How Difficult Was Golden State's Path to the 2017 NBA Title?
The Golden State Warriors are NBA champions for the second time in three years. It's impressive, it's awesome and it's scary for the NBA.
But, before the rest of the NBA worries about what to do next, let's put the Warriors' 2017 playoff run in perspective.
Rather than compare wins, losses, strength of schedule or even margin of victory, let's go a layer deeper, and turn to advanced analytics in the form of numberFire's very own nERD metric.
In case you're unfamiliar with the term, nERD is a team ranking that is predictive of a team's ultimate winning percentage. It's based on a scale of 0 to 100 with 50 as league average. So, basically, it tells us how good a team is over the course of an 82-game regular season.
nERD doesn't factor in the playoffs, but over the regular season, the 2017 Warriors' 82.7 nERD was the highest since the 2008 Boston Celtics, who finished that year with a nERD of 82.8.
Warriors vs Warriors
By nERD alone, the 2017 Warriors were better than both the 2015 and 2016 versions of these Warriors. And they proved it on the court in the postseason.
Although the Dubs fell six wins short of the 73 they collected in the 2016 regular season, they rattled off 15 straight games to open up the playoffs, and nearly made history by going 16-0. How they did it is what differentiates this Golden State squad from those of the last two seasons.
In 2017, the Warriors bested opponents (Portland, Utah, San Antonio and Cleveland) with an average nERD of 60.90 -- which is, fittingly, right around where this season's Cavaliers finished (59.0 nERD).
In order for that number to have any kind of relevance, though, we need to compare it to the average nERD of the Warriors' playoff opponents in 2015 and 2016:
|Opp. Avg. nERD||57.65||58.98||60.90|
|Number of Games||21||24||17|
Compared to their championship run in 2015, this year's Warriors team won the NBA title in fewer games, while facing their stiffest competition yet. Ahh, the joys of adding Kevin Durant.
We know this Warriors playoff team we just witnessed was better than they were without KD in two postseasons past. But where do they rank versus other past champions?
Warriors vs Past Champions
But as we're limiting this piece to the postseason, the most relevant way to compare the most impressive postseason runs in recent memory is by average opponent nERD. Here's a look at that, in chronological order since 2001:
|Year||Winner||Avg Opp nERD||Total Games|
When you stack it up by nERD, the Warriors' average opponent wasn't all that great historically. Going back just four years, the 2014 Spurs faced a tougher task. In fact, 11 out of 17 title teams with an average opponent nERD above Golden State's mark.
And yet, the Warriors won the 2017 title in just 17 games. Their level of dominance over the competition is nearly unmatched, as only the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers had a higher opponent nERD and in fewer (16) games. But before you go crazy at those Lakers doing it in 16, remember that in '01, first-round matchups were best-of-five instead of best-of-seven series.
The Warriors' 2017 playoff dominance was absolutely unprecedented. Putting historical nERD into play, though, we can take a more sober assessment of how tough a road they took to raising the Larry O'Brien trophy.