The 2016 Warriors vs the 1996 Bulls


Currently, the Warriors are taking the NBA by storm and making it look easy.  They currently hold the best record in the league at 44-4.  That puts them on pace for 75 wins, which would eclipse the best record of 72-10 held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.  The expected reaction is to compare the two teams and start arguing which of the two is better like a terrible episode of First Take.  But looking at matchups and wondering who would guard Michael Jordan is for other sites to discuss, I’m going straight to the numbers.


2016 Warriors: 115.0 points per game, 114.8 points per 100 possessions
1996 Bulls: 105.2 points per game, 115.2 points per 100 possessions

The Warriors are scoring nearly ten points more per game than the Bulls did.  But on a possession basis, the old-school Bulls are the more efficient team with the ball in their hands. But with all of the rule changes, not all offensive numbers are created equally.  This season, the average team is scoring 105.4 points per 100 possessions.  That means the Warriors’ offense is 8.9% better than league average.  In 1995-96, the average team scored 107.6 points per 100 possessions, meaning the Bulls’ offense was 7.1% better than league average.

The largest difference between the two teams’ offensive abilities is the 3-point shot.  The Warriors have already attempted more 3-point shots in their 48 games than the Bulls did in their 82 games (same with made 3-pointers).  While the Bulls worked the triangle offense, the Warriors love fast breaks and long balls that is ideal for Vine and Twitter.


2016 Warriors: 102.3 points per game, 102.1 points per 100 possessions
1996 Bulls: 92.9 points per game, 101.8 points per 100 possessions

The Bulls had a suffocating defense, holding teams to fewer than 93 points per game.  Much like the offensive comparison above, the Bulls look like a much better defensive team on a per-game basis, but once you break it down to the possession level, they are much closer.  Again, comparing to league average the Warriors are 3.1% better than the average team defensively. The Bulls were 5.4% better than the league average team in 1995-96.

While both teams split some metrics offensively, the Bulls are the better defensive team on a per-game basis, per-possession basis, and when comparing to the average team.


2016 Warriors: 99.3 possessions per game (2nd of 30)
1996 Bulls: 91.1 possessions per game (20th of 29)

This is the clearly the largest divide between the two teams.  The Warriors play at break-neck speed and like to push the ball as much as possible.  Meanwhile, the Bulls played methodically towards the bottom of the league in pace.  Their low pace can be attributed partly because of a suffocating defense; when the opponent can’t find a good shot to take, it usually takes more time off the shot clock than getting an early open look.


So what if they played against each other?  What would be the score?  The Warriors net rating over 100 possessions would be +12.7 while the Bulls would be +13.4 points.  However, since Golden State is smart enough to push the pace and maximize possessions, their net rating per game is +12.6 compared to Chicago’s 12.2.

If we go back in time to 1996 and bring along this year’s Warriors and adjusted their stats based on the league in 1996, the Bulls would win 106-105 on a neutral court.  If we brought the Bulls forward to today’s game, they are still projected to win by the same margin 108-107.

So the Bulls should be a 1-point favorite on a neutral court over this year’s Warriors squad. While we are often drawn into hyperbole when discussing current teams and players, it is no stretch to say that the current Golden State team is in the conversation of the best of all time.

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