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Inside the Numbers: Worst Record to the NBA Playoffs

With a 15-67 record, the Milwaukee Bucks had the NBA’s worst record in 2013-14. Truth be told, the future for the franchise was not looking good.

Fast forward to last season. With a No. 1 draft pick in Jabari Parker, a new coach in Jason Kidd who focused more on defense, and a roster full of young, exciting players, the Bucks made the playoffs with a 41-41 record—a 26-win improvement. It was a one-year turnaround that is rarely seen in the league. In fact, the Bucks became only the third team since 1993-94 that went from having the worst record in the league to a playoff spot the following season. The other teams: The Denver Nuggets (tied for the worst record in the league in 2003, playoffs in 2004) and the Miami Heat (worst record in 2008; playoffs in 2009).

For the record, the Minnesota Timberwolves had the NBA’s worst record last season at 16-66. It was the second time in the last five years that franchise had the league’s worst win-loss record (there were 17-65 in 2011).

Let’s take a look at the teams with the worst record in the league since 1993-94 when the Dallas Mavs had an NBA-worst 13-69 record. The key question to ask, and I’m sure the fans and execs of these teams were asking the same question: How long will it take our team to go from the NBA’s worst to respectability, and a playoff spot?

Twenty-three teams had the worst (or tied for the worst) record in the NBA from 1993-94 to 2013-14. Of those, 21 increased their win total the next season, and one team had the same number of wins. In 1996, Vancouver had the league’s worst record at 15-67 and actually had even fewer wins the following season (14-68).

As mentioned above, the Bucks, Nuggets and Heat were the only teams to go from an NBA-worst record to the playoffs the following year. They are also the only three teams to go from the league’s worst record to 40 wins the following year.

Two more teams, the 1997 Los Angeles Clippers and the 2012 Charlotte Hornets, made the playoffs within two years of having the league’s worst record. Looking at these 23 teams, most eventually go from the worst record to the playoffs, although some not as quickly as others. Case in point: It took the 1996 Vancouver Grizzlies (their first year in the league) eight seasons to go from the league’s worst record to a playoff spot, and that came after the team had already moved to Memphis.

Here’s a breakdown of the how long it took these 23 teams to get to the playoffs after their league-worst season.

From worst record to playoffs in… (year listed is the year team had the NBA’s worst record)

One season: 2003 Denver, 2008 Miami, 2014 Milwaukee

Two seasons: 1995 L.A. Clippers, 2012 Charlotte

Three seasons: 2002 Chicago Bulls, 2003 Cleveland Cavaliers, 2004 Orlando, 2005 Atlanta Hawks, 2006 Portland Trail Blazers, 2010 New Jersey Nets

Four seasons: 2001 Chicago, 2007 Memphis

Five seasons: 1999 Vancouver

Six seasons: 1998 Denver, 2000 Clippers, 2002 Golden State

Seven seasons: 1994 Dallas, 1997 Vancouver

Eight seasons: 1996 Vancouver

The 2009 Sacramento Kings had the league’s worst record at 17-65; they are still waiting to make the playoffs—a delay of six years. The 2011 T-Wolves were a league-worst 17-65 and have gone four years without a post-season appearance. The 2013 Orlando Magic had the NBA’s worst record at 20-62 and have increased their win total each of the last two seasons, but have yet to make the playoffs since that 2013 campaign.

One final note: Three teams have gone from the NBA’s worst record to winning 50 or more games in three seasons. The three: 2003 Cavs (worst record in 2003; 50 wins in 2006), the 2006 Trailblazers (worst record in 2006; 54 wins in 2009) and the 2008 Heat (worst record in 2008; 58 wins in 2011).

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