When John Hollinger published an article about the worst defensive team of all time, I was skeptical. After all, he made no mention of the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets, a team that gave up more points per game (130.8) than any team in NBA history. That alone should have warranted a mention, right?

herbert westAs I noted, Hollinger's top five rankings were based on the Defensive Efficiency Rating. I felt like the DER was less important than the bottom line -- how many points a team surrendered per game versus the league average -- and said so here and in an e-mail I sent to Hollinger. Fellow basketball analysts Dave and Evan
disagreed. They said that I was the one who was wrong...and, as everyone knows, that's medically impossible.

I decided to react to their dissension according to the age-old proverb: If you can't beat them, hit harder. I went over to
databaseBasketball.com and downloaded the statistics I needed to calculate the '91 Nuggets DER, as well as the average DER for the NBA that season. And that's how I've wasted spent my Sunday morning. Here's what I found out.

The '91 Nuggets had a DER of 113.2, which is indeed worse than the DER of Hollinger's "worst of all time team," this year's
Seattle Supersonics (112.4). The league average DER in 1990-91 was 104.7, which gives the '91 Nuggets a differential of -8.5. And while this is just below (or above, I guess) the Sonics' differential of -9.2, it is, in fact, worse than the -7.8 differential of Hollinger's "second worst of all time" team, the 1998-99 Los Angeles Clippers.

So not only should they have been mentioned, the '91 Nuggets should have been ranked second on Hollinger's all-time worst list, which was sorted by differential. And to be totally honest, I still think they rank first. It's more than just the numbers and hard data, it's the type of offense the Nuggets ran. They were less disciplined offensively than this year's Sonics. The '91 Nuggets formula of relentless fastbreaks and non-stop motion executed by a collection of mediocre (at best) players was a prescription for disaster, and their shot selection (which isn't quantified by any stat that I know of, much less DER) gave their opponents a myriad of fast breaks and other offensive opportunities.

Look, I've gotten to wach both teams in action. My gut tells me that the '91 Nuggets' defense was worse than that of the '06 Sonics. The DER numbers are damn close, and the overall numbers -- ppg allowed versus the league average ppg allowed -- is way in favor of the Nuggets. So unless someone can provide a more convincing argument, I will consider that a checkmate.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Hollinger's a moron. Good for him that he carved out a niche for himself using obscure statistical formulas to prove his lame NBA arguments, but we all know there's more to basketball analysis than numbers. Good job though on using his formula against him to prove your point about that Nuggets team, they were truly the definition of NO defense.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Hollinger's numbers ignore the most important facet of the game... the naked eye.

The 1991 Nuggets were coached by Paul Westhead, famous for the LMU teams of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. LMU won by basically out shooting their opponent. They allowed the other team to score lay-ups and shot a ton of three pointers. Westhead tried the same system in Denver (after sliding out of LMU, avoiding scrutiny for Gathers' death) and it failed miserably not just because the idea of trading 2's for 3's in the NBA is crazy, but also because of the lack of talent.

The highest paid player on the Nugs for 1991? Blair Rasmussen at $2,185,000.