Three teams that could have beat the late 90’s Bulls.

“The Last Dance” documentary about the Chicago Bulls highlighted the final run of the great Bulls dynasty of the 90’s.  Winning six championships in eight seasons cemented the legacy of both the players, coaches and the city.  While watching I thought to myself who could really stop this team loaded with the best player and coach in NBA history. I felt like the second half of the three-peat the Bulls were the most dominant.  I wanted to look at which teams could have been able to stop their great run.  

I did not include the Orlando Magic team that eliminated the Bulls during Jordan initial return. 

Indiana Pacers 1995-1996

The 95-96 Indiana Pacers lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks.  An injury to superstar Reggie Miller forced him to miss most of the first round. The injury doomed the Pacers.  During the season the Pacers were a thorn in the side of the historic 72-10 Chicago Bulls.  Indiana actually beat the Bulls twice during the season.  They were responsible for 20% of the losses for arguably the greatest team in the history of the league. Unlike most of the rest of the league they seemed to have an idea of how to handle the juggernaut. 

The Pacer’s were able to utilize their size and toughness in the post.  Rik Smits and Dale Davis were able to control the paint against Chicago. They could handle the inside and they had skilled shotmakers to punish.  Indiana had tons of talent as well as a great leader in Larry Brown.  Indiana had everything it took to pull off the upset in the playoffs, but the injury to Miller ended any chance of being successful.  It would have been really fun to see the playoff trash talk between Miller and Jordan both in their prime. 

Miami Heat 1997-1998

Led by Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning and Coach Pat Riley the Miami Heat were serious contenders during the time of the Bulls second three-peat.   Injuries plagued Miami throughout the season.  The first 22 games of the season they played without Alonzo Mourning due to offseason knee surgery.  Despite the loss of Mourning the Heat still began the season 15-7. They were in the driver’s seat for the division even without their superstar. 

Miami was not just built around their superstars.  The secondary pieces the organization assembled were able to fit perfectly.  Guards Voshon Leonard and Dan Majerle provided sharpshooting.  PJ Brown provided defense and rebounding.  Jamal Mashburn was the athletic mutli-purpose up and coming star. They had plenty of talent to surround their stars along with a coach that knew exactly how to utilize the talent around him.  

Miami was ranked in the top ten in both offensive and defensive rating.  The Heat’s game plan was to slow down the pace and take advantage of their elite talent.  They ranked 26 of 29 in pace of play, which was exactly what Pat Riley wanted.  He was an old school coach that wanted to grind out the game.  

The Heat dominated their division finishing 12 games above the New York Knicks.  They were matched up with the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.  This Heated rivalry got out of hand in game four when Alonzo Mourning got into an altercation with the Knicks Larry Johnson.  The fight led to the suspension of Mourning in the deciding game.  Without Mourning the Heat were not able to overcome the Knicks.

The Heat had the experience and talent to match the Bulls.  Physically they could handle any team. Mentally they had problems that would have been tough to overcome the Jordan led Bulls. If you base it on talent alone the Heat would have been a great matchup with Chicago.  

Seattle Supersonics 1995–1996

The Supersonics were the only team on this list that actually had a chance to take down the infamous 90’s Bulls.The Supersonics were led by guard Gary Payton and forward Shawn Kemp.  Two players that were legendary figures in the game.  Payton was known for his great defense and leadership. Kemp was known for his ferocious dunks and rebounding skills.  They were the perfect compliment to each other and it showed on the court as they dominated the Western Conference with a 64-18 record.  

The rest of the Sonics lineup were not push-overs but actually seriously talented secondary players.  Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf, Hersey Hawkins, Vincent Askew and Nat McMillan rounded out a solid lineup of players that all filled in their roles perfectly. Each one of them fit in perfectly with the two stars. 

The Bulls and Sonics split the season series with both winning their respective home games. These teams’ statistics were nearly identical with the only real difference being the Bulls 40% 3-pt shooting compared to the Sonics 36%.  That was literally the only large statistical difference between the two teams.  

The series began with the Bulls jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the series before the Sonics were able to get themselves in gear.  The Sonics dominated game 4 and 5 before being finished off in game six in Chicago.  Injuries plagued Seattle from the start as defensive stud Gary Payton was dealing with a bad calf injury that forced him off of Michael Jordan.  Sonics second best defensive guard Nate McMillan was injured nearly the entire series.  The loss of their two best defensive guards had Jordan salivating at the idea of being guarded but the third choice. Jordan dominated a gimpy Seattle team averaging 30.7 ppg.  If Gary Payton was fully healthy the Sonics could have been the team that stopped the dynasty.

NBA Draft: 3 Winners

The NBA draft is undoubtably the best draft of any professional sport.  There aren’t 27 thousand rounds like the MLB, it doesn’t take a whole week like the NFL and its not hockey.  The way a team drafts can define a teams legacy for the next 20 years.  No one wants to be the general manager that decided to select Greg Oden over Kevin Durant or Sam Bowie over the great Micheal Jordan.  Heaven forbid you be the guy that decided  to take Darko Milicic with the second pick of one of the greatest draft classes of all time.  the 2018 NBA Draft had a lot of promising and intriguing talent, its time to decide who had a great night and who made a Sam Bowie pick.

Winners

Phoenix Suns- Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges (trade rights), George King, Elie Oboko

Ok I know, this is a a pretty easy choice, having the number one pick usually means you are going to get a great talent.  I want to praise GM Ryan McDonough for not over thinking the situation.  Luka Doncic was an intriguing prospect for a team that will still be in rebuild mode next season.  They ignored the intrigued and locked up the clear best player in the draft.  Scouting reports for Deandre Ayton listed very few weaknesses, the lone problem was a supposed inability to protect the rim. What most people seem to forget is that Ayton played a large amount of time at the power forward position drawing him away from the basket and limiting his ability to be in a position to effect as many shots.  The ability to improve defensively will come as he transitions to the center position.

For most teams Ayton would be enough but the Suns also pulled off a trade acquiring Villanova swing man Mikal Bridges. Bridges has the tools to be a versatile defender at the NBA level, especially guarding 1-3. Averaged 2.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per 40.  He also brings offensive efficiency to a young team.  Bridges time at Villanova allowed him playing on a winning team while not having to be the focus of the other teams attention.  He is a perfect fit to play alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson.

Indiana Pacers- Aaron Holiday, Alize Johnson

The Indiana Pacers put themselves back on the map during the first round of the playoffs taking mighty Lebron James to game 7.  Picking from the 23rd position usually it is not easy to find the perfect fit for whatever need you have but sometimes it does.  UCLA Guard Aaron Holiday fell down the draft a bit and ended up in a perfect place.  Indiana needed depth at the point and shooting guard spots and they got it with Holiday. Excellent blend of shotmaking and penetrating — 21.6 points per 40 minutes. Tremendous balance and touch. Made 2.8 3-pointers per 40 minutes at a 42.9 percent clip as a junior.  Holiday will allow Victor Oladipo to play the off the ball more as well as get more rest and know that there will still be a scorer on the floor.  Holiday has top 15 talent that the Pacers grabbed in the mid 20’s, look for Holiday to make and immediate impact…Donavon Mitchell like??

The Pacers also picked up mid-major phenom 6’8″ Point/Forward Alize Johnson with the 20th pick of the second round.  Johnson a swiss army knife on the floor can give the Pacers depth at multiple positions.  The Missouri Valley Conference 2x first team all conference player improved every year for the Bears including shooting 39% from three in 2018.  I great grab for today’s NBA style.

Chicago Bulls- Wendell Carter, Chandler Hutchinson

I have wrote and talked about the development of the young core of the Chicago Bulls all season.  With a healthy Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkenan  I think they have the building blocks of an Eastern Conference playoff team in 2018-19.  Sitting at #8 in the draft they could have taken some chances, maybe go with Micheal Porter Jr. or add a wing player like Kevin Knox or Mikal Bridges.  They went with the steady hand of Wendell Carter Jr.  Carter Jr. is a double double machine that has underrated shot blocking ability. Chicago picks up a big center who can slide in right next to Lauri Markkanen’s finesse game up front. He has excellent hands and touch around the basket. Carter compares very well to former Bull and Blue Devil Carlos Boozer.

Having a second first round pick allowed the bulls to take a gamble on a potential prospect gem in Boise State’s 6’7″ swingman Chandler Hutchinson.  The 2018 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year brings great size and length to the young Bulls.  Hutchinson has the potential to move right into the Chicago rotation and give them valuable minutes on both ends of the floor.  Chicago found a way to add two valuable rotational pieces that are NBA ready right now.

Honorable Mention : Denver Nuggets (Micheal Porter Jr. at #14 is a steal)