NBA Rankings: 5 Teams With the Best Early Season Ratings

Golden State Warriors receive championship rings

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For those of you who questioned the Golden State Warriors‘ run to a NBA championship last season, we hope you’ve finally decided to leave all your doubts at the door. If there’s one thing to take away from the start of the 2015-16 NBA season, it’s that the defending NBA champs are the ultimate real deal. And we have the historical date to prove it.

Thanks to the good people at FiveThirtyEight, who took the time to analyze Elo ratings through the first 10 games of the season, we now have a clear look at the teams with the hottest starts in NBA history. And wouldn’t you know it, these Dubs have managed to make an everlasting mark. In case you’ve forgotten how Elo ratings are calculated, here’s a brief crash course courtesy of FiveThirty Eight:

  • The ratings depend only on the final score of each game and where it was played (home-court advantage). They include both regular-season and playoff games. The principal source for game-by-game scores is Basketball-Reference.com.
  • Teams always gain Elo points after winning games and lose ground after losing them. They gain more points for upset wins and for winning by wider margins.
  • The system is zero-sum. When the Denver Nuggets gained 30 Elo points by upsetting the No. 1 seed, Seattle SuperSonics, in the first round of the 1994 NBA playoffs, the Sonics lost 30 points.
  • Ratings are established on a game-by-game rather than a season-by-season basis. So you can see changes in a team’s “form” over the course of the year. For example, the Toronto Raptors had a much higher rating early in the 2014-15 season than at the end of it, while the reverse has been true for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now that we know the details, the question remains: Where do these 2015-16 Warriors stand among the teams with the best starts in NBA history?

5. 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers

Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant celebrate

LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP/Getty Images

Elo Rating: 1725.7

Many will remember the 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers as the last team to win a title with both Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant sporting the purple and gold. However, in this particular analysis, they are also the team that got off to the fifth-best start in NBA history. With Phil Jackson at the helm and the dynamic duo leading the charge, the Lakers started the season off 7-0, went 9-1 in their first 10 games, and accumulated an Elo rating of 1725.7 after 10 contests. How much do you want to wager that the LA faithful wish this sort of start was still how the club operates today?

4. 1991-92 Chicago Bulls

Elo Rating: 1729.6

The 1991-92 Chicago Bulls finished the regular season with a 67-15 record before storming through the postseason and capturing the organization’s second consecutive championship — you know, when the great Michael Jordan “shrugged” all over the Portland Trail Blazers. Of course, before all that became a reality, the Bulls opened the year with an 8-2 mark, including a 31-point victory over the Orlando Magic, amassing a 1729.6 Elo rating. Boy, those old-school Bulls teams were something special.

3. 1986-87 Boston Celtics

Larry Bird on the bench

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Elo Rating: 1736.7

Despite winning a title the year before, the 1986-87 Boston Celtics were unable to repeat as NBA champions. This team endured finishing the year with a 59-23 record and a heartbreaking loss to the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Of course, if it’s any consolation prize, Larry Bird and company did manage to put together the third-best start — after the first 10 games — in NBA history with their Elo rating of 1736.7. Still, something tells us they would’ve much rather hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the year.

2. 1996-97 Chicago Bulls

Michael Jordan drives on Gary Payton

Vincent Laforet/AFP/Getty Images

Elo Rating: 1785.5

The Chicago Bulls are back on the list. This time, however, it’s the team from the 1996-97 campaign that managed to distinguish itself. Not only did they go 69-13 on the year and capture a second consecutive championship, but they also began the season undefeated after 10 games. In fact, the Bulls would hit the 12-0 mark before sustaining their first loss of the year to the Utah Jazz on November 23, 1996. With a start to the season like that, it’s no wonder Chicago found itself with an Elo rating 1785.5.

1. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors

Golden State crowd cheers a Stephen Curry bucket

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Elo Rating: 1793.8

As crazy as it sounds, according to FiveThirtyEight, the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are off to the hottest start in NBA history. With reigning MVP, Stephen Curry, playing like a guy with no intention of handing over his crown, the Dubs started the season off 10-0 (11-0 if you include their overtime win against the Brooklyn Nets this past Saturday) and have been destroying the opposition by 16.27 points per game.

There’s no telling whether Golden State will end up repeating as NBA champions. There is still plenty of basketball left this season. However, one thing remains certain, thanks to an Elo rating of 1793.8 through the first 10 games of the 2015-16 season, no team in NBA history has started off better than the Golden State Warriors

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.comFiveThirtyEight, and ESPN.go.com.