The Golden State Warriors just completed one of the most dominant playoff runs in history, going 16-1 en route to their second NBA championship in three years. It’s led to plenty of discussion around just how this Warriors team compares to the all-time greats. Take a look at some of the data and you’ll find that Steph Curry and company have had one of – if not the best – three-year runs the NBA has ever seen.
The simplest thing to investigate is wins and losses, and the Warriors had more wins during a three-year span than any team before them. They won 207 regular-season games while only losing 39. Even the Chicago Bulls of the mid-90s never pulled that off, though their 203-43 record between 1995 and 1998 is still quite impressive.
Digging deeper into the data, the Warriors scored at an unbelievable rate from three-point range while chucking up an incredible amount of shots. The most efficient shots in basketball are corner threes, layups, and dunks. Layups and dunks are closest to the basket (and thus have the highest field goal percentage) whereas corner threes are closer than three-pointers from other angles; teams score a whopping 118.7 points per 100 possessions shooting them. The Warriors are proficient at all of those shots but especially excel with the long ball. They’ve led the league in field goal percentage each of the past three seasons, and have been first in three-point percentage in two of the past three years. That’s while shooting more than 31 threes the past two seasons and more than 27 in 2014-15. Naturally, all that efficient shooting has translated to leading the league in points and assists over the past three years, as well.
Passing more doesn’t necessarily lead to better offense; rather, the most efficient teams make quality passes that lead to players getting the ball in areas where they can excel. The Warriors not only tire the opposition out, they also make sure they’re getting great looks at the basket. As a result, they assisted on 70.5 percent of their made buckets this past season. Only one other team even surpassed 65 percent (and barely; the Boston Celtics were at 65.3 percent). Unsurprisingly, Golden State was also in the top two each of the previous two years. Of course, it’s a lot easier to score when there are fewer defenders between you and the basket – and the Warriors excel at fast break opportunities, as well. They’ve led the league each of the past three years in terms of percentage of their points that come off fastbreaks, reaching nearly 20 percent this year. For comparison’s sake, only two other teams even cracked 15 percent.
Here’s an example of their excellent shooting in action: in Game 2 of these NBA Finals, the Warriors accomplished the incredibly rare 50/40/90 feat – shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range, and 90 percent from the free throw line – while putting up 43 three-pointers. A 50/40/90 performance from a team has happened just once before, when the Warriors did it last month in the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Essentially, no other team has equaled what they’ve accomplished in the postseason.
The Warriors are a well-oiled machine defensively, too. While they minimize turnovers on offense, they do a great job at forcing them; in fact, they led the league this year in that category. Historical data demonstrates that forcing turnovers and difficult shots defensively while limiting turnovers and getting easy looks on offense increase the likelihood of victory. And with a number of players who are able to guard multiple positions – like Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston – the Warriors force opponents to take tough shots no matter where they are on the court. They’ve finished in the top five each of the past three years in opponent’s field goal percentage, two-point percentage, and three-point percentage.
The capabilities of Big Data and IT infrastructure allow for these conclusions and analytics to be performed. In order to effectively use big data, companies need to design a strategy – especially in comparing historical datasets that are often in different formats or siloed. Another challenge is the volume of data and the amount of time it can take to process and find it. Next generation managed service providers like Datapipe can help companies navigate the many obstacles in creating effective solutions, including managed dynamic cloud resources, as part of an overall big data project.
Finally, it’s difficult to overlook the chemistry this team has with each other. That’s a bit harder to quantify, but it stands to reason if you’re happy and having fun, you’re more likely to put the effort in and buy into the strategies needed to succeed. This Warriors team is having a blast playing together – and it shows in the results.
Of course, keeping the same team together over several years is a tall task. The Warriors have a handful of key pieces who will be free agents this offseason, including Curry and Durant. However, if the team can keep its core in place, they’ll likely be contenders for years to come and can continue their dominant run. And that means we’ll get to enjoy some more entertaining, efficient basketball.
To see other ways big data and analytics are changing the sports landscape, check out our other blog posts below: