Standard Deviations: Standard Deviations of Overall SRS from the league mean.
When I post the roster makeup of the team, I try and do it by playoff minutes. The numbers are age, regular season BPM and Playoff BPM (basketball-reference's BPM is being used here).
So if I say: "C: Vlade Divac (22), +2.3 / +4.3" I mean that Vlade Divac was their center, he was 22, he had a BPM of +2.3 in the regular season and a +4.3 in the playoffs. Yes, BPM misses out on a lot of subtle stuff but I thought it a good quick-hits indicator of the skills of the players.
I also list the playoff players (20+ MPG) in order of OLoad (which is usage that integrates assists) and it has everyone's per game average for minutes, points, rebounds, assists and stocks (steals plus blocks), but all of those (including minutes) are adjusted for pace.
I then cover the three highest players in scoring per 100 (with their true shooting relative to league average) and the three highest players in Assists per 100. I realize that these are arbitrary, but I wanted a quick-hits reference for how these teams' offenses ran.
I then talk about Heliocentrism, Wingmen and Depth. Basically I add up all of the team's VORP (again, basketball-reference) and then figure out what percentage of that VORP comes from the #1 player (Heliocentrism), from the #2 and 3 players combined (Wingmen) and Depth (everyone else). I include the ranking among the top 100 for reference. There are only 82 of these rankings, because 18 teams pre-date BPM/VORP, so I only have 82 to work with. I'm not saying that these are particularly meaningful, I just thought they were cool.
Playoff Offensive Rating: Amount by which your playoff offensive rating exceeds the offensive rating you'd expect given the regular season defensive rating of your playoff opponents. If you would be expected to post a 99 given your opponents but you post a 104, that's graded as +5. This way we can compare across eras.
Playoff Defensive Rating is the same as Offensive Rating, just the opposite.
Playoff SRS: Is SRS measured *only* in the playoffs. Overall SRS is a mix of both playoffs and regular season.
Total SRS Increase Through Playoffs: Basically their Overall SRS minus their Regular Season SRS. This is basically how much better a team did in the playoffs than you'd guess, relative to their regular season performance.
Average Playoff Opponent Offense: The average regular season offensive rating of your playoff opponents.
Average Playoff Opponent Defense: The average regular season defensive rating of your playoff opponents.
Rankings of any kind are out of my list. So if I say that the '91 Lakers had the 42nd best regular season offense, I don't mean "42nd best of All-Time", I mean "42nd best of my Top 100 Teams of All_Time". Which will be pretty comparable, but I want to be clear about this.
I also walk through the playoffs at each round, covering their opponent their SRS (at that time), how many games the series was, the margin of victory (and a "+" is always in the favor of the discussed team; losing a series by +2.0 means that you outscored the other team by two points a game on average despite losing) and for reference I put in an SRS equivalency (beat a +5 SRS team by 5 points a game, that's an equivalent +10 SRS series).
In writeups, if I ever say a player shot at "-8%" or something, that means "his true shooting was 8% lower than the league average that year". Any time I say "a player shot" and follow it by a percent, I am *always* using true shooting percentage unless otherwise indicated.
I also have a modern comps section for any teams pre-2011. It's basically me weighting each statistical characteristic and feeding each player's stats into the BackPicks database and choosing the best-rated comp from the list. I might list something like this:
PG: 2017 LeBron James (worse rebounding, better passing, way fewer shots)
What I mean is, "This team's point guard was basically 2017 LeBron James, but make his passing better, make his rebounding worse and make him take way fewer shots).
Anyhow. I don't know how clear any of this will be, so please let me know what does and doesn't work from these writeups. And thanks for reading!
#28. The 1989 Detroit Pistons
Regular Season Record: 63-19, Regular Season SRS: +6.24 (66th), Earned the 1 Seed
Regular Season Offensive Rating: +3.0 (60th), Regular Season Defensive Rating: -3.1 (59th)
PG: Isiah Thomas, +2.6 / +4.4
SG: Joe Dumars, +1.9 / +2.0
SF: Mark Aguirre, +0.9 / +1.5
PF: Rick Mahorn, +0.5 / +0.7
C: Bill Laimbeer, +3.2 / +2.4
6th: Dennis Rodman, +2.2 / +0.3
7th: John Salley, +0.7 / +3.7
8th: Vinnie Johnson, +2.3 / +2.7
Isiah Thomas (PG, 27): 38 MPPG, 27% OLoad, 19 / 4 / 9 / 2 on -0.9%
Vinnie Johnson (SG, 32): 27 MPPG, 25% OLoad, 14 / 3 / 3 / 1 on -2.9%
Joe Dumars (SG, 25): 37 MPPG, 23% OLoad, 18 / 3 / 6 / 1 on +3.4%
Mark Aguirre (SF, 29): 31 MPPG, 22% OLoad, 16 / 4 / 3 / 1 on +1.4%
Bill Laimbeer (C, 31): 34 MPPG, 18% OLoad, 14 / 10 / 2 / 2 on +2.0%
John Salley (PF, 24): 23 MPPG, 15% OLoad, 7 / 5 / 1 / 2 on +2.1%
Dennis Rodman (SF, 27): 28 MPPG, 13% OLoad, 9 / 10 / 1 / 2 on +7.6%
Rick Mahorn (PF, 30): 26 MPPG, 13% OLoad, 8 / 7 / 1 / 2 on +2.9%
Scoring/100: Vinnie Johnson (27.4 / -2.9%), Mark Aguirre (26.3 / +1.4%), Isiah Thomas (25.1 / -0.9%)
Assists/100: Isiah Thomas (11.4), Joe Dumars (8.1), Vinnie Johnson (5.9)
Heliocentrism: 19.9% (82nd of 84 teams) - Isiah
Wingmen: 33.9% (58th) - Laimbeer & Dumars
Depth: 46.2% (7th)
Playoff Offensive Rating: +5.71 (47th), Playoff Defensive Rating: -6.24 (34th)
Playoff SRS: +13.16 (24th), Total SRS Increase through Playoffs: +4.10 (22nd)
Average Playoff Opponent Offense: +2.94 (27th), Average Playoff Opponent Defense: -0.31 (86th)
Playoff Heliocentrism: 25.0% (79th of 84 teams) - Isiah
Playoff Wingmen: 30.0% (73rd) - two of Dumars/Laimbeer/Salley
Playoff Depth: 45.0% (3rd)
Round 1: Boston Celtics (+1.3), won 3-0, by +10.7 points per game (+12.0 SRS eq)
Round 2: Milwaukee Bucks (+4.6), won 4-0, by +11.8 points per game (+16.4 SRS eq)
Round 3: Chicago Bulls (+5.1), won 4-2, by +4.2 points per game (+9.3 SRS eq)
Round 4: Los Angeles Lakers (+9.8), won 4-0, by +6.7 points per game (+16.5 SRS eq)
The late 80s Pistons were a labor of love, a combination of ingredients slowly blended over time into what would prove to be the best dish in the game (I’ve been watching a lot of Top Chef with my wife, shut up). It took a while. In 1986 they didn’t need the Celtics to send them packing, falling to an unremarkable Hawks team in the first round. In 1987 the Pistons put together a better year, finishing with a +3.51 RSRS, smoking the Bullets in the first round and sneaking by a strong Hawks team in the second. In the Conference Finals they actually outscored the Celtics by 3.7 points a game, but still lost in seven. But that Conference Finals was the convergence of two trends: the Pistons were getting better, good enough to be the best in the East perhaps, and the Celtics were on the way out. Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson were getting old, and Larry Bird was struggling to stay on the court. The East didn’t really have other contending teams; the Sixers had passed earlier in the decade and the Bucks were fizzling out. With the Celtics weakening, the Pistons’ future looked bright. Combine that with the seasoning of their youngsters and development of their roster cohesion and in 1988 they looked very good, making it past the older Celtics in the Semis and losing in the Finals to the Magic thanks to Isiah Thomas going down late in the series.
So in ‘89 they were out for blood. The East was wide open, they were already a title team in their hearts; fate had simply conspired against them. And this time they were going to take it by force and leave no doubt. The regular season went quite well; the Pistons went 63-19, posting the best record in the league. Their RSRS of +6.24 was quite strong, but not remarkable, with Eastern Conference rivals Cleveland having a +7.95 and Atlanta posting a 5.26. But Detroit had something those teams didn’t: the ability to actually translate that success to the playoffs (both the Cavs and Hawks were to lose in the first round). Of interesting note is the fact that while the ‘88 Pistons were almost exclusively a defensive team, while the ‘89 Pistons were more of a mix. It is especially curious that the ‘89 edition replaced Adrian Dantley (long bemoaned scoring machine with questionable defense) with Mark Aguirre, yet the ‘89 Pistons were worse defensively and better on offense. It makes one wonder if Dantley’s struggles defensively were overrated (as many have argued) and that his offensive abilities didn’t translate well to team offense (as many have also argued). Either way, the Pistons played eight deep as a team, and were a tough matchup for anyone.
PG: 2019 De’Aaron Fox (better on offense)
SG: 2013 Ty Lawson
SF: 2013 Gordon Hayward
PF: 2012 Zaza Pachulia
C: 2010 Lamar Odom
6th: 2016 Ed Davis (but better and more minutes)
7th: 2017 Cody Zeller
8th: 2014 Vince Carter (worse on offense)
Man is that an interesting roster. You’ve got a pair of dynamic playmakers as guards, neither of whom is particularly efficient, you’ve got a solid scorer at the 3 who’s not great at defense, a solid but unremarkable 4, a strong 5, a super-rebounding 6th man, a shot-creating 8th man and a decent big. No one of these pieces is particularly remarkable (though I’ll again state my appreciation for Laimbeer, as ‘10 Odom is one of those really nice pieces for any contending team). But together? You have to admit that it’s a deep roster, but nobody in their right mind would look at that and think “Title winner”. But again, the Pistons had a knack for combining this in the playoffs to great effect. One of my metrics is how much a team’s OSRS jumps because of their postseason performance (it’s basically their final OSRS minus their RSRS). The ‘88 through ‘90 Pistons finish 56th, 37th and 22nd in that stat, respectively. So these regular season comps aren’t entirely fair. Still.
In the first round the Pistons faced the +1.3 Boston Celtics and destroyed them in three, by 10.7 points per game. Important note, Larry Bird wasn’t playing for the series. Which is one of them thar big deals. I don’t doubt that the Pistons were the better team, but the 10.7 has to be taken with a massive grain of salt.
In the second round they faced the +4.6 Milwaukee Bucks and swept them, winning by 11.8 points a game. One tiny asterisk. Two of the Bucks’ best three players (according to VORP), Terry Cummings and Paul Pressey, missed the entire series (except for 17 minutes for Cummings). Again, it was an 11.8 point win, I don’t doubt the Pistons were better. But they were playing a seriously weakened opponent.
In the Conference Finals, for the first time (and only time in this playoffs) they would face a team with no major injuries. The 1989 Chicago Bulls (+5.1) hadn’t exactly impressed in the regular season (+2.13 RSRS) but they upset the Cavs in the first round and beat a solid Knicks team to meet the Pistons. Michael Jordan was clearly amazing, and in youngsters Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, it was looking like the Bulls might be starting to develop a solid cast around Jordan. It was a tough series. Jordan, predictably, played very well, posting a 30/6/7 (and 2 steals per game) but only on +2.4%. While the Pistons were able to hold the Bulls to -1.0% shooting, the Pistons struggled even more. Isiah Thomas averaged a 21/5/8 on -8.1% (2.3 steals a game), and no Piston with a usage rate above 20% shot above league average. The team overall shot at -3.9%, a solid hurdle to overcome. But the Pistons completely owned possession, earning about 9 extra shots a game. In the end the Pistons prevailed by 4.2 points per contest. It was a solid win against a very good team, but definitely not particularly dominant.
In the NBA Finals the Pistons got their revenge, matching up against the outstanding +9.8 Lakers. The Lakers were already missing shooting guard Byron Scott, so the Pistons started off with an edge. Game 1 was in Detroit. Isiah Thomas played well with a 24/0/9 on +10.7%, the Pistons owned the glass, and the team pulled off an impressive 12 point win. Game 2 was far closer, with the Lakers having an 8 point lead going into the 4th. However, the Pistons surged ahead, pulling off a 3 point win. This time it was Joe Dumars with the strong game (33/2/6 on +20.8%), while Magic’s brilliance kept the Lakers competitive (18/6/9 on +9.7% with zero turnovers). But Magic had injured his hamstring late in the game, quite possibly costing the Lakers the win (since the Pistons won the fourth quarter by 11). So. The Pistons had won the first two games, but now the series went to LA. Magic tried to play but, five minutes into the game, Magic had to bow out, and would sit out the rest of the series. In spite of the injury the Lakers would play hard, and while the Pistons would go on to win it would only be by four points. Game 4 was without Magic and the Pistons took it, winning the game by 8. They’d swept the Lakers by 6.7 points a game, and finally won the championship that they probably deserved in ‘88.
10 | Pistons
8 | Lakers, Suns
5 | Cavs, Bulls
4 | Hawks
2 | Knicks, Bucks
1 | 76ers, Jazz
0 | Celtics, Rockets, Nuggets, Sonics
-0 | Warriors, Blazers
-1 | Bullets, Mavericks
-3 | Pacers
-5 | Nets, Kings
-7 | Hornets, Spurs
-9 | Clippers
1989 was a really non-competitive year. The league had just added two expansion teams, and this meant that 20% of the league was either better than +8 or worse than -9, which is a pretty extreme split. Less than half of the league was within 3 points of average, everyone else was scattered at all levels. That said, the Pistons clearly stood above the rest of the league.
So how do we evaluate this team? Their RSRS may not have been great (66th) but their playoff run (on the surface) was an exceptional 24th on this list. Put these together with a non-competitive league (and winning the Finals) and 28th is pretty reasonable.
Their three best series (all above +10 SRS eq) were against players missing their best players (Bird for the whole series, Cummings and Pressey for 90% of it, Magic for 45% of it). These are big deals; these are losses that would cause five point swings pretty easily. Can we really take the Pistons’ performance at face value under these circumstances? I say no. Let’s say that we imagine that losing Bird is a 5 point swing, that Cunmings and Pressey combined are a five point swing, and that losing Magic is a 2.5 point swing (half the series). To my mind, these are all conservative estimates. With these new numbers the Pistons would suddenly have had about a median PSRS for this list. And combine that with an only very good RSRS and a championship, and the ‘89 Pistons would be 64th on this list. Would I put them there? Honestly, I’m not sure. But I think that the ‘89 Pistons probably belong between these two spots (and who knows, maybe if their opposition had been healthy the Pistons would have played harder). But I don’t think they belong in the Top 30.
Which actually paints a weird picture of the Pistons’ dynasty. The ‘88 version finished 97th on this list, though would have finished 81st if we credited them for winning the title. Let’s say that we’re using the 64th slot for the ‘89 Pistons. And the ‘90 Pistons finished 60th. So you’ve got a team that made three straight Finals and won two (and could have won the third - of course, if Magic hadn’t been injured they might have lost in ‘89 so who knows). So they are considered, fairly, a dynasty. At the same time, these teams all seem to be in the bottom half of this list. So they were really good . . . but not that good. And they never had to deal with either the Celtics, or the Bulls at their best (although many champs can say the same thing, that they took advantage of times when their foes were weak).
And of course, these rankings are driven by SRS and margin of victory, which is only an imperfect measure of greatness (this list is, as I've said before, more a measurer of dominance than greatness, though the two are linked). As far as teams that have done more with less, these Pistons are in a class all their own. And only the early teens Spurs posted stronger teams more reliant on team depth as opposed to being carried by stars.
#27. The 2007 San Antonio Spurs
Regular Season Record: 58-24, Regular Season SRS: +8.35 (18th), Earned the 3 Seed
Regular Season Offensive Rating: +2.7 (64th), Regular Season Defensive Rating: -6.6 (10th)
PG: Tony Parker, +3.1 / +1.3
SG: Manu Ginobili, +7.8 / +6.0
SF: Bruce Bowen, -1.1 / +1.2
PF: Tim Duncan, +7.0 / +6.9
C: Fabricio Oberto, -1.3 / +0.5
6th: Michael Finley, +0.7 / +3.1
7th: Robert Horry, +2.1 / +6.0
Tony Parker (PG, 24): 36 MPPG, 28% OLoad, 21 / 4 / 6 / 1 on +3.1%
Manu Ginobili (SG, 29): 34 MPPG, 28% OLoad, 18 / 5 / 4 / 2 on +6.8%
Tim Duncan (PF, 30): 38 MPPG, 27% OLoad, 22 / 12 / 4 / 4 on +3.8%
Michael Finley (SF, 33): 25 MPPG, 19% OLoad, 10 / 3 / 2 / 1 on -1.7%
Robert Horry (PF, 36): 18 MPPG, 14% OLoad, 4 / 4 / 1 / 1 on -6.1%
Fabricio Oberto (C, 31): 19 MPPG, 13% OLoad, 5 / 5 / 1 /1 on +3.4%
Bruce Bowen (SF, 35): 34 MPPG, 11% OLoad, 7 / 3 / 2 / 1 on -3.0%
Scoring/100: Manu Ginobili (32.2 / +6.8%), Tim Duncan (31.4 / +3.8%), Tony Parker (30.6 / +3.1%)
Assists/100: Tony Parker (9.0), Manu Ginobili (6.8), Tim Duncan (5.4)
Heliocentrism: 30.7% (49th of 84 teams) - Duncan
Wingmen: 41.1% (27th) - Ginobili & Parker
Depth: 28.2% (37th)
Playoff Offensive Rating: +2.19 (77th), Playoff Defensive Rating: -6.6 (33rd)
Playoff SRS: +9.40 (73rd), Total SRS Increase through Playoffs: +0.66 (88th)
Average Playoff Opponent Offense: +3.20 (21st), Average Playoff Opponent Defense: -1.10 (72nd)
Playoff Heliocentrism: 30.9% (60th of 84 teams) - Duncan
Playoff Wingmen: 34.5% (64th) - Ginobili & one of Finley/Horry
Playoff Depth: 34.6% (7th)
Round 1: Denver Nuggets (+1.7), won 4-1, by +6.0 points per game (+7.7 SRS eq)
Round 2: Phoenix Suns (+8.3), won 4-2, outscored by -0.5 points per game (+7.8 SRS eq)
Round 3: Utah Jazz (+5.8), won 4-1, by +5.6 points per game (+11.4 SRS eq)
Round 4: Cleveland Cavaliers (+5.5), won 4-0 by +6.0 points per game (+11.5 SRS eq)
Yeesh. What is up with the ‘03, ‘05 and ‘07 Spurs coming this close together? And in order no less?
In ‘03 the Spurs won the Championship, in ‘04 they were knocked out by the Lakers in Shaq’s last year there. In ‘05 the Spurs won the Championship, in ‘06 the Spurs were knocked out by the Mavericks. Going into ‘07 the Mavs were considered the favorite, with the Spurs right behind.
PG: 2019 De’Aaron Fox (but much better on offense)
SG: 2012 Paul Pierce (but way better on offense)
SF: 2016 Danny Green
PF: 2007 Tim Duncan
C: 2016 Amir Johnson
6th: 2014 Wilson Chandler
7th: 2007 Robert Horry
It’s funny that ‘19 De’Aaron Fox was the leading modern comp for both Isiah and Tony Parker. I’d never really considered Parker and Thomas comparable players . . . until now, but they’re pretty similar. They’re both slashing playmakers, neither particularly efficient, both solid (but not great) on defense. ‘12 Paul Pierce showing as a Manu comp is because of Ginobili’s unusually good rebounding in ‘07. It’s a pretty nice roster. A slashing playmaker, a strong offensive cornerstone in super-Pierce, a wing stopper, a rebounding center, a solid bench and, of course, Tim Duncan.
The East in 2007 was somewhat grenaded. The Heat were good, but imploded when Dwyane Wade went down for the year. The Pistons, while not as good as at their ‘04-05 peak, were still solid. And the Cavaliers, while not particularly good, were starting to see flashes of dominance from their young phenom, LeBron James. In the West, two other teams stood out with the Spurs, the Mavs (no surprise after their ‘06 run) and the Steve Nash Suns.
In the regular season the Spurs went 58-24 with an outstanding +8.35 RSRS (18th on this list). In the first round they drew the +1.7 Denver Nuggets. The Spurs’ outstanding defense clamped down on the Nuggets’ offense, holding them to -4.3% shooting. That said, the Spurs’ shooting didn’t go a lot better (all of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili shot below -4.5%). That said, the Spurs prevailed in five by 6 points a game. It was a good win, but against an only decent team you’d expect more from a team this good.
And in the second round they faced the +8.3 Phoenix Suns. The Mavericks had commanded the one seed, but gotten knocked out in the first round. So, basically, the two best teams in the NBA met each other here. The Spurs prevailed but it was pretty much a draw. The Spurs won in six, but the Suns outscored them by 0.5 points a game. The Spurs maintained a small possession lead (about 2 shots a game), but the Suns shot well (considering the Spurs defense it was a fantastic +1.7%, compared to the Spurs’ +0.4%). On one hand, you could argue that this was a weak showing for the Spurs, but then again, the Suns were clearly the best other team in the league.
In the Conference Finals they faced the Utah Jazz (+5.8), a considerably easier opponent. The Spurs controlled things well, winning in five by 5.6 points a game. The Spurs shot +5% as a team, with Duncan averaging a 22/10/3 on +9.1% with 2.8 blocks per game (and Ginobili averaging a 18/4/4 on +9.1%). It was a strong win.
And in the Finals they faced the Cavs (+5.5) who had made it past the Pistons only through LeBron’s heroics. The Cavs were in way over their heads and the Spurs swept the series easily. LeBron at this point had no reliable jumper so the Spurs basically dared him to shoot the whole series. LeBron posted a usage rate of 36.1%, but averaged a 22/7/7 on -11.3%. The Cavs’ defense did slow the Spurs some (they shot -1.4% as a team) but it was nowhere near enough. The Spurs won the series by 6 points a game, winning their third title in five years.
How many teams have won three titles in five years?
The pre-shot clock Lakers several times
The Russell Celtics several times
The Magic Lakers from 85-88
The Jordan Bulls twice
The Shaq/Kobe Lakers
The 15-18 Warriors
How about four titles in nine years? That’s a little weirder to compile. But the list doesn’t change much.
Pre-shot clock Mikan Lakers
Russell Celtics (several times)
The Magic Lakers 80-87
The Jordan Bulls
That’s an historically dominant list. Obviously four titles in nine years is cherry-picked a bit, but it’s an achievement few franchises have achieved. It’s a credit to Tim Duncan, to Gregg Popovich and to R.C. Buford that such a thing was achieved. The Spurs somehow never seemed to get considered as a legit dynasty because they didn’t win their titles in a row. I don’t really understand that; the Showtime Lakers didn’t win theirs in a row (mostly) and they’re still a dynasty. And while we’re at it, these are four teams in the top 40 of the list (only the Jordan Bulls can match that). The San Antonio Spurs were *not* the Jordan Bulls. But I don’t see how you can not consider them a dynasty. And one of the better dynasties ever.
9 | Spurs
8 | Suns
5 | Pistons, Cavs, Jazz
4 | Bulls
3 | Warriors, Rockets
2 | Mavericks
1 | Nets, Nuggets
-0 | Clippers
-1 | Raptors, Wizards, Magic, Lakers, Kings, Hornets
-2 | Heat, Pacers, Sonics
-3 | 76ers, Knicks, Celtics, Bobcats, Blazers, TWolves
-4 | Bucks, Hawks, Grizzlies
2007 was an insanely competitive year. Seriously, not a single team worse than -5? So while the Spurs’ PSRS isn’t that great (73rd on the list) their regular season was exceptional (18th on the list). Combine these with the fact that the Spurs were *way* better than their league (given how competitive the season was), I can understand why the formula put them this high.
#26. The 2016 Golden State Warriors
Regular Season Record: 73-9, Regular Season SRS: +10.35 (5th), Earned the 1 Seed
Regular Season Offensive Rating: +8.1 (2nd), Regular Season Defensive Rating: -2.6 (66th)
PG: Stephen Curry, +11.9 / +7.0
SG: Klay Thompson, +1.8 / +4.2
SF: Andre Iguodala, +1.1 / +3.0
PF: Harrison Barnes, -1.3 / -2.4
C: Draymond Green, +5.5 / +5.7
6th: Shaun Livingston, +0.3 / -0.3
Steph Curry (PG, 27): 34 MPPG, 33% OLoad, 30 / 6 / 7 / 2 on +12.8%
Klay Thompson (SG, 25): 34 MPPG, 24% OLoad, 22 / 4 / 2 / 1 on +5.6%
Draymond Green (C, 25): 35 MPPG, 21% OLoad, 14 / 10 / 7 / 3 on +4.6%
Shaun Livingston (SF, 30): 20 MPPG, 16% OLoad, 6 / 2 / 3 /1 on +4.0%
Harrison Barnes (SF, 23): 31 MPPG, 15% OLoad, 12 / 5 / 2 / 1 on +1.8%
Andre Iguodala (SF, 32): 27 MPPG, 13% OLoad, 7 / 4 / 3 / 1 on +2.4%
Scoring/100: Stephen Curry (42.5 / +12.8%), Klay Thompson (32.1 / +5.6%), Draymond Green (19.5 / 4.6%)
Assists/100: Draymond Green (10.3), Stephen Curry (9.4), Shaun Livingston (7.5)
Heliocentrism: 43.8% (19th of 84 teams) - Curry
Wingmen: 35.9% (48th) - Draymond & Klay
Depth: 20.3% (62nd)
Playoff Offensive Rating: +4.20 (62nd), Playoff Defensive Rating: -4.46 (60th)
Playoff SRS: +11.27 (41st), Total SRS Increase through Playoffs: +0.60 (91st)
Average Playoff Opponent Offense: +4.16 (7th), Average Playoff Opponent Defense: -0.10 (91st)
Playoff Heliocentrism: 27.4% (74th of 84 teams) - Draymond
Playoff Wingmen: 43.5% (28th) - Curry & Klay
Playoff Depth: 29.1% (26th)
Round 1: Houston Rockets (+0.3), won 4-1, by +18.8 points per game (+19.1 SRS eq)
Round 2: Portland Trail Blazers (+1.7), won 4-1, by +4.4 points per game (+6.1 SRS eq)
Round 3: Oklahoma City Thunder (+10.9), won 4-3, outscored by 1.0 point per game (+9.9 SRS eq)
Round 4: Cleveland Cavaliers (+11.2), lost 3-4, outscored by 0.5 points per game (+10.7 SRS eq)
A full discourse on the history and origin of the Warriors is merited, but I’d rather preserve that for the ‘15 Warriors. So let’s talk about two players. Starting with Steph Curry.
How many players have posted OBPMs above 6 in a season (since the early 70s)? LeBron has done it 15 times, Jordan did it 9 times, Durant did it 7 times and Curry, Harden, Shaq and Chris Paul have done it six times. Pretty good company there. How about OBPMs of 8+? Jordan had 7, LeBron had 5, Harden had 3, while Curry and Durant had 2. Same group mostly, just some shuffling. OBPMs of 10+? That list has one entry: Steph Curry’s 2016 season. He’s a point guard; was it his passing? Curry posted low 30s Assist% and low teens TO%, so he was a plenty good passer, but that’s hardly enough to justify the highest OBPM ever. Let me draw your attention back to his PPX and efficiency: 42.5 points per hundred, at +12.8%.
How many times has a player averaged more than 42 PPX? 18; Jordan is six of those. But let’s talk efficiency. Of that group, Curry’s 66.9% is by far the highest; the closest is ‘20 Harden’s 62.6%. Jordan’s highest was 60.6%. So Curry’s ‘16 season wasn’t the most points ever, but nobody has ever combined that kind of volume with that kind of efficiency. Ben Taylor considers Curry’s 2016 season to be the best scoring regular season ever, and I have no reason to disagree with that conclusion. Add to that the fact that Curry provided spacing of a kind that is fairly unprecedented. Not only is he probably the best three point shooter ever, but he could: 1) shoot accurately from extreme distance, forcing defenses to defend well away from the arc and 2) shoot in a variety of looks and situations. He could pull-up well, he could step-back well, he could catch-and-shoot well and he was as good using off-ball picks to get open as anyone ever. Defenses had to treat him like, at any moment, he could hit a three (which was usually true) and this led to an incredible amount of defensive attention going to him. So even when he wasn’t scoring, the respect he earned from defenses made everything easier for his teammates. ESPN’s RAPM is a far more sophisticated tool than OBPM. It has Steph Curry’s offense in 2016 as being worth +12.03 points per game to his team. The next closest mark that year was Russell Westbrook’s +7.29, so there’s about the same gap between Curry and the #2 player as there is between the #2 and the #21. 2016 Steph Curry was historically good on offense, maybe the best ever. His defense? RAPM has it as worth -0.50 points per game, but for a point guard that’s a slightly above average mark. For all of the attention paid Golden State’s beautiful motion system (and rightly so), it is impossible to talk about this team without talking about one of the very greatest scorers in history.
The other player is Draymond Green. Draymond was a phenomenon in college, in his senior year winning the prestigious KenPom Player of the Year Award (okay fine, it’s not that prestigious, but it should be). He was an all-positions 6’7” (with a 7’1” wingspan) wrecking ball. The funny part was that he wasn’t that great at scoring, even in college. But he was exceptionally smart, one of the best defensive rebounders in the NCAA, an outstanding defender (in the Top 400 in both block and steal rate) and an extremely capable distributor. He could play with every lineup and contribute no matter what was needed. Despite all of that, he didn’t get much attention in the NBA draft; “plays every position” in college is usually code for “doesn’t have the toolbox to play any one position well”. And Draymond wasn’t particularly athletic, wasn’t particularly explosive and wasn’t a good scorer. At 6’7”, he was thought too short to play as a big, and wasn’t quick enough to defend wings. And him being a senior was a knock against him; you couldn’t expect much growth out of him. Heady selfless play and incredible competitive drive coupled with a too-short, too-slow body will buy you a guy who sits on the bench and makes up the cool handshakes for the pre-game ritual, or so the theory goes. He fell to the second round where the Warriors picked him up.
All the scouting reports on him were totally right, as far as it went. He wasn’t particularly quick or athletic. But the league was changing, and the ability to space the floor was becoming paramount. The Warriors ran a sophisticated motion offense built on 1) creating open looks, 2) recognizing the open man and successfully hitting him with the pass and 3) drilling those open looks. Draymond, it turned out, was a perfect fit for that offense. And while he did give up some height and quickness on defense, he was so smart and played so hard that he ended up being an excellent defensive presence, more switchable than a normal big and an ideal anchor for the team. According to RAPM Draymond was the #7 player in the league in ‘15 and #11 player in ‘16. Not bad for a second round pick.
In 2015 the Warriors won their first championship in a long time. But they did so over a Cleveland Cavs team without Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving. It was a win, but somewhat tainted for all that. Going into 2016 the oddsmakers picked the Cavs, not the Warriors, as the team most likely to win the title. And the Warriors went into the season gearing up for the rematch. The 2016 Golden State Warriors had, arguably, the best regular season of any team . . . ever. They set the single-season wins record by going 73-9, and posted the 7th highest RSRS on this list. Their defense was respectable but their offense was on another level, posting the 2nd highest mark on this list. Yet hilariously, their offense was below average in avoiding turnovers (20th of 30 in 2016), below average in offensive rebounding (19th) and below average in getting to the line (25th). Their offense ran, beginning to end, on absolutely insane shooting from the floor. The league average eFG% in 2016 was 50.2%, Golden State posted a 56.3%. The 2nd best was 52.6%. The gap between the Warriors’ floor shooting and the #2 team (the Spurs) was the gap between the Spurs and the #23 Nuggets. As a team they shot 41.6% from three (the gap between that mark and the #2 team was the gap between the #2 team and the #28 team) but they also led the league in 2P% as well. I cannot emphasize enough; the Warriors were absolutely insane at shooting.
So in some ways, the Warriors’ quest for another championship was setting up ideally. But there were ways in which it was going to be incredibly difficult. There have been 9 teams on my list to post +10 RSRS in a season; the 2016 Warriors were one, but the 2016 Spurs were another. While Duncan was clearly on the way out, Kawhi Leonard had grown into a star in his own right, and in any other season the Spurs would have been the obvious best team in the West. And add on to that the Thunder actually being healthy, with peak Durant and peak Westbrook combining to make their team extremely tough. They only posted an RSRS of +7.09, but there was every reason to think that they’d be extremely good in the playoffs. And of course, waiting in the East was LeBron James at the height of his powers, now with actually healthy teammates! It was going to be a tough road.
In the first round the Warriors faced the +0.3 Houston Rockets. In Game 1 the Warriors won by about a million (it was only 26). But late in that game Curry sprained his ankle, causing him to miss the next two games (split 1-1, a +9 win and a -1 loss). In Game 4 Curry came back . . . only to sprain his knee, knocking him out for the next two weeks. The Warriors would prevail decisively, by 18.8 points a game, but the loss of Curry would be problematic.
In the semifinals the Warriors would face the +1.7 Portland Trail Blazers. The first three games were without Curry, and the Warriors took them 2-1 (+12, +11 and -12). Curry cautiously came back for the last two games, giving the Warriors a five-game win by 4.4 points per game. It was an understandably modest performance (given Curry’s absence for most of it) but modest nevertheless. A team this good should hope to put up series SRSs at least in the +10-15 range. Beating the Blazers by only 4.4 points a game was certainly an underwhelming result.
In the Conference Finals the Warriors faced the Thunder (+10.9), who had barely slipped past the Spurs (this was one of the years where winning the one seed was a really, really big deal). The Thunder came hard, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. In Game 5 Curry posted a 31/7/6 on +9.4% (with 5 steals, but 5 turnovers) while Klay shot below league average and the Warriors won by 9. In Game 6 the Warriors went into the 4th down by 8, but roared back, with Klay scoring 19 in the quarter alone and the Warriors ended up winning by 7. Steph had a 31/10/9 on +5.6%, while Klay posted a 41/4/0 on +10.2%. In Game 7 Steph went nuts, posting a 36/5/8 on +17% and the Warriors won by 8. The Warriors prevailed, advancing to the Finals, but were outscored by a point a game. Still; the Thunder had played outstanding ball through the playoffs. Beating them at all was an achievement.
And so in the Finals they faced the Cavs (+11.2). In Game 1 they shut down the Cavs’ offense (-6.1% shooting as a team). Draymond played exceptionally with a 16/11/7 on +8.6% and 4 steals, while Steph struggled, shooting -17.4%. The Warriors walked away with it by 15. Game 2 was the same only more so; the Cavs were held to -11.1% shooting as a team (!!) while the Warriors shot at +10.3%; predictably the Warriors won by an insane margin (33). Two games in and the Warriors were looking invincible.
Game 3 went decidedly the other way. The Cavs shot at +6.8% and pretty much the entire Warriors roster struggled; Steph had a 19/1/3 on +10.3% with 6 turnovers. The Cavs won by 30, proving that they weren’t going anywhere. In Game 4 Steph was transcendent, with a 38/5/6 on +10.5% and 2 steals. The Cavs’ offense was kept in check (-1.6%) and that was enough for the Warriors to squeeze out a 9 point win. They led 3-1. But late-series LeBron lurked.
The Cavs went on to win the next three games, upsetting the Warriors and winning the championship. It had been close, but the Warriors had lost. And their historically great regular season offense hadn’t delivered. As a team they shot +0.4% through the Finals. Curry shot a mortal +3.9% (more than 8 points down from his stratospheric regular season average). Klay shot a +1.9%. The Warriors still played well; the Cavs played better. By 0.5 points a game.
12 | Spurs
11 | Cavs, Thunder
10 | Warriors
3 | Heat, Hawks, Pacers, Clippers, Blazers
1 | Raptors, Jazz
0 | Celtics
-0 | Pistons, Wizards
-1 | Hornets, Bulls, Magic
-2 | Rockets, Knicks, Kings, Nuggets
-3 | Mavericks, Bucks, Pelicans, TWolves
-4 | Grizzlies
-6 | Suns
-7 | Nets
-8 | Lakers
-9 | 76ers
2016 was a hilariously lopsided year, but only at the extremes. It’s center was actually quite concentrated. Nevertheless, it was a less competitive year than most.
Do you want to hear a weird stat? 2016 had four different teams finish with OSRSs above 10. They played three series against each other, and seven series against anyone else. Against each other the MoV was never greater than a point in any of the series. Against the rest of the league the SRS eq scores were:
So basically, when these super-teams played each other they were all about even. When they played other playoff teams, 71% of the time they cremated them and left a smear of ash behind. In only two series did these teams win by any less than 12.5 points a game. So that compressed OSRS chart is a little misleading; the Raptors and Hawks had decent seasons/playoffs, but when you get blown out in the playoffs you only get to be ranked so high. Those two ‘close’ series? The Cavs against the Pistons (a +8.5 MoV win over a +0.4 SRS team) and the Warriors against the Blazers (+4.4 MoV win over a +1.7 OSRS team). That’s nuts.
Is it unfair to put perhaps the best regular season team ever this low? Perhaps. If Steph Curry had been healthy all playoffs they’d definitely have been higher. Not only would they likely have beaten the Blazers by more, but there’s a good chance that they might have won the Finals. I can easily see an alternate universe where the healthy-Curry ‘16 Warriors are Top 10 on this list.
But that’s not the ‘16 Warriors we got. My sheet plays it as it lies; the version of the Warriors sees the wind go out of its sails in the playoffs (probably mostly because of Curry’s injury), doesn’t distinguish itself against the Blazers, and comes up short against the Cavs. Great team, great season. But their playoffs were underwhelming given their regular season. That’s not really their fault, but I can’t really credit them for things they didn’t do.
And it could be worse; the ‘15 Cavs were hit with way worse injuries and they barely made the list.
We’re going into the Top 25. Here are the remaining teams by franchise:
For the Top 25 I’ll be doing a few more stats (my player per game adjusted for pace stat breakdowns for both the regular season and playoffs for example), but accordingly I’m not going to be able to post every day. So for these last 25 teams I’ll be slowing to a rate of maybe 4-5 teams a week instead of seven. I thank you for your patience.
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