The Golden State Warriors, at 5-to-11 odds, are the Las Vegas favorite to win this year’s NBA championship with Coach Steve Kerr’s team winning four out of every five games, giving Golden State a league-high net rating of 11.1 net points per 100 possessions.
Dominating the NBA is nothing new for the Warriors. In 2014-15, they became the first team to lead the league in defensive rating (98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) while also playing at the highest pace (100.7 possessions per 48 minutes). A year later, they won an NBA record 73 regular-season games. Then, they added Kevin Durant and finished the 2016-17 season scoring 12.1 net points per 100 possessions more than their opponents, the largest net point margin in the NBA that year. Regular-season success has also translated to postseason success, with the Warriors appearing in the last three NBA Finals, winning championships in 2015 and 2017.
The gap between the Warriors and everyone else, however, isn’t as gaping as it has been in years past.
The Boston Celtics are one-half a game back of the Warriors heading into Monday night’s games, the lowest mark on this same date in recent years. As of Jan. 8, 2015, the Warriors had a two-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers and Atlanta Hawks.
2014-15 Wins Losses Win rate GB
Warriors 28 5 0.848
Trail Blazers 27 8 0.771 2
2015-16 Wins Losses Win rate GB
Warriors 33 2 0.943
Spurs 31 6 0.838 3
2016-17 Wins Losses Win rate GB
Warriors 31 6 0.838
Spurs 30 7 0.811 1
2017-18 Wins Losses Win rate GB
Warriors 32 8 0.800
Celtics 33 10 0.767 0.5
The Warriors still lead the league in net rating, but that, too, isn’t as wide of a divide. The Toronto Raptors (7.8) and Houston Rockets (7.5) each have a net rating within four points of the Warriors, the first time in the past four years that both the Western Conference’s second-best team and the best team in the East each have been this close in terms of net performance.
Season Warriors Next best Western conference team Best Eastern conference team
2014-15 11.4 net rating 6.9 5.6
2015-16 11.6 11.8 5.8
2016-17 12.1 7.9 4.9
2017-18 11.1 7.5 7.8
If the league is showing more parity this season, why are the Warriors such overwhelming favorites to win the 2018 NBA title? Because they are still stacked with elite NBA talent, making them that much better than the rest.
Golden State’s most-frequently used lineup — Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia and Klay Thompson — outscores opponents by 19.7 net points per 100 possessions, making it the fourth-best five-man lineup in 2017-18 (minimum 200 minutes played). That rises to a net rating of plus-21 during the 289 minutes Kerr has played Curry but kept Durant on the bench (either due to workload or injury). With Durant on the court and Curry out, the Warriors outscore opponents by 6.4 net points per 100 possessions. To put that in perspective, the Celtics have the fourth-best net rating this season at plus-5.2. In other words, the Warriors could lose an MVP candidate in Curry and still have enough firepower to make them the third- or fourth-best team in the NBA.
Looked at another way, this year’s Warriors are a league-high 9.6 points per game better than the average team. That makes them at least two-point favorites over the Rockets (7.6 SRS) and Raptors (7.2 SRS) on a neutral court. Add in home-court advantage, and Golden State has a 73 percent implied win probability over both teams in a seven-game series, with the most likely outcome being the Warriors winning in five games.
Despite the rest of the league’s improvement, that should be enough to convince anyone that Golden State remains the team to beat.