Offense, offense, offense. Scoring is the name of the game in basketball, and it is exactly what teams tune in for in the NBA. The best coaching minds paired with the most talented basketball players in the world usually lead to some exciting games of offensive basketball; the question is, who was the best to ever do it?
Which is the best offensive team in NBA history? The best offensive team in NBA history is the 2021-22 Utah Jazz team, based on the offensive rating metric. The offensive rating metric aggregates how many points a team would score per 100 possessions. The 2021-22 Utah Jazz had an offensive rating of 116.7, making it the 8th-highest mark in NBA history, but the highest mark for a full 82-game regular season (the list includes the 75-game 2020-21 NBA season, as well as the ongoing 2022-23 NBA season).
What was the 2021-22 Utah Jazz team like?
The 2021-22 Utah Jazz team was quite a potent offense. The team had 5 players scoring double-digits on average: Donovan Mitchell (25.9 PPG), Bojan Bogdanovic (18.1 PPG), Jordan Clarkson (16.0 PPG), Rudy Gobert (15.6 PPG), and Mike Conley (13.6 PPG). They scored 113.6 points per game, 7th best in the league. The Jazz were no slouch on the defensive end either, allowing 107.57 points per game, coming in at 10th best in the league.
The Jazz were a well-put-together team, and found themselves 1st in their division and 5th in the Western Conference with a 49-33 record. However, they could not find any postseason success, after getting bounced out of the first round by the Dallas Mavericks, who won the series in 6 games.
How is team offensive rating calculated?
Team offensive rating is a relatively straightforward calculation that determines a team’s offensive efficiency. This is done by adjusting a team’s scoring by their team pace, or how many possessions a game a team has on offense. Teams with a slower-tempo offense may have less possessions, while higher-tempo offenses may have more possessions, and many variances in between.
To calculate offensive rating, a team’s total points (or their points per game) should be divided by their total possessions (or their possessions per game). That number should then be multiplied by 100. The final number shows how many points a team would score per 100 possessions. This allows for a better comparison of the different offenses in the NBA, and is good for determining offensive efficiency.
For example, take a look at the 2021-22 Utah Jazz. They scored 113.6 points per game on 97.37 offensive possessions on average. They had the 7th-most points per game on the 7th-least possessions per game in the league that season. In contrast, the Minnesota Timberwolves scored 115.9 points per game (highest in the league) on 101.42 possessions per game (2nd highest in the league).
On paper, it would look like the Timberwolves had a better offense simply because they scored more per game. But because they varied in the number of possessions per game, let’s balance things out by comparing them at per 100 possessions, using the offensive rating. Per 100 possessions, the Utah Jazz would score 116.7 points per game, while the Timberwolves would score 114.3 points per game. That would make the Jazz the best offense in the league, while the Timberwolves would be the 8th-best offense in the league.
Is the 2021-22 Utah Jazz offense the best offensive team ever?
This is a difficult question to answer, because there are a lot of metrics to support different answers, while subjective reasoning can also elicit a range of answers. The offensive rating metric is solid but not a bulletproof indicator of best offensive team ever. For example, offensive and defensive play styles has to be taken into account. In recent years, offensive ratings records have been close to being matched or eclipsed by many teams, no doubt due to the 3-point revolution the league has seen in the past few years. Also, the defensive level across the league varies with each season, meaning that it is difficult to compare offenses in different eras.
One way of better determining the best offense is to compare the best offensive rating in a season to the league average. This shows how well that team’s offense has played compared to the rest of the league. The league average offensive rating may also give indication to the offensive and/or defensive playstyle in that season (for example, a low offensive rating may mean that there were more tough defenses that season).
Based on this, many refer to the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks as the best offensive team of all time. Led by Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, the Mavericks had the highest-scoring offense in the league, with 5 players scoring 14 PPG or more. They also posted a league-best 112.1 offensive rating, but what stands out here is that the league average offensive rating was just 102.9. That means that the 2003-04 Mavericks offense was overperforming the league average by 9.2 points; comparatively, the 2021-22 Utah Jazz offense (116.7) was only overperforming by 4.7 points (112.0).
The 2003-04 Mavericks had an excellent offense in a season full of tough defense, with a low offensive rating on average. The Mavericks finished with a 52-30 record, earning a 5th seed in the Western Conference. However, they were bounced out of the 1st round by the Sacramento Kings in the playoffs.
Offensive efficiency is the game plan for many coaches: how can the team make the most of every possession? Fans too appreciate offensive efficiency, because no one wants to watch a wasteful team chucking up bricks and low-quality shots. That’s why the offensive rating metric is such an important metric for understanding team performance. While offensive efficiency is great, examples like the 2021-22 Utah Jazz and the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks show that as great as a team can be on the offensive end, defense matters just as much if not more when it comes to postseason success.
Note: all stats pulled from StatMuse and Basketball-Reference