The Great Teams: the 1991-92 Chicago Bulls

Why does LeBron need two others to help him produce championship banners when Michael Jordan essentially produced them on his own?  Because Jordan didn’t produce them on his own.

As I laid out in a previous post about the Latter Day Chicago 3 (1995-96), Jordan had always had help.  In fact, before he had help… or rather, when his help consisted of Dave Corzine and Orlando Woolridge, as I recall he couldn’t get out of the first round.  Or wait, wait… that’s not how the story goes.  “He was learning how to win“.

Whatever.  He knew how to win when he came into the professional ranks.  I thought he had won a national championship as a freshman in college.  Didn’t that teach him anything?  I think it did.

It probably taught him that you need at least three big win producers to get over the parapet.  Because if you remember that North Carolina 1981 team also had a three headed attack — James Worthy, Sam Perkins, and to a lesser but emerging extent — Jordan.  After Worthy left for the Lakers, of course, that was the end of Jordan’s college championships.  He never even made it back to the Final Four.

Which is not to diminish Jordan.  Oscar Robertson needed Kareem in a diluted NBA.  Jerry West needed Wilt during the same era.  And so on.  Jordan needed Pippen and Grant, and after Grant left, they replaced him with Rodman.

The 1991-92 Chicago Bulls (66-16) Win Chart (Click to view)

I had forgotten just how successful this Bulls team was until I did the Win Chart.  They were powered in much the same way I expect the Miami Heat to be powered, and to about the same amount, in fact.

As you can see, its Jordan leading the way with 16.9 wins, followed by Horace Grant with 15.3 wins, and Scottie Pippen with 14.1 wins.  I expect to see about that kind of split in Miami.

Grant, obviously, is the big surprise in this version of the Bulls championship trio.  He had his best all-around season in 1991-92.  He was spectacular, scoring efficiently, rebounding, protecting the ball… he did it all.

Jordan, as he was for the entirety of the decade, was the leader, both spiritually, and in terms of wins produced.  As stated, I have him at nearly 17 wins for ’91-’92.  That was about his standard for the era, very similar to Magic Johnson in the 1980s, Oscar Robertson in the 1960s, and LeBron James this decade.

(Win Shares on B-R.com sites him for 17.7 wins, which is basically exactly the same as I calculated using Marginal Win Score. They also have similar win numbers to the ones I got for Grant, but they actually have less wins for Pippen)

Scottie Pippen was actually the third wheel, by my calculations, in both of the Bulls championship trilogies.  Most people do not see it that way, obviously, because Pippen was more of a scorer than either Horace Grant or Dennis  Rodman.  But recall how the Bulls came up short, even with Jordan, in the interim after Grant left and before Rodman came on board.

Throughout the decade, and through both championship trilogies, Pippen’s production came in the form of the “all-around game”, scoring efficiently, playmaking, and creating possessions for the Bulls.  He was nobody’s “Robin”.  He’s a deserving Hall-of-Fame player.

As for the rest of the original so-called “supporting cast”, they grade out basically as you probably intuitively concluded they graded out back then.

Armstrong, the point guard, was okay.  John Paxson was serviceable.  Stacey King, the big man, stunk.  Bill Cartwright, stunk.

But here’s a surprise.  Will Perdue, the sort of “Bogut very lite” was quite productive.  The small forward/big forward combo Cliff Levingston was always an underrated positive win force, back to his days as an Atlanta Hawk. And, as Bucks fans know, whereever Scott Williams went, wins followed.  Not surprisingly, his workmanlike play created them.  Had George Karl and Ernie Grunfeld realized this, rather than worshiping at the almighty throne of “shot creators” the Bucks early century run might have been a little longer than a fart in the wind.

But the 1991-92 Chicago team was hardly a fart in the wind.  They were the apex of the first wave of Bull success, a wave that would land on shore the next season, and wash back to sea for a few more years before Michael Jordan finally realized that curve balls are hard to hit… then the fun started back up for Da Bulls.

3 Responses to “The Great Teams: the 1991-92 Chicago Bulls”

  1. Chicago Tim Says:

    You may be right about needing co-stars to win, but what’s different about the Heat is that the players took it into their own hands to make it happen.

    Maybe that’s a good thing for the top players, who are underpaid because their salaries are capped. They’ve proven that if they move, no matter how much the move angers their former team, their former team will do a sign and trade and give them six years, so now the home team holds almost no advantage.

    What’s also different is that James, Wade, and Bosh were friends before they made the move. That wasn’t true before these players played in the Olympics and World Championships together every two years.

    I’ve always found it remarkable that the Bulls were as good as they were with the horrible centers they had. Longley was even worse, yet the Bulls with Rodman and Kukoc and Kerr were even better.

    The $64 question is whether the Heat will play their five best players (Bosh, Haslem, Miller, Wade, and James) the most minutes or will insist on playing “true” centers and point guards, thereby reducing the minutes of Haslem and Miller. They could win a championship either way, but I don’t think they break any records unless they play their five best players the most minutes.

  2. Joe Says:

    “The $64 question is whether the Heat will play their five best players (Bosh, Haslem, Miller, Wade, and James) the most minutes or will insist on playing “true” centers and point guards, thereby reducing the minutes of Haslem and Miller. They could win a championship either way, but I don’t think they break any records unless they play their five best players the most minutes.”

    They might start a “traditional” point guard and center (probably Chalmers and Anthony), but their crunch time line up and heaviest minutes will almost certainly go to those five, Bosh-Haslem-James-Miller-Wade. The Big 3 of course, but Haslem has the trust of Spoelstra and Wade (rightfully so) while Miller’s floor spacing, size, and versatility will be a huge asset in end game situations.

    • Chicago Tim Says:

      Crunch time, maybe. Although I wonder who will play center in crunch time. But heaviest minutes to Haslem and Miller? That I’m not sure about. Maybe in the playoffs, but maybe not during the regular season.

      Bosh doesn’t want to play center and James doesn’t want to play point, and they don’t have to do so in order to win home court advantage during the regular season, so I have a feeling Spoelstra will let them do what they want until the stakes are higher. The problem is, that might lose them just enough games to fall short of the all-time records.

      Keep in mind that it is particularly hard to win the last few games needed to break an all-time record for a variety of reasons. The team doesn’t need to win those games, and has many incentives to take it easy instead. Meanwhile, the scrutiny goes up as the record grows near. The focus on winning must be incredible, or a loss will happen at the most unexpected moments against the most unexpected teams. The health of the team matters, and what team doesn’t go through some injuries? The players must commit to playing their best defense, a thankless task. How much do the Heat want that record?

      I think they have a better chance at the record over the next six years, although there’s also a chance that Wade will break down towards the end of that span. But they can also add more players using the mid-level and veterans’ exceptions, and players will be eager to join for below-market rates. If they could sign Chris Paul, for example, well — game over. But even if they can sign a center and a point guard who are as good at those positions as Haslem and Miller are at theirs, that should seal the deal.

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