The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors were the best team ever

Jun 7, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35, left) celebrates with guard Stephen Curry (30) against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the fourth quarter in game three of the 2017 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 7, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35, left) celebrates with guard Stephen Curry (30) against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the fourth quarter in game three of the 2017 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

After completing the playoffs with a 16-1 record, it’s safe to say that the Golden State Warriors were the best team ever, and the stats back it up

“The NBA isn’t fun anymore”

“The Warriors are stacking the deck”

“I dislike it when a team other than my own is successful. How dare they”

Everybody, just chill out.

Rather than say the league isn’t fun anymore because of the Golden State Warriors “stacked the deck”, enjoy the fact we are seeing the best NBA ever in real time.

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Now, I understand. It is human nature to root for the underdog. That is why movies are about Rocky Balboa, not Apollo Creed. Everybody loved the Warriors a few years ago when they were a “feel-good story”.

However, when that underdog becomes the favorite we are quick to wish for their downfall. The cycle is continuous as we strive to see the mighty knocked off their perch. In Australia, we have a phrase to describe wishing for the downfall of anybody who is successful:

"Tall Poppy Syndrome (noun/informal): A perceived tendency to discredit or disparage those who have achieved notable wealth or prominence in public life."

Prior to this season, the consensus choice for “best team ever” was Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Jordan’s Bulls went a (then) record 72-10 in the regular season. From there they went on to beat the Seattle Supersonics through six games in the NBA Finals. The Bulls are the benchmark. They were who the current Warriors needed to pass in becoming the best.

They are who the 2016-17 Warriors have passed.

I can see you roll your eyes from here. And I will answer your queries before we go too deep.

Isn’t it impossible to compare teams from different eras? Probably.

Isn’t it ridiculous to try? More than likely.

Are we going to do it anyway? Definitely.

It is crazy to imagine the two teams playing off against each other, so we won’t even start. With the way basketball has advanced throughout the twenty years since Jordan’s Bulls (yeah, I feel old too), the Bulls would be run off the court.

The spacing in the league and the defensive accountability needed from all players on the court is far beyond anything we have seen before. So we will look into it in other ways. Basketball, and in fact everything should have advanced in the last 20 years. That is what people do. We make things better.

It is best to try to look at the teams in as balanced a way as possible.

Numbers don’t lie

The ELO rating system calculates relative skill in two player games and sports. Now, don’t go thinking it stands for something. It doesn’t. It takes its name from Hungarian ‘number-guy’ (not his actual title) and amateur chess player, Arpad Elo, who invented the system.

The incredible humans at FiveThirtyEight have developed a way to merge the ELO system into a basketball setting. There is a more detailed explanation out there, but an “everyday version” would be:

"Depending on the final score or a game, and combining it with variables such as favorite to win, who the home team is, margin of victory, etc. A team will either gain, or lose ELO points. Games won away from home are worth more, as are games where you are the underdog. Likewise, losing at home is more harmful to your ELO than losing away. Ratings include playoffs"

Like I said, that is the very simple version. Basically, 1500 is an average team historically in regards to ELO. The following table provides more insight into what the numbers mean.

180067-15All-time great
170060-22Title contender
160051-31Playoff bound
140031-51In the lottery
120015-67Historically awful

(via FiveThirtyEight)

Looking at this we can see a few things. First, the Nets’ 20-62 record puts them at historically “LOL” level. Second is just how hard it actually is to be an “All-time great”. Only 13 teams have won 67 games or more in a season, and even then, only three teams have an ELO over 1800. In comparison, the current Cavs team has an ELO of 1674.

Below is a table showing the top 10 teams of all-time in regards to ELO.

RankYearTeam ELO
1’16-17Golden State Warriors1865
2’95-96Chicago Bulls1815
3’96-97Chicago Bulls1802
4’15-16Golden State Warriors1798
5’14-15Golden State Warriors1796
6’85-86Boston Celtics1784
7’08-09Los Angeles Lakers1769
8’91-92Chicago Bulls1768
9’97-98Chicago Bulls1764
10’90-91Chicago Bulls1755

(via FiveThirtyEight)

Mark that as a tick next to the Warriors.

The Backlash

As the saying goes “this is why we can’t have nice things”. Try not to cut the tall Poppy. Let it grow. Let it blossom. Don’t worry about the Durant move. Don’t worry about players like Zaza Pachulia and David West signing at under market value. None of that matters.

This isn’t the first time the best players have rallied together to form a side. Also, don’t let LeBron fool you . His signing in Miami was exactly the same thing. Even his move back to Cleveland came with grabbing the best available players. The “long process” he wrote about in his letter was actually just trading a number one pick for a (then) top 10 player, in Kevin Love.

From there they added in veterans who would sign on the cheap.

The Golden State Warriors are the best team in the NBA now and they are the greatest team ever.

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We, as fans have a chance to witness it. Whether or not you are a Warriors fan, it doesn’t matter. If you are a basketball fan you should be a fan of what the Warriors are doing. If you are a basketball fan you should appreciate greatness when you see it.