The 1990-91 Denver Nuggets were a prolific offensive team. They scored 119.9 PPG and had an astounding eight players average in double-figures, led by Michael Adams (26.5 PPG and 10.5 APG) and Orlando Woolridge (25.1 PPG and 6.8 RPG). For a statistical comparison, the Phoenix Suns were the highest scoring team in the NBA last season; they averaged 110.2 PPG, had "only" five players in double-digits, and Amare Stoudemire was their lone 20-point scorer (20.4).

So why did Nuggets finish with a pathetic 20-62 record and waaaaaaay out of the playoffs? Because they were the worst defensive team of all time. Seriously.

Just how bad were they? They gave up 130.8 PPG. You read that right: Per game. Just think about that for a minute. Can you imagine putting up almost 120 points every night and still losing by an average of 11 a game? By the way, that 130.8 PPG is, indeed, the most allowed by any team in NBA history. And while it's true that team scoring averages were higher in '91 than they are today -- the league average was 106.3 PPG -- the Nuggets still allowed 24.5 PPG more than the league average. That means they could add Dirk Nowitzki's 2006-07 scoring average and still barely break even.

But wait! There's more. As a team, they shot 44.0 percent from the field -- worst in the league that season -- while allowing their opponents to shoot 51.2 percent, another league-worst. What's even more absurd is that they never, not once, held an opponent under 100 points. In fact, they held an opponent under 110 points only four times. By comparison, they allowed nine teams to score more than 150 points against them. Here's a breakdown of the number of points allowed by the Nuggets over the course of the 1990-91 season:

Denver Nuggets Chart
1990-91 Denver Nuggets Points Allowed

The coach of the team was Paul Westhead, best known for getting run out of Los Angeles by Magic Johnson. He decided before the season to implement an up-tempo offense that emphasized pushing the ball at every opportunity. Unfortunately for the '91 Nuggets, Lawler's Law -- which states that the first team to 100 points usually wins -- only works when you can actually stop the other team a couple times.

Runner Up: Strangely enough, the second-worst defensive team of all time was the 1981-82 Denver Nuggets, who surrendered 126 PPG while allowing opponents to shoot 52.4 percent. Coach Doug Moe used a motion offense he called "playground ball with a little supervision." Apparently there there was even less supervision on the defensive end. On the upside, they were the highest scoring team in league history at 126.5 PPG. Which got them into the playoffs, where they were gave up 121 PPG and were promptly knocked out in the first round by the Phoenix Suns.

Bonus Trivia: The 1982-83 Denver Nuggets have the dubious distinction of being the only team to ever score 184 points in a game...and lose. On December 13, 1983, the Nuggets lost to the Detroit Pistons by the score of 186-184 in triple overtime. And for the record, that Nuggets team gave up 122.6 points per game, which is good for 5th worst all time. Of course, the 1983-84 Denver Nuggets were the 4th worst defensive team ever, allowing 124.8 points per game. In fact, the Ultimate Stat Search at databaseBasketball.com reveals that five of the top ten worst defensive teams of all time are former Nuggets squads, making them, historically speaking, the worst defensive franchise ever.

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7 Comments:
Anonymous Mike A. said...
Probably because just about every guy to coach the Nuggets thought it'd be a great idea to run and gun hoping the altitude would prevent the visiting team from keeping up. So much for that theory.

Blogger Evil Ted said...
Playing good - or even mediocre - defense is as much about effort as talent, which makes this team's poor defense that much more...wait for it...offensive.

Anonymous Don Paco said...
That's incredible. People talk about Deeeee-troit Basketball, but clearly it's the Nuggets that can claim to have a clearly defined playing style that's been mantained through the decades.

And in a team with Melo-Karl-AI, the legacy will endure!

Anonymous Don Paco said...
Also, that crazy Westphal deserves some respect. I think the Phoenix Suns of today are a vindication of his style. The problem with those Nuggets was that Westphal had to run and gun with Orlando Wooldridge and Michael Adams -if he had personel like Shawn Marion and Steve Nash, those Nugs wouldn't have been such a joke.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
That's true, don. The Nuggets were the fourth worst defensive team in the league last season, and the promise to be even worse this year. I'm going to go back and figure out their team rank year by year to get a better historical perspective...

The run and gun is a viable offense. I mean, the Celtics succeeded with it in the 60s, the Lakers did it in the 80s, and the Suns are doing it now. It just requires more offensive and defensive discipline than the Nuggets were capable of (due, as you point out, to their personnel).

Anonymous j. said...
Westhead, not Westphal. Two different people.

Anonymous 80's NBA said...
That's why this franchise has been repeatedly called the "Enver Nuggets".

There's no "D".

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