With the Bulls tipping off their regular season in two days at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks, Bulls fans, not just from Chicago, but around the world, are beyond excited. As everyone knows, Derrick Rose has not played a full season since his 2010-2011 MVP campaign. That alone has fans on the edge, but the off-season acquisitions of all-star forward Pau Gasol, National college player of the year, Doug McDermott (via trade with the Denver Nuggets on draft day), Nikola Mirotic (who was voted best player in the world outside of the NBA last year), and several other signings (such as Aaron Brooks), have people talking about the Bulls winning it all, despite what Cleveland may have cooked up over the summer. There are a few things to consider.
With what is now referred to as the The Third Coming of Derrick Rose, many are skeptical of how injury prone he really is. As mentioned earlier, Rose hasn’t played a full season in some time due to two serious injuries. Rose seemed to come back stronger than ever his last return, play exceptionally well in preseason, lose rhythm during the first ten games of the regular season and get injured. So why would this time be any different? Well, there are several reasons.
Derrick has grown. During his last return (while not rushed timetable wise), he just wanted to do anything to get back on the court. This time, he has learned to take care of his body. He has changed his diet and learned to better prepare for games (in regards to stretching and warming up). Furthermore, his time off the court has allowed him to see the game from a different perspective. Rose has a better understanding of the game when it comes to getting his teammates involved, picking better shots, avoiding contact, etc. During preseason, not only has he dazzled spectators, he has proven to be a smarter and more confident player. Finally, Rose had the opportunity to shake off the rust during the World Championship. If he’s healthy, the Bulls have a legitimate shot at winning a title.
The Bulls (not even referring to Rose) are often times an injury prone team. It seems that every season at least one player comes into training camp rehabbing some kind of injury. This year Joakim Noah is still recovering (even though he’s playing) from knee surgery. Even though Derrick is the key to a championship, Joakim Noah (arguably the second best player on the team), must be healthy. Kirk Hinrich always runs into injury trouble. If Derrick can stay healthy for the season, that can shave off minutes for Hinrich and hopefully keep him fresh for the playoffs. Pau Gasol is the third concern. At his age he is more injury prone that most of the other guys on the team. Keeping him in good health is essential.
To say that Tom Thibodeau is a great coach is an understatement. In the four years he has been a coach, Thibs has won Coach of the year and become the fastest coach to 100 wins. For several seasons he has made the best use of players that were available to him, always proclaiming, “We have more that enough to win.” This winning has been fostered by Thibodeau’s constant preaching of defense and hustle. He does have one flaw that separates him from the likes of Greg Popovich. Thibodeu tends to overplay his players to the point where they are completely burned out for the playoffs. Like Pop, Thibs has to accept that some games in the regular season just aren’t worth risking that much energy. However, he now has the luxury of having many great players which should help maintain “normal” minutes for his players.
As mentioned, Thibs has plenty in his arsenal to choose from, but how does he utilize that many good players. It is clear that even after the eight game preseason, there is no set rotation. The Bulls have arguably the best front court in the league. Noah and Gasol are backed by Gibson and Mirotic. Gibson could easily be a starter on half the other teams in the league, and Mirotic’s potential is through the roof. While Noah and Gasol starting seems to be set in stone, the main question is who will close games. Does Thibodeau put the starters in or let Gibson finish instead of Gasol for his defensive prowess? Maybe even take out Gibson and put in Mirotic to build his confidence, especially since he’s proved to be a pretty good defender.
At small forward, Mike Dunleavy seems to have the starting spot. Should he keep it? McDermott cold benefit from playing with the guys in the starting line-up, especially since he will most likely have a starting spot next season. This is by no means a knock on Dunleavy who I consider a great player with superb fundamentals and a nice touch, but being a veteran, he might be most effective coming off the bench to balance out the youth, and he would have more energy to have a greater impact.
Finally, Rose and Butler starting at the 1 and 2 is undebatable, but who backs them up is a good question. Hinrich will most definitely back up Rose, but what about the two spot? Will Thibs play Aaron Brooks (and have him change off for ball handling with Hinrich), or will he start to give Tony Snell, the second year man who is inconsistent but shows flashes of being a quality player, a chance to prove he is worthy of having a decent amount of minutes? What makes matters more confusing is that Thibs likes to play Hinrich alongside Rose which cuts into Butler’s minutes. It seems that the need to have a good second unit will not allow three young players, and Tony Snell will most likely be the odd man out.
Winning it all?
Personally, I think the Bulls have a chance to bring back the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Chicago. One thing to keep in mind is that Derrick Rose will not be able to do it alone. Nevertheless, he might not have to. This is unarguably the best supporting cast Rose has had thus far, and with Noah’s emergence as a point center, as well as Hinrich’s presence, Rose can catch a break and look to play off the ball. As a Bulls fan, I hope that the Bulls can win a title this year, but it is important to keep in mind that even if they don’t, the young talent the team possess, promises a good future in Bulls basketball.