Last year was a fascinating season to watch. The entire Bulls’ universe hinged their hopes upon the possibility of Derrick Rose returning and from what Silvy from Waddle and Silvy said on “The Bulls Zone” this past week, Rose was convinced to sit out by BJ Armstrong and his infamous brother, Reggie. That’s fine. I’m glad he took the opportunity to heal up and get well. I’m good with that, but now, 18 months or so later, Derrick is stepping back onto the NBA court with the weight of expectations on him. Last year, we saw the raw heart of this team and how they were able to grind out wins even though they lacked any significant offensive firepower. With the return of Rose and the perceived threat of the Pacers, Nets, Knicks, and of course, Miami, many “experts” expect the Bulls to take a step back. Will they? In my opinion, no. First, having a consistent core that is A) talented and B) fits together is essential to winning a championship. Just ask Mark Cuban who tried to buy titles for years with Dallas, but only won when he let the talent mesh and grow together in 2011. It worked. Indiana could be a viable threat and of course Miami, but ask the Lakers how well it worked out putting a bunch of old guys together last year. Sorry Brooklyn. I’m not convinced you’re a contender. But the main reason I believe Chicago will stay competitive is this might be the best overall team they have rolled out in the Tom Thibodeau era. Last year, the offense was an abomination. There’s nowhere to go but up. In fact, this Chicago Bulls offense may finally make a huge leap forward to catch up with the superb team defense. Below are the raw numbers of importance from all three of the Thibodeau years:
2010-11: 98.6 (20th)
2011-12: 96.3 (18th)
2012-13: 93.2 (tied for last)
2010-11: +7.3 (2nd)
2011-12: +8.2 (1st)
2012-13: +.3 (14th)
2010-11: 13th – 46.2%
2011-12: 12th – 45.2%
2012-13: 25th – 43.7%
2010-11: 13th – 36.1%
2011-12: 3rd – 37.5%
2012-13: 20th – 35.3%
2010-11: 14th (14.2 per game)
2011-12: 25th (14 per game)
2012-13: 21st (14.3 per game)
So, there are the raw numbers. A few things to notice. First, look at the pace. My goodness, the Bulls don’t run under Thibs. Carlos Boozer has been tweeting that he’s getting in more cardio and dropping more pounds because he expects to run more. Maybe Thibs realizes the pace needs to quicken some. Second, turnovers are consistent all three years. The Bulls could take care of the ball better. Third, when healthy, this team may not score a lot, but their defense definitely covers it. With Rose, they were 2nd and 1st respectively in point differential. Last, here’s one reason I don’t expect the Pacers to be a problem: The Bulls were 25th in field goal percentage. Guess who 26th was? You guessed it, the Indiana Pacers! They were basically healthy and made the Eastern Finals last year as well. Chicago was without Rose and fought countless injuries from plantar fasciitis to Luol Deng’s near death experience and still were better than they were. You’re telling me Danny Granger with multiple surgeries on his knee, CJ Watson, and Luis Scola are going to move the needle that much? I’m not entirely convinced. But I’m still leery of them. They could make some noise.
The Bulls have several things going for them: Derrick Rose is coming back and should be the MVP player we’re used to, Jimmy Butler showed remarkable improvement in the 2nd half of last year, Mike Dunleavy replaces what Rip and Belinelli were both giving them, Teague showed promise in the Summer League, and Snell has range and could play meaningful minutes this year if needed. How will that impact the Bulls offense? Let’s take a look:
Rip Hamilton replaced
I liked Rip and wish he could’ve been healthy. He is one of the best mid-range shooters in the game, but unfortunately age and injuries caught up to him. Last year he shot 48% from the left wing (inside 3pt range) and 40% from the left wing (3pt range). The Bulls main offense usually consists of 3 things: Penetration from the PG, Rip and previously Korver running off multiple screens for a mid-range/3pt jumpshot, Boozer/Noah/Gibson operating from the post. Here’s the bad news: Jimmy Butler is replacing Rip and his FG percentages from inside the arc are not good (36% from the left, 26% from the right). The good news: He was 41% from the left wing outside the arc and 47% from the right. If they utilize similar sets with Jimmy Butler and he gets the same looks, it’s not out of the question for him to step outside the arc and turn Rip’s twos into threes, which will increase scoring.
More good news: Mike Dunleavy is an unbelievable shooter. He’s not good from inside the arc where Rip was (40% from the left and 36% from the right) but he’s a 39% shooter from beyond the arc on the left and 45% from the right. More good news: The old Rip Hamilton/Kyle Korver set usually ended with someone standing wide open in the corner. The Bulls now have several options for that spot: Dunleavy (41% left 3pt corner, 46% right 3pt corner), Butler (37% left, 34% right), Hinrich (65% left, 22% right), Deng (35% left, 34% right), and Snell (TBD). That’s a massive improvement over Keith Bogans and Rip Hamilton (18% left and 40% right last year in 10 attempts). So it’s fair to say that a lot of these midrange jumpers the Bulls have thrived on the past three years may turn into three point attempts/makes. This is unquestionably the best 3pt shooting team overall we have had. That will also help the following…
Boozer/Noah/Gibson and Their Post Games
The Bulls typically run an offensive set for Boozer where he posts up and there’s a host of activity that allows him to isolate or hit a cutter. With improved three-point shooting, this should give Boozer a lot of room to operate. Last year, 47% of Boozer’s attempts came within 9 feet of the rim. Last year, I frequently mentioned the Hinrich effect and how Hinrich was excellent in getting Boozer involved. If Rose or Hinrich can keep Boozer engaged early (which is the secret to him being effective on both ends), then I expect more of the same. If you look back to last year’s playoffs, Boozer began taking those ill-advised fadeaways in the Miami series when Nate was running point. I’ve talked about it before, but Boozer has a few sweet spots on the court where he’s just crazy effective. If a PG gets him the ball there, he’s above average or even dominant. Hinrich and Rose can get him going in those spots. The Bulls like to play inside/out and with the plethora of 3pt shooters on this team, that should make the offense hum more effectively.
Noah also improved his post offense last year. He is one of the best passing centers in the NBA. If he can maintain that production, it should help the Bulls offense. Taj Gibson had a down year last year, but I look for him to bounce back. Here’s the beauty of all the Bulls’ big men: They perfectly contrast one another. Boozer is a post machine, so Noah can play around the free-throw line if need be. He’s developed a quality jumpshot from around there when open. Gibson was a 51% shooter from the baseline last year and meshes well with Noah when he takes it at the free-throw and tries to take his man off the dribble. Boozer is basically money from midrange and can play off of Taj or Noah and let them post up. The Bulls really have a nice collection of big men that can provide something useful on offense and Noah/Gibson are outstanding defenders.
Obviously, the most important component to this Chicago offense and it’s rise will be Derrick Rose returning. Look at all the weapons he will have surrounding him: Tremendous 3pt shooting, solid post play, three recent All-Stars (Boozer in 2008, Deng/Noah last year), and a quality bench. If the Bulls decide to get out and run? This could be an exciting year for the Bulls and Bulls Nation.
Last year, the Bulls averaged 93 points per game. Nate only averaged 13.5 points per game and Rose’s career average is 21 ppg. If everything stays consistent, Rose could potentially bring this team near or over 100 ppg for the first time in the Thibodeau era. We know the defense is going to be there. We know the “grind it out” mentality is there. But this team is quality and 8-9 players deep. This team should be able to do a few things this year: A) Provide rest for key guys throughout the season. I have no doubts on this one. I think management and Thibs have come to the realization that they have to save something for the postseason. B) They should be able to have a good record in the Eastern conference and remain one of the top teams in the NBA and C) They are more athletic all of a sudden with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, kind of Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson. This team could be electric and one of the best to watch.
And who knows? If the offense catches up with the elite defense, maybe this team will be raising a 7th banner in the United Center around this time next year. I guess we’ll see.