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Are the Warriors ‘The Best’?

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How do the defending champs stack up against some of the greatest of all time?

2018 NBA Finals - Game One Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

If you are a Golden State Warriors fan, in any sense of the term, you have probably been part of a discussion (or actively avoiding a discussion) comparing the 1990s Bulls to the Warriors team of the past few years.

If you’ve taken part of any discussion surrounding the idea, you also have probably been on the receiving end of phrases such as “They could not keep up” or “They would get destroyed” or something of the likes of what Shaquiille O’Neal recently had to say concerning the modern day Warriors. And while the Warriors have had a decent amount of supporters and naysayers for the idea that they are the best of all-time, there hasn’t been and probably won’t be a unanimous decision anytime soon.

How the Warriors compare to the Bulls

The 1990s Chicago Bulls had a guard named Michael Jordan, who, during the ‘95-’96 season, averaged 30.4 points per game - starting all 82. The team also had this fellow named Steve Kerr, who during that same season was the same age as Stephen Curry. But the two draw more similarities then age - their trigger happy three-point tendencies brought an added element to their respective teams. On paper, the Bulls finished first in both offensive rating and defensive rating, and also boasted two to-be Hall of Famers next to Jordan in Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.

Put simply, the Bulls were dominant because there was, and in my opinion still is, nobody close to the caliber of Michael Jordan. He was The Man - the ability to shoot off the dribble with such precision, the court vision and passing ability, the defensive awareness, coupled with being the embodiment of “clutch” were just some aspects of Jordan that led him to be commonly hailed as the greatest of all time. If you factor in Pippen, Rodman, and Kerr, it’s not hard to see why the Bulls were such a dominant team.

Michael Jordan #23 Getty Images

However, the game back in the mid 1990’s was not the same game that is played today- on average, Stephen Curry takes as many three point attempts as Jordan, Kerr, and Scottie Pippen combined during that historic ‘95-’96 season. Is it justifiable to compare the Jordan-led Bulls to the Warriors of today?

In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no.

The game is obviously different today than what it was back then - the blend of strength, size, and speed is a hard variable to quantify from era to era, and each individual matchup could swing for either team - does Klay Thompson guard Jordan or does Kevin Durant step up to defend the greatest of all time? And how do the Bulls matchup with all of the Warriors weapons? Truth be told, we may be talking about two of the greatest individual teams of all time, but a matchup and comparison between the two would be hard to generate. There are both current and historic teams that were better built to counter Golden State’s offense and defense, and the same could be said for the 1990’s Bulls.

But all the same, it is the game of basketball - the argument that the game is different today than what it was “back then” can be also be applied on a more micro level within today’s league - the Warriors fast paced tempo contrasts Gregg Poppovich’s methodical offense, yet the two teams finished first and second in the Western Conference for multiple years.

The current Golden State Warriors have to adjust their defense from team to team throughout the season (and the same goes for the teams guarding the Warriors high tempo offense), so what would make the Bulls any different? Truth be told, the Bulls would be a special breed in the here and now NBA - arguably even more of a special breed than the Warriors - but it would not be impossible to try and compare the two teams since so many teams in today’s League are so different from one another.

How the Warriors compare to the Lakers

In a similar manner, the Warriors could be compared to the Los Angeles Lakers, but the comparison could only be drawn so far. Between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers commonly feasted on other teams they faced. Bryant’s rare ability to hit difficult shots and O’Neal’s revolution as one of the game’s quintessential big men, combined with the most accomplished coach in NBA history in Phil Jackson, made the Lakers almost impossible to stop.

Los Angeles Lakers Unveil Shaquille O’Neal Statue Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Lakers signature triangle offense in particular proved to cause the most difficulty for opponents to key in on, and it would be interesting to see how the Warriors’ defense would match up with that specific offense, given that the offense required players to be versatile enough to play almost anywhere in the triangle and given that the Warriors’ defense requires that most players should be able to guard anything from the point guard to the power forward position.

This ongoing question of ‘Who’s the best?’ probably won’t come to a conclusion anytime soon, if ever at all. All three teams were dominant during their time, and all of them were marked by their shear ability to impose their will and skill on all the other teams in the league.

This has not been as often a case this year for the Warriors, but there is still a good amount of games to be played this year, and watching DeMarcus Cousins out on the court will make the games that much more exciting. As the Warriors prepare for a push to their fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, eyes will continue to watch this team grow into their own story.