By: Jonathan Kermah
The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors located in the Bay Area of California are already having a historically great season. They hold the record for the best start to a season of all time with a 24-0 start. Currently with a record of 60-6, the Warriors are on pace to possibly beat the record of the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls’ regular season record of 72-10. The Warriors are very talented but what many question is how they would stack up against the Bulls.
Many former NBA players have weighed in on this debate, and often side with the Bulls without hesitation. From Hall of Famers like Charles Barkley on TNT to former members of the Bulls like starting guard Ron Harper, there seems to be a consensus that the current Warriors would not stand a chance against the Bulls.
|Point Guard||Stephen Curry||Ron Harper|
|Shooting Guard||Klay Thompson||Michael Jordan|
|Small Forward||Harrison Barnes||Scottie Pippen|
|Power Forward||Draymond Green||Dennis Rodman|
|Center||Andrew Bogut||Luc Longley|
|Bench||Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezili, Shaun Livingston, Brandon Rush, Jason Thompson, Ian Clark, Kevon Looney, Marreese Speights||Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, Randy Brown, Jason Caffey, James Edwards, Jack Haley, John Salley, Dickey Simpkins, Bell Wennington|
The Case for the Warriors
The Warriors have a much greater chance than people realize. Some of the statistics of this team are astonishing. Currently the Warriors hold an all-time record for consecutive home wins with 46 and counting.
As a team, the Warriors shoot 41 percent from behind the three point line. That is normally the percentage of an astonishing individual three point shooter, but they are doing that as a team. They also lead the league in total assists. The combination of shooting and passing makes them very hard to guard, which is the reason the team averages a league high 115.5 points per game.
The reigning MVP and leader of the Warriors, Stephen Curry, is having a transcendent season on his own. He currently averages 30.5 points per game (ppg), 5.4 rebounds per game (rpg), 6.5 assists per game (apg), 5.1 three pointers per game (3pg), and has a firm spot in the 50-40-90 club with a field goal percentage of 51 percent, a three point percentage of 46 percent, and a free throw percentage of 90.4 percent. While that’s impressive, it’s not the biggest highlight of his statistically great season.
At this point in the season Curry is on pace to hold the all time record Player Efficiency Rating (PER), with a PER of 32.2. That edges out Michael Jordan’s personal best PER of 31.71 during the ’87-’88 season; during the ‘96 Bull’s season Jordan’s PER was 29.35.
Alongside Curry, is the other half of the “Splash Brothers,” elite sharpshooter Klay Thompson. Averaging 22 points per game and shooting 41 percent from deep, he isn’t someone to be overlooked. Defensively he may even be able to challenge Pippen with his size and athleticism.
Throw in the “Swiss army knife” in Draymond Green and this team becomes unstoppable. Green averages 13.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 7.4 apg, and his passing ability from the forward position is only matched by that of Cleveland’s LeBron James and Boston’s Larry Bird.
That elite passing comes into pick and roll combinations between Curry and Green. Teams often elect to double Curry off of a pick, allowing Green to run the offense from the top of the key with a four on three advantage. Throw in an elite bench and capable veterans in Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut and this becomes the standout offense of this generation.
The offense is one of the most beautiful ever seen, but defensively the Warriors are also elite. While they lead the league in pace, the Warriors are still top 10 in points allowed per 100 possessions with 103.7.
What makes the team so special defensively is its versatility. Yes, they have standard defensive center types in Bogut and Festus Ezili who protect the rim, but what takes them over the edge are players like Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and even Thompson to a certain extent.
These four players, especially Green can guard multiple positions. Green can guard just about anyone in this league from, Chris Paul (6’0”) to Deandre Jordan (6’11”). The others are not too far behind in their versatility, allowing the Warriors to continuously switch on pick and rolls without much risk.
They would have plenty of options to throw at Jordan defensively, similar to the finals last year against James, but stopping Jordan is easier said than done.
The Case for the Bulls
Yes, the Warriors Defense is great, but Michael Jordan is considered the greatest of all time for a reason. The closest level of talent in an individual the Warriors have faced would be King James, who in the NBA finals last year averaged 35.8 ppg, 13.3 rpg and 8.8 apg.
In the Finals, what made the Cavaliers able to compete with the Warriors was their ability to slow the tempo against the face paced Warriors by running meticulously slow isolation plays for James. This lead the Cavaliers to win two games with an injury depleted roster.
Jordan is a whole different beast than James. In the ‘95-‘96 regular season, Jordan averaged 30.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, and 4.3 apg. With the talented Bulls’ roster around him, he would be deadly against the Warriors.
Jordan built much of his career around isolation scoring. James had a field goal percentage of 40 percent in the Finals against the Warriors. Jordan would most likely be more efficient scoring on isolation plays because that is something he did for the majority of his career.
The Bulls revolved around Jordan, but there was a very strong roster around him as well. Rodman and Pippen, and even Harper could cause serious problems for the Warriors as well.
Curry might not seem guardable this season but the ‘96 Bulls were known for their defense especially on the perimeter. Jordan, Harper and Pippen could make it real tough for Curry to score and might make Thompson look nonexistent.
Rodman is often looked at as the greatest rebounder of all time, which may be a problem for the Warriors’ deadly small ball lineup where Green, a 6’7” power forward, is placed at center. Rodman averaged 14.9 rpg in the ‘95-‘96 season and 5.6 offensive boards specifically.
He would be the perfect piece to combat the small ball Warriors. Like Green, Rodman is extremely versatile defensively and could guard wing players as well as big men. Rodman could easily be placed at center when Green is at center, and has the versatility to switch onto Curry on pick and roles for brief moments.
Pippen could possibly take any player on the Warriors out of the equation offensively. He was that great defensively. In 1991, he even caused trouble for the 6’9” Magic Johnson in the finals, so imagine what he could do against Green or Thompson. His 6’8” height would also cause problems for Curry and make it tough for him to get shots off that he is accustomed to.
On the offensive end, Pippen functions as the team’s playmaker. In ‘96 he averaged a team high of 5.9 apg. He was also a capable scorer with 16.9 ppg.
Harper would be a major key in defeating the Warriors. With his 6’6” height, he is automatically a mismatch for Curry. There is nowhere to hide Curry defensively against the starting lineup. Harper could post up Curry, and Jordan would demolish Curry.
This series would be unbelievable to watch, but by the end of it, the Bulls would come out on top. Home court advantage would have a serious effect on the series but the 96’ Bulls hold the best road record of all time, so if any team could go into the Oracle Arena and pull out the win, it would definitely be the Bulls.
For Curry, this would be the hardest match-up of his career. Defensively there would be no one he could guard in the starting lineup and the combination of Jordan, Pippen and Harper would cause him to throw fits offensively. Would he score? Yes, but it would be harder than ever dealing with the physicality of the trio.
The opposite could be said for Jordan; defensively there may be no match for him. Yes, Iguodola and maybe even Green would cause him problems but he would still have a dominant series similar to James last year and unlike James, he has all-stars on his team as well.
Rodman would have a field day on the boards and Scottie might make Thompson a shell of himself. The Bulls might just have the ideal players to counteract the Warriors’ “small ball of death lineup” with Harper, Jordan, Pippen, Kukoc and Rodman at the center to destroy the boards.
With that being said, the series would at least go to six games. Losing to what is considered the greatest ever does not mean the Warriors themselves are not a historically great team. This is the best team of the 21st century, but the ‘96 Bulls would be of the select few to have their number.