NBA Team History Visualizations

These NBA team history visualizations show every player for a given team, how long they played for that team, who was on their team in any given year, and every year they made the all-star team. The visualizations allow you to compare player success with team success by calling out playoff and championship seasons.

Click here to check it out

Several years ago we created one of these graphs for our Celtics by hand. As fans, we found lots of things that were surprising by looking at the history of the Celtics in this compressed format. Creating it by hand took for ever though, so this time around we wrote a Processing sketch automate the creation of a team history visualization for all 30 teams.

In building these, we had similar observations. We were both surprised at how often a player leaves a team and then returns back to that team. The Phoenix Suns seem particularly fond of bringing back past players, having done it 18 times. Then there’s John Long who left the Pistons in 1986, returned in 1988 for one year, then returned again in 1990.

A pattern emerged where the championship teams tended to hold on to several players building a consistent unit over time. You can see this in the storied histories of the Lakers and Celtics. It got us wondering if those teams were better because the gave their players a chance to gel or if those teams stayed with the same players because the players were good to begin with? Our guess is the later. For example, if you look at the Blazers over the last 20 years, they appear to hold onto players longer than most teams, likely trying to build consistency, but did not win a championship in that span. The Blazers may have been better off ditching players like Zach Randolph (6yrs), Travis Outlaw (7yrs), Damon Stoudamire (8yrs), and Rasheed Wallace (8yrs).

Might be interesting to compare team volatility / consistency with winning percentage in a future post.

Big thanks to for providing the data for this week. They make most of their data public in CSV format for easy importing, very helpful. We are considering adding some additional information, but we are weary of making the graphic too crowded. One idea is to include HOF indication in front of the players who made it into the hall of fame. If you have ideas about what you would like to see added or observations on the existing graphic let us know!

UPDATE: One of the things I thought would have been interesting is being able to compare teams. I’m not sure yet if we’ll get to implementing that, but here’s a rough cut of an image featuring the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls (blue is playoff year, gold is championship and brown is non-playoff).