Saturday, September 29, 2012

Derrick Rose Is Not Walking Through That Door - Chicago Bulls Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Kirk Hinrich, SG Richard Hamilton, SF Luol Deng, PF Carlos Boozer, C Joakim Noah

Key Bench Players: G Marco Belinelli, G Marquis Teague, F Taj Gibson, F Jimmy Butler

Key Additions: G Marco Belinelli, G Kirk Hinrich, C Nazr Mohammed, F Vladimir Radmanovic, G Nate Robinson, G Marquis Teague, F Jimmy Butler

Key Departures: F Ronnie Brewer, G C.J. Watson, G John Lucas, G/F Kyle Korver, and C Omer Asik

To borrow a phrase from Rick Pitino, “Michael Jordan is not walking through that door. Scottie Pippen is not walking through that door. Phil Jackson is not walking through that door.” True, but as much as the names in the starting five and bench are relatively uninspiring, the two most important names in the franchise today were left off. And as long as Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are in the picture, so are the Bulls.

Of course there is no team that has their season dangling on the word “if” more than the Bulls. When it was announced that Rose was the youngest MVP in the game under seventeen months ago, it was assumed that America would have to count on Rose and the Bulls to be the greatest obstacle for LeBron’s first title. Perhaps the argument that Rose is the greatest obstacle to LeBron still holds water as LeBron handled every competitor he faced last year, but perhaps Rose will never be the same again. As he said earlier this month in regards to coming back, he has literally had to learn to walk again. Estimates have Rose coming back sometime before March, but obviously that is speculative. Regardless of when he comes back, Chicago's point guard probably won’t be the same player – at least not right away. People might believe that the Bulls will be “trading for an MVP” in adding Rose, but he won’t have the benefits of training camp or in-game competition to build himself up before competing. There are those that believe he may never be the same player again, so don’t expect an MVP caliber player until at least a full calendar year from now.

That being said, the rest of the Bulls are not too shabby. Keep in mind this is a team that went 18-9 in the regular season without Rose last year. Although all of his numbers were down last year, Kirk Hinrich is a capable fill-in for Rose and will be a nice player to eventually come off the bench as a sixth man or could even swing to the shooting guard if necessary when Rose returns. The Bulls also added a high upside player with Teague who did not get the same attention as some of his teammates at Kentucky, but can shoot the ball and will give the Bulls a change of pace from the 31-year-old Hinrich when he’s on the court.

Where Chicago puts their stamp on the court is on the defensive end. Coach Tibs has always instilled a defense first mindset in his players going back to when he was assisting Doc Rivers in the Celtics championship run in 2007. Chicago was number one in the league in opponents points per game (88.2) last season and number two (91.3) the season before. Noah is now essentially in his prime and his youthful energy that was first displayed winning national championships at Florida has persisted through his first five seasons in the league. He has his place among the games top ten true centers and is the source of energy for the Bulls defense.

In addition to Rose, Chicago could have other injury concerns to worry about. No team in the Central Division has an older starting five on average than the Bulls. Even if the team can stay healthy, the question could be how well can they control the tempo of games. Looking at the age of this team, the Bulls will want to play in the 86-82 kind of games all season.

Starting Five Average Age

Best Case Scenario: The Bulls are in fourth or fifth place in the Eastern Conference by the time Rose returns in late February. He's able to play in about twenty-five of the Bulls games to close out the regular season, enough to get him back into playing shape after being out of the game for about ten months and also feeling confident in his own health. In this scenario, Rose and the Bulls could beat anyone and true contenders for the 2012-2013 NBA title expand from four to five teams. 

Absolute Apocalypse: This shouldn’t turn to Brandon Roy proportions for Rose, but the popular wisdom when it comes to ACL rehab is that the weak knee becomes so strong that the next to go is the other knee. The Bulls need to make sure that Rose comes back only when healthy, and only to stay healthy. Forget about their record or playoff positioning; if they lose their star player to another injury, then it is fair to start to believe he will never be the same again.

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