('88 Record: 53-29)
Some offenses are built around one player. Some are built around the styles of more than one player. Some offenses rely on the fast break, while some can set up in the half court and take their time scoring. Some offenses have one player distributing the ball to all the others, while some offenses are built on the premise that all players should pass and shoot equally well. Some offenses incorporate the three point shot into the offense, while others ignore it unless it's necessary. Some offenses are reliant on the starters while others heavily involve bench players.
What sort of offense generally works the best? How should an offense be structured to work best? Is a dominant point guard necessary to make an efficient offense? Is a dominant scoring center necessary? Is a dominant rebounder necessary? If so, is it better if that rebounder is a center or if he's a power forward? Are three point specialists necessary? Is a fast pace or a slow pace conducive to good offense? Would an offense of the NBA All-Stars be the best offense we could assemble or would it have a hard time holding it's weight?
Tough questions. Questions that don't have good answers. The best offenses of the past decade have varied quite a bit in their styles, indicating that there may not be a generic 'best offense'. Some great offenses have had an outstanding point guard and some haven't. Good scoring centers seem to be fairly important, but definitely not necessary. One dominant rebounder hasn't been a characteristic of many of the '80's best offenses; in fact, most best offenses have had several pretty good rebounders, but no one dominant rebounder. Three point shooters didn't become prevalent until recently, but now seem to be common in good offenses. Most good offenses have not been slow teams, but that seems to be changing.
Listed below are some of the best offenses of the '80's as well as some of the characteristics of the teams: whether there was a dominant point guard or center, how the team rebounded, whether the team used the three pointer in its offense, whether it was a slow pace or fast pace, and the general personnel that made the team so good.
Denver Nuggets '81-82: Offensive rating: 112.9. League average rating: 105.4. Floor %: .562. Play %: .499. Field goal percentage: .520.
Probably the best offensive team seen this decade. The team did not have a dominant point guard in the sense of an Isiah Thomas or Magic Johnson. The team leader in assists was small forward Alex English, while two undistinguished guards shared time in the backcourt getting between 300 and 400 assists apiece. Dan Issel, who was only 6'9", was called the team's center and was a very good scorer, shooting well from both the line and field, going to the free throw line for 655 shots, giving him a floor % of .606. There was no dominant rebounder on the team as Issel, English, T.R. Dunn, Kiki Vandeweghe, and Grant Gondrezick all had 400+ rebounds and fewer than 650. As was common during the time, the three point was rarely used by the team, shooting only 26.8% in 149 shots from three point range. The Nuggets have been the runningest team of the decade by far and this team was no different, shooting without hesitation, running off to nearly 9200 possessions (112 per game), scoring 126.5 points per game, a league record.
The offense came primarily from English, Issel, and Vandeweghe, who were essentially three forwards. Issel was the good scoring, but short, center and English and Vandeweghe are both small forwards. English's floor % was .588, Issel's was .606, and Vandeweghe's was .599. The other starters were only decent scorers who let these three do most (over half) of the shooting. David Thompson provided spark off the bench, with the rest of the bench also being fair.
Los Angeles Lakers '84-85: 112.3, 106.2, .570, .511, .545.
The best shooting team in history, shooting 54.5% from the field. The dominant point guard, Magic Johnson, was there and at top form, handing 12.6 assists per game, second in the league to record setter Isiah Thomas, but still one of the best figures in history. Michael Cooper was a very good reserve point guard, handing out 5.2 assists per game. The team was an outstanding passing team, setting the all-time record for assists in a season with 2575 (31.4 per game). The dominant center, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, was there and having one of his best scoring seasons of his great career. As with Denver, there was no dominant rebounder on the team. Four players - Abdul-Jabaar, Magic, James Worthy, and Kurt Rambis - had between 450 and 650 rebounds. The team was often called a soft rebounding team, but was no worse than average. The Lakers began using the three pointer more this year, with Byron Scott leading the league in percentage and getting much help from Mike McGee and Cooper. They still weren't incorporating the trey heavily into the offense. This team was viewed as a running team and one of the best ever, but it also could play very good half court offense with Abdul-Jabaar playing the main part. The team had 8637 (105.3) possessions, just higher than the league average of 8561 (104.4).
The offense's main contributors were Johnson and Abdul-Jabaar, but lots of support came from Worthy and Scott. Johnson's floor % was .633, Abdul-Jabaar's was .596, Worthy's was .556, and Scott's was .573. The fast break was the most deadly weapon with a great point guard to lead it and many people willing to fill the lanes. The half court offense could be stopped if Abdul-Jabaar was stopped, but it still was not bad because everyone could shoot well. The bench was very strong, featuring Cooper and McGee at the guard positions and Bob McAdoo and Larry Spriggs at the forward positions. The team used nine people regularly and the worst offensive players were not harmful because they let the good offensive players do their stuff.
Los Angeles Lakers '86-87: 113.4, 106.5, .566, .500, .516.
Became the first team to score 113+ points per 100 possessions. Magic Johnson was still the leading point guard, doing a lot more than distribute the ball this season, scoring nearly 24 points per game. His 12.2 assist per game average led the league. Michael Cooper helped out off the bench, averaging 4.5 assists per game. Abdul-Jabaar was still one of the best scoring centers in the league, though he scored fewer than 20 ppg for the first time in his career. Again there was no dominant rebounder, but five players - Johnson, Worthy, Abdul-Jabaar, A.C. Green, and Rambis - all had between 450 and 650 rebounds. The team was still taking raps as a weak rebounding team, but was still better than average. The Lakers featured three point shooters in Cooper and Scott, both of whom were in the top ten percentage-wise. The Lakers led the league in three point shooting percentage and were fifth in three pointers made. The shot was a good part of the offense. The fast break was slowed a lot in this season, but the team was still slightly faster than average with 8512 possessions (103.8 per game), compared to the league average of 8467 (103.3). Both the fast break and half court offense were controlled by Magic.
This was Magic's show. His floor % was .628 and he used over 22% of the teams possessions, shooting and passing with no equal in the league. Worthy (floor %= .569), Scott (.556), and Abdul-Jabaar (.560) all contributed lots more offense. The reliable half court option that Abdul-Jabaar had been was not as effective and the half court offense was spread heavily among these four players. Magic became number one offensive option in most every offense. The bench still provided good support, but wasn't quite as productive until Mychal Thompson arrived late in the year. There was one good guard, Cooper, coming off the bench and two forwards, Thompson and Rambis, but the starters took a much larger burden than in previous years.
Boston Celtics '87-88: 113.5, 106.2, .552, .494, .521.
These Celtics hold the record for points per possession with 113.5 last year. The team did not have a dominant point guard as Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson were the two guards who shared point guard and off guard duties. Both players had more than 500 assists each and forward Larry Bird had more than 450. Despite the lack of a point guard, the Celtics were one of the best passing teams ever, moving the ball around quickly and getting it to everyone. The team's center, Robert Parish, was one of the top scoring centers in the league with a floor % of .548, but his offense was not featured in the team offense. As on the previous teams, there was no dominant rebounder. Bird, Kevin McHale, and Parish each got more than eight rebounds per game, but Bird was tops at 9.2 per game. The Celtics were very poor on the offensive boards as they seemed to assume that every shot was going to go in, though they only shot 52.1%. The three pointer was used about 10% of the time on this team, a record. Every record from three pointers attempted to three point percentage was set by this team. To say the offense incorporated the three pointer would be an understatement. The three point threat opened up the rest of the offense. Ainge and Bird both made more than one three pointer per game and Ainge set the season record for three pointers made with 148. Boston was a slow team, relying on the half court offense very much, going on fast breaks only when it was easy. McHale was a tremendous low post half court option, leading the league in field goal percentage with 60.4%. If the low option wasn't available or no one could find an easy shot, the team would wait until the twenty-four second clock was running low and shoot the trey, making it 38.4% of the time.
The offense was built primarily around its front line. Bird, McHale, and Parish were three of the best at their positions offensively with floor %'s of .584, .620, and .548, respectively. The guards, Ainge and Johnson, were good, especially Ainge, who had a floor % of .558. Johnson's .551 floor % wasn't particularly high for point guards, but if he were viewed as just a guard, it is pretty good. The bench contributed very little, getting only limited scoring from Jim Paxson, Fred Roberts, and Brad Lohaus. The Celtics' offense was quite different from the above mentioned offenses, but just about as good.
San Antonio Spurs '82-83: 108.4, 103.1, .557, .486, .504.
This wasn't the best offense of the year, but I could go on and on about the Lakers, Nuggets, and Celtics and not learn any more about what offenses have been very successful. The team had a very good point guard in Johnny Moore, who was second in the league with 9.8 assists per game. Mike Dunleavy came off the bench with another 400+ rebounds. The team always had one good ball distributor in the game. The center, Artis Gilmore, was going very strong, scoring 18.0 ppg, shooting 62.6% from the field, and scoring on 57.6% of his possessions. Gilmore was also a dominant rebounder, averaging 12.0 rpg, good for fourth in the league. Moore and forwards Mike Mitchell and Gene Banks were also pretty good rebounders, making the team very good on the boards. The team was surprisingly heavy into three pointers at a time when three pointers were exceptionally rare. Mike Dunleavy was clearly the best three point shooter in the league, leading the league in percentage and three pointers made. The team made 94 three pointers to lead the league, but arguably hadn't incorporated the shot heavily into the offense, though the beginning was there. The pace of the team was average, which was odd because it became a very quick team the next year.
The team's offense was built around guard George Gervin, who scored 26.2 ppg with a floor % of .557. The most efficient scoring player on the team was Gilmore, but everyone was good. Mitchell's floor % was .546, Banks' was .567, and Moore's was .564. The team had four legitimate shooters and a good point guard. Like the Celtics, the starters were iron men, each playing more than 2500 minutes. The top sub was Dunleavy, who did well, but no other sub earned much time.
Dallas Mavericks '85-86: 110.5, 105.5, .549, .485, .501.
Again, not the best offense of the year, but presented here for some variety. The point guard position in Dallas in '85-86 was split between Derek Harper and Brad Davis, neither of whom would ever be called dominant, but in combination were pretty good, better than they look at first. The center in Dallas was James Donaldson, who came over early in the year from the Clippers. Donaldson shot over 56% for the team, but didn't score very much. He was surrounded by several other good scorers and his scoring didn't hurt the team, but he just didn't do very much of it. There was no dominant rebounder on the team, though Donaldson was quite good and in the top ten in the league, averaging 9.6 per game. Sam Perkins and Mark Aguirre, the team's forwards, both chipped in well, but the team wasn't better than average overall on the boards. Three pointers were a fair part of the team's offense because of the presence of Dale Ellis, who made 63 of 173. Davis also did well from bomb range, shooting 32 of 89 from there. The team led the league in three pointers made and attempted, though it was fifth in percentage. The team's pace was about average, but the style was very conservative, easily leading the league in fewest turnovers.
This is one of the strangest good offenses I've run into. The guards were easily the most efficient scorers on the team, which really helped with Aguirre having his worst year since his rookie season. Rolando Blackman had his consistent .572 floor %; Harper was at .590 and Davis was at an incredible .649. (I wrote in John Stockton's comment that the second highest floor % I'd ever found was Magic's .628 in '87, but I've found a couple higher than that in this analysis.) Perkins had his best offensive year this year, scoring on 55.4% of his possessions, which partially made up for Aguirre's .526 floor %. Donaldson's floor % was .561. The team was equally good at the half court game and the running game, though it wasn't outstanding at either. On occasions, the team was unstoppable offensively, often letting Blackman tear teams apart with his inside-outside game that was as good as ever this year. When Aguirre and Perkins were going well, the whole offense was happy and doing well. The bench played particularly well for the team also. Jay Vincent, Dale Ellis, and either Harper or Davis were as good a players as could be asked for coming off the bench.
That should give you a good idea of what some of the best offenses of the '80's have been like. They haven't been very similar, but some things are fairly obvious. First of all, at very least, three players have to be well above average scorers. It doesn't appear to matter what positions they play. With Denver, the front line was composed of three awesome scorers. The Lakers had good scorers at all spots but the power forward position. The Celtics' front line and shooting guard were all top notch. The Spurs were especially strong at center, shooting guard, and small forward position and had a good passing point guard. The Mavericks' best positions were the shooting guard, point guard, and power forward. In addition to the very strong positions, the other positions should not hurt the team, but may not shoot as much, leaving that to the top offensive players. All six teams shot better than 50% from the field and that would be expected of any good team. Rebounding from several different players seems to be important on good offensive teams. Three point shots have been used a lot in recent dominant offenses, but isn't a strong characteristic of all good offenses. Pace doesn't seem to be all that important to good teams because they can usually play good half court ball or run well depending on the situation.
The Portland Trail Blazers appear to have a great offense lined up for next year. They have a dominant point guard in Terry Porter who can distribute the ball with the best and shoot very well. Off guard Clyde Drexler was an MVP candidate and had a floor % of .579. A third very good scorer wasn't there last year, but Kiki Vandeweghe should return next year as good as he has ever been, which would be excellent. His career floor % is up around .590 and that would give the Blazers three of the best scorers in the league. Jerome Kersey is very solid at another forward position and could easily have a better year than the one he had last year. Drexler, Kersey, Porter, and any center will rebound pretty well for the team next year. Either Kevin Duckworth or Arvidas Sabonis should do a good job at center next year. The Blazers have another option at the position in Steve Johnson, who has been pretty good offensively most his career. The team doesn't have many weak spots in the offense and appears ready to lead the league.
With the good offense and an underrated defense, the Blazers should be able to overtake the Lakers for first place in the Pacific Division next year, probably winning 57 to 59 games in the process. They may have trouble in the playoffs, though, but have a chance to reach the Finals if they stay healthy and Dallas, the Lakers, and Utah have any troubles.
Basketball Hoopla, © 1988, L. Dean Oliver