Was This Year's Golden State Warriors Team the Best One Since Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls?
It became increasingly obvious as the 2014-15 regular season progressed that the Golden State Warriors were no ordinary team. They climbed to the top of an extremely competitive Western Conference early in the season and never looked back, clinching the top seed by March. They finished the regular season with a 67-15 record (including a ridiculous 39-2 mark at home) and an average point differential of 10.1.
Once it became clear that the Warriors had a chance to join that exlusive club of teams to finish a season with an average Margin of Victory (MOV) in the double digits, NBA pundits far and wide started asking where the Warriors stood among the greatest teams of all time (yours truly included). The one deciding factor would inevitably be whether or not Golden State could attach a championship to their historically significant season. Now that they've done that, they look right at home on this list of some of the most dominant NBA teams of all time (ranked by MOV):
|1||Los Angeles Lakers||1971-72||69-13||.841||12.28||Won Finals|
|2||Milwaukee Bucks||1970-71||66-16||.805||12.26||Won Finals|
|3||Chicago Bulls||1995-96||72-10||.878||12.24||Won Finals|
|4||Milwaukee Bucks||1971-72||63-19||.768||11.16||Lost West Finals|
|5||Chicago Bulls||1996-97||69-13||.841||10.80||Won Finals|
|6||Chicago Bulls||1991-92||67-15||.817||10.44||Won Finals|
|7||Boston Celtics||2007-08||66-16||.805||10.26||Won Finals|
|8||Golden State Warriors||2014-15||67-15||.817||10.10||Won Finals|
That's not to say that winning 60-plus games, outscoring opponents by an admittedly arbitrary double-digit average number of points per game, and winning the title are the definitive criteria for a "best team of all time". But it would be hard to have a discussion about such a list without at least mentioning the above teams in some way, shape, or form.
You could certainly toss in the 1985-86 Boston Celtics, bits and pieces of the San Antonio Spurs' recent dynasty, the Showtime and early-aught Lakers, some Philadelphia 76ers squads scattered over the '60s and '80s, and just about any of Bill Russell's championship Celtics squads, but then we would run the risk of getting extremely anecdotal and generationally biased. For the purposes of this discussion, let's just say that the Warriors meet the aforementioned arbitrary criteria and recognize that they just put up numbers that we haven't seen since Michael Jordan hung up his Air Jordans after the Bulls won their sixth title in 1998.
Only two teams other than these Warriors have won 67 games since that Chicago dynasty; the 1999-00 Los Angeles Lakers and the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers put up a still-impressive 8.55 average point differential and won the title that year, which arguably puts them with the 2007-08 Celtics (66-16, 10.26 average point differential) as the closest challengers to Golden State's level of excellence for a single season A.M. (After Michael). The Mavericks, on the other hand, famously got bounced in the first round in 2007, so their part of the conversation pretty much ends there.
What makes this year's Warriors team stand out above other all-time contenders from recent decades is how they truly dominated both ends of the basketball court (offensive and defensive) and the space in between them (pace).
They finished the regular season with an Offensive Rating of 109.7 points scored per 100 possessions and a Defensive Rating of 98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, for a gargantuan Net Rating of 11.4. They were a mere tenth of a point per 100 possessions behind the first place Los Angeles Clippers in Offensive Rating (109.8), and paced the league in Defensive Rating. In other words, they were mere buckets away from becoming only the second team in NBA history to lead the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The 1995-96 Bulls remain the only team ever to do that.
Furthermore, the 2014-15 Warriors led the league in field goal percentage (47.8%) and field goal percentage allowed (42.8%). They are the first team to accomplish that feat since the 1980-81 Philadelphia 76ers.
As if it wasn't impressive enough that they represented the league's best offensive/defensive combo, they also led the NBA in pace, squeezing in 98.3 possessions per 48 minutes. They're the first team to lead the NBA in both pace and defensive efficiency -- a very unique feat -- since the 1977-78 Phoenix Suns. If they had just edged out the Clippers in Offensive Rating, they would've become the only team ever to lead the NBA in Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, Net Rating, and pace.
Think about that for a second.
But, of course, regular season performance only counts for so much in a debate about all-time great teams. You've got to take home the championship hardware.
Not only did Golden State do that this year, but they continued to make their mark on the history books while doing so. Their 83 combined regular season and playoff wins put them third on the all-time list in that category:
Most wins in NBA history (Regular/Postseason): 87, CHI, 1995-96 84, CHI, 1996-97 83, GSW, 2014-15— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) June 17, 2015
The resulting .806 winning percentage from the Warriors' 83-20 combined regular season and postseason record is the eighth-best mark ever and the best since -- you guessed it -- the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls (84-17, .832).
And their point differential domination from the regular season carried over into the postseason. Their Net Point Differential for the entire year (including the playoffs) finished at +992, tied for the fourth best mark in NBA history and the best since...well, you get the idea:
Highest Net Pt Differential in NBA History (incl. playoffs) 1971 MIL: +1208 1996 CHI: +1194 1972 LAL: +1055 2015 GSW: +992 1992 CHI: +992— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) June 17, 2015
Simply put, the 2014-15 NBA season belonged to the Golden State Warriors from start to finish, and no team has truly stacked up to them across the board statistically in almost two decades.
Placing this year's Warriors team on a ranked list of the best teams ever to play in the NBA would be a tall order, inevitably filled with biases and heated arguments. We'll leave that kind of thing to the professionals, like ESPN's stat guru, Kevin Pelton.
As for placing the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors on the all-time great list in the first place, that much has become a no-brainer if you believe in the numbers (and honestly, even if you don't). In terms of recent history, it would even be hard to find a better and more complete single season by a team since Jordan's second retirement in 1998.
The early-aught Lakers, the Spurs dynasty of the last 15 years, that lone Celtics championship in '08, and even the recent Miami Heat teams might be in the conversation, but neither of them had a single season that was so damn close to perfect and so clearly the gold standard for the whole league at the time. Honestly, apart from the what-ifs that this postseason's injury report conjure up, what can you take away from a team that dominated a talent-flooded NBA in its most challenging conference from wire to wire and in just about every facet of the game (keeping in mind that we haven't even mentioned their historic shooting)?
Not a whole lot.
So, now that we've answered that question, the next one is painfully obvious: Can the Golden State Warriors turn a single season of all-time greatness and their franchise's first championship in 40 years into the NBA's newest dynasty?
Well, we're about to find out.