We all know defense wins championships, but offense wins the fans over. So we're going to talk about most people's favorite part of the NBA, offense. We could easily talk about the top individual scorers to play the game, but basketball is a team sport and teams usually thrive when they play as a cohesive unit.
In this article, we'll remember the past great offenses in the NBA. Like the original "Lob City." Even Gary Payton said they created "Lob City" in an interview. Take a look yourself:
“When people say Lob City or stuff like that, we were the original Lob City,” Payton said. “We don’t want to call it Lob City, we just called it Reign Man and the Glove.”
Interesting. We also remember the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns and Mike D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds Or Less" offense. They forever changed the game and would speed basketball games up. On that Suns team, the Suns had six players averaging double figures in points per game. Talk about playing as a team.
In today's game, we have the privilege of watching the San Antonio Spurs spread the ball around more than anyone has ever seen. The San Antonio Spurs are always in constant motion, as players are moving without the ball and trust each player on their team. The future of NBA team offense is bright with the Dallas Mavericks sharing the rock, as they always have, and with the new-look Atlanta Hawks.
Usually when a team shares the ball on offense, it leads to winning, but there will be no negative marks because of records for this list. This list will be based on offensive rating and team play/talent. Of course there will be teams from different eras, but debate is always fun.
20 Milwaukee Bucks, 1970-1971
Offensive Rating: 103.9
Oscar Robertson made his presence known in his first year with the Milwaukee Bucks, with a ton of help from an rookie by the name of Lew Alcindor, who you might know better as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (he changed his name one day after this season took place). That is a legendary combo, especially on the offensive side. Kareem was known for his unstoppable hook shot and "The Big O" was the only player to average a triple-double in a season. Other keys to the only dynamic offense were Bob Dandridge, who averaged over 18 points per game, and Jon McGlocklin, who averaged 15.8 points per game. This Bucks team was only held under 100 points 6 times during the 1970-1971 season and would sweep the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals.
19 Indiana Pacers, 1998-1999
Offensive Rating: 108.7
The 1998-1999 season was cut short before it even started because of a lockout situation. That did not stop this offense from ranking among the greats.
The 1998-1999 Indiana Pacers did not play at a fast PACE.
Sorry for the horrible joke, but the above statement is true. They were 26th in the league in pace of offense. How did they become great? By maximizing every possession on the offensive side. Mark Jackson was at the helm of the offense and Reggie Miller was the star of the team. Jackson was a great facilitator and knew how to get an offense running. Take him and shooters like Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, and Jalen Rose, and this offense knew how to put it in the net. They would go on to lose to the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they made this list. Not a bad consolation we hope.
Oh fun fact, only one player averaged over 15 points and that was Reggie Miller.
18 Sacramento Kings, 2003-2004
Offensive Rating: 110.3
The Kings has an incredibly balanced attack in 2004/04, as six different players averaged double-figures. Vlade Divac averaged 9.9 points per game, so he could have been the seventh player on the roster to average double figures. So close. Mike Bibby was at point and Chris Webber was dominating the paint. Oh and they had this guy Peja Stojakovic that shot over 43 percent from the perimeter and averaged 24.2 points per game. There had a plethora of weapons and defenses could not stop every single one of them.
17 Dallas Mavericks, 2002-2003
Offensive Rating: 110.7
The Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash days were truly great times for NBA fans. The early 2000's were a struggle for offenses to be efficient, but with these two running the show and a respectable Michael Finley being the third scoring option, how could they not be great? This Dallas Mavericks team had five regular players shooting over 37% from the three-point line, which is an incredible statistic. All that shooting, and a power forward that changed the way we see the position, saw the Mavs put up great numbers offensively. They hit the 60 win mark, but lost in the Western Conference Finals.
16 Seattle SuperSonics, 1997-1998
Offensive Rating: 111.6
Do you remember when we said that Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp were the original "Lob City?" Well, Shawn Kemp was not on this particular Sonics team. Kemp was traded to the Cavaliers in a three team trade where the Sonics picked up Vin Baker. Baker would match Shawn Kemp's production and Seattle would not miss a beat. Also, Payton was known for his trash talk and intense defense, so some people may forget he knew how to run an offense. Gary Payton and Baker both averaged over 19 points a game, which is pretty good, but what was even better was the shooting around them. The Seattle SuperSonics had six regulars shooting over 40% from beyond the arc. 40 percent. That is insane. Payton and the SuperSonics, which sounds like a band, would go on to lose to the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals.
15 Los Angeles Lakers, 1997-1998
Offensive Rating: 111.9
Weren't Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal a great duo? To us, yes. To them... not so much. Their off-the-court issues did not effect the way their offense played. It was only Bryant's second season in the league and he only started one game, but he averaged over 15 points per game and was a major part of the offense. His partner/nemesis O'Neal averaged a crazy 28.3 points per game and 11.4 rebounds while blocking 2.4 shots. The Lakers also had four other players averaging over 10 points a game and they had Robert Horry. We all know what Robert Horry can do with his clutch shots late in games. Even though Phil Jackson was not coaching this team, the Los Angeles Lakers still found great success.
14 Dallas Mavericks, 2001-2002
Offensive Rating: 112.2
Welcome back Dallas Mavericks. We already know about Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki's impact in Dallas, but there were other contributors on this team. Michael Finley was better on this year's team, while Juwan Howard and Tim Hardaway both brought different qualities. Howard averaged over 12.9 points a game and 7.4 rebounds. Hardaway scored nearly 10 points off the bench each game. The offense was coming from everywhere. Nick Van Exel put up some good numbers when he played, as he averaged 13.2 points a game. Just more weapons for Steve Nash to utilize. That is dangerous.
13 Utah Jazz, 1997-1998
Offensive Rating: 112.7
If you are a fan of fast-paced basketball, then this was not the team for you. The Utah Jazz's stars: John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek, and Karl Malone were all at least 34 years-old. Yikes. Still, they put together a dominating offense that only the Chicago Bulls could stop.
Spoiler alert: Utah Jazz lost to the Bulls in the NBA finals that year.
This team receives no style points, but their pick-and-roll was impossible to stop. Malone managed to average 27 points and 10.3 rebounds at the age of 34. Stockton was Stockton and got every player involved in the game. Just wait, there was even a time that their offense was better than this...
12 Utah Jazz, 1996-1997
Offensive Rating: 113.6
... and that was one year earlier.
No athleticism? No problem. John Stockton and Karl Malone were closing in on their mid-30s, but that did not stop them from posting an incredible 113.6 offensive rating. This was a veteran team that knew how to run the pick-and-roll better than anyone else and that is what propelled them over other teams of their time. Well...except the Chicago Bulls. Those pesky Bulls and their Michael Jordan. Nonetheless, the 1996-1997 Utah Jazz played the game right on offense with Jerry Sloan leading the way.
11 Phoenix Suns, 2006-2007
Offensive Rating: 113.9
Here's the first mention of Mike D'Antoni's famous "seven second or less" offense. What better point guard to lead an offense that based their shots on quick, smart decisions than Steve Nash? This system made not only the team successful, but helped Steve Nash win his two MVP awards. The Phoenix Suns branded their game on playing faster than their opponent and tiring them down to the point of exhaustion. A full out onslaught. They had shooters with Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa who both shot over 41% from three-point land. Steve Nash also had his sidekick in Amar'e Stoudemire, who was nearly a 20-10 players and an athletic beast around the rim. They changed the pace of basketball.
10 Denver Nuggets, 1981-1982
Offensive Rating: 114.3
Speaking of fast offenses, the 1981-1982 Denver Nuggets ran opponents out of the arena with their offense. Denver had three players average over 20 points a game in Alex English, Kiki Vandeweghe, and Dan Issel. That is lethal. They led the league in pace, points, field goals made, and free throws made. This Nuggets team was also efficient because they led the league in shots attempted. Pretty much all of their shots came from 2-point range and they proved that an offense does not need to shoot threes to be successful.
9 Chicago Bulls, 1996-1997
Offensive Rating: 114.4
It's pretty easy to have a good offense when you have Michael Jordan on the floor. Don't forget to throw in other scoring contributors like Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc. Those were the only players to average double figures in the scoring department, but this offense knew how to get second chance points on offensive rebounds. The Bulls can thank Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley for second chance opportunities.
Every good offense needs a great floor spacer and Steve Kerr was exactly that. Kerr shot over 46% in the 1996-97 season. Not bad. Hard to identify a weakness with this offense because they pretty much had everything. Of course, they won the NBA title this season.
8 Phoenix Suns, 2004-2005
Offensive Rating: 114.5
Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and Joe Johnson have been all-stars at some point in their careers. They were also on the 2004-2005 Phoenix Suns team. Quentin Richardson was not too bad eitherm as he averaged nearly 14.9 points per game and 6.1 rebounds. Richardson thrived inside and outside on the perimeter, which is not hard when Steve Nash is setting you up. But we all know the resumes of the first four players mentioned. Add some young, athletic role players off the bench and you've got yourself a 62 win season.
7 Orlando Magic, 1994-1995
Offensive Rating: 115.1
Who would figure one of the greatest offenses of all time would be a team that was led by a 22 and 23-year-old? Now what if we told you those players were Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal?
Now it makes sense.
O'Neal was only in his third season with the NBA, yet he was averaging a monstrous 29.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Hardaway refused to be forgotten as he averaged 20.9 points and 7.2 assists. However, it wasn't only a two-man team with the 1994-1995 Orlando Magic. The Magic had sharp-shooters in Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, who both shot over 40 percent from the three-point line. They provided much needed floor spacing.
6 Phoenix Suns, 2009-2010
Offensive Rating: 115.3
We now have the best version of the Phoenix Suns and it was with a 35-year-old Steve Nash. Also, this was Amar'e Stoudemire's final season with the Suns. Steve Nash was amazing this season by joining the 50/40/90 club, while Stoudemire averaged 23.1 points a game on 55% shooting, but it was the depth that made this offense great. This Phoenix Suns team were deeper than the previous years. Look at the names: Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Robin Lopez, Goran Dragic, and Leandro Barbosa.
5 Chicago Bulls, 1995-1996
Offensive Rating: 115.2
The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls posted the best record in NBA history at 72-10 and it had a lot to do with their offense. It really does help to have Michael Jordan on your team, as he averaged over 30 points again this season. Scottie Pippen was working his magic alongside of Jordan and Dennis Rodman did all the dirty work on the boards. Also, Steve Kerr shot over 51% from three, which is not shocking at all.
We'll stop here. Best record in NBA history. Enough said.
4 Boston Celtics, 1987-1988
Offensive Rating: 115.4
For fans who are new to the game of basketball, The Boston Celtic used to have incredible players on their team. We're not talking about their Big Four from a few years ago (who were pretty good), but their strong teams in the 1980's. Notably there was Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, and Robert Parish. Dennis Johnson was not too bad either. They all averaged double figures for the 1987-1988 Celtic team. 12 of their 16 players shot over 48% from the field, so this team knew how to shoot the rock. They led the league in three-point attempts and they made the most. Unfortunately, the Celtics would lose to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, but no one will forget how potent this offense was at shooting the ball. Tremendous.
3 Dallas Mavericks, 2003-2004
Offensive Rating: 112.1
And once again, the Dallas Mavericks. Crazy, right? Steve Nash has been all over the list and he deserves it. Nash will go down as one of the greatest point guards to step foot on the hardwood. This team had way more firepower than any of the previous Mavericks squads. This team had five players that averaged over 14 points per game. They had three other players score more than six points per game. Eight players scoring the ball effectively is impressive and that is why they rank among the top three greatest offenses in NBA history.
2 Chicago Bulls, 1991-1992
Offensive Rating: 115.5
This was when Michael Jordan was in his prime and no defense was going to stop him. Scottie Pippen, his partner in crime, was an elite second option. He is a Top 50 NBA player of all time and he was averaging 21 points and 7 assists per game. Horace Grant was grabbing offensive rebounds for Jordan and Pippen to get more shots up. Not a bad idea. They immulated the syle of the Showtime Lakers and it worked as they went on to win the NBA title that year.
1 Los Angeles Lakers, 1986-1987
Offensive Rating: 115.6
Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Byron Scott made for a true Big Four.. They all averaged 17 points or more a game. Johnson was magical, if you will, by averaging 23.9 points and 12.2 assists a night. Abdul-Jabbar's hook shot was still unstoppable. James Worthy was a scoring machine with 19.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Byron Scott was a dead-eye from the perimeter, shooting over 43% from beyond the arc. On top of that, the Lakers had three other players average over 10 points. They completed their historic season by winning the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. Name one weakness this team had on the offensive side. We'll wait....
Exactly. That is why they are the greatest offense to ever play the game of basketball.
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