ESPN has a set of videos where they’re comparing the 1996 Chicago Bulls against the 2016 Golden State Warriors. They’re talking about this while the championship series is still ongoing (with the Warriors up 2-0 against the Cavaliers), so it’s a little premature – but having watched the Warriors eviscerate the Cavaliers twice, I can understand it.
The consensus is, from what I’ve seen, that the ’96 Bulls – generally heralded as the buzzsaw against which all other buzzsaws will be compared – would be at a disadvantage against the current Warriors team.
I’m struggling with that one.
I can see this Warriors team being a tough game for the Bulls. I can see them pushing the Bulls to the limit; maybe a seven-game series, even, especially with modern rules and the Warriors’ emphasis on the three-point shot, which the Bulls didn’t contend with as often.
I checked the numbers. In 1996, threes went up somewhere between 16 and 17 a game. In 2016 – now – they shoot 21 a game. GSW’s numbers, though, are unreal: in game 2 against the Cavaliers, they made 18 three pointers – more than the Bulls would have seen shot – and shot 43 three pointers. In game 1, it was more pedestrian: twelve of 33 from deep.
Yikes. The Bulls killed from midrange; the Warriors snipe you without you even knowing they’re there.
The Bulls had a lot going for them, though: Pippen, Jordan, and Rodman; Kukoç, Ron Harper, Bison Dele and Robert Parish.
Compare against the Warriors: Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Iguodala, Livingston (sort of).
On paper, the significant contributors for each team… the Warriors have more. The “significant” names on those rosters go three deep for the Bulls, and five deep for the Warriors, and let’s be honest: Jordan and Pippen would score on you at will, but Rodman’s usage would center on world-class defense and rebounding. He wasn’t likely to pour twenty points on you, ever, and the Warriors’ “big five” could all drop 20 – or 30 – on you, especially sharing the floor with the other options.
That’s what makes the Warriors so deadly. Through two games against the Cavaliers, I’ve seen a number of plays (where “number” means “more than five”) where the Cavs defender simply left the scorer alone simply by trying to defend the wrong guy; every play, you force the defender to wonder whether it’s going to be a pass to another scorer, or whether his guy’s actually going to shoot – and making the absolutely worst choice possible.
Would the Bulls make the same mistakes?
On paper, it’s hard to argue; looking at what the Warriors are doing to a great Cavaliers team, it’s easy to say “Oh, yeah… those geezers from 1996 are toast.”
But I don’t know; if it were a series between the eras, and we adjusted the rules to average between then and now… I’d be afraid to bet. I don’t think the Bulls are going to make the choices the Cavs are making; I think they can defend straight up, and Rodman’s going serve as the secret sauce, with Jordan’s homicidally-competitive nature being the fire.
I remember watching the Bulls. Sure, I know a lot more about basketball now than I did then, but I remember. I think the Warriors would make a series of it; I think they could even win the series. But … better than the 1996 Bulls?
The jury’s still out. I’d need to see the Warriors win this year, first – last year they had a 3-1 advantage and lost, thanks to Curry’s injury, Green’s ill-timed suspension, and some heroics on the part of the Cavaliers. Let them win, and I’ll think about it.
But for right now… I’d still bet on the Bulls.