Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chicago Bulls: NBA All-Time Starting Fives

The Chicago Bulls have the third most championships (6) among NBA franchises. On two separate occasions, this franchise has celebrated three consecutive titles. The greatest player in NBA history plied his trade in Chicago for over a dozen years. By his side, another of the NBA’s best-ever perimeter players. What’s funny is, all of this greatness took place over a decade and a half that was sandwiched between extended periods of mediocrity. It’s bit strange- and a testament to certain #23- to see a franchise so consistently reach the pinnacle of the game over an extended period of time, while accomplishing nothing of note before or since. In recent years, the Bulls have show great potential and may change this thanks to Derrick Rose’s truly special talents, but the fact remains that there has never been a truly great Chicago Bulls team that did not take the floor between 1991 and 1998.

PG- Norm Van Lier (12.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 6.9 apg, 1.4 spg in 535 games)

By the All-Star break, this spot will probably belong to Derrick Rose, but I figured the best PG of the franchise’s first four decades deserves a little love. The recently-deceased (he passed February 26, 2009, at age 61) Van Lier was an outstanding defender and teamed with current Utah coach Jerry Sloan to form the what was, by all accounts, toughest backcourt in NBA history.

Van Lier was the Bulls’ #3 overall pick in the 1969 draft, and was immediately traded to the Cincinnati Royals, where he led the NBA in assists in 1971. He rejoined the Bulls the next season, and went on to be selected to three All-Star teams and eight All-Defensive teams (three 1st Team selections) in six and a half seasons with the team.

Less of a pure point guard than Norm Van Lier, Reggie Theus has the highest scoring average among Bulls’ PGs (18.8 v. 18.7 for Rose), made three All-Star teams and averaged a fair number of assists (5.6). But Theus played for some terrible pre-MJ teams and didn’t make much of a mark on the organization.

An interesting side note- the Bulls’ all-time leader leader in assists per game? Not listed above. It was Ennis Whatley, who averaged 7 apg in 150 games.

SG- Michael Jordan (31.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5.4 apg in 930 games)

Do you really require an explanation?

All right, just for fun, let's run through the credentials- six rings, six Finals MVPs, five regular season MVP awards, 10-time All-NBA 1st Team, 14 All-Star appearances, three All-Star MVPs, nine-time All-Defensive 1st Team, 1988 Defensive Player of the Year, 1985 Rookie of the Year, a pair of Olympic gold medals and viewing experience the likes of which we’ll never see again.

The best ever.

SF- Scottie Pippen (17.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.1 spg in 856 games)

An awesome all-around player whose legacy will gain steam with time. He’ll be remembered as much more than MJ’s sidekick. Pippen is maybe the greatest perimeter defender in league history and was a superstar in his own right. Could (Should?) have been in the 1994 Finals- as the league MVP.

He owns the same six rings as Michael, and he put his stamp on the Bulls’ dynasty- stifling Magic in 1991, creating problems for Stockton in 1997 & 1998, crashing the boards in the East Finals against Indiana and playing through a serious back injury in 1998. Jordan didn’t just lean on Pippen in the aftermath of the “Flu Game”, he depended on his wingman for the entirety of their respective primes.

As the world lines up to slam LeBron James for surrendering alpha dog status, we should remember Scottie Pippen’s championship performances, without which the greatest ever would never have reach such heights. Scottie Pippen may not have been the quintessential superstar, but he’ll be remembered as the epitome of a champion.

PF- Horace Grant (12.6 ppg, 53% FG, 8.6 rpg, in 546 games)

This is an extremely strong and deep position. Charles Oakley averaged a rugged 10.6- 10.6 in the early Jordan years. Bobe Love averaged 21- 7 in almost 600 games in the 1970s. Elton Brand averaged 20-10- the only Bulls’ PF to do so- over his first two seasons. Dennis Rodman plaed incredibly tough defense against bigger opponents (remember his battles against Karl Malone?) and grabbed more than fifteen rebound per game during the Three-peat Repeat.

As impressive as all of these guys were, this spot belongs to Horace Grant, a guy whose stats barely stack up against any of them. A tough defender and rebounder with a great mid-range jumper. More importantly, Ho Grant grew up with the Bulls’ dynasty, battled the Pistons and the Knicks, and learned to become a champion, earning his first three rings as MJ did. While there’s a case to be made for a handful of other Bulls’ PFs, Horace Grant was there as the Bulls found their way to the top.

C- Artis Gilmore (19.3 ppg, 58.7% FG, 11.1 rpg, 2.1 bpg in 482 games)

Unfortunately for the likes of Bill Cartwright, Bill Wennington and Luc Longley, the Horace Grant Corollary does not apply here. While stockpiling rings certainly helps one’s case, numbers do still matter, and none of Chicago’s title-winning centers delivered statistically. Only two centers in Bulls’ history have averaged 10+ points (Artis Gilmore and Cliffird Ray), and only Gilmore averaged a double-double. Despite spending his best seasons in the ABA, Gilmore established himself as one of the NBA’s top centers upon joining the league in the late 70s. Although he played on some brutal teams, Gilmore put up some fantastic numbers and was a force in the middle.

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