NBA Metrics 101: Where Do 2016-17 Warriors Rank Among All-Time Greatest Teams?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 13, 2017

NBA Metrics 101: Where Do 2016-17 Warriors Rank Among All-Time Greatest Teams?

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Great NBA teams live on well beyond the seasons in which they played. 

    The world remembers their success. It can't forget the superstars suiting up or the indelible moments that allowed them to rack up regular-season victories and postseason heroics. They become their own brands, enduring forever, even as their primary competitors fade away into the obscurity of distant history. 

    Now that they've reclaimed the Larry O'Brien Trophy from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors unequivocally fall into this category. But how high can they rise? 

    To determine the all-time hierarchy, we're turning to NBA Math's Team Rating, which shows how well a team played on both ends of the court by comparing its success (per 100 possessions) to the league average. That way, changing styles from era to era are accounted for, such that a score of 100 always indicates a squad was perfectly average in the context of the league at that time. 

    Teams' regular-season scores and postseason marks were averaged together, because we wanted to account for the extra volume of the first 82 games and the increased importance of the contests that follow. It is possible to be an all-time great and fail to win a title, but the losses that lead to elimination will naturally lower a team's score. 

10. 2014-15 Golden State Warriors, 104.46

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Team Rating: 104.91

    Postseason Team Rating: 104

    Regular-Season Record: 67-15

    Postseason Results: 4-0 victory over New Orleans Pelicans, 4-2 victory over Memphis Grizzlies, 4-1 victory over Houston Rockets, 4-2 victory over Cleveland Cavaliers

    This might've been the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors if not for the blown 3-1 lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. The '16 iteration won 73 games during the regular season and posted a 105.44 Team Rating (the No. 7 mark in league history). But a 102.06 Team Rating in postseason action pushed it well down the leaderboard.

    And now you're all wondering, so we might as well dive down the rabbit hole: Had the postseason ended while Golden State had a 3-1 advantage in the Finals, its 103.14 Team Rating during the playoffs would've still kept it just outside the top 10. 

    These Warriors from one year prior weren't quite as dominant during the first 82 games of the year, even if they only dropped 15 games from start to finish. But they didn't experience many issues while storming their way to a title, losing only five combined times to the New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Sure, there were tests along the way. But they also lent themselves nicely to unforgettable moments, like Stephen Curry knocking down a corner three with his eyes closed as Anthony Davis stretched out his Pterodactyl limbs in a fruitless attempt to prevent overtime.

    The first championship-winning Warriors squad of the modern era didn't quite have the air of invincibility it came to possess the next two years, but it still left little doubt about its overwhelming superiority.

    Honorable Mentions: 2009-10 Orlando Magic (104.5), 1996-97 Chicago Bulls (104.44), 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs (104.29), 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers (104.27), 2007-08 Boston Celtics (104.27)

9. 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs, 104.54

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    PAUL BUCK/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Team Rating: 104.67

    Postseason Team Rating: 104.41

    Regular-Season Record: 37-13

    Postseason Results: 3-1 victory over Minnesota Timberwolves, 4-0 victory over Los Angeles Lakers, 4-0 victory over Portland Trail Blazers, 4-1 victory over New York Knicks

    Don't hold the San Antonio Spurs' regular-season record against them. Not only were they granted fewer opportunities to win games because a lockout shortened the schedule, but the uncertainty of that period also forced them to undergo more in-season adjustments and drop an unnecessarily high number of contests. 

    It's indisputable that San Antonio was on track to go 61-21 (or 60-22, depending on how you round the final game) if the 1998-99 season had lasted a full 82 games. But eight of their 13 losses came in the first 14 outings, which again speaks to the need for constant adjustments when coming out of a lockout scenario. After dropping to 6-8, they finished the year on a 31-5 tear, which would prorate to 71-11 during a full season. 

    Then, they just kept rolling through the postseason field. 

    David Robinson and a young Tim Duncan led the charge, but they weren't the only quality players on this roster. Mario Elie, Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson and others played big parts. 

    The dual bigs helped spark massive leads and everyone else helped hold off the opposition, which is why few teams were able to consistently test one of the greatest defenses in NBA history. According to NBA Math's era-adjusted ratings, only 11 teams have ever posted a better adjusted defensive rating, and these Spurs maintained their stinginess against a tougher slate of postseason matchups. 

8. 1985-86 Boston Celtics, 104.63

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Team Rating: 104.39

    Postseason Team Rating: 104.86

    Regular-Season Record: 67-15

    Postseason Results: 3-0 victory over Chicago Bulls, 4-1 victory over Atlanta Hawks, 4-0 victory over Milwaukee Bucks, 4-2 victory over Houston Rockets

    Larry Bird. Kevin McHale. Robert Parish. Dennis Johnson. Danny Ainge. Bill Walton. 

    The talent on this version of the Boston Celtics was just ridiculous, and the same was true of the collective brainpower. Just look how many members of the roster went on to hold front-office jobs or pace the sidelines as a head coach. Even Rick Carlisle played 9.9 minutes per game off the bench!

    Boston used the regular season to establish itself as a dominant two-way force and finishing first in defensive rating and behind only the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks in the offensive counterpart. Then it got even deadlier during the playoffs by pacing the postseason field on defense and trailing just the Lakers offensively

    The Big Three—one of the first of its kind in the modern era—was undeniably fearsome. But Boston's depth of talent went so far beyond Bird, McHale and Parish, to the point that Johnson could take over games on both ends while Walton was able to throw up big performances for the second unit. 

    It took 37 points from Dominique Wilkins for the Atlanta Hawks to avoid a sweep and force Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. On the biggest stage, Hakeem Olajuwon's exploits weren't enough, as Boston's devastating interior defense forced him into some uncharacteristically inefficient outings. 

    The C's could win in every way imaginable, and that's just what they did. 

7. 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers, 104.66

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Team Rating: 104.22

    Postseason Team Rating: 105.09

    Regular-Season Record: 65-17

    Postseason Results: 3-0 victory over Denver Nuggets, 4-1 victory over Golden State Warriors, 4-0 victory over Seattle SuperSonics, 4-2 victory over Boston Celtics

    What time is it? Showtime. 

    Led by Magic Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers played some of the most entertaining basketball the Association has ever seen throughout the 1980s, highlighted by this 1986-87 squad that earned the fourth of the five rings L.A. claimed during the decade. The title-winning teams from 1980, 1982, 1985 and 1988 were certainly fun, but none could touch the unabashed dominance of this iteration. 

    Johnson was in peak form and averaging 23.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 12.2 assists while shooting 52.2 percent from the field. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott and A.C. Green joined him in the starting five almost every night, as the Purple and Gold suffered remarkably few injuries from start to finish. And that's not where the excessive riches ended, since Michael Cooper, Kurt Rambis, Mychal Thompson, Wes Matthews and Billy Thompson provided more than enough depth. 

    Most teams didn't stand a chance, as the Lakers coasted through the regular season with a margin of victory of 9.3 points. And that didn't change in the playoffs. They only got better and upped the margin to 11.4 points and lost only three games en route to a title—two of which came against a Boston Celtics team still in the midst of its prime. 

    Los Angeles has boasted so many high-quality squads throughout franchise history. Sixteen of them even earned rings. But none were this good from the start of the regular season through the playoffs' final contest. 

6. 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers, 104.75

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Team Rating: 104.78

    Postseason Team Rating: 104.71

    Regular-Season Record: 66-16

    Postseason Results: 4-0 victory over Detroit Pistons, 4-0 victory over Atlanta Hawks, 2-4 loss to Orlando Magic

    Not every great team wins a championship. 

    The Cleveland Cavaliers were a juggernaut in 2008-09 and destroyed their Eastern Conference foes until they ran into Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. They just couldn't contain the big man—he averaged 25.8 points and 13.0 rebounds during the Eastern Conference Finals—while he was surrounded by so many great shooters, but that shouldn't spoil their historic standing. 

    This was not a great roster. According to data provided by NBA Math, their top five finishers in total points added (TPA) were as follows:

    1. LeBron James, 733.72
    2. Mo Williams, 120.45
    3. Delonte West, 91.47
    4. Ben Wallace, 72.84
    5. Anderson Varejao, 68.18

    Every other player finished in the red—even Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who was most assuredly past his prime at this stage of his career. James was just that good, and he pushed his team to finish fourth in offensive rating and third in points allowed per 100 possessions

    But these Cavs weren't just regular-season flukes. They also thrived during the first two rounds of the playoffs by trouncing the overmatched Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks so thoroughly that they earned a 20.4 net rating heading into their unfortunate matchup with the Magic. 

5. 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs, 105.18

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Team Rating: 105.57

    Postseason Team Rating: 104.78

    Regular-Season Record: 67-15

    Postseason Results: 4-0 victory over Memphis Grizzlies, 2-4 loss to Oklahoma City Thunder

    Every team in NBA history has had a kryptonite. 

    No one has found it for this year's Golden State Warriors. Nor did they for the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won 72 games two decades before their record was toppled. But even those super-squads possessed a weakness, if only because perfection is impossible in professional sports. 

    The 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs had the misfortune of running into their kryptonite during the second round of the playoffs. They couldn't handle the overwhelming athleticism of the Oklahoma City Thunder and fell to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant while depriving the world of a legendary clash between themselves and the record-breaking Dubs. 

    But don't let that prevent you from recognizing their prowess. The Spurs still won 67 games during the regular season—most of them handily—and had no trouble sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies to open the Western Conference playoffs. 

    Kawhi Leonard had become a full-fledged superstar. Tim Duncan was playing like a Defensive Player of the Year threat during his final season. LaMarcus Aldridge, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Patty Mills and so many others contributed to the vaunted two-way system that originally helped shape San Antonio into a dynastic force. 

    They just couldn't handle athleticism coming from every position, and that deprived them of a chance to truly seal their legacy with a Golden State clash. 

4. 1990-91 Chicago Bulls, 105.28

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Team Rating: 104.39

    Postseason Team Rating: 106.16

    Regular-Season Record: 61-21

    Postseason Results: 3-0 victory over New York Knicks, 4-1 victory over Philadelphia 76ers, 4-0 victory over Detroit Pistons, 4-1 victory over Los Angeles Lakers

    This wasn't quite the same squad that completed the second three-peat of the 1990s. It was, however, the one that finally got Michael Jordan over the hump and push him past the Detroit Pistons—in 4-0 fashion, no less—and into the NBA Finals, where he'd famously fail to ever drop a series. 

    Dennis Rodman wasn't on the Chicago Bulls. Nor were Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr or the other role players who helped later versions of the Bulls to more titles. But Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were enough to make this unit an all-time great, even if B.J. Armstrong, John Paxson, Will Perdue and Bill Cartwright were the next-best players. 

    Truthfully, Jordan alone may have gotten the job done. 

    The greatest shooting guard in NBA history was on a mission throughout the 1990-91 campaign, and he still possessed every ounce of athleticism imaginable. He averaged 31.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists during the regular season, then upped those numbers to 31.1, 6.4 and 8.4 in the playoffs. Efficient both times, he submitted the No. 12 regular season and the No. 11 individual postseason run of the modern era, per data provided by NBA Math. 

    But what made this squad truly impressive was how it elevated its play during the playoffs. The Bulls lost two games by a combined four points, and their net rating skyrocketed from 9.4 through 82 games to 13.3 in the 17 it took to hold up the trophy. 

3. 2016-17 Golden State Warriors, 105.83

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Team Rating: 105.44

    Postseason Team Rating: 106.21

    Regular-Season Record: 67-15

    Postseason Results: 4-0 victory over Portland Trail Blazers, 4-0 victory over Utah Jazz, 4-0 victory over San Antonio Spurs, 4-1 victory over Cleveland Cavaliers

    Allow the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors to exemplify the jam-packed nature of the top of these standings. 

    Prior to Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals, the Dubs sat in the No. 1 spot, set to become the greatest team of all time from a purely objective standpoint. But the blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers knocked them below the two squads yet to show up, and the meager nine-point margin in the follow-up affair prevented an ascent back up the hierarchy, even if it clinched the franchise's second title in a three-year span. 

    Still, consider these Warriors one of the three teams with a legitimate claim to the historical crown. 

    Did we expect anything else?

    Golden State played with an air of inevitability throughout the season—the natural byproduct of adding Kevin Durant to a team that had just won a record-setting 73 games during the previous go-round. The presence of the eventual Finals MVP gave the Warriors two of the league's five best players, as well as a Defensive Player of the Year front-runner (Draymond Green), one of the greatest shooters ever (Klay Thompson) and a veteran-laden bench capable of providing big minutes in key situations. 

    Somehow, Golden State even avoided a major adjustment period. The Durant fit was nearly seamless alongside the other superstars, and it allowed the Dubs to start out the year in sterling fashion (a 29-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs on opening night notwithstanding). From there, they never looked back and caught their stride during postseason action, in which no team proved capable of hanging tough. 

    There was help along the way, of course. Zaza Pachulia's contest of a Kawhi Leonard jumper in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, whether dirty or not, made the path significantly easier. So too did injuries suffered by the Utah Jazz. But what team in NBA history hasn't received a bit of aid along the way? Championships are almost always convergences of skill and good fortune.

    This was still Golden State's season, and no one was ever going to stand in its way. 

2. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, 106.15

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Team Rating: 106.38

    Postseason Team Rating: 105.92

    Regular-Season Record: 72-10

    Postseason Results: 3-0 victory over Miami Heat, 4-1 victory over New York Knicks, 4-0 victory over Orlando Magic, 4-2 victory over Seattle SuperSonics

    Commonly referred to as the greatest team in NBA history because they won a then-record 72 games and backed up the regular-season exploits with a title, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls may be popping up sooner than you expected.

    To their credit, the numbers do justify their status as the greatest ever...in the regular season. Here are the top five Team Ratings through 82 games (or fewer in shorter campaigns), per NBA Math

    1. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, 106.38
    2. 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, 105.71
    3. 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, 105.65
    4. 2007-08 Boston Celtics, 105.61
    5. 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs, 105.57

    The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors who broke the unbreakable record? They're down in 10th place (105.06). 

    But even if the Bulls won a title with a standout showing against the Seattle SuperSonics, they were a bit spent after chasing the win record. That team wanted single-digit losses, and it tried desperately to get there, perhaps expending a bit too much energy before the all-important part of the year. 

    Chicago still rolled its way through the playoff field, but it should never have dropped a game to the New York Knicks, who went 47-35 that year. Losing twice against a star-studded Sonics team is more understandable, but the three total losses prevented the postseason from matching what came first—if only barely. 

1. 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, 106.17

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    NBA Photo Library/Getty Images

    Regular-Season Team Rating: 105.65

    Postseason Team Rating: 106.68*

    Regular-Season Record: 66-16

    Postseason Results: 4-1 victory over San Francisco Warriors, 4-1 victory over Los Angeles Lakers, 4-0 victory over Baltimore Bullets

    Though the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks are rarely billed as one of the greatest teams in NBA history, the numbers all back up that type of status. 

    They won 66 games during the regular season, then advanced through the playoffs with only two losses en route to a championship. Though the Los Angeles Lakers broke that mark one year later with three additional regular-season victories, that was—at the time—the second-most successful a team had ever been, behind only the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers (68-13).

    Digging deeper shows these Bucks should've had even fewer losses. 

    Pythagorean wins, which are based solely on points scored and allowed, indicates their deserved record was 67-16. And since they paced the Association in offensive rating (3.4 points per 100 possessions clear of the field) and defensive rating (0.2 points per 100 possessions better than anyone else), it shouldn't be surprising that their Team Rating during the regular season remains one of the three best marks in the annals. 

    Also making the success less surprising is the overwhelming strength of the roster.

    Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was a dominant sophomore, while Oscar Robertson played the part of veteran leader and All-Star during the tail end of his career. And the talent didn't stop there, given the presences of Bob Dandridge, Jon McGlocklin, Greg Smith, Bob Boozer and Lucius Allen—all notable names during the 1970s. Few teams have ever been so deep, especially when compared to the relative depth of the era in which they played. 

    Note: Postseason advanced metrics only date back to 1974, so the Bucks' postseason Team Rating is estimated. It was calculated proportionally by using margins of victory and regular-season Team Rating. 

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball ReferenceNBA.comESPN.com or NBA Math.

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