Predictions are overrated.
Everyone knows games are not played on paper and seasons do not elapse in the minds of prognosticators, but we still value preseason consensus far too highly in professional sports.
Case in point: the 2013-14 Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors established themselves as an emerging Western Conference power last spring after their 47-win campaign and surprise playoff defeat of the almighty Denver Nuggets. After adding Denver's best player, Andre Iguodala, to their roster over the summer, there was a prevailing idea that the Warriors had become a 50-plus-win team and a fringe championship contender.
The logic was not acutely flawed. The Warriors' biggest weaknesses last season were their lack of a shutdown perimeter defender, an elite penetrator/slasher and a player who could create his own shot against any defender. Iguodala filled all of those voids.
The team did lose Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry (along with Festus Ezeli to injury), but the additions of Iguodala, Toney Douglas, Marreese Speights and Jermaine O'Neal appeared to more than offset this.
Throw in the nearly guaranteed growth of Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson along with Andrew Bogut's improved health, and it would be inaccurate to think of Golden State as anything less than a 50-plus-win title threat.
After an 8-3 start to the season, predictions seemed to be spot on about this team. Then Stephen Curry got concussed, and the team lost its first home game of the season—an overtime affair with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Then Iguodala strained his hamstring. Curry came back the next night, and Bogut played yet another healthy game, but Iguodala, the man who has missed an average of three games a year during his nine NBA seasons, was out indefinitely.
Suddenly, the team had lost four out of five games and now finds itself sitting in the Western Conference's No. 8 spot with a 9-7 record.
Now, all of the talk is negative. People are questioning whether or not the Warriors are truly a championship contender.
Some say the team is just incredibly beat up—Douglas and Ezeli are sidelined, and Barnes, O'Neal and Curry have all missed three to five games thus far. Others argue the Warriors lack the depth to earn a top seed and win a title.
Both positions are wrong.
While the thinking may be sound, the framework in which the thinking is occurring is not.
To illustrate, let's hop in a time machine and go back to today's date one year ago. The Warriors are 8-6 after beating the Minnesota Timberwolves at home, a game that was highlighted by the best dunk at Oracle Arena since Baron Davis put a permanent dent in Andrei Kirilenko's face, career and the rim.
Entering a nationally televised game with the Nuggets, there was nothing but excitement swarming Oakland.
The reason for this is quite simple: Winning records are a rarity for this franchise. It was early, but the hope that comes with a decent November record is that of a solid December, a strong January and eventually a spot in the NBA playoffs, something Golden State had only experienced once since 1994.
OK, back to the future. It's 2013, the Warriors are 9-7 and facing the Oklahoma City Thunder on national TV.
Yet no one is all that excited. There's more of a nervous energy in Oakland right now, even though the team's record is virtually the same and the potential for what lies ahead is equally as wide open.
It's as if everyone has forgotten that making the NBA playoffs is no easy task, especially for the Warriors. It's as if the past 20 years didn't happen.
It's as if the last two playoff appearances didn't happen. Both times the Warriors were a low seed and both times they advanced into Round 2.
Most of all, it's as if championship teams are built on paper.
To criticize the Dubs' fanbase for having title aspirations would be unfair. Every fan of every team ultimately wants a championship, and the Warriors have a roster that at least appears to be capable of delivering one.
The fact is, however, that the only way to become an NBA title contender is to contend for an NBA title.
Adding Jack, Landry, Bogut and Barnes last season did not make the Warriors a playoff team. Winning 47 games and finishing sixth in the West is what did it.
In the same vein, adding Iguodala, O'Neal, Speights and Douglas has not lifted the club from playoff team to championship contender. It has simply given Mark Jackson more weapons to use in his quest to win games. Only if those games are won will the team actually become elite.
It is unclear what the 2013-14 Golden State Warriors are, and no one needs to figure it out. If they win 45 games, they'll probably be a No. 8 seed. If they win 57, they'll be in the top two or three.
Where they end up will be determined by factors such as individual performance, teamwork and chemistry, close-game execution and health.
"Roster on paper" and "preseason predictions" are nowhere to be found on that list, and that is why predictions are overrated: Not only do we expect certain things from teams, but we alsoweigh what the actual team is doing in actual basketball games against a completely made-up construct of what they should be doing.
Besides that, Golden State fans have suffered through too many dreadful seasons to not enjoy a 9-7 record.