By Ross Benes
Anyone who glances at the NBA's standings will notice the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors are blowing away the competition. However, their gaudy winning percentages reflect more than these teams' quality -- they indicate what's going on in the rest of the league.
Now there's a ton of season left, and many things can happen in the meantime, but hypothetically, if the Warriors finished with their current record it would rank 6th all time while the Hawks' current record would rank 11th.
The previous best that two teams placed in winning percentage during the same season was in 2008-09 when the Cavs had the 13th highest winning percentage in NBA history and the Lakers had the 18th. The next closest duos involve the 1996-97 Jazz and the 1995-96 Sonics who tie for 20th (both teams to Michael Jordan-led Bulls teams that were among the greatest in NBA history).
But before declaring this year's Hawks and Warriors potentially among the greatest teams ever, let's look at their victory margins and Basketball-Reference's simple rating system (SRS), which accounts for point differentials and strength of schedule.
The table below shows winning percentage, average point differentials and SRS scores for this year's Warriors and Hawks, and the top 20 teams in NBA history, sorted by winning percentage.
|0.841||12.3||11.65||Los Angeles Lakers||1971-72|
|0.826||11.5||10.98||Golden State Warriors||2014-15|
|0.817||8.5||8.41||Los Angeles Lakers||1999-00|
|0.793||9.3||8.31||Los Angeles Lakers||1986-87|
|0.793||7.7||7.11||Los Angeles Lakers||2008-09|
The Warriors still stack up favorably. Their average victory margin (11.5) and SRS (10.98) both rank 4th. As Michael Pina pointed out, the Warriors are annihilating a very competitive Western Conference with their offensive efficiency. But going beyond winning percentage makes the Hawks look less impressive. Their average victory margin of 6.8 only bests the 2005-06 Pistons who outscored opponents by 6.7 per game. And the Hawks' SRS ranks dead last among teams on this list.
The reason for this is because SRS factors in schedule strength and the Hawks play in a weak Eastern Conference. As of Tuesday night, there were six NBA teams with a sub .350 winning percentage, and all but two were in the East. The Hawks are 9-1 against those four awful Eastern Conference teams (Pacers, Magic, Knicks, 76ers). Sub .350 teams make up 26.7 percent of the conference the Hawks play in, while on average the other teams on this list played in conferences where sub .350 teams only accounted for 18.9 percent of the conference. The current state of the NBA, especially in the East, features an abnormal amount of franchises tanking or not built to immediately contend. Which gives good franchises more teams to feast on, boosting their perceived greatness.
Although the subpar Eastern Conference probably makes the Hawks appear better than their record indicates, they still are a very solid squad that present multiple matchup problems for the rest of the NBA. Friday's game between Atlanta and Golden State should be great, regardless of whether or not either of these teams will make basketball history.
Ross Benes is a Sports on Earth contributor who has written for Deadspin, The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, and Slate. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RossBenes.