This 2010/11 Chicago Bulls team have been a fantastic story, significantly outperforming pre-season expectations and going on to claim the best record in the Eastern Conference. The key stories for this year were supposed to be the stampede of the Miami Heat to prominence given LeBron James and Chris Bosh forming like Voltron with Dwyane Wade, and the Boston Celtics protecting their supremacy of the Eastern Conference like a tired old lion. Both were, at times, pushed to the side as we were forced to re-evaluate the Baby Bulls and their über-athletic leader, Derrick Rose.
All of the focus on the Chicago Bulls during this awards season has had me thinking about who the Bulls most historically resemble, and the answer is pretty clear; The Answer and his 2000/01 76ers Finals team. Let’s break it down with some evaluation.
Tom Thibodeau vs. Larry Brown
While their experience at the top level is quite divergent, both Thibodeau and Brown are incredibly well travelled and experienced coaches with a history of pushing teams to defensive excellence. It’s rather hard to evaluate much beyond this given that Thibs is a rookie head coach but it’s clear that they have a lot in common not only philosophically, but with both being awarded NBA Coach of the Year honours.
Rose vs. Iverson
While Rose is a far from the malcontent Iverson was often branded, and unlikely to whinge about team practices, there is a lot of stock to be placed in a comparison between the two. Rose doesn’t garner a lot of assists for a starting point guard and Iverson got a heck of a lot of assists for a shooting guard, but in both instances those positional debates are fairly aesthetic. What we can all agree on are both are shoot first guards with incredible first steps and somewhat shaky range (no matter how much Rose has improved this year) that their team hide on defense to a certain degree.
If we compare the statistics of the two side by side we can see an amazing similarity emerge, with Iverson being the more prolific scorer and steals man, but Rose nudging the smaller man in assists.
The mirror images continue as we progress through the line-ups, as both teams are somewhat carried by their defense, and their defense in turn carried by their big men. The Sixers relied on Theo Ratliff (then later Dikembe Mutombo after a mid-season trade) while the Bulls rely on hyper-active Joakim Noah in the middle as the anchor. Alongside each was a defensive minded power forward (Tyrone Hill vs. Taj Gibson) with each having a solid backup for the second unit in Todd MacCulloch and Omer Asik. The slight difference here is obviously defensively challenged starting PF Carlos Boozer, but his deficiencies are more than made up by the man replacing him in Gibson who is one of the better defenders at his position.
So that’s three key areas where we see significant alignment between the 2000/01 76ers and this year’s Bulls, but let’s continue to dig and see what we find. Looking at role players, we find both had multi-talented players on the wing, with Aaron McKie and George Lynch for the Sixers, while Luol Deng brings his mid-range game and underappreciated defense to this comparison.
Alongside these key contributors are the one trick ponies; the Sixers had Eric Snow as their defensive stopper who hid Iverson from guarding shooting guards, ably spelled by Raja Bell. Filling that role for the Bulls is Ronnie Brewer, a hard-nosed lunch pail kinda guy with no real offensive ability. Rounding out the benches of both groups are Jumaine Jones (Sixers) and Kyle Korver (Bulls), who both fill a need should the team need to go small.
The 2000/01 Sixers had interior scoring by committee (Hill, Lynch, etc.) where the Bulls have designated interior bucket getter Carlos Boozer. It’s the one roster component that is hard to draw a parallel between with these teams, although Boozer missed considerable time and has been anything but himself in the playoffs. Overall, both franchises from different cities and times bare striking similarity.
So now that we have explored the similarities of the teams, let’s turn our gaze to how the 76ers fared in the playoffs, and what this might portend for their doppelganger in 2011.
First Round Comparison
The Sixers played the Pacers in a relatively easy series, although they lost the opening game, it wasn’t overly close.
The Bulls also faced the Pacers in the first round and were heavily favoured to sweep, but faced tough competition from a physical Indiana club. It was mostly the individual brilliance of Rose that helped the Bulls survive a determined Indiana Pacers in five games.
Second Round Comparison
The Sixers faced a Toronto team with superstar Vince Carter at his career apex. Iverson and Carter traded magnificent performances and the series went to seven games. If Vince Carter hadn’t been preoccupied on graduating from North Carolina on the morning of the Game 7, the Sixers may not have advanced.
The Bulls are locked in a fantastic series with a not particularly highly rated Hawks outfit and are far from guaranteed to advance as they are locked at 2-2 now. The next game is in the friendly confines of the United Centre however, and they need to take care of business there.
Ultimate Place in History
The 2000/01 Sixers ended up as cannon fodder for the Lakers juggernaut. They are fondly remembered for taking down the steamrolling Laker behemoth in Game 1 of the Finals against all the odds, but ultimately they are a footnote in history, and Iverson’s greatest accomplishment.
What does this mean for the Bulls? Well, as constituted the Bulls are probably a slightly better team than the Sixers of this comparison, but unfortunately for them, they are also playing in a much stronger era and likely to face better teams in the Conference Finals and NBA Finals, should they reach either of those peaks.
They have built something nice for future seasons, and should they be able to find a shooting guard who is worthy of a starting spot, they will be legit contenders going forward.