All-time Lakers vs. Bulls (07/21/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Could an all-time Lakers squad actually beat the Bulls by 50 points?

On Sunday, Shaquille O'Neal posted on Instagram a claim that the best players ever to wear a Los Angeles Lakers uniform (Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor, Shaq and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) would beat the Chicago Bulls' all-time greats (Derrick Rose, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant) by 50 points.

That is a bold claim but is it closer to the truth or wild speculation? Our good friends Mully and Hanley at WSCR Sports Radio in Chicago were discussing Shaq's claims and reached out to to see if we could run the numbers.

To find out, we simulated what would happen if these two five man rosters played each other 50,000 times on a neutral court. In our simulations, we used the peak seasons for each player with their respective teams. We also allowed each player to stay on the court for 48 minutes without getting tired (Shaq didn't specify who was on the bench).

The Big Aristotle was right, the Lakers, in this simulation, do defeat the Bulls but it's a close game. After 50,000 simulations, Los Angeles wins 64.3 percent of the time by an average score of 99.7 – 96.2.

Of course the roster construction by the Big Diesel is advantageous for the Lakers. Having two seven footers, Kareem and Shaq, going up against Rodman and Grant in the frontcourt isn't really fair. A simple substitution of Artis Gilmore and Joakim Noah, two players who have had better careers with the Bulls, for Rodman and Grant makes the game more interesting.

In that scenario, Chicago with Jordan, Pippen, Rose, Gilmore and Noah still lose but on average the game is decided by less than a point.

The all-time greats for the Purple and Gold would win but Shaq's assertion that the Lakers would dominate by 50 points is a far cry from the truth.