How much alike are these Golden State Warriors and the ’95-’96 Bulls?
Let us stipulate one thing off the bat: The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls are likely cemented as the best team in basketball history for whatever time the NBA has remaining on this earth.
Consider this: The team that ultimately won 72 games and lost just 10 ended up that way only after its final three losses of the season (games 68, 75 and 81) were by one point each. If they had made just one more basket in each of those games, the Bulls would’ve won (deep breaths now) 75 games in one season. What makes it all the more amazing is that it was not all that inconceivable.
Which brings us to today’s Golden State Warriors, who are a most excellent basketball team in their own right. After Tuesday night’s overtime loss to (who else?) Chicago, the Warriors remain a robust 36-7 on the year, on pace for 68.6 wins on the year, except it’s impossible to win a sixth of a game, so let’s call it 68, which is also not 72 wins but pretty dang good. In fact, only three teams other than the 72-win Bulls have reached such a height: the 1996-97 Bulls (69 wins), 1966-67 76ers (68 wins) and 1972-73 Boston Celtics (68 wins).
Can the Warriors go 36-3 the rest of the season and tie the Bulls’ mark? Probably not, but winning 70 might be a goal still within some semblance of reach.
To gauge their chances, let’s see how today’s Warriors stack up with that historic Bulls team of yore:
Offense and defense: living in harmony
It’s not oversimplistic to say, well, they’re the best team in the league, clearly they excel in all aspects. But the Warriors, in fact, have made improvements in almost all facets of play this season. Moving up from 12th to fourth in offensive rating (which measures points scored per 100 possessions) and improving from sixth to first in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) puts them squarely in the old Bulls’ domain.
Except that team, which boasted one of the greatest defensive players (Michael Jordan) and greatest rebounders (Dennis Rodman) of all time, ranked first in both categories after all 82 games.
Two stars burn bright
Jordan had Scottie Pippen by his side, and after that was a relatively huge drop-off. For the most part, it was those two guys for the Bulls. They contributed:
Compare that to Golden State’s Splash Brothers — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — and their importance to this year’s Warriors team and you get something like this:
Now, we’re dealing with perhaps the greatest three-point shooter of all-time (Curry) as well as maybe the second- or third-best in the game today, so that 59 percent figure should be astronomical, but when you talk about a one-two tandem essentially leading in all important facets, this is what it looks like, both back then and now.
Never bet against a playmaker
The Bulls had Jordan. The Warriors have Curry, who can do things like this, simply because he decides to:
A branch from the same coaching tree
The Bulls had Phil Jackson, who was in his seventh season as head coach and gunning for his fourth title. The Warriors have Steve Kerr, whose career coaching record exactly matches Golden State’s wins and losses in the standings. (By the way, let’s step back for a second and say it out loud, so as to acknowledge its improbable truth, "Steve Kerr’s career coaching record is 36 wins and seven losses." Remarkable.)
But Kerr has been reluctant all season to discuss much of any comparison to those mid-’90s Bulls teams, which is unfortunate because there are few better experts to do so. Kerr, as a 30-year-old guard, played all 82 games during that 1995-96 season and averaged 8.4 points per contest.
Perhaps Kerr is reluctant to let expectations get out of hand, but he’s also probably cognizant that this season marks 40 years since the Warriors even went to an NBA Finals. And in a Western Conference that is stacked from top to bottom, where the Kevin Durant-led Thunder might qualify as a No. 7 or 8 seed, that’s a smart philosophy to carry forward.
In the West, winning 70 or even 72 games might get you into the record books, but it won’t automatically get you out of the first round of the playoffs.