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Why Anointing the Mavs’ Offense the Best of All Time is a Mistake


It’s easy to find stories that make a case for this year’s Dallas Mavericks as the top offensive team of all time. We break down what our Adjusted Offensive Rating reveals about the Mavs’ place in history, the NBA’s best offensive club ever and who had a hand in much of the top five. 

By: Taylor Bechtold

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The Dallas Mavericks have a chance to finish this season with the best offensive rating of all time. Better than the 2016-17 Warriors. Better than the Showtime LA Lakers. Better than Mike D’Antoni’s Suns or Rockets.

But does that mean they’ve built the best offensive lineup in NBA history? Not by a long shot. They’re not even among the top four in franchise history.

That’s not to say that the Mavs haven’t been impressive. Heading into their regular-season finale in Orlando on Thursday night, they sit right behind the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors with a 113.8 offensive rating and have an opportunity to match or even pass Golden State’s record 113.9 mark with a huge performance against the red-hot Phoenix Suns.

It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Dallas takes over the top spot as the club is averaging a league-high 125.4 points over its seven games in the bubble.

RankTeamSeasonOff. Rating

The Mavericks’ stars are playing leading roles. MVP candidate Luka Doncic ranks third in the bubble with 32.0 points per game while also averaging 11.3 assists and 11.0 rebounds. Teammate Kristaps Porzingis is sixth with 30.5 points per game and averaging 9.5 rebounds.

But what’s notable about the Mavs is their ability to hold their own even without Doncic or Porzingis.

This season, Dallas has a 121.9 offensive rating with both Doncic and Porzingis in the lineup. The team also has a strong 124.8 rating with Doncic but without Porzingis and a 120.2 mark with Zinger and no Luka. Even when both are off the floor, the Mavs still have a positive net rating of 1.2. Tim Hardaway Jr. has played a key role in that effort, averaging 15.9 points – third on the team.

LineupOff. RatingDef. RatingNet Rating
With Doncic, No Porzingis124.8117.57.4
With Porzingis, No Doncic120.2110.99.3
With Doncic, Porzingis121.9116.65.3
No Doncic, No Porzingis117.7116.51.2

While the Mavs boast outstanding numbers, tabbing them as the best offensive team ever is a bit misleading. But it’s easy to find articles suggesting exactly that. In fact, according to our Adjusted Offensive Rating, they rank 29th among the top offensive teams since the 1986-87 season. How is that possible?

Because of an increase in the pace of play, the emphasis on 3-point shooting, and rules that encourage offense, scoring has gone up all around the league in recent seasons. Of the teams with the highest offensive ratings since ’86-87, seven of the top 11 played within the past five years. Does that mean we’ve recently witnessed most of the best offensive clubs of all time? Not necessarily.

We’ve taken our offensive rating, which is a measure of points per 100 possessions that factors in the defensive strength of opponents and how well those opponents are playing at the time of play, and created an Adjusted Offensive Rating (AOR). This normalizes a team’s offensive performance from league environmental factors that can either inflate or deflate its numbers. In simplest terms, AOR measures how much better a club’s points per 100 possessions is from the average team during that season.

Here are the best offensive teams since ’86-87—and where the Mavericks fall into the rankings—according to our AOR:

RankTeamSeasonAdj. Off. Rating

The 2004-05 Suns rank 16th all-time in offensive rating at 111.9, but they top our AOR leaderboard. That D’Antoni-coached club featured Steve Nash, Quentin Richardson, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire and averaged 110.4 points – far ahead of the that season’s second-highest scorers, the Sacramento Kings (103.7) – on the way to a 62-20 record.

There are several other Mavericks teams ahead of this year’s offensive powerhouse. Prior to joining the Suns, Nash teamed with Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley to help Dallas top the NBA in AOR three straight seasons. If there was any question about the two-time MVP’s impact on an offense, consider that he was the floor general on four of the top five teams as well as the eighth-ranked 2002-03 Mavs.

Not listed is a fourth Dallas club ahead of the 2019-20 Mavs. The 1986-87 Mavs, who had Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper and Sam Perkins and finished second to the Showtime Lakers in AOR that year, are ranked 20th at 7.62.

So while Doncic, Porzingis and the Mavs are thrilling us by putting up outstanding offensive statistics and they easily lead the NBA in AOR this season (the Los Angeles Clippers are second at 4.81), they aren’t making history. Let’s take a breath and correct the false narrative that’s making the rounds and be cognizant of their rightful place in history.


Data modeling and analysis provided by Matt Scott

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