Get used to watching the Golden State Warriors celebrate, because they aren't going anywhere for a little while longer. Fresh off the heels of ending a 40-year title drought, they're looking to continue making history.
During the 2014-15 season, the Dubs massively exceeded the relatively modest expectations with which they entered the season, storming out to a quick start and refusing to slow down throughout the year. Though skepticism seemed to greet them at every turn, they ended up winning 67 games, boasted the league MVP (Stephen Curry) and turned into a juggernaut during the playoffs.
After putting the finishing touches on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (a squad admittedly devoid of Kevin Love's and Kyrie Irving's many talents), they'd cemented themselves in NBA history as the association's newest champions.
But what Curry and the rest of his teammates did was so much more than that.
Every title-winning bunch deserves to be remembered in the years to come. The NBA playoffs are typically one of the truest tests in all of professional sports, given their long, grueling nature and the seven-game format of each series. It's a slog to get through them, and recognition is always given.
However, there are still different levels of accomplishment.
Hoisting up the Larry O'Brien Trophy? That automatically puts you on a lofty pedestal.
Doing so after winning games at a historic pace all year? That places you on a higher one.
Once you throw in the ridiculous margins at which the Dubs were sweeping past the opposition, you can basically put them on Mount Olympus. What the Warriors achieved will leave them mythologized in years to come, producing visceral reactions years later for those who remember watching them.
First, we can look just at the sheer number of victories compared to the other top teams in NBA history:
But digging deeper shows the Warriors were actually even more impressive.
By analyzing where a team's offensive and defensive ratings fell, compared to the league average during the season in question, we come up with adjusted offensive efficiency (ORtng+) and adjusted defensive efficiency (DRtng+). In both cases, the higher the score, the better, with 100 serving as the league average. And compared to the other teams in NBA history with top-10 records, the Dubs look quite strong:
Navigating over to the third tab on the above infographic, you can also see TeamRtng+, which is simply the average of the two aforementioned metrics. This, as of now, is the ultimate score for a team's regular-season success, as it's an adjusted look at how superior a squad is on a per-possession level.
Last year's Warriors don't actually make the top 10 on either side of the court, finishing 34th on offense and 140th on defense. Considering how many teams have taken the court during the many seasons in which the Association has existed, those are still impressive marks. But when the two are combined, the Dubs emerge as the No. 8 team in the history of this league, which most assuredly counts as pretty lofty territory.
Heading into the follow-up campaign, that's not enough.
After all, last year's exploits are firmly in the past, and the Warriors are looking ahead. Hard as it may be to win 67 games and finish off the campaign with a title, it's harder still to repeat the excellence and begin establishing a dynasty.
In that quest, the Warriors aren't exactly lacking in initial confidence:
As high as that number may be, it's an attainable goal. Golden State was no fluke last season, and the team is poised to be just as strong in 2015-16.
The key pieces are all returning to defend Oracle Arena, granting the team plenty of continuity in a league that's often so reliant on that underrated aspect of roster-building. Out of everyone who stepped onto the court during the NBA Finals, only David Lee and Justin Holiday have departed, going to the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks, respectively. The two combined for only 41 minutes of action over the course of the six-game series, so they hardly qualify as substantial on-court subtractions.
Factoring in the addition of Jason Thompson—as well as the expected growth of young pieces such as Harrison Barnes, James Michael McAdoo and Festus Ezeli—the Warriors might actually be an even more dangerous squad when defending their title. The only issue could be motivation and the championship hangover, because, as David Cassilo of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explained, the bulk of this roster is firmly in its prime:
The Warriors' top four scorers in the playoffs (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes) are all 27 years or younger. That means if Green returns [he signed a five-year deal to do exactly that], then the core will be in the middle of its prime.
The oldest key player for Golden State is Andre Iguodala (31), but the team is already bringing him off the bench to reduce minutes and he's playing at a high level in the NBA Finals, so he figures to still have some serious gas in tank (sic).
We haven't yet reached the point in the offseason where predictions are flowing in fast and furious, but a few have trickled in from various sources.
ESPN.com's Summer Forecast has the Dubs earning the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference yet again. However, the expectations are "only" 60 wins. Bleacher Report's Alec Nathan is more optimistic, giving Golden State 66 wins and the top spot in the league's tougher half.
Either one would put the Warriors in position to win back-to-back titles—a goal that very few teams in league history have ever achieved. Just five since the NBA-ABA merger, in fact:
- Los Angeles Lakers (1987-88, 2000-02, 2009-10)
- Detroit Pistons (1989-90)
- Chicago Bulls (1991-93, 1996-98)
- Houston Rockets (1994-95)
- Miami Heat (2012-13)
That's quite a select group, and it's worth noting that each of those squads has been immortalized. Talk about the Pistons runs, and thoughts of Isiah Thomas should immediately spring to mind. Ditto with Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets, or the Miami Heat's Big Three.
Win another title, and Curry's Warriors could fall into the same category.
But when trying to reach that historic echelon, regular-season success is of paramount importance as well. Few teams have managed to record 67 wins in a single season; fewer still have enjoyed such levels of success in consecutive seasons.
Considering that the 1995-96 and 1996-97 Bulls managed to post each of the NBA's two best historical records, they're the standard-bearers here. But there's a pretty quick drop-off after them.
No other team in league history has ever managed to top the elusive 65-win milestone in consecutive seasons, one of many goals at which Curry, Thompson and the rest of the Warriors are shooting. Even winning "just" 64 would allow them to supplant Wilt Chamberlain's Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 2 spot on those two-year rankings.
That's some rarified air.
Of the 10 teams listed above, only three managed to win titles during both seasons—Jordan's Bulls (both times) and Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers. The Warriors have a chance to make that trio into a quartet, but they don't have to in order to assert themselves as one of the league's all-time powerhouses.
By winning in year one, they're already well on their way. And after a stellar offseason—remember, the goal didn't have to be anything more than establishing roster continuity—they're primed to dominate yet again.
Sixty-five wins and another title puts them into a tier currently occupied by only the Bulls, who went on their unmatched tear after Jordan unretired for the first time. Sixty-five wins without a title allows them to join a few other squads in the second tier. But even 60 more victories would allow them to tie James' Cavaliers and Johnson's Lakers for the final spot on those two-year rankings.
Barring major injuries, doesn't that almost feel like a lock? Lofty as that total may be, and strong as the Western Conference elite have become over the years, the Warriors are just that good.
The word "fluke" shouldn't even be in Golden State's vocabulary. And even if it is, the Warriors will be too focused on winning games and making history to notice.
They're for real.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com and my own databases.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.