Wednesday, June 13, 2007

1996 Chicago Bulls - 72-10

But Bill Simmons wants more, he wants them to beat the 1986 Celtics at some point in that season, along with the '87 Lakers, the '85 Bears and the '27 Yankees. I don’t know what Bill Simmons has against the ’96 Bulls, but whatever it is I have to disagree. In his latest chat he devotes a lot of time to fielding questions related to the Bulls (and the Sopranos). I know he’s reacting more to the questions and an analysis done by John Hollinger that has the Bulls as the best team ever, but he says some things here that are nutty and difficult to ignore. You can tell that the chatters were getting frustrated with him as well. I like Bill’s work and he knows a ton about the NBA, a lot more than me, but this was not impressive.

It starts with a discrete question about Karl Malone being allowed in the discussion of the greatest PF ever, with Tim Duncan. I agree with Simmons that Duncan takes that, hands down. Simmons follows with three paragraphs, the last one is below.

Bill Simmons: Here's the point: You always have to factor in "quality of the league" for any of this historical stuff. Malone's resume is "helped" by how they made the Finals for 2 straight years, but what about all the years when they didn't make it with stronger teams? All right, I'm done venting. But I want Hollinger to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better scoring system. Any system that makes the '96 Bulls better than the '92 Bulls (the single best MJ team) and doesn't make the 2001 Lakers a top-7 team of the past 30 years needs to be refined.

There is no measure or system that could be compiled that would result in a conclusion that the ‘92 Bulls were better than the ’96 Bulls. The ’96 Bulls win this argument based on record, playoff record, point differential, and points scored per game and allowed per game (relative to the league). They were a deeper team, with better numbers, and they went 72-10. They also came back the next year and won 69 games. No numbers based system will have the '92 team coming out on top.

Here is Hollinger's analysis. It has a lot of flaws, and I agree with Simmons' overall point that it's weighted towards teams with inferior competition.

Brian (Worchester): WOAH WOAH WOAH! Are you saying the 1996 Bulls aren't the best team ever? I HATE the Bulls but I still have to respect their alltime greatness!

Bill Simmons: Yes. Emphatically. I think they won the most games ever. I would not have them in the top-10. You're telling me they could have beaten the 2001 Lakers in a series? Or the '86 Celtics? Or the '85 Lakers? or the '83 Sixers?

Gimme a break. Bill Simmons doesn’t have the ’96 Bulls in his top 10 NBA teams ever. I don’t know where to start, so I won’t. But that’s fucking crazy-talk. Pontificating on who would win a 7 game series is a lot of fun, but there’s no way he can name 10 teams that would take the ’96 Bulls in a 7 game series.

Mac (Tuscaloosa AL): I think that Hollinger is making the assumption (which you have to in an "objective" system) that the quality of play is constant. Otherwise, it devolves into argument about the level of play, which can't be proved, and you wind up with (as I saw on a blog this weekend, referring to the statements you made in a column) someone saying that the Celtics and Lakers of the eighties can't be among the greatest ever because Bird and Magic weren't "athletic" by today's standards -- like they were considered athletic then.

Bill Simmons: Then that's the wrong assumption. You cannot evaluate the last 60 Finals teams without coming up with some method to figure out A) quality of the league for that season, and B) quality of each conference. For instance, if the Spurs destroy the Cavs (which they should), does that make them one of the best teams ever? Hell, no! I think they're the 2nd best team of the past 10 years, but again, they shouldn't get extra credit because they happened to beat a subpar Eastern rep four teams in the Finals.


Bill Simmons: The fix for Hollinger is easy - include a variable where he awards points for each season for strength/weakness of the league and strength/weakness of the Finals opponent. For instance, the '85 Lakers beat a really good Celtics team. Isn't that between 10-15 times more impressive than the '96 Bulls rolling through a terrible conference and beating a young Seattle team that was about 2 years away from peaking (and never did because Kemp went nuts)?

This is where I lose Bill. The fact that the ’85 Lakers beat a great team in the finals helps to substantiate their greatness. But the fact that the ’96 Bulls did not beat a team of the same caliber should not discount their greatness. It makes it more difficult to support, but it does not mean that they wouldn’t have beat the crap out of much much better team in that same position. Their greatness is not limited by that of their opponents, it just becomes more difficult to support (if that makes sense). That’s what Simmons viewpoint seems to be. I fail to see how the Lakers going through the Suns, Blazers and Nuggets before facing the Celtics in 1985 makes them world beaters (this is in response to the terrible conference comment). Was that great competition in the Western Conference? Simmons loves to just hide under the blanket statement of “everyone was good back then”. How historically great were the ’86 Rockets? Better than the '96 Sonics?

Does anyone ever say, "well the '85 Bears were good but they can't be considered one of the best teams because they beat a crappy Patriots team in the Super Bowl?" Of course not. It is fair to say the fact that they were not really tested on the biggest stage makes it difficult to gauge the team's ceiling.

Also the fix for Hollinger is the “Bill Simmons patented ‘what my gut says’ variable”.

Barrett (Nashville): Hey Bill, I understand your point about Hollinger's rating system, but yours is flawed as well. How do you define a "really good Celtics team" objectively? Sure, it's a fair assumption that they were better than the '96 Heat or Knicks, but how do you compare on a standardized basis? You can't, because if the entire league is subpar one year, you can only statistically compare it to itself.

Bill Simmons: You just described my problem with NBA stats in a nutshell: You cannot interprete the NBA solely through stats. It's inane. Too much depends on situations, talent levels from year to year, quality of teammates, circumstance and everything else. Stats are incredibly helpful, but at a certain point, you have to incorporate analysis, homework and opinion as well. The 2001 Lakers didn't peak until the playoffs, but they decimated a really good conference (an especially strong year for the West), crushed the Sixers in the Finals and trotted out a team with an unstoppable center at his absolute peak, as well as Kobe during a point in his career where he may have been his most valuable because he was still OK with being Robin to Shaq's Batman (and was still awesome by himself, as witnessed by the way he destroyed the Kings with the 48-point game in the playoffs).

I agree with Bill’s general point of NBA stats. It’s not like baseball.

If the 2001 Lakers didn’t peak until the playoffs started, shouldn’t that be a little bit of a knock on their greatness? I get that the stats from the 2001 season may not be the best representation of their ability, but it is a record of their performance, in many ways. I agree, those Lakers teams were great. Among the best ever. I just can’t unequivocally throw out that they are better than the ’96 Bulls.

Bill Simmons: Anyway, any scoring system that A) overvalues the '986 Bulls, and B) undervalues the 2001 Lakers needs to be tinkered with... that was my only point. I am confident that Hollinger will figure this out.

No backtracking, your point is clearly broader than that. Any scoring system that has the ’96 Bulls in the top 10 teams of all time, in your opinion, needs to be tinkered with. The problem is that if you polled all the players, coaches, writers, and used every statistical analysis, the overwhelming conclusion would be that they are in the top 5.

Messiah (NY): I don't understand one thing about your Malone argument. You said that he made it to the finals by default because the rest of the teams had finally declined, but you say the Bulls played in a horrible year for basketball in 96. How can both of those be true?

Bill Simmons: '96 thru '99 was the weakest stretch in the history of the league. the Jazz were heavily favored to come out of the West in '96, they choked against the Sonics.

Those Jazz teams (’97 and ’98) were good. You can’t decide now that they weren’t good teams. I have every confidence that if Jordan doesn’t un-retire those Jazz teams win back to back championships. Just like if Jordan doesn’t retire, the Houston Rockets probably don’t win any championships.

Also, they did not choke against the Sonics. The Sonics were good! They won 64 games! 9 more than the Jazz! How’s that a choke? You can’t just say that the ’96 through ’99 period was the weakest stretch in the history of the game. That’s crap. That’s just a convenient canvas to use to set up your anti-Bulls arguments. What was the strongest? Oh right, the period where your favorite player and favorite teams were good.

Vernon (Indianapolis): Sorry to keep harping on this issue, but you're way off on the '96 Bulls. Rodman was still very good (a hall-of-famer if he wasn't nuts), Ron Harper was solid, Kukoc was making the mold for Eastern Europeans everywhere and they still had the dynamic duo. And if you think p-o'ed Jordan in 1996 loses to anyone ever you haven't watched an NBA game in your life.

Vern-dog, I agree with you completely.

Bill Simmons: Congrats, but who's guarding Shaq on that team? Who's guarding McHale? Who's guarding Kareem? Shawn Kemp destroyed them in the Finals, what do you think those guys would have done?

Luc Longley is guarding Shaq, like he did in ’96 when they played the Magic in the playoffs. Dennis Rodman is guarding McHale, he was a good defender. I mean, Mchale will get his points but it's not like Rodman's any slouch there. Who the hell is guarding Jordan? The best scorer of all-time? Huh? I mean, no one could handle Mchale, but the Celtics lost games right? Oh right, there were a lot of Mchale stoppers in the 80's.

I mean, who’s guarding Shaq on the ’96 Bulls? This isn't THAT hypothetical! This happened. It can’t be the guy that actually guarded Shaq when they destroyed Shaq’s 60 win team can it? Shaq would eat up that guy! Yes, I know Shaq was better in '01, but I just found that amusing. That Bulls team had 3 lock-down defenders and outstanding team defense. They went through Mourning, Ewing and Shaq in those playoffs. I think that hurts your argument of them not being able to handle big men on defense.

I also love the revisionist history on Kemp. Kemp averaged about 20 and 11 during the regular season that year, shooting 56% from the floor. He was a very good player before he decided to focus on eating and making babies. He destroyed the Bulls to the tune of 24 and 10 on 55% shooting. This equals…..TOTAL DESTRUCTION!

Mike (Hartford): Who guards Shaq? Who guards Kareem? Who guards McHale? For crying out loud, who guards Jordan! I think you are grossly underestimaing the ability of a hungry Jordan (which is pretty much the only Jordan there is). I think Jordan was too mentally strong and the supporting cast was too competent to ever be defeated by anyone. Too much fire, too much willpower, too much Jordan that year.

Thanks, Mike.

Bill Simmons: Hey, I loved MJ, thought he was the best basketball player ever. But his career was unbelievably fortunate - he never faced Hakeem in his prime, or Shaq, or Duncan, or Moses... that team was constructed in a way that any big man and true point guard gave them trouble, but they never faced both at the same time.

This is just retarded. Can’t you flip that around and point out that virtually no one except Isiah’s Pistons succeeded against Jordan after he had 3 seasons under his belt? Oh right, there were no good players for 10 years. Or Bird was fortunate he didn’t have to face Shaq, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, Duncan and Jordan (in his prime)? What is the point? Ask Barkley, Ewing, Stockton, Malone, and Drexler, all all-time greats, how they feel about playing in the Jordan era. I’m sure Hakeem would rather Jordan been out of the league (or mostly in ’95) than in it in ’94 and ’95 or he may not have those rings.

I've already discussed this problem with big men that you just made up. Gary Payton, John Stockton, and Jason Kidd are all-time great "true point guards" and I don't remember them giving the Bulls any real headaches. The 96-98 Bulls did not have problems with "true point guards", but you could argue they had some problems with really quick, smaller guards like Damon Stoudamire and Allen Iverson. I don't think this translates into Dennis Johnson and Magic. I think they are much better equipped to handle bigger guards that are not lightening quick penetrators.

Todd (Tucson): If the 2001 Lakers played the 1996 Bulls, would Ron Harper guard himself?

Bill Simmons: That would be fantastic.

The 2001 Harper would win though, because the Western Conference was THAT strong!

Cory-AZ: yea, the 1991 Lakers didn't have a great point guard in Magic, and a good enough center in a young Divac + Sam Perkins Combo...Also, Ewing and Starks werent good. I think Ewing is underrated reason being Jordan always destroyed him in his prime

Bill Simmons: Not a good example - the Lakers got killed by injuries in that series.

What?????? I’m not going to look anything up here, but I know that finals well. The Lakers were lucky to win game 1 (Perkins hit the three, Jordan’s 18 footer rimmed out). To my knowledge the Lakers got killed by injuries to the tune of James Worthy and Byron Scott having to sit out game 5. The Lakers were down 3-1. That series was done. That’s just nuts. They were both good players at the time but the Lakers had zero chance of winning games 5, 6 and 7.

Adam (chandler, az): Was watching the replay of game 4 87 finals (magic's skyhook), and heard this stat....the Lakers had won in the garden in 85, and since that point the C's were a ridiculous 94-3! I'm pretty sure either of those 2 teams would've handled the '96 Bulls

Bill Simmons: Me, too.

Look, those teams were great, but Bill has offered us nothing here. Who’s the greatest of all-time? I have no idea, but the ’96 Bulls are top 5, and much of what Bill’s saying is terribly misleading. If the ’86 Celtics played in Chicago and the ’96 Bulls played in Boston, who wants to guess how differently this line of questioning would have gone? He’d be talking about how he and J-bug were discussing that Jordan was to the NBA was Alton was to the Real World/Road Rules challenges or something.

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