The Chicago Bulls seemed on the cusp of something special two seasons ago when a devastating knee injury derailed Derrick Rose — and the team’s hopes — until further notice. The Bulls did well to make the playoffs and advance into the second round last season without Rose, all the while as dealing with a multitude of injuries to other players as well. Now, the stage is set for the former MVP to return to a solid core of players who have proved their mental and physical toughness during a trying year.
He back … at least everybody hopes he’s back. If Derrick Rose is 100 percent healthy and ready to resume his dominance at the point, Chicago is a title contender. Just two seasons removed from MVP honors, Rose is one of those special players who makes the game easier for those on the court with him. A return to form gives Chicago a true franchise player who can dominate games and be the centerpiece of everything his team does.
As of now, the prospects look good for an on-time return for the Bulls leader this season.
Kirk Hinrich did an admirable job filling the starting point guard role last season. He’s never been a spectacular player, but he does a lot of things well and he provides the Bulls with a steady presence at both of the guard spots.
The third point guard will likely be second-year man Marquis Teague. He played limited minutes last season despite Chicago’s needs at the one and is still very much a developmental player with eventual potential as a scorer.
The position has been a bit of a crux for the Bulls for several of seasons now, but Chicago may have found their best player to fill the spot in years with
Jimmy Butler. Butler broke out of the shadows last year to become a key player in the Bulls plans with his surprising outside shooting and defense that could be all-league in the near future. He’s still young, and as is true with most youngsters, he needs to be more consistent, but if Butler’s learning curve thus far is any indication, Chicago has answered their long-standing question at the two.
The Bulls have brought in free-agent Mike Dunlevy Jr. to be the primary bench player on the wings and provide outside shooting. It’s a role he fits well, and he should provide Chicago with a consistent source of offense off of the bench.
Depending upon the health of Rose, Hinrich will probably see considerable time at the three as well. His steady presence will give the team solid depth behind the young Butler.
It’s hard to find a better-rounded forward in the NBA than Luol Deng. He plays both ends of the floor with abandon, can get to the rim, hit from the outside, and is a team player all the while. If Deng were more aggressive, he may be perennial all-star, but his make-up seems more comfortable in a support role.
As at the two-guard, Dunlevy will be the primary bench presence behind Deng.
Tony Snell, Chicago’s first round draft pick, could see time early. His ability to hit from the outside would be a welcome addition, and the team is bound to like his natural defensive abilities.
Carlos Boozer has been heavily criticized since joining the Bulls, yet he has given the team exactly what they should have expected. His scoring is a down from his days in Utah, but that’s due to being on a team more loaded with offensive options and his defense, while not stellar, isn’t as bad as some make it out to be. Boozer’s values lay in the fact that he is one of the best pure scorers at the four in the NBA. Few teams succeed without consistent production from the interior, and Boozer gives the Bulls that production.
Second unit power forwards don’t get much better than Taj Gibson. He could start for a number of teams around the league and combines with Boozer to give Chicago an outstanding duo at the four. Gibson isn’t the natural offensive player Boozer is, but he gives the team a far greater defensive presence, and can switch to the five when the Bulls decide to go with a small lineup.
Second round pick Erik Murphy has some potential as a stretch-four, but don’t expect him to get much playing time unless Boozer or Gibson is injured.
Joakim Noah is one the NBA’s most complete big men. He may not wow anybody with his scoring, but he does more than enough of that to keep defenses honest, all the while maintaining outstanding versatility as a defender, rebounder, and one of the games best passing big men. Noah can be a bit brittle at times, which is a concern, but with Rose’s return, he won’t be asked to carry as much of an offensive burden as he was last season.
Veteran Nazr Mohammed has been in the league for what seems like forever. He’s a capable backup center who pays solid defense and can rebound, but you don’t want him logging long minutes.
After Noah and Mohammed, there’s a gap the Bulls will still need to fill before the season starts. Otherwise they will play small with Gibson at the five, which isn’t ideal, but is a line-up they’ve utilized in the past.
It may sound simplistic to say the season hinges on Rose and his health, but it’s also true. With him in tow, the Bulls are legitimate title contenders, without him, they’re a mid-level playoff team. If Rose and the rest of the team remain in good health, look for first-round home court in the playoffs and perhaps the best chance of any team to dethrone Miami in the East.