Saturday, December 31, 2011

BQ #3: How does Derrick Rose follow up his post-MVP season? What will it take to lead Chicago to a title?

After Derrick Rose won his MVP for leading the Bulls to a league leading 62 wins and a number one overall seed in the playoffs, I realized that that award is only recognized for greatness reserved to Hall of Famers (or Hall of Famers in waiting). Any man that won the MVP had a Hall of Fame career in back or in front of him. For the 22 year-old Rose, this is obviously the latter.

His individual play isn't going to be the story here. Rose will be great, and with youth and a clean medical chart on his side, I will expect the same play from him as last year (and he better - the dude is the CRUX of my fantasy team, LukesRetirementParty). He was undoubtedly the guy who most made THE LEAP last season, and thus, I don't know how much better he can truly get. The real story is going to be if his supporting cast is good enough to beat the Heat and Celtics to get to the NBA Finals.

How will this play out?

The rest of the Bulls roster is so strong, it's hard to believe that this team came up short during the free agent bonanza of 2010. Carlos Boozer, who was never the same player after his wrist injury last year, cannot be as bad as he was in the playoffs (Bulls management hopes, anyway). The Bulls biggest and most glaring weakness, was the rotation of Kyle Korver and Keith Bogans at shooting guard. With former All-Star and NBA champion Rip Hamilton now in the fold, it is like the Bulls replaced Mr. Bean with James Bond. Though not the long distance threat they truly needed (Ray Allen), the Bulls now have a guy that can come off screens and hit shots reliably. Unlike human statue Bogans or stand-still shooter Ashton Korver, Hamilton can move very effectively off-ball and is still considered an apt defender.

This Bulls team is built remarkably like the Dallas Mavericks of last June. In Rose, they have a transcendent individual, much like Dirk. But the superstars stop there. The rest of the roster is filled out with specialists and role players, guys like Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Kyle Korver, Taj Gisbon and CJ Watson. The Mavericks made their way to a title with a past his prime Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea and Shawn Marion playing prominent roles, each to perfection.

If the Bulls have any hope of replicating Dallas' run in June, they must have every single one of their role players at the top of their capabilities. That means Boozer fighting for hard rebounds and making fadeaway jumpers at the elbow; Rip Hamilton coming off of a hard Joakim Noah screen and tearing to the cup; Kyle Korver hitting corner threes with no hesitation; Taj Gibson coming off the bench and providing no indication that Carlos Boozer has left the game; Omer Asik not falling over his own feet; Luol Deng adding to every facet of the game, as Shawn Marion 2.0.

Everything went perfectly for the Mavericks last year, and they were rewarded with a championship. The Bulls, likewise have no margin for error. Ironically, the price that Chicago has to pay for not extending a large contract to Lebron or Wade is demanding complete perfection from 11 guys on the roster. It's extremely rare that you have a title team led by one star, whose abilities are augmented not by a peer of the same talent, but rather by a cadre of complimentary players. The Bulls have that team. Playing the sheer odds of all those different factors aligning, I'm not sure that Chicago will have enough at the proper time to beat the Heat.

How will this affect the season?

There is one part of basketball (sports, really), that seems to outreach any limitation a team may have in terms of its collective talent, management or coaching. That one thing is the feeling of vengeance. It cannot be bought, signed or taught, but rather something that has to be earned by being almost good enough. Derrick Rose has gone on record as saying that he hasn't forgotten about how his squad was utterly dominated by the Heat last June, and how this season is about getting back what they felt was theirs. Dallas understood this in facing parts of the same Heat team that embarrassed them in 2006. The 2010 Lakers felt this way when playing the same Celtics team that physically brutalized them in 2008. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce felt this on a different level; they won the 2008 Finals against the Lakers with the feeling that they were taking the title that could not be individually theirs since each of their entrances into the league in the late nineties.

With all this in mind, this Bulls team may be the only hope anyone has of beating the Miami Heat. Noah, Gibson and Asik provide all the interior coverage the Bulls would need in order to stop James and Wade from getting all of the easy buckets they are so notoriously known for. Deng, Hamilton, Brewer and Watson are known for being the type of perimeter defensive specialists that can contain outside shooters like Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller by playing ball-deny and using crisp rotations. Rose, Boozer and Deng will have to use a complex series of ball screens and pick and rolls to shake excellent ball hounds like James and Wade.

They can do it. If they are perfect. They are the only hope. If they fail to beat Miami, we are looking at the first of several titles going to south Florida. The Bulls as a whole being able to take the next step and how Rose reacts after his first MVP season will not just affect the 2010-2011 campaign, but the next 3 or 4.

Player to Watch: Luol Deng

As he showed with his Christmas Day performance against the Lakers, a game Deng is the difference between the Bulls merely being a one-dimensional squad led by Derrick Rose and a complex offensive threat capable of winning a title. Without Shawn Marion last year rebounding, going off for 20 points every other game, playing tough defense on LeBron and giving the Mavs a reliable scoring threat around the rim, this post would likely be about if the Bulls have enough to overthrow the champions. Deng must compliment Rose if they are to win a title, or even the Eastern conference.


Best they can do: 50-16, 1st in the Central, 1st in the East

Lowest they can go: 41-25, 1st in the Central, 4th in the East

Probable outcome: 46-20, 1st in the Central, 2nd in the East


Like this series? Check out the other Burning Questions leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season:

#8: How far can the Knicks go?
#7: Is this the end of the Lakers' dynasty?
#6: Are the Clippers actually title contenders?
#5 Can the Nets go to Brooklyn yet?
#4: Can Memphis continue their playoff success in the regular season? Can Zach Randolph be the MVP?

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