The Celtics, a virtual forest of even scoring for the franchise’s history.

The Bulls. Can you guess when they were most successful, without reading the years?

The Lakers. It’s fascinating to see the old great scorers actually didn’t rise above the pack like Jordan.

And the Knicks. Wait, where’s Linsanity?

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Infographic: The Secret To The NBA's Winningest Franchises? Teamwork

Jordan was the greatest of all time, but it wasn’t until a few friends stepped up that the Bulls started winning championships.

Nowadays, everybody talks about The Big 3. The way Lebron, Wade, and Bosh have been deified, the Miami Heat should almost be ashamed to lose. The GM of the Houston Rockets recently likened having someone of Lebron’s talent to owning Barry Bonds in his heyday—if you could put Bonds up to bat for every single out of the game.

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But according to a series of visualizations from Andrew Bergmann breaking down the top scorers from the Celtics, Knicks, Lakers, and Bulls since the 1960s, it takes more than a superstar, or even a pair of superstars, to be consistently successful. As cliche as this will sound, winning championships takes a village.

"I really had no idea what I was going to get when I began working with this data. As soon as it started to come together visually, I was amazed to see the clear narrative of how teams trump individuals repeatedly," Bergmann tells Co.Design. "It wasn’t until Pippen came along that Jordan began to win championships. Kobe and Shaq were unstoppable as a team, but the titles stopped coming in as that relationship started to deteriorate. The fact that the Celtics have more championship wins than any other franchise in the history of the sport, with none of their big stars averaging over 30 points per game really drives this concept home."

Visually, this story plays out in peaks and valleys (the white gaps represent the rare string of losing seasons in each franchise’s history). Mt. Jordan has the most notable reach, supported by the foothills of Pippen and Kukoc or Grant, depending on the year. Notice that Jordan’s foray into baseball created a scoring gap that no one stepped up to fill. The supporting players just couldn’t replace a stack of baskets as high as Everest.

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The Celtics’ history of strong team play resembles a forest more than a mountain range, with several trees filling the landscape. That pattern resembles the Lakers’ play in the '60s—even during the days of mega-scorers like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers had a far more even point distribution than during the O’Neal/Bryant era.

It would be interesting to see the Miami Heat rendered in this way, or maybe even Oklahoma City, another team that was driven by a powerful trio before they lost James Harden to the Rockets. Because, while it may take a village, in the era of the superteam, star players seem to be moving in next door to one another.

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[Image: Basketball via Shutterstock]

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  • unsure of this chart

    I don't understand what these charts are trying to show. It seems as if, outside of the leading scorer, the supporting players to be represented in the chart are chosen at random. Why is there a three year span in which Horry and Fisher are chosen as the "supporting players" for Shaq's Lakers? Were they the second and third leading scorers on the team for each of those three years? So there was a year in which the second leading scorer averaged less than 10ppg? really? Before Pippen/Grant, did Jordan not have a single team-mate averaging more than 0 ppg?

  • Unsureothischart

    Thanks Mark. There are numerous non-white areas in which only a single player is plotted. What does that mean?

    So your hypothesis is that if I take the columns under the dots (the championships), then they differ significantly from the other areas of each chart? If there is a pattern (I'm not sure I see one as is), I'd imagine that the data from the losing seasons would best support the hypothesis. (ie. the losing seasons should differ the most from the championships. As it is, we can't see whether this is true or not).

    Also, it's be interesting to see "% of total points scored" instead of PPG, as scoring was much higher in the 80s than in the late 90s. Kinda like adjusting for the "dead-ball ear" in baseball.

  • Mark Wilson

    As I mention in the post "the white gaps represent the rare string of losing seasons in each franchise’s history."

  • Beer Mirror

    Once again, The Spurs get overlooked. Even though they are the closest thing to a 'dynasty' right now in the NBA. 

  • JrQS .

    "You need to win in consecutive years to be considered a dynasty," says this Lakers fan.