A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Greatest SRS Improvements in NBA History; Notable Players & Coaches

with 5 comments

I wanted to follow up on the Fall of the Cavaliers post, where I posted the 10 greatest falls in NBA history.

First, I compiled that list, and the list below by hand.  It’s possible I missed teams, especially those from defunct franchises.  I’d welcome any corrections.

The 10 greatest SRS improvements in NBA history and the notable changes those teams:

Note that the improvements from Oakland and New Jersey (known at the time as New York) occurred in the ABA before their NBA-ABA merger.

Seeing these top 10s obviously begs the question of who was involved in multiple massive changes in team performances.  Observations I’ve made looking at SRS changes of 6 or greater (which is roughly the 100 biggest changes in history):

David Robinson stands out by having appeared 3 times on these top 10 lists.  That’s 3 SRS shifts of 11 or greater.

Julius Erving is the only other player to appear twice in the top 10s.  He had 2 shifts of 9 or greater, both relating to his tenure with the New York/New Jersey Nets.

Wilt Chamberlain appears to be the only person in history, before this season, to have had 4 shifts of 6 or greater.  Given his tumultuous career, this may not be a surprise to anyone.  What may come as a shock though is that Wilt’s massive shifts typically aren’t associated with him joining or leaving a team.  Wilt’s biggest shifts:

1. ’64-65 San Francisco (Golden State) Warriors, SRS shift: -9.89

While Wilt was traded midseason here, this only happened because the team had already collapsed.  Reasons given for the collapse typical include mention of Wilt’s health issues that began before the season started.  What’s particularly telling though is that if you simply looked at Wilt’s statistics, you’d have no idea he was playing less effectively.

2.  ’71-72 Los Angeles Lakers, SRS shift:  8.39

One of the great teams in history.  What’s fascinating here is that the Lakers shift toward greatness didn’t come when Wilt arrived, but in his 3rd year there when no major improvement was made to the roster.  Credit new coach Bill Sharman’s strategies and ability to get Wilt focused.

3. ’73-74 Los Angeles Lakers, SRS shift: -7.33

Wilt retires, and West misses most of the season.  So here we finally have Wilt’s leaving a team causing major problems – on the other hand the Lakers still won 47 games, so this was by no means a total collapse.

4. ’63-64 San Francisco (Golden State) Warriors, SRS shift:  6.25

Coach Alex Hannum arrives on the scene and Wilt shows an increased focus on defense.  Incidentally, Hannum also turned the Wilt’s 76ers around in ’66-67 by having Wilt stop being a volume scorer (in addition to being the coach for Oakland’s massive shift).

Now, if things continue as they are right now, LeBron will join Wilt as a 4-time 6+ SRS shifter by season’s end, but I’d say that really needs to come with an asterisk.   The Cavs and Heat are experiencing 6+ shifts this year, and they’re legit.  The Cavs also saw a 9+ shift in ’08-09 that came with LeBron’s last quantum leap into all-time great territory, and that’s legit.

However, the Cavs also saw a +6.51 shift in LeBron’s rookie season…after the Cavs saw a -6.05 shift in the year BEFORE LeBron arrived, and LeBron didn’t show any great +/- statistics his rookie year.  My diagnosis:  Classic tanking year.

So, credit LeBron for causing 3 major turnarounds on his teams.  Notable, but Wilt still takes the cake on this one.

Finally I want to give a shout out to rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau.  Thibodeau of course arrived in Boston before the greatest improvement in modern history in ’07-08.  Obviously he wasn’t the only arrival.  Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came as well.   However, the signature of those Celtics was tenacious defense, and while Garnett was a big part of that (Allen’s obviously not a defensive superstar), the Celtics continued to play strong defense even when Garnett was injured.

Fast forward to this year, Thibodeau becomes the head coach of Chicago, and we see a massive defensive improvement again despite dealing with a major injury to Joakim Noah who is considered the team’s defensive star.  Bulls star Derrick Rose is getting a lot of the headlines, and I myself have him high on my MVP list, but Thibodeau may indeed may be the true most valuable talent of the organization this year.

5 Responses

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  1. Apropos of nothing, Jordan as rookie was only a 4.1 shift.

    Those Bulls teams were not exactly the strongest though, it has to be said.


    January 8, 2011 at 10:35 pm

  2. That’s true, but I do think there are ample indicators say that Jordan had more impact as a rookie than LeBron. Partly, Jordan had far superior stats. But also, the Bulls shift seems a lot more real to me. There was no massive fall in performance from ’82-83 to ’83-84, most of the improvement from Jordan’s rookie year disappeared the next year as he got injured, fallowed by making up that fall off and then some the next year as Jordan returned.

    Matt Johnson

    January 9, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    • Well… it’s not necessarily about “as a rookie” (Bird’s rookie numbers are unreal, though).

      Lebron had a 6.5 shift, FWIW, although Boozer improved markedly in his sophomore year (Lebron’s rookie year). Your point stands, sure.


      January 10, 2011 at 6:11 pm

      • I understand there was a 6.5 shift on the Cavs that year, I just don’t buy that LeBron’s ability at the time was responsible for the bulk of the shift. LeBron’s biggest effect by joining the team was to send the message “Now we’re live. LeBron is the future, so prove you can play with him or you’re out.” The previous year had been tanked, ’03-04 was energized.

        Re: Bird’s rookie. Yeah, WOW indeed.

        Matt Johnson

        January 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm

  3. […] to mediocrity typically warrant MVP attention?  Not at all.  I’ve previously gone the greatest positive turnarounds in NBA history.  The 3 big turnarounds we’ve seen in the past decade involved record […]

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