This year’s Golden State Warriors have been dominating whatever futile opposition their competition throws at them all season long and have lost only two games this season. Michael Jordan’s 72-win 1995-96 Bulls have long been recognized as the best team ever. Is it time to crown a new king? The Tribune weighs in.
1995-1996 Chicago Bulls
The 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors are not better than the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. Despite the Warriors’ formidable winning stretch, the debate is clearly in favour of Michael Jordan’s Bulls. When we take into account the team’s win parity, the chemistry issues they overcame to win their fourth championship, and the hard knock defence that occupied the league in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the 1995-1996 Bulls are clearly the better team.
The win gap between the 1996 Bulls champion team and that of other teams in the 1995-1996 NBA season is the epitome of dominance. In the entire league there were only three teams that achieved 60 or more wins: The Chicago Bulls (72), the Seattle Supersonics (64), and the Orlando Magic (60). FiveThirtyEight, predicted with their CARMELO algorithm at the start of the season that the Warriors would finish with 67 wins—five wins short of the 1996 Bulls team. With the San Antonio Spurs trailing right behind the Golden State Warriors and the Eastern Conference appearing more competitive than it has been in years, it’s not likely that the Warriors can top the 1996 Bulls’ win dominance.
The Chicago Bulls’ record is even more impressive in light of the raw talent that occupied their roster and how Phil Jackson masterfully got the team to work together to clinch their fourth championship in six years. After a year and a half of coping without the Chicago messiah—who was busy playing baseball during his first retirement—the Bulls had to figure out how to reinstate and find a fit for the second coming of Michael Jordan. Furthermore, Jordan’s comeback from his short baseball career would have to happen without one of the key pieces of the first 1991-1993 Chicago Bulls three-peat: Horace Grant. After an unsuccessful two-year stint with the San Antonio Spurs from 1993-1995, league trouble-maker Dennis Rodman was traded in the 1995 off-season to the Chicago Bulls as a replacement for Grant. Jackson had to convince Rodman to get along with the hard-headed Jordan despite the fact that Rodman had once played for the “Bad Boys” Pistons, who invented the Jordan Rules and nearly injured Jordan on several occasions. Back then, just about anything was fair game: Running under people’s feet after a three-pointer, hand-checking and light holding while guarding, and elbowing in the paint were all common, albeit dangerous practices in the NBA.
In the face of such odds—the difficulty of creating team chemistry and the physicality of ’80s and ’90s NBA defense—the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls are a testament to how far teamwork and determination can go. This year’s Warriors may be stretching the imagination of sports analysts, but with no considerable roster changes from their 2015 championship team and aided by softer defensive rules, the 1996 Bulls emerge superior. They did not have the luxury of stability and referees’ whistles to protect their championship ambitions—ambitions that were fulfilled by winning an improbable 72 games.
2015-2016 Golden State Warrior
Through 38 games, or 46.3 per cent of the NBA season so far, the Golden State Warriors have put together the best record in league history. That’s right, even better than the 1994-1996 Chicago Bulls who ended up going 72-10. In today’s NBA, the Warriors would be a better team because of their elite depth and versatility.
The Bulls faced little resistance in the Eastern Conference during their historic season—only two other teams finished with more than 50 wins. Last season, seven teams finished with 50 or more wins in the Western Conference and two years ago the worst playoff team in the conference had 49 wins. Arguably the level of quality in the NBA has increased in the last 20 years: Players are bigger, stronger, and more athletic, and the influx of international players has also increased the talent pool. It’s harder to do what the Warriors are doing this season than what the Bulls did in their dominant year.
From a pure matchup standpoint the Warriors would have a slim advantage. Although the Bulls were good at defending the three-point line, good doesn’t suffice against the best three-point shooting team of all time. For a team as deep and versatile as Golden State, the barrage of three-pointers doesn’t have to come from Steph Curry or Klay Thompson; rather, secondary scorers would feed off of the extra attention given to the “Splash Brothers,” and attack weaker defenders and rotating defences like they have much of this season. The Warriors are dominating the league not only because of Curry’s individual brilliance but because opposing second units are being overwhelmed.
The Bulls’ best big man defender, Dennis Rodman, wasn’t tasked with defending in space when he was a mainstay on the All-NBA defensive team. In the pace and space era, his defensive strengths would be mitigated and he would be drawn away from the rim, negating some of his prodigious rebounding abilities as well. The Bulls’ other rotation big men were career journeymen who were hardly rim protectors and would run into the same issues defending the spread pick and roll—the staple of every good NBA offence in 2016.
By comparison, the Warriors big men are either elite rim protectors, such as Festus Ezeli and Bogut, or arguably the most versatile defender in the league, in Draymond Green. On the perimeter, the Warriors are aptly built to match up well with any team, including the Bulls. Stopping Michael Jordan would have been impossible, but no other team in the salary cap era has as many athletic and rangy 6’6” or taller defenders to throw at wing scorers.
The Warriors’ X-factor, as it has been throughout the season, is its ‘lineup of death’ where they bring out Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and Green. All five players can pass, beat their man off the dribble, and shoot effectively from the perimeter. On defence everyone except for Curry can switch who they’re guarding. There hasn’t been a lineup like this in the NBA that can beat opposing teams in as many ways.
The Bulls are a historically great team and they were rightly the best team in league history, up until now. But when the Warriors lift their second championship in a row at the end of this season, the Bulls will be nudged out of their top spot by a team that was deeper and more versatile.
Editors’ Pick: 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors
The Warriors’ superior combination of balance and depth allows the team to maximize their efficiency in an unprecedented manner and play with nearly unstoppable teamwork. It seems that no matter what combination of talent the Warriors put on the court at a time, they’ll outclass whatever futile opposition their competition throws at them.