Editors note: this article was finished prior to game 7, where Lebron James and the Cav’s devastated any hope the Warriors had left for a perfect season.
Is this year’s Golden State Warriors the greatest NBA team ever? This is an argument that people will continue to discuss for as long as the NBA exists.
Following a record-setting 73-9 regular season, the Warriors are closing in on their second consecutive championship. The Warriors are led by reigning MVP Steph Curry, who was the first player to be voted unanimous MVP. The Warriors have found out how to make the most of modern basketball, executing pace and space to perfection while shooting a ridiculous percentage from three.
The argument for greatest team ever is a conversation over five teams in addition to the Warriors. Any list of the NBA’s greatest team starts with the 1960s Boston Celtics. But other team’s worth discussing include the 1970-1971 Los Angeles Lakers, 1985-1986 Boston Celtics, 1986-1987 Lakers, and 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. It should be noted that the NBA only introduced the three-point line in the 1979-1980 season, although the modern three-point explosion began this decade.
The argument for the Warriors being the greatest team ever is that they broke a record thought to be unbeatable by winning 73 games in a season. The Warriors’ average margin of victory was 10.1 points. The Warriors seem to have no weakness in the modern NBA, given their size, length and speed. The Warriors possess possibly the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history and flexible wings (Draymond Green, Harri- son Barnes and Andre Iguodala), who are capable of defending multiple positions. The Warriors also have a good defensive big man in Andrew Bogut and a capable bench that helped them manage the minutes of their starters.
The Celtics of the 1960s and the Lakers of the early 1970s are the only teams on this list who did not play in the era of the three point line. Given the impact the three-point line has had on the NBA, it’s impossible to compare those teams to the Warriors. The 1960s Celtics, lead by Red Auerbach, Bill Russell and John Havlicek, won every title in the decade except for the 1967 season. How- ever, the Celtics won those titles when the NBA had fewer than 13 teams. The Celtics’ best regular season was 1959-1960 when they went 59-16, while the best win differential was in 1964-1965 when the Celtics won by 8.4 points.
The early ‘70s Lakers teams have one major knock when it comes to being the greatest team ever: they only won a single title. The Lakers teams made it to the finals often, but lost to the Celt- ics and Knicks of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The Lakers were led by three Hall of Famers – Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich and Jerry West. They also had Elgin Baylor, but in their only title-winning sea- son, Baylor was injured for all but nine games and retired after the season. The Lakers steamrolled their competition in the regular season winning 69 games, by an average margin of 12.3 points. The margin of victory is tied with the previous season’s Milwaukee Bucks for the largest in NBA history.
The ‘85-86 Celtics were led by a player from their ‘60s dynasty, KC Jones. The Celtics lineup was a list of Hall of Famers: Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton are all enshrined in Springfield. The Celtics of the ‘80s won three titles in the decade. In the ‘85-86 season, the Celtics went 67-15 and won by an average of 9.4 points.
The Lakers of the ‘80s won five titles lead in ‘86-87 by the trio of Hall of Famers: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. The Pat Riley-coached Lakers offensively dominated, scoring 117.8 points a game, on the way to winning 65 games by a margin of 9.3 points. The Lak- ers had seven different players’ average double figures. The Lakers lived up to their nickname of “Showtime”.
The final team in the conversation for greatest ever is the 95-96 Chicago Bulls that went 72-10. The argument for the Bulls is that they combine arguably the greatest player (Michael Jordan) and coach (Phil Jackson). In addition to having Jordan, the Bulls sport- ed Hall of Famers and defensive stars Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. The Bulls led the league in points per game and defensive rating. They also had one of the most dynamic European play- ers of all-time, Toni Kukoc, who could be considered the prototype that Kevin Durant was built on. Kukoc was one of the NBA’s first 6’10 players who could shoot, pass and dribble. Key role players included defense first point guard Ron Harper, who with Jordan and Pippen gave Chicago perhaps the greatest perimeter defenders of all-time. It’s worth noting, that the Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr was also on the Bulls, coming off the bench as a three-point specialist.
At the end of the day, it’s an impossible argument to make for one team over another. Today’s rules are offensively friendly – defenders can no longer hand check offensive players like they could during the Jordan era. Modern usage of the three point shot has completely changed the way basketball is played. The Warriors attempt more threes per quarter than other teams in earlier eras shot in an entire game. The fun with making an argument for the greatest team ever is that no one can be right or wrong.