By now, it’s become clear that despite falling short of a perfect 16-0 playoff record, the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors make a very strong case for being the greatest NBA team in history. On Tuesday, I wrote about the statistical ratings that do — and don’t — place them ahead of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as the best ever. Firmly in Golden State’s camp is FiveThirtyEight’s Elo system, which ranks the team as No. 1 all time not only according to its peak rating, but also using a blend of its peak, final and average daily Elo ratings during the season.
That’s just relative to other basketball teams, though. What happens when we open up this conversation to other sports? Since we also have Elo ratings for NFL and MLB teams, we thought we’d compare the Warriors’ 1828 blended Elo rating to the same blended metric in football and baseball.1 Are the Warriors the best … of the best?
As luck would have it, football Elo ratings are almost directly comparable to those in basketball because the amount of information conveyed by one NFL game is roughly the same as that conveyed by one NBA game.2 But in baseball, each game tells us less about a team’s true talent, so the range between the highest and lowest MLB Elo ratings is smaller. So, to account for these differences across sports, I calculated the z-score (the number of standard deviations above average3) for each team’s blended rating relative to their sport.
According to this metric, the Warriors are running slightly behind the NFL-best 2007 New England Patriots — and neither has anything on Joe DiMaggio and the 1939 New York Yankees, who compiled 106 wins and swept the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.
|1||1939||New York Yankees||MLB||✓||1627||+3.07|
|3||2007||New England Patriots||NFL||1825||+2.82|
|4||2017||Golden State Warriors||NBA||✓||1828||+2.79|
|6||1998||New York Yankees||MLB||✓||1610||+2.63|
|7||1927||New York Yankees||MLB||✓||1610||+2.63|
|8||1944||St. Louis Cardinals||MLB||✓||1610||+2.61|
|10||1932||New York Yankees||MLB||✓||1608||+2.56|
|12||1942||St. Louis Cardinals||MLB||✓||1607||+2.54|
|14||2004||New England Patriots||NFL||✓||1793||+2.53|
|15||2016||Golden State Warriors||NBA||1798||+2.53|
|16||1937||New York Yankees||MLB||✓||1606||+2.52|
|17||2015||Golden State Warriors||NBA||✓||1796||+2.52|
|20||1938||New York Yankees||MLB||✓||1603||+2.43|
MLB teams dominate the top-20 list, taking up 12 spots — mainly because baseball has been around for a lot longer than the other sports. To even the playing field, we can cut down the list to only look at modern (since 1980) teams:
|1||2007||New England Patriots||NFL||1825||+2.82|
|2||2017||Golden State Warriors||NBA||✓||1828||+2.79|
|4||1998||New York Yankees||MLB||✓||1610||+2.63|
|6||2004||New England Patriots||NFL||✓||1793||+2.53|
|7||2016||Golden State Warriors||NBA||1798||+2.53|
|8||2015||Golden State Warriors||NBA||✓||1796||+2.52|
|11||1989||San Francisco 49ers||NFL||✓||1771||+2.33|
|12||2016||San Antonio Spurs||NBA||1776||+2.33|
|15||2009||Los Angeles Lakers||NBA||✓||1769||+2.27|
|18||1984||San Francisco 49ers||NFL||✓||1761||+2.25|
|20||1997||Green Bay Packers||NFL||1759||+2.22|
The Warriors’ Game 4 loss in Cleveland was most likely the difference-maker in keeping them behind the 2007 Patriots as the best team in recent decades. Those Patriots obliterated the NFL, compiling a perfect regular season and scoring a staggering 75 touchdowns. (They then promptly lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants, the 692nd best team since 1980. Go figure.)