How Do Really Bad Teams Fare The Year After?

With the New York Knicks coming off a dismal 17 win season, it’s hard to predict where the team will land by the end of 2016. I’ve seen estimates from the mid-20s to low 40s. So I’ve decided to look at similar team seasons to the Knicks, or teams in the modern era that have won between 14 and 19 games (in a full season) to help predict where New York will land.

In the season after, only 3 of the 43 teams had a winning percentage of .500 or more, which makes up 7% of the group. Lowering the bar further only 20% of the teams finished above 35 wins, and just 30% of the teams finished above 30 wins. The average team won only 23 games in year 2. So from the raw numbers there isn’t much to be optimistic about.

How 14-19 win teams did the year after.
How 14-19 win teams did the year after.

On the other hand, this list has a fair amount of expansion and expansion-ish teams. For instance, Vancouver’s has three seasons in a row from their initial start. So the data might be skewed against New York, which will start the season with a better roster than any of those expansion teams could have put together.

I’d rather not start cherry picking the data to try to get to a more accurate or preferable number. Instead I’d rather look at the three most successful franchises and see how they rebounded in order to see if there are similarities to this year’s Knicks.

2013-14 MIL: 15 wins to 41 wins

The most recent example of chump to champ are the 2014 Bucks. They are fascinating in the respect that the team turnaround was largely done with the same core players. Of the 8 players that received 1,000 minutes in 2014, 7 of them received 1,000 in 2015. In both seasons the offense ranked 26th in the league. So how did Fonzie’s crew turn it around in 2015?


Under a new coach, Jason Kidd, Milwaukee became the 4th ranked defense in 2015. It’s a remarkable turnaround, and hints at the worth a good (and/or a bad) coach on a franchise. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare in 2016, and if this was just a Mr. Potatohead temporary adjustment.

2007-08 MIA: 15 wins to 43 wins

If there is any team that New Yorkers should model their dreams after, this is the one. The Heat had a decent roster upgrade from 2008 to 2009. Only Wade, Haslem, and Cook played 1,000 minutes for both teams. Miami added two rookie starters: guard Mario Chalmers and forward Michael Beasley. Additionally the team acquired Shawn Marion late in 2008, and he played a bigger role for the team in 2009.

The Heat had 2 other factors that helped. First was the improving health of their superstar. Dwayne Wade missed 31 games in 2008, but only skipped 2 games in 2009. Second was that they replaced their coach, moving from Pat Riley to Erik Spoelstra.

2002-03 DEN: 17 wins to 43 wins

If you’re simple minded and attribute a team’s worth of work to only one individual, then this is the team you want pin your hopes on. Because in the pea-brained minds of the Stephen A. Smiths of the world, a developing Carmelo Anthony lifted this team out of the gutter. And that Carmelo is still imbued with this magic power, that he’ll be able to do it this year as well.

In reality this was a team with a young core (Melo 19yrs, Nene 21yrs), surrounded by some solid veterans (Andre Miller, Marcus Camby), which added another solid player in his prime (K-Mart), and changed coaches George Karl (32-8). A lot of factors contributed to the Nuggets to pin the team’s turnaround to just a single player.

I’d like to point out at this time, that each of these teams jettisoned their coach, which is one factor I believe the Knicks have working against them. Perhaps Derek Fisher is a fine leader that needed a year to get his feet wet. However it doesn’t seem that Kidd or Spoelstra had to go through growing pains before leading their team to a prosperous season.

In summary most teams don’t perform well. Judging from the data, it’s most likely that the Knicks will be in the 25-30 win range. If we adjust up because we feel the data is skewed by expansion teams, then 30-35 is an optimistic window. However if New Yorkers are pining for 41+ wins, then perhaps Fisher is the catalyst to make that happen. Either by becoming a much better leader or by yielding to a head coach that can get the job done.

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