The New Gold Standard – Retrospective Analysis

Stephen Curry

The Warriors have defied logic with their unprecedented 2015-2016 regular season campaign. With the pressure to prove themselves, despite being the reigning champion, the team elevated themselves in the face of adversity throughout the 2015-2016 regular season. When many said they couldn’t or shouldn’t, they did and treated the NBA community to a season that now stands alone and is deserving of tribute.

The word luck might as well be a curse word as far as the Golden State Warriors are concerned. They’ve heard that they were lucky to win the championship in 2015. They are lucky to have not suffered a significant injury. They are lucky to have the world’s greatest shooter in Stephen Curry. Now, they are lucky to have set the regular season record for wins by going an astonishing 73-9 during the 2015-16 campaign.

With the exception of avoiding injury, which is fortunate, everything about the Warriors had been intentional and accomplished through the effort they’ve put forth towards excellence. Golden State had the audacity to make things look easy and that in turn has bred a perception that has tainted—for some, just how brilliant they are.

History, not luck, in this case is the identifier as to how special a season the Warriors had. The burden of proof should have been lifted when the clock read zeros on April 13th, 2016 at Oracle Arena with the Warriors ahead 125-104. The beloved Chicago Bulls of the 1995-96 season were officially supplanted as the Warriors put an exclamation point on their claim over Chicago and all other regular season teams with that win.

The record books smile favorably upon the Warriors with a variety of superlatives hidden in the numbers. Golden State’s 73rd win was also the team’s 48th win of the season by more than 10 points, a new NBA record. The team also set a record for wins on the road finishing 34-7 while tying the second-best mark at home finishing 39-2. The Warriors average margin of victory was 10.76 points, the largest differential since the 1996-97 Bulls.

But historical accomplishments reign over this team even outside of the raw wins and losses. Putting them into perspective requires both appreciation of the tasks and understanding of the landscape of the current NBA.

The Warriors are the first team in NBA history to avoid a losing streak. Each loss was followed by a win and this is a team that never allowed the bitterness of defeat to stack up against them. The resiliency to not lose two in a row with factors like advanced analytics, back-to-back games and fatigue all prevalent is a testament to their resolve. The 1995-96 Bulls in comparison only lost two in a row once, dropping consecutive games on the road to the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns.

Golden State established a pattern of learning from their mistakes against teams that did manage to steal a win against them. Which allowed them to bounce back from defeat with a renewed  sense of urgency and focus. The Warriors never allowed any team to beat them more than once, including the Spurs who set their own franchise record for wins with 67 this season. “You might get one but you won’t get two” seemed to be an unspoken mantra this team adopted when facing teams with designs of negating history. The Bulls weren’t able to set the bar on this obscure standard in their previously historic campaign. They stumbled twice against the pesky Indiana Pacers led by Reggie Miller.

From an offensive standpoint the Warriors might have eviscerated the meaning of efficient basketball. What they accomplished in shooting isn’t something they themselves are likely to duplicate, let alone other teams. Golden State weaponized the three-point shot as it accounted for 34% of their total points scored—another NBA record. They obliterated the record for threes in a season by making 1,077 triples good for 13.1 per game. The Warriors had the second-best percentage from beyond the arc ever at 41% and in this case were unlucky as the record of 42% was accomplished when the line was three feet closer. That type of marksmanship from deep helped them to an effective field goal percentage of .563% and you guessed it—another NBA record. Now imagine what this team could have done with a shorter three-point line.

Keep in mind all of this was done with two coaches at the helm throughout the season. Luke Walton coached the team to a 39-4 start including a record 24 straight wins to begin the year. Steve Kerr, while always in the background, reassumed his full-time role as head coach in game 44 finishing the season 34-5. The system was always the same but the styles and voice on the sidelines changed and still this team was undeterred in their pursuit of history.

The Bulls had no such distraction in their chase of history and while the NBA was a vastly different landscape then, there isn’t definitive proof on whose road to history was tougher. In the 1995-96 Bulls’ campaign 15 other teams finished with an above .500 record. This season 18 other teams finished above .500 with the aforementioned Spurs accumulating the third-highest win total ever. The Warriors and Spurs locked horns four times this season with Golden State amassing a record of 3-1 in the matchup. Conversely, the Bulls’ stiffest competition for regular season success came from the Seattle Supersonics (64 wins) who they only played twice due to Seattle’s location in the Western Conference. Chicago finished the season series tied 1-1 with Seattle.

Comparing superstars in the two historic seasons leads to a conversation on Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry. Jordan played all 82 of his team’s games while Curry played in 79—Golden State was 3-1 in games without him. The one loss was a spanking handed out by the Dallas Mavericks but other Warriors were absent including Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa. Maybe Golden State could have accumulated one more win had they been healthy.

Looking at the overall health of both teams in their respective runs shows the Bulls missed 57 total games from their top eight rotation players while the Warriors missed 90 from theirs. Again, Jordan didn’t miss a single game and Curry only missed four himself. It still begs to question what if either team’s secondary guys were healthier during these individual seasons—could the totals have been slightly higher—especially in the case of the Warriors.

Still, what makes Golden State’s record breaking season so special is how the individual success of some of their players played a role in making the team’s success unprecedented. Yes, Jordan in his prime was a meta-human, but that 72-win season didn’t represent the best individual numbers or best historical numbers we’ve seen from him. Curry on the other hand set the NBA record for threes made in a season at 402. He’s the first person to average 30 points per game in less than 35 minutes. Curry also stakes claim as the holder of the best true shooting percentage (66.9%) of anyone who has averaged 30 points per game or better.

Curry’s teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green also entered the record books. Thompson’s 276 threes made were ironically the third highest total in any NBA season. Green is the first player in NBA history to amass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, 100 steals and 100 blocks in a single season.

The Warriors were not able to win a championship, because of the tenacity and  great performance of the Cleveland Cavaliers. But they still always deserve to be paid tribute and receive tremendous recognition for the record breaking regular season they completed, and thus the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are the new standard for excellence in the regular season and are likely to remain so for quite some time.

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