Measuring the Warriors against the Bulls is stupid. There, I said it. It’s a complete apples to oranges comparison that ignores some of the most basic advancements in modern basketball strategy and knowledge over the past several years. The Bulls could not beat the Warriors. In fact, the Bulls would lose to modern teams with far less impressive resumes. Why? Because basketball teams are smarter nowadays, that’s why.
The biggest example? Three-point shooting. Thanks to basic math, we now know that three-pointers are more valuable than two-pointers because, well, three is a bigger number than two. Assuming you can make even an average percentage, odds are three’s are going to yield more points over the long haul. Nowadays, this is accepted as fact. In 1996? Not so much.
Only 19.6% of Chicago’s shots were three-pointers. The Warriors take 35.9% of their shots as three’s. That probably explains the fairly significant difference in their offensive success. The Warriors are blitzing the entire league with an effective field goal percentage (a stat that accounts for the added value of three-pointers) of 56.3%. The Bulls are almost 5% lower at 51.7%. That wouldn’t even be in the top-five among 2016 offenses, and that difference of 4.6% is bigger than the difference between second-place San Antonio (52.9%) and 27th-place Chicago (48.4%) this season.
And keep in mind, the Bulls did this with a shortened 22-foot three-point line. Had they been operating under a normal line, their offensive numbers would have declined sharply. Case in point: the 1998 Bulls, with largely the same roster, had only a 47.3% eFG%. That’s better than only one 2016 team, the Lakers, and those Bulls won the championship.
Granted, that’s just one measure of offensive success, but it goes to show just how far the sport has advanced over the last two decades. Here’s another area: rest. Michael Jordan played almost 38 minutes per game in 1996-97 and Scottie Pippen trailed just behind at slightly under 37. No Warrior plays even 35 minutes per game, and none match Jordan’s feat of playing in all 82 games that season.
Well, if the Warriors and Bulls, two 70+ win teams, are meeting for a seven-game series, odds are that series is taking place in the NBA Finals. Teams have now researched the importance of rest enough to know what kind of impact it has late in the playoffs. The Bulls would have much more wear and tear on their bodies coming into a series with Golden State than the Warriors would.
We could go on and on. Modern NBA players have far more efficient training regimens that keep them healthy and in-shape to a greater degree than their older counterparts. Better coaching and more versatile players have led to smarter defenses that switch relentlessly and give up far more inefficient shots than the ones that Bulls surrendered. Heck, even genetics have improved among NBA players over the last 20 years. The Warriors have a 6’7” POINT GUARD in Shaun Livingston. The Bulls have only five players on their roster who are taller.
This isn’t to take anything away from the 1995-96 Bulls. Far from it, they remain one of the best teams in the history of professional sports and you could certainly argue that what they did relative to their competition was more impressive than what Golden State is doing right now. But if the two met in a series? The Warriors would win. Basketball players and teams simply get smarter and better as time passes on. The Spurs would beat the Bulls too. In fact, I’m reasonably confident that the Clippers, Cavaliers and Thunder would all do so without much trouble.
And if the Bulls played any great teams from the ’60s or ’70s? They’d sweep them with just as much ease. That’s just the nature of sports.