Chicago Bulls: Early 1970’s teams had best defense in NBA history?

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Some early and often forgotten Chicago Bulls teams played defense at the level that is hard to match in this day and age in the NBA.

For much of the early 1970’s, the Chicago Bulls had some really good defensive teams. Most of their teams were ranking in the top five in the NBA each season in the early 1970’s in turnovers forced per game, points allowed, and steals.

Bulls writer Sam Smith gave his take on the teams from the early 1970’s in his “Ask Sam Mailbag” segment on March 25. Smith had high marks for those early 1970’s defenses that were assembled for the Bulls.

Here’s what he had to say on the matter.

"Once upon a time, the Bulls assembled perhaps the greatest defensive team in NBA history. Until maybe the champion Bulls of the 1990s. For most of the early 1970s, the Bulls just about every year made up 30 percent of the NBA all-defensive team with Norm Van Lier, Jerry Sloan and Bob Love. In a league with 17 teams and 12 players per team. So more than 200 players not including various callups from the high level Eastern League and players coming back from the ABA. Yet the Bulls dominated the list of best defensive players. They weren’t the most athletic players, and the backcourt wasn’t celebrated like the famed Gail Goodrich and Jerry West or Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. But the backcourt of Sloan and Van Lier was the most feared in the NBA."

Smith certainly has a point as to how good those defenses were for the Bulls in the early 1970’s. During the famed 1973-74 season, where the Bulls finished up with a record of 54-28, they had the NBA’s best defensive rating of 93.6. That Bulls team also had five players with at least three defensive win shares on the season. The list of five included future Hall-of-Famers such as Jerry Sloan and Chet Walker.

Other key cogs to those early 1970’s Bulls teams that were so good on defense included three-time All-Defensive Team selection Bob Love and eight-time All-Defensive Team selection Norm Van Lier. As one of the most truly underrated point guards in NBA history, Van Lier was a three-time All-Star selection, one-time All-NBA honoree, and a one-time assist champion.

From 1971-1975, the Bulls had teams that registered defensive ratings that all finished in the top seven in the NBA. Three of those finished in the top three, and two finished in the top two. The Bulls also ranked in the top 10 in blocks per game for most of those seasons, and top five in steals.

More proof in the pudding for how good these teams were defensively, four of the top 10 players in Bulls history in terms of defensive win shares were from those 1970’s teams. Center Tom Boerwinkle was also on that list of top 10 players in franchise history in defensive win shares.

The 1990’s Bulls teams certainly do hold a case for the best defenses not only in franchise, but in NBA history. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were the best defensive duo in the NBA in the 1990’s, and led the Bulls to win six titles in less than 10 years.

Next. 3 Bulls who regressed pre-NBA hiatus. dark

Defensive stoppers like Love, Van Lier, and Sloan are often forgotten in this day and age. Obviously Sloan is still an important figurehead in the NBA in general since he is the logo. But their defensive efforts earned them a double-digit number of All-Defensive Team selections and some of the best defensive ratings of any team in the NBA during that time period.