In the 1995-1996 season, the Chicago Bulls went 72-10 in the regular season before going 12-3 in the playoffs, on their way to winning the first championship of their second three-peat. They only lost two games at home the entire season, both in April and both by one point. Michael Jordan won MVP, Finals MVP, All-Star Game MVP and made All-NBA First Team while leading the league in scoring. Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman made the All-Defensive First Team. (Pippen made the All-NBA team as well.) Toni Kukoc won Sixth Man of the Year. Phil Jackson won Coach of the Year.
That team is considered by many to be the best team of all time, and though there are valid arguments for some early-‘70s Knicks teams, mid-‘80s Celtics teams and early-aughts Lakers teams, you’d be hard-pressed to argue against the ’95-’96 Bulls. Part of their mystique was the ease with which they won, and by the time they reached the Finals, the outcome seemed as if it had already been determined.
Now let’s look at the Warriors.
If Steph Curry and company win their next two games, they’ll finish the year 67-15, which would tie them for the fourth-best record in regular season history. Curry is the current MVP favorite, Draymond Green is probably in line for the Defensive Player of the Year and Steve Kerr is the favorite for Coach of the Year.
The Warriors have the second-highest offensive rating and the highest defensive rating in the league and are outscoring their opponents by an average of 10.4 points per game, all while playing at the fastest pace in the NBA. They’ve been the best team from the first day of the season.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Is it possible that this year’s Warriors are as good as those Bulls? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
At the roster level, it’d be tough to make an argument against the Bulls. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman at or near the height of their powers, clearly at an advantage over Curry, Klay Thompson and Green. Though Curry has had an otherworldly season (perhaps the best shooting season in NBA history), Jordan’s ’95-’96 was easily the best in the league, and it wasn’t even among his five best.
In addition, the Warriors’ role players—Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala—are, at best, almost as good as the Bulls’ role players—Kukoc, Luc Longley, Ron Harper and Steve Kerr. Additionally, Kerr is a rookie head coach, so comparing him to Phil Jackson would be a little silly.
As teams, both dominated their respective leagues. However, the Bulls’ net rating was nearly twice that of the second place team. Though the Warriors will finish comfortably in first, even they can’t lay claim to that level of dominance.
The Warriors have won their conference games at an .800 clip while feasting on a weak Eastern Conference, but that doesn’t quite reach the Bulls either, who spanked their Eastern Conference opponents to the tune of an .870 winning percentage. If you’re of the mind that any modern NBA player would get sent sprawling to the floor if they tried to finish at the rim in the ‘90s, those numbers probably seem even more distant.
So to answer our own question: no, the Warriors are not quite the Bulls. We haven’t even gotten to the fact that the Bulls won a championship, and the Warriors haven’t even played a first-round game yet. However, with a dominant playoff run, the Warriors could make this a much more interesting season.
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2018.