Basketball and statistics have forever been bedfellows. For decades, box scores showed each player’s basic stats: minutes, field goals attempted (and made), free throws attempted (and made), fouls, rebounds, assists and points. Those numbers, while almost entirely focused on the offensive end of the court, were able to give a rudimentary overview of a player’s basketball efficiency. Nowadays, as befits our modern sporting landscape, statistical evaluation of a player is suitably advanced and wide-ranging. Rather than cold, hard numbers, tallied by someone sitting at the side of the court, equations and algorithms conspire to give a more analytical, mathematical assessment of the production of NBA players and teams.
Such analytics will tell you that the 2014/15 Golden State Warriors are one of the best NBA teams of all time, and heavy favourites to win the NBA Finals against the narrative-laden Cleveland Cavaliers. They are accurate assessments that reflect the strength of this team, and they are more than enough to persuade someone to bet on the Warriors to win the title (as I did in January with the price still 6-1). But ultimately, this team must be seen to be believed, and that’s why I insist that anyone reading watches the NBA Finals, especially those who have perhaps seen a bit of NBA action but ‘didn’t think it was for them’.
The Warriors are led by the league’s MVP Steph Curry, as exhilarating on the court as Lionel Messi is on the pitch, while equally as humble (and much more entertaining) off it. The comparisons continue: like Messi, Curry is no maverick, privileging team ethic and hard work over individual glory or ego. Yet crucially, and just like the mesmerising Messi, Curry has both the remit and the ability to blow the minds of spectators and boggle those of opponents, to make blink veteran viewers who think they have seen it all, and, this season more than ever, the skinny kid with the weak ankles (who must also be known as the Greatest Shooter of All Time) has done so again and again. It’s not just about Curry. The Warriors have wheeled, dealed and drafted their way into just about the strongest, deepest roster that is feasibly possible in a salary-capped league. They have two former All Stars coming off the bench, for goodness sake.
Of course, since LeBron James hit the peak of his powers in 2007, his mere presence on a team has been enough to take it to the NBA Finals on six out of nine occasions. The best player since Michael Jordan, LeBron is still operating at a completely transcendent level in all aspects of the game, and the ridiculously simple advantage of ‘having LeBron’ cannot be under-estimated, nor perhaps quantified. Unfortunately, with a supporting cast of teammates that often seem to find themselves wearing casts, LeBron’s current level of basketball – which both basic and advanced statistics will tell you represents potentially the best NBA post-season performance of all-time – will still not be enough to take himself, and his hometown team, to glory. LeBron’s unrivalled set of skills and will to win should be enough to avoid a sweep, but despite the cult of the individual often taking precedence within the media, basketball is, of course, a team game, and as one of the best teams of all time, I expect the Golden State Warriors to win the series either 4-1, or 4-2.
ALI MAXWELL is about to graduate with a degree in French, and is looking to enter the world of Broadcasting and Sports Media, specifically focusing on basketball and English and European football (soccer). Follow him on Twitter.