The Utah Jazz were the best team in the NBA this season.
That became official Sunday night with the Jazz’s win over the Sacramento Kings. Utah finished the year with a 52-20 record, the best of any of the league’s 30 teams, and secured the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Utah went 31-5 at Vivint Arena, the best home record in the NBA (and went 21-15 on the road), had an overall winning percentage of .722 and multiple win streaks of nine games or more.
The Jazz are sure to be rewarded for their success. Rudy Gobert is widely expected to win his third Defensive Player of the Year award, while Sixth Man of the Year is seen as a two-man race between Utah reserves Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles. Jazz coach Quin Snyder might even be named Coach of the Year, though more likely he’ll finish third behind some order of Phoenix’s Monty Williams and New York’s Tom Thibodeau.
Was it the best regular season in franchise history, though?
Here is a look at the best Jazz teams ever based off wins and losses, winning percentage and offensive and defensive ratings, and how they compare with the 2020-21 Jazz.
(The simple reality is that almost all of these teams played during the John Stockton and Karl Malone era, with an argument to be made for a couple of Deron Williams-led ones.)
The 1991-92 Jazz weren’t all that dissimilar from a couple of the teams that preceded them. They won 55 games and lost 27 (winning percentage of .671), the exact same record as the 1989-90 Jazz and only a win better than the 1990-91 team.
The reason they make the cut as one of the franchise’s best teams is that they are one of the more complete teams. Their relative offensive (4.0) and defensive ratings (-2.6) — ratings relative to the rest of the league that season — are among the best in Jazz history, per Basketball Reference, specifically eighth in relative offensive rating and 16th in relative defensive rating.
Another rating system, SRS or Simple Rating System, which takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule (the rating is denominated in points above/below average, where zero is average), rates the 1991-92 Jazz as the seventh-best in franchise history.
Throw in the individual success of Malone and Stockton, who made first-team and second-team All-NBA, and the 1991-92 team was just a cut above what had preceded them.
1991-92 or 2020-21?
This one isn’t all that close. While Malone and Stockton were elite, the 2020-21 team just had a better all-around season. This year’s team boasts a relative offensive rating of 5.3, the sixth-best mark in franchise history, and a relative defensive rating of -4.0, the seventh-best mark. The Jazz also soundly best the 1991-92 team in both wins and winning percentage. Most convincing of all, though, the 2020-21 is the best team in franchise history when it comes to SRS, at 8.97.
The first real elite season in franchise history, Utah finished with a 60-22 record, good for a winning percentage of .732, which at that point was the best by any Jazz team. Led by Malone and Stockton, both of whom were first-team All-NBA — Malone finished third in the MVP race — Utah finished with the second-best record in the league behind only the David Robinson-led San Antonio Spurs (62-20).
The 1994-95 Jazz have the fourth-best relative offensive rating in franchise history (6.0) and their SRS of 7.76 is the third-best among all Jazz teams. Where the 1994-95 Jazz fall short in the best team discussion is relative defensive rating (-2.6) where they come in at 16th in franchise history.
1994-95 or 2020-21?
The 1994-95 Jazz have a lot going for them. They were the first team to break the 60-win barrier and are top five in franchise history in both SRS and relative offensive rating. The 2020-21 Jazz, though, had an offensive rating that wasn’t far off and a far superior defensive rating. The 1994-95 Jazz may have had the better player (John Stockton had 13.9 win shares compared to Rudy Gobert at 11.1) but the 2020-21 Jazz are the better team.
For years, the 1996-97 Jazz have been the unquestioned best team in franchise history. Utah won a franchise-record 64 games that season, with just 18 losses, the second-best record in the NBA behind the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
Malone finished first-team All-NBA and won the MVP, while Stockton finished third-team All-NBA. The Jazz went 38-3 at home and 26-15 on the road. The team has the second-best relative offensive rating in franchise history (6.9) and the second-best SRS (7.97). If there was a flaw to the 1996-97 Jazz it was on defense, at least as far as relative defensive rating, where they rank 12th (-2.7) among all Jazz teams.
1996-97 or 2020-21?
This is where things get interesting. The 1996-97 Jazz are largely revered as the best team in franchise history, even if the 1997-98 team is believed by many to have had a better shot at winning a NBA championship. The 1996-97 team had an elite offense, better than the 2020-21 team for sure. Defensively, however, they weren’t great and SRS favors the 2020-21 team.
The edge ultimately still belongs with the 1996-97 team, based off the fact that wins and losses do matter in the end and the 1996-97 team won the most games in franchise history, but it is closer than expected.
The 1997-98 Jazz have always been right there with the 1996-97 team, if only slightly behind. They went 62-20 (.757 winning percentage), which tied the Bulls for the best record in the NBA. Their home record of 36-5 was second behind only the Bulls and their away record (25-16) trailed only the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers.
Malone was first-team All-NBA, while Stockton was left off an All-NBA team behind Jordan, Gary Payton, Tim Hardaway, Rod Strickland, Reggie Miller and Mitch Richmond.
Rating-wise, the 1997-98 have the sixth-best SRS among Jazz teams (5.73), the best relative offensive rating (7.7) and by far the worst relative defensive rating of any of the perceived best teams (0.4).
1997-98 or 2020-21?
Based off of offensive and defensive ratings, the 2020-21 Jazz should have the 1997-98 team beat. The Stockton-Malone Jazz were better on offense, but were far worse on defense. Throw in SRS and the Gobert-Donovan Mitchell-led Jazz are clearly the better team. That is until wins and losses come into play. The 1997-98 won a higher percentage of their games, the ultimate trump card in many minds. It is basically a toss-up, but you wouldn’t be wrong to consider the 2020-21 Jazz the better team.
While their postseason performance left a lot of to be desired — the Jazz lost in the second round in 1999 after making back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals — the 1998-99 team was one of the NBA’s best regular-season teams during the lockout-shortened campaign.
The Jazz tied for the best record in the Western Conference with the San Antonio Spurs, winning 37 games to just 13 losses (.740 winning percentage). Malone won his second MVP and both he and Stockton made All-NBA teams (Stockton made the third team, Malone the first team).
This team was one of the most balanced in franchise history, per the ratings, boasting a 3.6 relative offensive rating (10th-best) and a -3.8 relative defensive rating (eighth-best), along with an SRS of 5.54 (eighth-best)
1998-99 or 2020-21?
The ratings scream in favor of the 2020-21 Jazz in this case. This year’s team is better on offense, defense and in SRS. The only advantages the 1998-99 Jazz have are winning percentage and Malone’s MVP win. When it comes to the team, though, the 2020-21 Jazz are simply better.
The only reason this Deron Williams-led team is even in the discussion is their perceived success. The 2006-07 Jazz advanced to the Western Conference Finals, so they had to have had one of the better regular seasons in franchise history, right?
Wrong. The 2006-07 Jazz rank 10th in franchise history in relative offensive rating (3.6), but rank 36th in relative defensive rating (0.5). They come in 19th in SRS (3.06) and only won 51 games (lost 31). They finished fourth in the Western Conference, which made their run to the conference finals memorable, but their regular season hardly rates among the elite in franchise history.
2006-07 or 2020-21?
This one is obvious and not close. As exciting as the 2006-07 team may have been, it dosn’t hold a candle to the current Jazz, who hold an edge in every rating, wins and losses and winning percentage. This year’s team will also have All-NBA players, whereas the 2006-07 team did not.
This Williams-led team does have an argument, however. The 2007-08 Jazz finished with a 54-28 record, tied for the ninth-best win/loss record in franchise history. While they finished fourth in the Western Conference, these Jazz had an electric offense, the third-best in franchise history with a relative rating of 6.3.
Williams was a second-team All-NBA performer, and SRS looks fondly upon the team with a 6.86 rating that is the fourth-best mark. Defense lets the 2007-08 Jazz down, as they have the 22nd-best relative rating in franchise history.
2007-08 or 2020-21?
The edge once again goes to the 2020-21 Jazz. The 2007-08 team had the better offense, but that is the only area in which they were superior to this year’s team. Well, that and the fact that Williams had slightly more win shares than Gobert (11.3 to 11.1), but the 2020-21 Jazz are far and away the better and more complete team.