The Golden State Warriors hit the ground running in Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals, with an impressive 113-91 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. They took a five-point first quarter lead and continued to grow it throughout the game. In turn, they made the talented Cavaliers roster look like a mediocre bunch.
Overall, the Warriors looked like not only the best team in the NBA but possibly the greatest team ever. That may seem like a big statement to make, but many people echoed that sentiment after the game. One of those names was Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, who openly said the Warriors are the “best I’ve ever seen.”
This comes on the heels of not only the Game 1 loss to the Warriors, but also considering the fact that Golden State has now started the 2017 NBA playoffs with a 13-0 record. Is a full playoff sweep on the horizon? It seems like a possibility.
The Proof Is in the Elo
Much was made about the big Game 1 victory by the Warriors, but Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight dropped possibly the strongest proof that we’re witnessing the greatest team ever.
As Silver pointed out, the Warriors have the highest Elo rating in NBA history at this point, which broke the previous record that was held by the 1996 Chicago Bulls, who totaled an 1853 Elo score. The Warriors, as FiveThirtyEight explained, surpassed that number on Thursday night, hitting an 1856 Elo score with their win over the Cavaliers.
To clarify what an Elo score is exactly, the article above gave the analysis, explaining how teams can both gain and lose points.
Elo ratings have a simple formula; the only inputs are the final score of each game, and where and when it was played. Teams always gain Elo points for winning. But they get more credit for upset victories and for winning by larger margins. Elo ratings are zero-sum, however. When the Houston Rockets gained 49 Elo points by winning the final three games of their Western Conference semifinal during this year’s playoffs, that meant the Los Angeles Clippers lost 49 Elo points.
A rating of 1500 is approximately average, although the league average can be slightly higher or lower depending on how recently the league has expanded. (Expansion teams begin with a 1300 rating.) Select a team above, and zoom in to explore its history.
The Warriors currently have the highest Elo rating in history, but how does it compare to a few of the other great NBA franchises out there? Here’s a look at a few of the best Elo ratings for a few other top franchises.
Boston Celtics: 1816 in 1986
Cleveland Cavaliers: 1765 in 2009
Detroit Pistons: 1788 in 1989
Los Angeles Clippers: 1743 in 2015
Los Angeles Lakers: 1790 in 2009
Miami Heat: 1774 in 2013
New York Knicks: 1712 in 1969
Oklahoma City Thunder: 1767 in 2016
Philadelphia 76ers: 1777 in 1983
Sacramento Kings: 1722 in 2003
San Antonio Spurs: 1800 in 2016
Utah Jazz: 1766 in 1998
Even some of the top franchises during some of their best years haven’t been able to come close to the 1853 or 1856 that the Bulls and Warriors managed. As a matter-of-fact, only the Celtics of those listed above came within 50 points of the Bulls and Warriors.
Comparing the 2016 Warriors to the 2017 Warriors
The 2016 Warriors were considered by many, before the playoffs, to be the best team ever. Their 73-9 record set the mark as the best regular season record in history, but they wound up losing to the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. So, will the 2017 Warriors only be better if they win a championship? Not quite.
Going beyond just the wins and losses and the statistics, this Warriors group is a better unit. The addition of Kevin Durant more than outdoes the loss of Harrison Barnes. Aside from that, the Warriors have proven this year that their bench is capable of being as productive as last year’s, which was an early-season concern for the team.
Expectations were higher for the 2016-17 Warriors, but losing six more games than the season prior doesn’t make them a worse team. In fact, Basketball Reference pointed out that their offensive rating and simple rating system, which factors in average point differential and strength of schedule, were both better this season.
What Would Make Them the Best Team Ever?
If the Warriors had won the NBA championship last season, that team, which went 73-9, probably would have had just as strong of an argument. But, there’s no turning your nose up at a 67-15 record, complete with potentially going undefeated in the playoffs.
In order for the Warriors to go down as the best team in history, it’s actually pretty simple what they’ll need to do. They need to win the 2017 championship and do so in impressive fashion. Some predicted the Warriors this matchup with the Cavaliers in five games. If they manage to do that or even get a sweep, then they should go down as the greatest team ever.
Sure, that 1995-96 Bulls team which went 72-10 and won the championship has their own argument. Even if the Warriors wound up losing the same number of playoff games (three) as the Bulls did, the argument of Golden State having a more talented team all-around is a strong one.
Based on pure talent and dominance in both the regular and postseason seasons, the edge would go to the Warriors.