Boston and the Worst the East has Ever Been

The West has some of the greatest collection of talent in NBA history. Behind Curry, Durant, Kawhi, and Harden, some of the top talent on some of the best teams ever will battle for the West. Out East is a different story. The Cavaliers need all of Bron's heroics to stave off a 0.500 team. The Celtics are in a 0-2 hole. The Raptors just got destroyed by the Bucks. The East looks pretty weak, and bad news, the numbers back up that it's the weakest it's ever been.

When examining the Celtics this season, something stood out. The Celtics had a mediocre record for a top seed, a weak Simple Rating System (SRS) -- the stength of schedule adjusted point margin for a team -- and a weak top player in Isaiah Thomas. I looked at the times in NBA history a team has won their conference with an SRS below 5.0 in the three-point era of the NBA. I only came up with ten teams. And Boston is by far the worst team to have ever won the Eastern Conference. 

Season Team Record SRS Playoffs
2017 Boston Celtics 53-29 2.25 ?
2015 Atlanta Hawks 60-22 4.75 Lost ECF
2014 Indiana Pacers 56-26 3.63 Lost ECF
2010 Los Angeles Lakers  57-25 4.78 Won Title
2007 Detroit Pistons 53-29 3.69 Lost ECF
2004 Indiana Pacers 61-21 4.9 Lost ECF
2003 Detroit Pistons 50-32 2.97 Lost ECF
2002 New Jersey Nets 52-30 3.67 Lost Finals
2001 Philadelphia 76ers 56-26 3.64 Lost Finals
2000 Indiana Pacers 56-26 4.15 Lost Finals
1994 Atlanta Hawks 57-25 4.94 Lost ECSF

The only other team below 3.0 in SRS to have won the conference was Detroit in 2003. And looking over this list an important factor stands out. Only the Lakers in 2010 took down a title, and most teams that win the conference with a weak SRS don't even make the Finals. From 2000 to 2002, three teams with a weak SRS did indeed make the NBA Finals. Sadly, all three lead the East in SRS for the year. The other teams had stronger SRS opponents (e.g. the Hawks in 94 tied the Knicks for the top record. By tie-breaker the Hawks won the conference. The Knicks had a stronger SRS at 6.5 and went to the Finals)

Of course, Boston doesn't have the strongest SRS in the East. Both Cleveland (2.87) and Toronto (3.65) are better. Of course, both of those would still qualify as among the worst in Eastern Conference history. The East is the weakest it's been in quite some time, and the West looks scary. That said, anything can happen!

One last note, Boston has another thing going against it. Unlike other teams in the past, they don't have a legitimate star. Here's the top Wins Producer on each of the low SRS conference winners.

Season Team Player WP48 Wins
2017 Boston Celtics Isaiah Thomas 0.195 10.5
2015 Atlanta Hawks Kyle Korver 0.230 11.56
2014 Indiana Pacers Lance Stephenson 0.204 11.7
2010 Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol 0.282 14.1
2007 Detroit Pistons Chauncey Billups 0.240 12.1
2004 Indiana Pacers Jeff Foster 0.294 12
2003 Detroit Pistons Ben Wallace 0.374 22.4
2002 New Jersey Nets Jason Kidd 0.243 15.5
2001 Philadelphia 76ers Dikembe Mutombo* 0.343 6.3
2000 Indiana Pacers Mark Jackson 0.257 11.7
1994 Atlanta Hawks Mookie Blaylock 0.256 15.6

While Isaiah Thomas hits my threshold for a star player (10 wins in a season) he's a below 0.200 player (twice as good as an average NBA player at his position) Isaiah is, in fact, the weakest star on the weakest team to lead a conference. As a note, I place Dikembe as the top player on the 76ers. However, he was traded midseason, hence the lower total. That said, things aren't looking good for Boston, and all the signs show why. They're a weak team with a weak star. As a plus, they're still a historical team, although not for the reason they may want.