On the day where we will find out if this year’s Golden State Warriors will in fact beat the 1996 Chicago Bulls season wins total record, I can’t help but pose the obvious question. It’s been asked, talked about, argued, and dismissed on nearly every sports show in America. Both teams are clearly great, but the question we always feel we must ask is who is the better team?
Right off the bat, we can immediately identify both teams two best players: Jordan and Pippen for the Bulls; Steph and Klay for the Warriors. When you directly compare these four players, they are fairly similar. MJ averaged 30.4 points per game and Steph averaged 29.9. Pippen was at 19.4 and Klay was at 22.2. Every offensive stat is close except two. Pippen averaged almost six assists and six and a half boards a game while Klay only posted two assists and almost four rebounds.
Clearly, Klay can score and shoot much better than Pippen ever could. That point can’t even really be argued. The argument is that Pippen played Robin to his Batman much better than Klay does his. Pippen has better stats than Klay in most categories except points per game and three point percentage. Even those two stats are closer than you might think. Klay shoots 42% from three and Pippen shot 37%. Their points per game was only four points apart.
The big difference in Klay and Pip is their Value Over Replacement Player rating, or VORP. In this stat, Pip blows Klay away with a 6.3 VORP versus Klay’s 1.7 VORP. That really speaks to how valuable Pip was to that squad.
Our X-factor, so to speak, is obviously Draymond Green. He is a stat stuffer and the Bulls had no one who did close to what Green does. Klay and Draymond basically cancel out Pippen and Draymond cancels out the other three Bulls starters.
Both teams were extremely talented, but in different ways. The Bulls had an elite half-court offense led by one of the best coaches of all time in Phil Jackson. The Warriors are fast-paced and rely heavily on the three-point shot and are coached by a former member of those Chicago Bulls in Steve Kerr. For what it’s worth, Kerr shot 51% from the field and three that season, both better than Steph this year.
The Warriors are the most offensively explosive team ever. The reason is simple, too. They shoot the three much more (and better) than any other team and they have more fast break points than almost any other team. They rely on burying opponents with a barrage of three’s and then hanging on for the victory. They led the NBA in nine offensive statistical categories, while the 1996 Bulls only led the league in one such category.
A stat that jumps out to me, seemingly validating the above points is opponents points per game. The Warriors allow 104 points per game to opponents. The Bulls allowed just 93. I know, the defensive rule changes and the elevation of the three point game league-wide is some of that discrepancy. Some of it, though, is that the Bulls were the best defensive team; Ever.
To answer the original question of which team would win and why, here is the prognosis. In a seven game series, the Bulls would win most of the time. The simple fact is this: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were far better defensive players than Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. To be fair, both Jordan and Pippen were well into their careers in 1996, while Klay and Steph are both relatively new to the NBA. In a few years, they likely will become much better defensive players, but this is about 1996 versus 2016.
The other factor that is being overlooked in this debate is coaching. Steve Kerr is great. He learned from some of the best in the game’s history in Jackson and Popovich. That said, Phil Jackson is the best coach the NBA has ever seen. Ever. He would be able to devise a game plan to effectively shut down both Steph and Klay using man-to-man defense (remember, no zone in 1996). Jordan and Pippen slowing down Steph and Klay, as well as the Bulls playing a slower, half-court game taking advantage of turnovers caused by their stellar defense, and I think that all adds up to the Bulls winning a series between the two.
It’s important to understand that while this debate is fun to talk about, it shouldn’t be taken as something to demean or diminish what the Warriors have accomplished this season. They’ve had an incredible season and are for sure one of the league’s best teams ever assembled. As a true hoops fan, it has been impressive to watch.
As we all watch tonight to see if this Warriors team can in fact beat the 1996 Chicago Bulls record tonight in California, let’s try to appreciate what we’re watching. 73 wins or 72….This season’s Warriors have been a treat to watch. Let’s enjoy the show.