The 1995-96 Bulls team that won 72 games in the regular season led by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman has been looked at as one of the most dominant teams in NBA history, but critics have wondered if they were indeed the most dominant ever.
Now here we are in 2015 watching an impressive squad that comes off a championship year start the season win 17 straight wins, so the rumblings have begun about the Warriors possibly being better than the Bulls team of 1996 and capable of breaking the 72-win mark.
It’s a difficult goal, but this Warriors team has a relentless attitude and something the Bulls in 1996 did not – youth on their side.
This ongoing debate makes me want to break down the matchups and come to a conclusion that might shock you.
Let’s go with the starters first.
Michael Jordan vs. Klay Thompson
Jordan: The one thing people didn’t understand about him is how strong he was. He could control your body position on both ends of the court despite any weight advantage you might have. That gave him a tremendous edge based on his superior basketball skills. The trait that separated him was his fanatical will to destroy you. Klay would meet that person and then some in every facet of the game.
Thompson: Believe it or not, Jordan was easy to score on early in games because he concentrated on getting his offensive rhythm flowing. You allow Klay great looks early and he can compete with anyone. He is one the best three-way offensive players in the league. He’s good at shooting, driving and posting up, but he would wear down eventually from the intense pressure Jordan applies on both ends of the court.
Ron Harper vs. Steph Curry
Harper: He was actually signed as an offensive replacement for then-retired Jordan, but pressure to replace him seemed extremely difficult for the player who averaged 20.1 ppg the year before. When Jordan returned, he was happy to turn his energy towards defense and rebounding. He would definitely try and take advantage of Steph in the post offensively while holding and grabbing to irritate him on the defensive end.
Curry: The best variety all-around shooter I have ever seen. He’s stronger than what most people perceive and has a tenacious demeanor behind that choirboy face. He would negate Harper’s plan to get under his skin by using rough tactics with constant movement and involving him in multiple screen-and-rolls and down-screens giving him the inch he needs to bury jumpers non-stop in his grill.
Scottie Pippen vs. Harrison Barnes
Pippen: The most underrated basketball player in NBA history, in my opinion. Has never been fully appreciated for his ability to balance touches between his teammates and Jordan, then be counted on to score, defend and rebound. He undoubtedly was the most important player on that Bulls team. His speed and quickness to go along with his length would negate Barnes and take his confidence down a few notches, thus rendering him invisible at times.
Barnes: Essentially a poor man’s Scottie Pippen, without a major responsibility because of the plethora of skill players on this Warriors team. Definitely capable of exploding and having a huge game if allowed too. He has 20-10 skills and if Scottie was forced to move over and guard Thompson or Curry – which might happen – then Barnes would definitely have an impact and he would be ecstatic Scottie did.
Dennis Rodman vs. Draymond Green
Rodman: The most devastating player defensively and rebounding the ball ever (outside of Bill Russell). The ultimate one-way player, although given the chance he could hurt you offensively around the basket. He controlled games with his ability to get under the skin of great offensive players. Although tough and a bother in his own right, Green would find out that there is two more levels to becoming an irritant on the basketball court when he encounters Rodman.
Green: He has become a mirror image of Rodman to an extent with the bonus of a potent offensive game. Green would have a sincere edge on the offensive end with his ability to shoot the ball and the fact he can play point forward. I still don’t believe Green is more dominant than Rodman in the grand scheme of things because Dennis will get under your skin and upset each and every person in the building.
Luc Longley vs. Andrew Bogut
Longley: Played his role nicely by staying out of the way and taking up space defensively. He had capable offensive skills when he caught the ball in his comfort zone. He was valuable in helping Jordan and Pippen evade tight defenders as well. I believe Bogut would take advantage of him with his ability to move around in the paint on the offensive glass and running the floor for lobs.
Bogut: He would dominate Longley on the stat sheet and quite possibly force the Bulls’ hand at possibly putting a more agile player against him like Rodman, Jason Caffey or Dickey Simpkins. Bogut can score given the opportunity and the Bulls would show their weakness when it came to dealing with him.
Toni Kukoc vs. Andre Iguodala
Kukoc: Toni was extremely versatile. His excellent outside shot would prevent Iguodala from helping out on Jordan and Pippen. He also became kind of like Scottie in regards to running the offense. Kukoc was the most dangerous scorer in crunch time aside from Jordan because he was not afraid to step on MJ’s toes.
Iguodala: A proven scorer who learned to adjust his role once he became a Warrior and because of that has turned into one of the best two-way players in the NBA. His energy and strength would wear down Kukoc and would allow him to focus on guarding Jordan or Pippen at one point. He is the most important player of his squad along with Green.
Steve Kerr vs. Shaun Livingston
Kerr: Role player who knew exactly what he could offer and competed hard on the defensive end despite being at a physical disadvantage most nights. If you left him open, you paid a heavy price because he was one of the greatest spot-up shooters in NBA history and was a big-shot maker.
Livingston: Extremely versatile on both ends and can play three positions. He is an above-average scorer that will take smaller players to the post and force double-teams. He would be a matchup nightmare for the Bulls with Jordan, Pippen or Harper resting.
Bill Wennington vs. Festus Ezeli
Wennington: He had size and an ability to make mid-range jump shots. This provided trust between Jordan and Pippen and allowed him to finish games at times.
Ezeli: He is an aggressive, active big man who could be the Warriors’ best athlete. He can score in the paint and plays with a nasty edge that would counter Rodman.
Jud Buechler vs. Leandro Barbosa
Buechler: A role player who understood the triangle and could make a shot when needed, but was slow afoot and limited in all facets.
Barbosa: He would become a serious problem for the Bulls because they would have no one to match his size, quickness and scoring ability off the bench in the backcourt. He could get double figures in 10 minutes and that could be the difference.
Jason Caffey vs Brandon Rush
Caffey: Serviceable body when key players had foul trouble. The Bulls could not count on him although he had decent offensive skills
Rush: Another explosive wing player that would stretch the defense and get an easy bucket on the break, which makes him valuable in a pinch.
James Edwards vs. Marreese Speights
Edwards: Solid big man who could defend and post up. Bulls trusted he would make right decisions because of his championship pedigree with the Detroit Pistons.
Speights: He has huge confidence to score and that scares the Warriors at times, but they control him by limiting his minutes.
Dickey Simpkins vs. James Michael McAdoo
Simpkins would have an edge because of experience, but neither would be a factor.
Randy Brown and Jack Haley vs. Ian Clark and Kevin Looney
Brown and Haley could contribute more thanks experience and know-how.
When you break down this contest, it is obvious the Bulls will have a distinct advantage when it comes to key core players, but I don’t think that Bulls squad ever faced a team that could throw five players on the floor who could all run, pass, shoot and defend like Golden State has with Curry, Thompson, Green, Barnes and Iguodala.
This is why it’s so difficult to compare eras. With the different defensive rules now, it thoroughly throws a monkey wrench into trying to figure out which team would win.
I will say this: The belief that these Warriors could not play with hand checking is a myth. Champions come about because of a tenacious desire to excel and rules changes have nothing to do with individuals who pushed to the limit to succeed. This Warrior group is athletic, strong-willed, unselfish and skillful.
It’s almost impossible to go against that Chicago team. It’s got a serious hold on me because I played against them often as a member of the Indiana Pacers that season.
Yes, I totally believe hand checking would bother the Warriors, but I also believe the Bulls only had three players in Jordan, Pippen and Rodman that were quick and strong enough to get their hands on a Warriors team with 10 quick and productive players.
The one advantage the Bulls have is Michael Jordan and without a doubt he could will the Bulls to victory with his usual spectacular game… Then again, did Jordan ever face a team that could actually guard him with seven different players? The modern-day Warriors could do that and then make him work defensively no matter who he was guarding.
That’s the intricate beauty of this Warriors team and I have honestly never seen a group this athletic, unselfish, skilled and young.
So without a doubt, I can say the Golden State Warriors would beat the ’96 Chicago Bulls with or without the rules of hand checking!