Were the 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers the Worst Team in NBA History?

Philadelphia's 10 wins this season nearly matched an NBA low set 43 years ago, but were they the worst squad ever?

The Philadelphia 76ers just finished the 2015-16 NBA season with the second-worst record any team has had in an 82-game regular season, winning only 10 times.

If you are wondering who the worst team was, your search can stay in Philadelphia, as the 1972-73 version of the 76ers finished 9-73. The Sixers have had one of the worst three-year stretches in history, going 47-199, with win totals of 18, 19, and 10, during the polarizing Sam Hinkie era, which came to an end last week. 

As bad as they have been, the franchise still did not reach as low of a low as the Dallas Mavericks did from 1992 through 1994, posting a 23-141 record over two seasons.

While team record can paint the big picture of a team's success, it does not always tell the full story of the season. This season’s 76ers did post the worst record in the new century, but were they truly the worst team?

Winning Percentage

While this seems to be an odd place to start considering we know they had the worst record during this time period, the 76ers did not post the worst winning percentage of any team over the past 16 seasons.

That honor, or dishonor, goes to the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats during the strike-shortened season. Charlotte went 7-59, a .106 winning percentage, that has set the new mark for worst winning percentage in a season. Luckily for the Bobcats, only playing 66 games, or thankfully changing back to the Hornets, has saved them much of the scrutiny that goes along with such a record.

The winning percentage for the 72-73 Sixers team was .110. Being one game better than that team, gave this year’s team a .122 winning percentage.

Point Differential

Philadelphia had a tough time avoiding blowouts this season. The Sixers dropped 41 games by 10 points or more, including 16 games by at least 20. Their worst performance of the year was a 119-68 drubbing in Philadelphia against the Spurs.

Overall, the Sixers posted a point differential of -10.2. However, this still was not bad enough to match one of the Sixers' teams of the last few years. This 76ers team ranks third in recent history in worst point differential behind the 2011-12 Bobcats (-13.9) and the 2013-14 76ers (-10.5).

That team actually finished 19-63 and started the season 3-0 with wins over LeBron James' Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls. However, this was the same season Philadelphia dropped 26 straight games from January 31 to March 29, which included back-to-back losses by 45 to the Clippers and 43 to the Warriors. Those Sixers lost 47 games by at least 10 and 18 by 20 or more.

Team nERD and Efficiency Ratings

Our NBA nERD ranking is a predictive metric that calculates a team’s ultimate winning percentage. The range is from zero to 100, 50 being a league-average team.

Although the 76ers finished with the worst record during this timeframe, they did not even have the worst nERD this year. The 76ers finished with a nERD of 20.8, which was still better than the Los Angeles Lakers’ rating of 18.7, even though the Lakers finished 17-65.

While having a higher Offensive Efficiency rating, calculated by number of points a team scores over 100 possessions, these Lakers ranked in the bottom 20 in Defensive Efficiency over the past 16 years, allowing 111.6 points per 100 possessions this season.

As a frame of reference, the 2009 Sacramento Kings had a Defensive Efficiency of 114.7, the worst during this stretch.

This Sixers team, like the ones over the past three years, have been hampered by their poor offense. Since 2000-01, 20 teams have had an Offensive Efficiency under 100. Only five of these instances have occurred since the 2004-05 season, and three of them were the Sixers. 

These three Sixers teams are the only ones to have such inefficient offensive numbers while posting a Pace, number of possessions per 48 minutes, above 95.

At this point I am sure you could guess, the team with the worst nERD during this stretch is the 2011-12 Bobcats. Sorry to keep picking on them, but they were bad. Their nERD was 5.6, meaning they actually played worse than their winning percentage would indicate.

Season Team Record Win % nERD
2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats 7-59 .106 5.6
2001-02 Chicago Bulls 15-67 .183 16.6
2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers 19-63 .232 17.9
2005-06 Portland Trail Blazers 21-61 .256 18.7
2015-16 Los Angeles Lakers 17-65 .207 18.7
2009-10 New Jersey Nets 12-70 .146 19
2002-03 Cleveland Cavaliers 17-65 .207 19.4
2014-15 New York Knicks 17-65 .207 19.4
2004-05 Atlanta Hawks 13-69 .159 20
2008-09 Sacramento Kings 17-65 .207 20
2002-03 Denver Nuggets 17-65 .207 20.1
2009-10 Minnesota Timberwolves 15-67 .183 20.3
2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers 10-72 .122 20.8
2012-13 Charlotte Bobcats 21-61 .256 21.1
2014-15 Minnesota Timberwolves 16-66 .195 21.8

While their record would say they avoided tying the worst team of all-time by one game, the stats show this Philadelphia 76ers team was not quite that close.

With a new regime in town after Sam Hinkie's departure, lots of assets and money to spend, and such a stigma tied to outright tanking, it is hard to believe the 76ers will burrow any deeper than this point.

Good news Sixers fans, it should (probably) only get better from here.