Chef Curry with the Ring, Boy: The Warriors Are One of the Best Teams of All-Time

The Golden State Warriors completed their championship run last night with a 105-97 defeat of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Andre Iguodala scored 25 67d124e856d72ff6bef91327bf32636f_crop_northpoints, dished out 5 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds on his way to being named Finals MVP.  Stephen Curry also scored 25 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 8 assists.  Draymond Green had a triple-double of 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.  Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston, and Harrison Barnes threw in 10 points, 10 points, and 9 points, respectively.  The team’s depth finally wore out the persistent Cavs, and their lack of depth finally caught up with them.  However, this should not take away from this simple fact:

The 2014-15 Golden State Warriors are one of the greatest NBA teams of all time.

Take this stat that compares this year’s Warriors team to the Bulls team of 1995-96 and 1996-97:

There are a couple things to consider here.  To start, both of those ’90s Bulls teams did not have the benefit a best-of-seven first round series.  If those teams did have a best-of-seven first round instead of a best-of five, the ’95-’96 team would have won 88 games and the ’96-’97 team would have won 85 games.  However, two things separates those Bulls from these Warriors: the conference they were in and what they did to their respective competition on their way to The Finals.  In 1995-96 and 1996-97, when the Bulls won 72 and 69 games, respectively, exactly zero teams gave the Bulls trouble on their way to The Finals.  One team won a game against Chicago in the 1996 Playoffs from the Eastern Conference: the Knicks.  The Bulls went on to win those Finals in 6 games against one of the more underrated NBA teams of all-time, the 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics.  The Hawks and Heat each took a game from Chicago in the 1997 Playoffs, and Chicago would go on to defeat the Utah Jazz in 6 games in the Finals.

Another thing to consider with these three teams is the one common denominator on all of them, as a player and as a coach: Steve Kerr.  On the late 1990s Bulls, Kerr, the player, was a key bench player who, in his 5 years in Chicago, never started a game. Sound familiar?  The MVP of this year’s Finals, Andre Iguodala, hadn’t started a game all season until Game 4 of this series, and his insertion into the starting lineup changed the series.  Like Iguodala, Kerr made big plays when it counted, like this one at the end of the 1997 NBA Finals to give the Bulls their 5th championship:

Also Coach Kerr made the gutsy decision to limit the minutes of his two big men, Festus Ezeli and Andrew Bogut, because their presence was limiting the Dubs’ transition opportunities.  Cleveland out-rebounded the Warriors in two out of the three games with the small lineup, but the Warriors played at a faster pace and got to 100 points in every game since the lineup overhaul.

Another great facet of Steve Kerr’s coaching is his absolutely genius inbound plays, like this one:

And this one:

The bottom-line is that no one gives nearly enough credit to Kerr for the team’s turnaround this year. Think about this stat: the Warriors went from 51 wins to 67 wins in the Western Conference.  Granted, there are other factors at play here that allowed them to make this jump (the fall of the depleted Thunder, the decline of this year’s Spurs, facing the Pelicans in the first round and not the Thunder), but that’s still very impressive.  It’s clear that the difference was made in the offseason with the hiring of Kerr and the unpopular firing of Mark Jackson, who won 51 games last year and turned the franchise around.  The team was first in offensive points scored at 110 and allowed less than 100 points per game defensively.  They had the top points per game differential as well, at +10.1.  This team was dominant on both ends.  For context, the ’95-’96 Bulls’ differential was +12.3 and the ’96-’97 Bulls’ differential was +10.8.

This being said, I don’t think these Warriors are as good as those teams were.  A more apt comparison for them, as a young, potentially all-time great team with no previous Finals experience, would have to be the Bulls of 1990-1991.  That team also scored 110 points per game and allowed 101, for a +9 differential.  That team also played 9 players consistently, and was more similar to these Warriors than you might think.  They played two bigs consistently, but they had comparisons to these Warriors.  They had their Draymond Green (Horace Grant) and their Andrew Bogut (Bill Cartwright). However, the comparisons end there for one simple reason: we’ve never seen a team quite like the Warriors before.

To sum it all up, this isn’t about whether the Warriors could beat an all-time great team in a one-game or seven-game series.  This is about the coronation of a new team in the new NBA with a new way of winning a title.  And they’re just getting started; most of their roster is back, and the only instability comes in Draymond Green’s impending restricted free agency, but look for the Warriors to match any offer Green gets.  This team could be the next Spurs, a great dynasty.  This, of course, is if they stay healthy, which, as we’ve seen in the NBA this season, is not the easiest thing to do.  However, if everyone important stays, this team has the potential to be a great unit that is right in the title conversation every year.  They will evolve and change certain pieces, but they could be back in the finals 10-15 years from now, and there may only be one constant:

Chef Curry with the ring, boy.

But let’s appreciate this year’s team for what it is: one of the best ever.