2013-14 record: 48-34
Key Additions: Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, Aaron Brooks
Key Departures: D.J. Austin, Carlos Boozer, Jimmer Fredette
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG Derrick Rose SG Jimmy Butler SF Mike Dunleavy PF Pau Gasol C Joakim Noah
The Chicago Bulls can’t seem to land their big free agent targets. A few years ago it was LeBron James, ultimately taking his talents to South Beach. This year, it was Carmelo Anthony, ultimately taking his talents to JR Smith. Had the Bulls added Melo, they would have had one of the most dominant teams in the modern era. The stifling D combined with the best pure scorer in the league would have been such an incredible combination to watch. But when Anthony went back to the Big Apple, the Bulls were left scrambling to fill in the holes. But fill those holes they did.
Adding Pau Gasol first seemed like a peculiar move, as they have one of the best defensive PFs in the game with Taj Gibson, but as this team began to form, it seems like an excellent fit. There’s something to be said for drafting the best player available, and the same can be said for free agent signings. Gasol’s offense and ability to spread the floor is an upgrade over Carlos Boozer if for nothing else than his added length. He’s also one of the best big men passers in the game, meaning that teaming him down low with Noah provides an offensive force in a way that the rest of the league can’t compete with.
In addition to Gasol, Chicago traded two draft picks to get Doug McDermott, the high-scoring forward from Creighton. This was yet another move to bolster their offense, and if McBuckets is able to shoot at half the clip he did in college, he’s going to be filling up stat sheets and providing some much needed floor spacing off the bench. In that same vein, international superstar Nikola Mirotic is finally here after years of Bulls fans waiting and watching Draft Express videos. The problem is, with how loaded this front court is, Mirotic may be the the odd man out when it comes to minutes. Not a problem for his development per se, but more for the fans who have been awaiting his arrival so anxiously.
One of the main storylines through the season is going to be the return of Derrick Rose and whether he can stay healthy. There’s no reason to assume that his past knee injuries will have any bearing on his health this year. Last year’s injury was a freak thing, not directly caused by the first knee injury. But for some reason, people seem to be forgetting that it wasn’t even the same knee injured. Rose is going to be fine. He’s got the same chance of getting hurt again as any explosive, driving point guard does.
He looked really rusty at FIBA this summer, like dreadfully rusty, at least when it came to putting the ball in the basket. His playmaking ability and athleticism were present though, which is a good sign when you look at the offense the Bulls’ front office has surrounded him with. Rose may not be back to MVP form from game one and he might not even reach that level this season, but he’s going to impact the game and the way opponents have to play from the first minute that he’s on the court. If you need proof of how valuable he is, just look at what this Bulls team couldn’t do last year.
One question mark is going to be what happens with the fourth quarter rotation here. Boozer hardly saw the floor at all in the fourth, but he wasn’t the caliber of player that Gasol is. The thing is, Gibson is still the superior defender to just about anyone in the league. So who is it that closes games? Honestly, I don’t think this is going to be as much of an issue as the Chicago media is going to make it out to be. If the team is in need of more offense at the end of a game, Gasol comes in. If they need a guy to play lockdown D, then you have Gibson. It’ll be situational, and Thibs is a good enough coach to figure that out.
A lot of this team’s success is going to depend on health, something that’s no guarantee. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah has had plantar fasciitis problems the past couple seasons, and he’s had an array of other injuries that have caused him to missed time. Gasol hasn’t played more than 65 games since 2011. Jimmy Butler is out right now with an injury. Kirk Hinrich is getting older. And you know what’s going on with Derrick Rose. The MVP for this team could end up being the training staff if no one misses significant time. There’s enough depth for little spurts of time to be missed, but no team can thrive when one of the best players is sidelined for significant time. And Thibodeau isn’t known for being the easiest on his players’ bodies. Just ask Luol Deng.
This Bulls team is primed for a great year. Of all the teams that were put together for this season, this one seems the most ready to win now, but also the one with the smallest window. Signing Gasol wasn’t a move for the future, that was a move for a 2015 championship. The problem will be getting past Cleveland to even have a chance.
X-Factor: Aaron Brooks
It’s inevitable that Derrick Rose is going to miss time this season. Hopefully it’s just a couple small injuries or some days for rest, but he’s not playing 82 games. Kirk Hinrich is a solid backup, but he’s getting older, slower, and his offensive game is nearly gone. That means that Brooks is going to be getting some major minutes. The past few years the Bulls have had a small backup point guard who could come in and score in bunches. Whether it was CJ Watson, Nate Robinson or DJ Austin, these spark guys have become a trademark of Thibodeau’s offense. Brooks is going to have to fill that role this year.
Who Has The Most To Prove: Jimmy Butler
I’m inclined to go with Derrick Rose here, as he’s obviously the most talked about coming into the season, but I think it has to be Butler. He’s regarded as one of the best on-ball defenders in the game, but his offense last year left much to be desired, especially for a team where the offensive game in general left much to be desired. Forgotten in the national conversation though is the fact that Butler was battling turf toe for most of the year, and while that wasn’t the only reason his shooting numbers dropped, it certainly didn’t help. He looked a lot more dynamic on the offensive end this preseason, and if that carries into the regular season, this starting lineup is going to have five weapons who can score at will. Not bad for a top-three defensive team.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
They’ve always had one of the most stifling defenses, but this year the team should have some offense as well. Couple that with the return of the most exciting point guard on the planet and you’ve got yourself a narrative well worth your time.
Best Case: Rose, Gasol and Noah stay healthy, the second unit moves back to their dominant days and McDermott sneaks his way into RoY talks. 63 wins.
Worst Case: A major injury strikes one or more of the starters, both Mirotic and McDermott have trouble adjusting to the NBA game, and any offense is blown away by the Chicago winds. 49 wins.
Projected Record: 59-23