The Warriors Would Sweep the ’96 Bulls. And Here’s Why

Jordan and Curry

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.

Jan 7, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) reacts after making a shot against the Sacramento Kings during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 118-115. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

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.

6 thoughts on “The Warriors Would Sweep the ’96 Bulls. And Here’s Why”

  1. Good article. Not only would today’s Warriors beat the Bulls, but the great teams from the 80’s would beat them, too (83 Sixers, 80’s Lakers and Celtics). Mike Greenberg said as much back in 2005 when he and Golic commented at the end of ESPN Classic’s Who’s #1 special about the Best NBA Teams ever.

    I don’t think that the Warriors would sweep them, though. Here’s why: Dennis Rodman. He would help Chicago keep it close. If they didn’t have him, they don’t win three more in a row. He brought them the interior defense and rebounding that they lacked the year before when they lost to the Magic and Horace Grant, their ex-teammate.


    1. My issue with Rodman especially, but really that entire Bulls team, is spacing. I don’t know how the Bulls would generate any spacing with Rodman and a true center on the floor against a modern defense that packs the paint, especially since Jordan and Pippen weren’t great three-point shooters themselves.


      1. Good point. He wouldn’t have much impact on offense. However, his impact would come on the defensive end. To me, he seemed to provide more than defense and rebounding. He also seemed to get into the heads of the opposing team.

        Also, you talk about MJ not being a great three-point shooter. True. And, he wasn’t a great defender by that time, either. His defensive ability regressed in his post-baseball days.


      2. That’s another great point. There’s a lot of mixing and matching when it comes to Jordan. He was a great defender earlier in his career, and a lot of his offensive game evolved to become craftier as he aged, but these things didn’t happen at the same time. By 1996 he wasn’t at that Defensive Player of the Year level and would struggle especially if he was matched with Curry.


  2. Sam Quinn says “Michael Jordan played almost 38 minutes per game ……Jordan’s feat of playing in all 82 games that season………. The Bulls would have much more wear and tear on their bodies coming into a series with Golden State than the Warriors would.”
    You may be able to measure to measure today’s game & players by stats but what you could never measure is “the heart” of a truly great & competitive players (what the 80’s & 90’s had) that would drive them to greatness & would easily defy those stats.
    Michael Jordan played 38 mins+ a game but he always had that competitive streak, to the point where there was “no quit” in him- that would always overcome any ‘wear & tear’. Same with Scottie Pippen- they could each play 44-45 mins+ a game vs today’s Warriors and most likely find a way to win, cuz they have the psychological advantage of having been in so many p/o situations, meeting challenges (92 vs NY/Cleve/Port, 93 vs NY, 98 vs Ind) & repeatedly prevailing in close, down-to-the wire games over a decade- something Golden St still does not have, despite winning 73 games this year.
    While one could point out the efficiency of Stephen Curry & the Warrior’s 3pt shooting ability, another factor that is often overlooked is that the 1990’s Bulls were, over-all, a pretty solid and underrated defensive team that often took away an opponent’s strength’s, including 3pt (92 Finals vs Port, 93 Finals vs Phoe, & 96 Finals vs Sea- all VG 3pt shooting teams themselves- but each negated for the most part vs Bulls D) shooting. Tim Hardaway was a PG 3pt shooter for the Miami Heat in the 97 playoffs but the Bulls (97 ECF) practically bottled him up in that series. The Bulls on D, coached by Phil Jackson would effectively cover the 3pt line and guard the perimeter, forcing Golden State & Curry to play inside, which Chicago would then subject them to smothering, pressing man-to-man D, making the Warriors rush their shots or getting of ‘hurried’ 3ptrs, just trying to beat the 24sec clock.
    And both Jordan & Pippen actually would thrive playing an up-tempo game, which is supposed to be Golden State’s preferred style of play. They could both easily average 35pts+, getting 3-4 steals each on D with their quick hands, run the floor getting easy breakway layups either for themselves or setting up their teammates for easy open shots.
    Match the 2016 Warriors (73wins) vs the 1996 “72win” Bulls, with the Warriors having the home-field advantage? I’ll take the Bulls in five. The one dent that could be pointed out in Chicago’s decade of dominance is that they were almost always “extended”, playing in the ‘Finals (tho they could have easily & should have swept the Lakers in ’91) but they had a pretty impressive feat of winning on the opponent’s floor (3 championships clinched on the road) when they needed it.


    1. I’ve always tried to avoid bringing things like heart into the equation unless it’s so evident I can’t ignore it. Yes, Jordan and the Bulls had it. But so do the Warriors. They clinched the title on the road last year. They had to fight back in multiple series. Look at all of the comebacks they’ve made this year.


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