It is time for us to acknowledge the Golden State Warriors as the greatest basketball team of all time. This is not lightly said. They have earned it, culminating in their just completed back to back National Basketball Association championships. By any measure, they have set a standard at the highest level within their sport and perhaps for any sport, while being immensely entertaining to watch!
Not so fast, say the old men, the former players, "expert" analysts, nostalgic buffs of and for another era. Our era, team, players, games, schemes, style was better, they claim! Scottie Pippen, unbound by data or analyses, boldly (and incorrectly) states that his mid-nineties Chicago Bulls would sweep the current Warriors. Fellow Former All-Stars Isaiah Thomas and Oscar Robertson have joined a prominent chorus of couch critics, intoxicated with their own greatness at the expense of the current league champions!
Charles Barkley, who has never won an NBA title, has again made his annual "short people can't play" predictions, promising us that the Warriors wouldn't win their second consecutive NBA Championship. Barkley famously predicted three years ago that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson couldn't play in the same backcourt together. Now they are generally recognized as the best shooting backcourt of all time, both having made it to the NBA All-Star game the last two years, starting (together!) in that backcourt two years ago, and having won the NBA Three-Point Shooting Contest in consecutive years.
So it's time for the "get off my lawn" crew to get off our lawn! It's time to get beyond old timers' vague and fuzzy remembrances of a game that at times looked like it was a sumo match between mastodons. Even the outstanding Celtic teams of the '60s and '80s, Lakers of the Showtime era and Jordanian Bulls have been exceeded by Oakland's contemporary Golden State Warriors.
Basketball is played differently now, with even more skill, speed, long range shooting and athleticism than in the Neolithic nineties or even the epic eighties. Just as baseball has gone beyond an inebriated Babe Ruth homering at will, contemporary NBA players are better trained and fed, cared for and coached. The game has improved and so have the players, more athletic and skilled and more measured by many standards.
Old-timers like to argue that these wins were against a diminished talent pool. However, all indications are that the talent level has not only increased, but increased dramatically. Entry into the NBA is more rigorous than ever, with college competition more structured and offering a wider talent pool. Players are now developed around the world, the NBA being at the apex of a sophisticated international league playing system that draws on the best players from around the globe.
Coaching and game planning have also vastly improved. Teams have developed more sophisticated offense and defensive schemes. Coaching, scouting, personnel and training staffs are much larger and functionally specialized than in the past. Facilities are better. Health care and treatment, as well as injury prevention, have advanced along with equipment and diet. Today's athletes not only know more but put that knowledge to better use.
Against this heightened competition, the current Golden State Warriors have risen far above the field.
The 2015-2016 Warriors won 73 games, more games during the regular season than any team in NBA history. They won 89 total games, more regular season plus playoff games, than any team in NBA history. They began the season with 24 consecutive wins, never lost two consecutive games during the regular season and tied the best home court record in NBA history with 40 victories and only one defeat. During the 2014-2015 season, the Warriors won more (67) games than any other team, also culminating in the NBA Championship. So over the past two seasons, the Warriors have won more games than any other team in NBA history.
Leading the Warriors, Steph Curry has won back to back Most Valuable Trophies these past two seasons. In winning the award this year, he became the first player to win it in a unanimous vote, something that neither Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Larry Bird nor any other NBA player ever accomplished.
Curry's metrics set him above any current player. He won this year's scoring title with 30.1 points per game, Free Throw Shooting Title with 90.8 accuracy and Steals Title with 2.14 steals per game. The PERS metrics which try to assess a player's performance including every measurable statistic, both offense and defense, adjusted on a per minute basis, also had Steph Curry leading the league.
Curry and Thompson are not only the best shooting backcourt by reputation. They exceeded the best point total average of any starting backcourt in NBA history, totaling 52.2 points per game (over Jerry West and Gail Goodrich's 51.7 average in 1971-1972). Their combined total of Three Point baskets broke their own record, with Curry shattering his own individual record of 286 by accumulating 402 -- equivalent to hitting 103 home runs in a baseball season.
Though fans may focus on the Warrior's record-setting offense, their defense has also proven stellar. While leading the league by scoring 113.8 points per game, the Warriors were second in the league in opponents scoring and field goal percentage and second in limiting opponents shooting percentage. Forward Draymond finished second in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Andre Iguodala was the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player last year primarily for his outstanding defense on 4-time MVP LeBron James.
Besides Green and Iguodala, the Warrior's quick rotating defense is anchored by shot-blocking Andrew Bogut, versatile forward Harrison Barnes, and Thompson, generally rated the best two-way (offense and defense) player at his guard position. The group, in addition to steals leader Curry, is often referred to as The Death Squad as they are employed to squelch opponents' late game offensive uprisings like a boa constrictor tightening around its victims.
Backing up the starters is the deepest and best bench in basketball. Guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa provide sure-handed offense as Festus Ezeli furnishes seamless rim protection and shot blocking. Fan favorite Marreese "Mo Buckets" Speights is one of the deadliest catch and shoot streak shooters in the NBA, frequently scoring at a point a minute pace. So good has the bench performed over the last two years that around the league it was claimed that even the Warriors second team could be a playoff team in the rival Eastern Conference. (Yama Hazheer, Warriors World, 11/16/2015).
Playing as a unit, from the starters to the bench, on offense or defense, the Warriors have put together the best two-year run in basketball history. Their stars have put together a highlight reel of spectacular plays that show how basketball, played as a team can be the most exciting and successful sport. They have emerged as the best team in the history of the NBA.