“It’s early but…” are the three words that accompany pretty much every article between now and the end of November. In the case of the Golden State Warriors and their amazing start, that qualifier is unnecessary, though, even as they have gotten off to a ridiculous start.
Yes, it’s early, but they’re the reigning world champions.
Yes, it’s early, but they’re one of just three teams to start 8-0 and outscore their opponents by over 140 points. The previous two — the 1964-64 Boston Celtics and 1996-97 Chicago Bulls — won the Finals and represent the two greatest dynasties in NBA history: Bill Russell’s Celtics and the Michael Jordan Bulls.
Yes, it’s early, but last year’s Warriors posted the then seventh-best Simple Rating System (SRS) in NBA history. SRS is a mathematical rating at Basketball-Reference.com which encompasses margin of victory and strength of schedule.
Yes, it’s early, but the Warriors’ first five victims were in the playoffs last year.
Yes, it’s early, but in their eight games, the Warriors have only trailed for a meager 40:32, or about 11 percent of the time. Almost all of that was in the first quarter. They’ve trailed just 12.5 minutes in the second half and only 6:18 in the fourth quarter. They haven’t trailed in the last minute of a game.
Yes, it’s early, but we’re not talking about some random anomaly here. There’s never been an “it’s early” like this. Last year’s Warriors were already one of the greatest teams in history; now it seems for all the world like they’ve gotten better. And for those who want to champion “eye test.” Have you seen them?
It’s as though you watch other teams play, even good teams, and then you switch to the Warriors, and you’re asking yourself, “What was I just watching? That wasn’t basketball. THIS is basketball. The passing, the off-ball movement, the screening and the lights-out shooting on offense is only matched by the dogged defense, running through screens, challenging seemingly every shot, getting in passing lanes and basically sapping the will to live from their opponents.
The numbers are just astounding. It’s so ridiculous; it’s hard to qualify with words. So how about a couple of pictures to help? The first chart shows Offensive and Defensive Rating. I reversed the axis on the Defensive Rating so that the further up, the better it is:
The Utah Jazz may be slightly North (defense) and the Oklahoma City Thunder are just a bit West (offense), but the Warriors are basically an island unto themselves in this graph. It illustrates just how dominant they are in a manner mere words cannot describe.
How about considering this whole notion of the modern age of basketball, where “pace and space” are all the rage? The two things that would and should exemplify that best, surprisingly, do not include pace. You can be a fast-paced team who just plays badly faster. The Los Angeles Lakers are fifth right now, and they’re not getting any postseason invites.
No, the two best measures of that are what all that pace and space is supposed to produce, which is setting up teammates for open, high-efficiency shots. Ergo, what we want to see if we’re looking at that is assist percentage and true shooting percentage. Teams who succeed in those two things are using the ball movement to create open shots and making them. How do the Warriors do there? (Note: Bear in mind (especially if you’re a grizzly bear) that a high assist percentage with a low true shooting percentage is actually a bad thing because it means about the only way you can score is off the pass, and even that’s a crapshoot):
Welp! Whadya know? Another Golden State Island, but at least the Atlanta Hawks can take a boat there, though, it might take awhile. Everyone else needs to charter a flight still.
But what about all the other things, like rebounding, steals, blocks and so on? PIE or “Player Impact Estimate” is a measure of the “percentage of game events that a player or team achieved.” It also accounts for negative things like missed field goals and turnovers. So it basically encompasses everything, and since it’s a percentage-based stat, it inherently incorporates pace.
It doesn’t get the “run” of advanced stats like Player Efficiency Rating or Win Shares, but I like it for a few reasons. Not the least of which is that it shows what a team is doing compared to what their opponent is doing. So, think of it like an actual pie. The stat says here’s a game. And this slice is what Team X did. Whatever’s left is what its opponent did.
If a team has a 50 percent PIE, their opponents get the other 50 percent. Unless Joey Crawford is reffing, in which case he has one percent, and the opponents have 49:
Here’s a look at the big picture. It shows Net Rating and PIE — the two best “catch-all” stats. It shows how much a team is winning by and how much they’re dominating the overall game in getting there.
Go ahead. Laugh. Golden State’s not an island here; it’s the sun, sharing its warmth and life-giving energy with all the league as the rest of the teams attempt to ascend Warriors Mountain, struggling to bask in the sun’s glory.
The Warriors PIE is a ridiculous 61.4. Think about that. They commit 61.4 percent of the positive actions on the court — that’s over half again what their opponents do. That’s just preposterous. And the result is a ginormous 18.4 net rating.
They aren’t just better; they’re categorically better. And lest you retreat to “early sample size” at this point, I refer you to this post’s beginning.
They’re probably not going to finish with a Net Rating over 18. They’ll probably have their PIE dip below 60 percent at some point. I’m not saying that there’s no regression at all in order. I am saying it’s not going to be that extreme, though. And even if you account for it, there’s a very real possibility this is the best team in NBA history.
These Warriors could top the 72-win record by the 95-96 Bulls. It’s not impossible that they sweep through the postseason easier than the Lakers did in 2001, and do it against stiffer competition. This could legitimately be the best team ever assembled outside of Dream Teams. Enjoy them while you can.
Stats for this article were obtained from games played through 11/09/15 from NBA.com/Stats.