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Dorktown: The NBA team that was the very best at being the very worst

Raising a glass to honor the greatest single-season tire fire in basketball history

NBAE via Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks of 1992-93 are one of the great relics of NBA history. In my humble opinion, of the 1,543 individual seasons played by teams up through the 2019-20 campaign, that was the one that featured the most excellence in the field of playing bad basketball (perhaps even transcending all sports as the worst single-season anyone has had in the history of organized athletics, and I say that as someone who sat in constant rain through the 2008 UW Husky Football season). Ok, but so what? After all, just like with doctors that graduated at the bottom of their classes, someone has to be the worst.

But. Not by this much. Not this spectacularly.

The season before, the Mavericks were bad, but they at least had a few decent players such as Rolando Blackman, the greatest player in the history of the pre-Dirk Mavericks. Then, they traded Blackman and said goodbye to pretty much every other established player outside point guard Derek Harper. They went young. Really young:

Eight of their top-11 minutes leaders had come into the season with no more than one year of prior NBA experience. One of the three that did was a dude named Randy White — not even the best Randy White in the history of Dallas professional sports. And exciting new rookie Jim Jackson, who they’d just chosen 4th overall in the 1992 draft, didn’t even hit the floor until March thanks to a contract dispute.

Stripped of their best talent and comprised mostly of neophytes finding their way in the league, there wasn’t much the 1993 Mavericks did well offensively. There also wasn’t much the 1993 Mavericks did well defensively. That may be an understatement, let me know what you think:

If you define that era as encapsulating the two years both before and after that season, we can even quintuple our sample with similarly impressive results:

None of the other teams in any of the five seasons were as bad offensively, and no one was even close. None of the other teams in any of the five seasons were as bad defensively, and only one (1991 Nuggets) was even close. The average team scored about 8.2 more points per 100 possessions and allowed about 7.0 fewer points per possession than did the 1993 Mavs. Here’s how that manifested itself:

Keep that 58-point loss in mind for a sec by the way, because the timing of it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Now, their 71 losses are not the most ever in a season. The Philadelphia 76ers in both 1973 and the Trust-the-Process version of 2016 lost more. However, whereas the ‘73 Sixers lost 73 games, their Pythagorean loss total was actually 67.49 — more than 5.5 fewer. And whereas the ‘16 Sixers lost 72 games, their Pythagorean loss total was actually 65.76 — more than six fewer. In other words, those squads massively underachieved to have such bad records.

But the ’93 Mavs actually overachieved in going 11-71 — their Pythagorean loss total was 72.17. There are, however, two teams that Pythagoras would have considered to be worse. One is the 1947-48 Providence Steamrollers during what was then-known as the Basketball Association of America in times so primitive there wasn’t even a shot clock. The other is the 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats of 2011-12 in a lockout-shortened season (when they had dreams of landing Anthony Davis only to wind up with the multi-eyebrow’d Michael Kidd-Gilchrist).

But in a full season as we know it (and they’ve been playing 82 games since the ’60s), no one’s even all that close, as underscored here:

They’re up over 72 when no one else has ever had a Pythagorean loss total of even 70. Hell, only the ’98 Nuggets (69.75) and ’00 Clippers (68.81) have even topped 68.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the 1992-93 Mavericks, though, is that they’re basically cherry-pick-proof. Yes it’s true they don’t hold the record for most losses in a season, and they also don’t hold the record for most losses by at least two points. Or by at least three points. Aaaaand that’s pretty much it. They hold the record for most losses by at least four points, five points, six points, and, well:

In other words, there is literally no integer between 4 and 23 in which the 1992-93 Mavericks don’t hold the record for most losses in a season by at least that number of points.

And may I direct your attention to enjoy where the historical discrepancy is at its greatest, with a margin of loss by at least 13 points. The ’93 Mavs had 55 such losses. No one else has ever had more than 41.

Speaking of 41, in an 82-game season, obviously the average team loses 41 games. The ’93 Mavs lost 42 games … by more than 15 points.

My other favorite takeaway there is that they lost by at least eight points in 64 different games. No one else that season lost that many games, period! Think about how hard it would be to even have a losing record if you were spotted eight points in every game — the ’93 Mavs somehow would’ve still been the very worst team in the Association.

On the flip side, they also happened to win only one game by more than 10 points — the first team since those ’48 Steamrollers without multiple such wins.

With the abundance of gigantic losses and the dearth of big wins, they spent most of the season in cruise control toward finishing with the worst all-time scoring differential:

A 14-point loss to the Warriors in their 22nd game gave them the worst-ever differential through 22 games of a season. So there they were, already sitting there lower than anyone else has ever been at that point in a season — then for game #23 they celebrated with that 58-point loss in Sacramento to a bad Kings team.

And that was all she wrote. While the 1971 expansion Cavs did suffer a 45-point loss in their 46th game of the season, which brought them close to kissing the ’93 Mavs there for a couple games, there is ultimately no integer between 22 and 82 in which the 1992-93 Mavs don’t possess the all-time worst scoring differential after that amount of games in a season.

The chasm between the ’93 Mavs and the runner-up at each data point as the season moves along (varies between the ’71 Cavs, ’73 76ers, ’98 Nuggets, and ’12 Bobcats) becomes enormous. You see they finished up allowing 1,246 points more than they scored when no one else has at any point dipped as low as -1,000. In fact, only a couple teams have even come close to negative quadruple digits:

It’s a line of demarcation that’s formed an asymptotic relationship with the very worst ever. A threshold of ignominy simply impossible to breach.

Except for the 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks, who soared past it like a hot knife through butter. So much so that you could throw out each of their six biggest losses (which were by 58, 41, 35, 35, 34, and 32 points), and they’d still be the record-holders, the only team that was ever outscored by over 1,000 points in a season.

One player from that squad, Tim Legler, went on to become a prominent NBA talking head. He often talks about current league happenings. Seems like a mistake. Anything he can share about that marvelous team would be far more delightful content.