With the Warriors running roughshod over all competition, there’s been a lot of speculation lately about who would win in a seven game series between the 2017 Warriors and the 1996 Chicago Bulls. Here are five reasons why the Bulls would win:
Note: Both teams would have 15 days to prepare for the series.
5. Home Court
The only fair way to do this matchup would be to have 1996 refereeing in Chicago and 2017 refereeing in Golden State, and since Chicago won 72 games, they would have home court advantage. Golden State wouldn’t be used to being hand checked on the perimeter (or hand checking themselves). Throw in all the other advantages of playing at home – sleep at home, the lighting in the arena, the crowd – and four out of seven is a big advantage for them in a series like this.
The Bulls’ biggest disadvantage going into this series would be their inability to space the floor and hit a lot of threes. No matter who’s guarding them, the Warriors are going to hit a lot of threes. What’s more, the current strategy of spacing the floor and shooting threes is just smarter. It isn’t a fad; it’s a better way to play. The Bulls would have to shoot threes just to keep up, and replacing the 7’2″ Luc Longley with the 6’11” (and FAR more perimeter-oriented) Kukoc is a no-brainer. Rodman becomes the pick-setting non-shooter who grabs all the rebounds, and Kukoc could play outside to clear the lane for Pippen and (especially) Jordan.
3. The Bulls Were Actually Pretty Good at Shooting Threes in 1996
Compared to the rest of the Bulls’ title teams, the ’96 squad was by far the best at shooting threes (40% on 1,350 attempts). It was also Jordan’s best individual year shooting threes (42.7% on 260 attempts). Pippen shot better than 37% on 400 attempts. Kukoc shot 40%. The “modern” game is clearly a superior way of playing – the efficiency numbers bear that out – so assuming the Bulls would be able to scout the Warriors during those 15 days, they could have looked at how many threes the Warriors (and everyone else) were shooting, glanced at their own efficiency stats, and put two and two together and decided to shoot more threes. That would mitigate the Warriors’ greatest advantage. The biggest risk? Phil Jackson, Mr. My-Way-or-the-Highway, refusing to adapt.
2. MJ vs the Modern Hand Checking Rules and Style of Play
It’s safe to say the modern game would fit Michael Jordan just fine. This isn’t that complicated: the Bulls would take advantage of the hand checking rules at home by being physical on defense, but they would also benefit on the road, because with no hand checking, no true rim protectors, guys getting flagrant fouls for breathing on people, and genuine tough hombres like Charles Oakley ridden out of the league, Michael Jordan would be the definition of impossible to guard. He was also deadly on the pick-and-roll, as you can see above. Throw in the fact that he would be shooting more threes with or without Phil Jackson’s permission and you can imagine MJ’s numbers would be stratospheric, even for him.
1. Perimeter Defense
The most underrated part of those ’90s Bulls teams was their ability to completely shut down opposing teams on the perimeter and switch the hell out of pick and rolls (even more valuable in 2017) with Jordan, Harper, Pippen, and Rodman all around the same height. Imagine Jordan on Curry, Harper on Klay, Pippen on Durant, and Rodman on Draymond. In Chicago, that would be deadly because of the physical play that would be allowed and even in Oakland, it would be a hell of a lot more effective than any defensive lineup the LeBron 2.0 Cavs have ever thrown out there against the Warriors. Golden State will rain threes on anyone – you can’t stop it – but the Bulls’ defense might be able to contain it.