeljko Rebraca, Bob Sura, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Corliss Williamson
Larry Brown talked all the time about playing basketball “the right way,” but he had never
won a title until the Pistons hit the League with their stifling defense. Sure, Richard Hamilton was a potent scorer, Chauncey Billups was good all year (especially in the Finals win over the Lakers) and the mid-year arrival of Rasheed Wallace was huge. But the embodiment of Detroit was lunch-pail center Ben Wallace, whose relentless approach keyed a championship.
45. 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs
Coach: Gregg Popovich
Roster: Antonio Daniels, Tim Duncan, Mario Elie, Sean Elliott, Andrew Gaze, Jaren Jackson, Avery Johnson, Steve Kerr, Jerome Kersey, Gerard King, Will Perdue, David Robinson, Malik Rose, Brandon Williams
It was the post-Bulls era and a lockout-shortened season, but the Spurs were ascendant. Their first championship team featured the Tim Duncan-David Robinson interior axis, one of the few times a twin towers configuration had enjoyed supreme success. Avery Johnson ran the team, Mario Elie hit big shots and locked down opposing high scorers, while Sean Elliott was a do-everything type who fit in perfectly. The Spurs lost just two games the entire postseason.
44. 1994-95 Houston Rockets
Coach: Ruddy Tomjanovich
Roster: Tim Breaux, Scott Brooks, Chucky Brown, Adrian Caldwell, Sam Cassell, Pete Chilcutt, Clyde Drexler, Mario Elie, Carl Herrera, Robert Horry, Charles Jones, Vernon Maxwell, Tracy Murray, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kenny Smith, Zan Tabak, Otis Thorpe
If Houston’s ’94 title run was inspired, the ’95 version seemed unlikely to ever happen. The Rockets posted the NBA’s 10th-best record and were pushed to the distance in their first two playoff rounds. But something about matchups with arguably the other two best centers in the League seemed just what Hakeem Olajuwon needed: He Dream-shook and dominated newly crowned MVP David Robinson in the conference finals, then went for 32.8 and 11.5 to sweep young Shaq and the Magic for the title.