Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
The Chicago Bulls are another team with an outcome that is inextricably linked to major health concerns.
Derrick Rose’s recovery from major knee surgery has taken longer than expected, but given his play during the Bulls’ 7-0 preseason, it seems as though he’s well on his way to playing regular minutes at something near his usual high level. Clearly, preseason is a different game altogether than the regular season, but the explosiveness seems to be there in Rose’s game while there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of hesitancy.
As long as the lift and the aggressiveness are there from Rose, and they seem to be, he’ll be fine. And if he’s fine, the Bulls will be just fine as well. A starting lineup with Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah will be ultra-stingy defensively, and has some offensive versatility as well. Obviously, Boozer is the weak link on defense, but coach Tom Thibodeau does a great job of hiding him, and has convinced him to mostly buy into his philosophy on defending screen-and-rolls, which is key in Thib’s defense.
The bench unit will feature Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Taj Gibson, and Nazr Mohammed. Dunleavy will reprise Kyle Korver’s role on the last Bulls team that Rose saw minutes with, while Hinrich will return to the bench role that he is best suited for after being overused as the starter in Rose’s absence, playing nearly 30 minutes per game in 2012-13.
It’s impossible to assume how Rose’s first real game action in about 18 months will go, but it seems fair to assume that there will be rough patches. Even still, Rose should be back to full strength and speed in time for the stretch run. It’s hard to knock a Bulls squad with a seemingly healthy Rose down too far, but there are certainly concerns.
Best Case Scenario
If Rose really is essentially at full-strength, the sky’s the limit for this team. Thibodeau is widely-regarded as a top-three coach in today’s NBA, and his defensive schemes with a healthy lineup (and no Rip Hamilton, Nate Robinson, or much else in the way of old, potted plants on the defensive end) could be intensely difficult to score on.
It will be important for Hinrich and Butler to repeat the success that they enjoyed from beyond the arc last season. Hinrich should, as he”s a 37.9% career long range shooter and shot 39% last season. Butler shot 38.1% in his rookie season, and with the likes of Marco Belinelli and Robinson gone, Hinrich, Butler, and new addition Dunleavy will be heavily relied upon.
If key cogs Rose, Deng, and Noah all remain relatively injury-free, this could be a 55-58 win team. The Eastern Conference is incredibly top-heavy, and the Bulls will pick up another of cheap wins because of the combination of horrible opposing offenses and their own impenetrable defense.
Worst Case Scenario
Noah is already banged up, and his health could be of concern as we move into the regular season early next week. There is always a recovery curve for players with repaired knees, so even if Rose gets off to a hot start, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of some “dog days” in December and January while he gets his legs back underneath him after not having played in 18 months and suddenly be thrown into 4-5 game per week situations.
The roster in its entirety is very good, but the pieces all fit so well together in part because of Rose. Last year, Thibodeau altered his team’s offensive strategy to rely largely on Nate Robinson to create offense, and Deng was asked to provide more scoring as well. This year, he’s back to attempting to surround Rose with long range sharpshooters.
Hinrich and Butler aren’t exactly Korver and C.J. Watson from the 2011-12 team when it comes to three-point shooting prowess, but Dunleavy should help considerably in helping to space the floor for Rose. If injuries hit again, however, this team would still probably manage to win 45-48 games. Rose missed the entire season last year, and they still managed a 45-37 record. And the bottom third of the East is even worse than it was a year ago, believe it or not.
Most Likely Outcome
The best case is looking more and more likely by the day. A top five or six player, a top three coach, and a top three defensive center surrounded by sharpshooters is a recipe for a deep playoff run. If things click like they should, the Bulls should win somewhere around 51-54 games. It all rests on Rose’s knee. If I’m the Bulls, I like my chances at a 50+ win season and a top-four seed in the East.
|New York Knicks (12)||Chicago Bulls (9)||Atlanta Hawks (13)|
|Toronto Raptors (22)||Cleveland Cavaliers (17)||Washington Wizards (19)|
|Boston Celtics (24)||Detroit Pistons (18)||Charlotte Bobcats (26)|
|Milwaukee Bucks (20)||Orlando Magic (27)|
|Minnesota Timberwolves (11)||Golden State Warriors (10)|
|Denver Nuggets (15)||Los Angeles Lakers (23)|
|Portland Trail Blazers (16)||Sacramento Kings (25)||New Orleans Pelicans (14)|
|Dallas Mavericks (21)|