Many NBA players prefer the offensive side of the court to the defensive, but that certainly doesn’t mean they are better at it. These teams all were great defensively, but they struggled with their offensive sets. Some of these teams’ offense had some very talented players too, making their appearance on this list all the more surprising. All of these teams had a top ten defense and a bottom five offense in the NBA their given season.
2010 – 2011 Milwaukee Bucks
The 2010 Milwaukee Bucks had made the playoffs with nearly the same core group as the 2011 Milwaukee Bucks that didn’t make the playoffs. The 2010 team, however, was able to go 46-36 with an offense that was not dead last in the league like the 2011 team. The 2011 team only went 35-47 despite having the league’s 4th best defense and allowing the 3rd least points per game. Head Coach Scott Skiles has always been a defensively focused one, but it was surprising to see the Bucks finish dead last in offense.
They had Brandon Jennings (16.2 points and 4.8 assists per game,) Keyon Dooling (7.1 ppg and 3.0 apg,) and Earl Boykins (7.2 ppg and 2.5 apg) at point guard. At shooting guard they had John Salmons (14.0 ppg). The Bucks had Carlos Delfino (11.5 ppg,) Corey Maggette (12.0 ppg,) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (7.3 ppg) at small forward.
Luc Mbah a Moute (6.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg,) Ersan Ilyasova (9.5 ppg and 6.1 rpg,) and Drew Gooden (11.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg) played power forward. At center, the Bucks had Andrew Bogut (12.8 ppg and 11.1 rpg,) and Larry Sanders (4.3 ppg and 3.0 rpg.) Milwaukee rounded out their bench with Michael Redd, Garrett Temple, Jon Brockman, Earl Barron, and Brian Skinner.
This team had many players who could score, but not that one traditional star player. The Bucks were able to get away with this in 2010 when Salmons averaged 19.9 points per game, but when the team’s best scorer was Jennings with 16.2 points per game on 39% shooting, they were bound to be horribly inefficient offensively.
2005 – 2006 Houston Rockets
The 2006 Houston Rockets were supposed to be a good team. The 2006 team was sandwiched in between two 50 win playoff Rockets teams in 2005 and 2007. Between injuries to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, however, the 2006 Rockets only finished 34-48. These Rockets had the 6th best defense in the league, but only the 29th best offense despite the presence of two perennial all stars in McGrady and Ming, as well as former all-star Juwan Howard.
At point guard, the Rockets had former street-ball legend Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston (12.1 ppg and 6.7 apg.) At shooting guard, they had David Wesley (9.9 ppg, 36.5 3P%,) Luther Head (8.8 ppg,) and Derek Anderson (10.8 ppg and 4.2 rpg.) They had McGrady (24.4 pgs, 6.5 rpg, 4.8 apg,) and Keith Bogans (8.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg) at small forward.
At power forward, they had Howard (11.8 ppg and 6.7 rpg,) and Chuck Hayes (3.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg.) The Rockets had Ming (22.3 ppg and 10.2 rpg,) Stromile Swift (8.9 ppg and 4.4 rpg,) and Dikembe Mutumbo (4.8 rpg and 0.9 bpg) at center. They rounded out their bench with Rick Brunson, John Lucas III, Jon Barry, Richie Frahm, Stephen Graham, Ryan Bowen, Josh Davis, Lonny Baxter, and Maciej Lampe.
This team could have been another 50 win team if McGrady didn’t miss 35 games, Ming didn’t miss 25 games, Rafer Alston didn’t miss 19 games, Derek Anderson didn’t miss 62 games, and if Keith Bogans didnt miss 49 games. When McGrady and Ming went down, the Rockets just didn’t have an efficient volume scorer from the perimeter. When those other guys went down, that only hurt the Rockets further. Jeff Van Gundy was another coach that always put defense above all else, and his defense survived through his team’s injuries, but his offense did not.
2004 – 2005 New Jersey Nets
New Jersey went through a transitional period in the 2004-2005 season. Gone were all-star power forward Kenyon Martin and head coach Byron Scott, but the team did acquire wing player Vince Carter from Toronto in December for Eric Williams, Alvin Williams, and Alonzo Mourning, and Lawrence Frank was able to hold this Nets team to a high standard defensively. The Nets were the 7th best team defensively this season even though they were only 26th offensively. They finished with a record of 42-40, which was good enough to make the playoffs, but there is no doubting that this team could have played better on the offensive side of the court with the talented players they had.
At point guard, the Nets had future hall of famer Jason Kidd (14.4 ppg, 8.3 apg, 7.4 rpg) and Travis Best (6.8 ppg.) Carter (27.5 ppg and 5.9 rpg,) Eric Williams (12.6 ppg before being traded for Carter,) and Jacque Vaughn (5.3 ppg) manned the shooting guard position. The Nets used Richard Jefferson (22.2 ppg and 7.3 rpg) and Rodney Buford (7.0 ppg) at small forward.
Down low, the Nets had Nenad Kristic (10.0 ppg and 5.3 rpg,) and Brian Scalabrine (6.3 ppg) at power forward, and Jason Collins (6.4 ppg and 6.1 rpg) as well as a handful of other players at center. The Nets rounded off their bench with Zoran Planinic, Awvee Storey, Ron Mercer, Billy Thomas, Kaniel Dickens, Jabari Smith, Clifford Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, Donnell Harvery, Aaron Williams, Elden Campbell, and Jerome Moiso.
While Kidd (16 games,) Mercer (64 games,) and Robinson (53 games) missing some time to injury prevented this team from winning more games, they still should have been a 50 win team at the very least with three perennial all-stars (Kidd, Carter, Jefferson) on the team and a league-7th best defense. The Nets did have to overcome a horrible 2-11 start to finish the season 40-29, but the blame can mostly be placed on the Nets coaching staff for not pushing the pace.
Having a playmaker like Kidd at the point and Carter and Jefferson running the break with him would have been scary, instead the Nets played a slow pace (21st) relative to a slow league, and reserve-level starting bigs like Kristic, Collins, and Scalabrine were emphasised in the offense more than they should have been. It should come at no surprise that Mourning (-0.6 offensive win shares,) Collins (0.2 offensive win shares,) and Scalabrine (-0.2 offensive win shares) all combined to cost the team wins, literally, on the offensive end of the court.
2003 – 2004 Toronto Raptors
The 2004 Toronto Raptors were similar to the Nets in many ways. Both teams had Vince Carter, but the main difference was that whereas the Nets struggled from a lack of big man production, the Raptors suffered from a lack of a playmaking guard, which was a real shame, because there were some very talented players on this team. Their talent showed defensively, where they finished 7th in the league, but their offense was horribly innefficient. They had the league’s 2nd worst offense despite having this great talent.
At point guard, the Raptors played Jalen Rose (16.2 ppg and 5.5 apg,) and Milt Palacio (4.4 ppg.) Shooting guard was played by Carter (22.8 ppg,) and Alvin Williams (8.8 ppg.) The Raptors played Morris Peterson (8.3 ppg,) and Michael Curry (2.9 ppg) at small forward.
At power forward, Toronto had Donyell Marshall (16.2 ppg and 10.7 rpg,) and Chris Bosh (11.5 ppg and 7.4 rpg) at center, with a handful of bigs backing the two of them up. Rounding off the bench was Rod Stickland, Jannero Pargo, Rick Brunson, Roger Mason, Dion Glover, Chris Jeffries, Lammond Murray, Jerome Moiso, Jerome Williams, Michael Bradley, Antonio Davis, Lonny Baxter, Corie Blount, Robert Archibald, and Mengke Batee.
Carter, Peterson, Marshall, and Bosh combined for 26.9 of the team’s 33 wins. They all had great seasons, but Toronto didn’t have a point guard that contributed at a high rate. Jalen Rose only contributed 1.3 win shares (-0.6 offensive,) and the other point guards combined for negative win shares as well. In fact, no one on the team outside of Carter, Peterson, Marshall, and Bosh had more than one offensive win share, and the rest of the Raptors team combined for negative offensive win shares. Kevin O’Neill was the head coach of the team in his lone NBA Head Coaching season, and he did a very forgettable job offensively despite his team’s defensive tenacity.
2001 – 2002 Miami Heat
The 2002 Miami Heat was a team that had some great players, but they were just slightly past their prime. Eddie Jones and Alonzo Mourning were still producing at a high rate, but Zo just wasn’t the force down low he used to be offensively, and Jones just wasn’t the all-star he was with Charlotte. Jim Jackson was simply nowhere near the player he was with Dallas. This team was, however, still a force to be reckoned with defensively, and they finished 3rd in the NBA defensively, and 1st in opponents’ points per game. Their own offense, however, was the 3rd worst in the league, and they missed the playoffs with their 36-46 record.
At point guard, the Heat had Rod Strickland (10.4 ppg and 6.1 apg,) Eddie House (8.0 ppg,) and Anthony Carter (4.7 apg.) At two guard, Jones (18.3 ppg,) and Kendall Gill (5.7 ppg) manned the position for Miami. Jackson (10.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg,) and LaPhonso Ellis (7.1 ppg) played small forward.
The Heat had Brian Grant (9.3 ppg and 8.0 rpg) at power forward, and Mourning (15.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, and 2.5 bpg) at center. The Heat finished their roster off with Mike James, Sam Mack, Tang Hamilton, Chris Gatling, Malik Allen, Vladimir Stepania, Sean Marks, Ernest Brown.
The legendary Pat Riley was the head coach of this team, so while it was no surprise to see this team’s defensive tenacity on display, the offensive struggles were confusing with scoring down low (Mourning,) and on the perimeter (Jones and Jackson.) This Heat bench really did hold the team back though. Carter, Gill, and House: the team’s backcourt reserves, combined for -3.4 offensive win shares. No one outside of Strickland, Grant, Jones, and Mourning, had more than 1.0, and most players had either 0.0 or negative win shares offensively.
1982 – 1983 Washington Bullets
The 1983 Bullets were the work of former head coach Gene Shue, who took two teams to the NBA Finals in his coaching career. The Bullets were a great defensive team with the team’s identity being in their front court. This team played slow, and it was very hard to put points up on this Bullets defense which finished 2nd in the NBA that year. Their offense, however, was 2nd worst, and the Bullets missed the playoffs despite a 42-40 record and their front court talent.
At point guard, the Bullets had Frank Johnson (12.5 ppg and 8.1 apg,) and they had Ricky Sobers (15.7 ppg and 5.3 apg,) at shooting guard, Backing these guys up off the bench were Bryan Warrick, John Lucas, Kevin Porter, Carlos Terry, Billy Bates, and Chubby Cox.
In this great front court, the Bullets had Greg Ballard (18.0 ppg and 6.5 rpg,) Don Collins (11.8 ppg,) and Charles Davis (7.6 ppg) at small forward. They had legendary Piston Rick Mahorn (11.0 ppg and 9.5 rpg,) and Jeff Ruland (19.4 ppg and 11.0 rpg) at center. Backing these frontcourt guys up were Kevin Grevey, Spencer Haywood, Joe Kopicki, Steve Lingenfelter, Dave Batton, and Joe Cooper.
This team was just too inconsistent offensively, They went on a 9 game losing streak in the middle of their season, which, had it been avoided, playoffs could have been a reality for this group. The Bullets were 24-12 when they scored over 100 points, but they just didn’t score that many often enough. This team suffered from injuries to many bench players, and it was really their lack of depth that killed them that season.