On the one hand, the Bulls season-opening win Wednesday night over the Sacramento Kings at the United Center was very similar to a lot of the teams victories since Tom Thibodeau has been at the helm. It wasnt very high-scoring, it wasnt very pretty, it was perhaps closer than necessary and defense played a big part of it.
But aside from the absence of Derrick Rose and the Bench Mobthe newly-extended Taj Gibson is the lone remaining memberthe teams holdovers were featured in different roles than usual. All-Star Luol Deng struggled offensively, but made up for it with his rebounding, while Kirk Hinrich showed off his playmaking ability, something fans might not remember, since when he was last in Chicago, he often played off the ball to make room for the development of a younger Rose.
Instead, three playersRip Hamilton, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozerfunctioned in roles that fans might not used to be seeing them in: Hamilton healthy and reminiscent of his heyday in Detroit; Noah a newfound offensive force; and Boozer the teams de facto closer.
Hamilton, who has formed great chemistry with former rival and current starting backcourt partner Kirk Hinrich, ran the floor in transition and had his patented mid-range game working against the Kings. In short, he looked nothing like the player Chicago fans never got a chance to know a season ago.
I was hurt. Thats in the past, Hamilton said, weary about questions about his injury-plagued debut campaign in a Bulls uniform. Man, its whatever with me. With me, its whatever Coach needs me to do, thats what Im going to be here to do. Ive been playing a long time, so its not a thing where I say, Ive got to go out there and average 20. I dont do that, never did. Its all about wins and losses.
Concurred Thibodeau: The big thing for Rip is his health and he put a lot of work into getting his body healthy this summer, and I think it paid off for him. Whenever he plays, hes always effective. The problem was missing 38 games, so he never really got into a rhythm. The first time he played an extended stretch for us last year was the month of April, so it was a tough year and I think that got his attention, and I thought that he did a great job this summer.
Noahs work over the summer with NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been much ballyhooed, but while he didnt unveil the leagues all-time leading scorer trademark sky hook, he did appear much more comfortable in both the low post and high post, with his back to the basket and off the dribble.
Ill take it. Hes played very well in the preseason. Hes put a lot of work in. Hes playing with a lot of confidence right now, Thibodeau said of Noah, who also came up big at the free-throw line in the games closing moments. His defense was good, energy was good. He just does so many different things. He can pass the ball, he can score the ball, he can rebound the ball. His conditioning is significantly better, so I think thats a big plus.
Added longtime teammate Deng: Jo has been working hard. If he keeps that up, well be a great team.
In Boozers case, the much-maligned power forwards play down the stretch was also huge. Disparaged for coming up short in the last two playoffseither disappearing, but on the court or simply on the benchBoozer isnt regarded as a clutch player in the Windy City, but took a step in the right direction with his assertive play in the opener.
We have to continue to search him out, Thibodeau said. There are so many good things that happen for us when we throw the ball into him.
Boozer himself almost outright refuses to praise his own play these days, perhaps tired from the constant media backlash when he has a rough outing. But just like his two aforementioned teammates, hes started the season on a high note and if the trio continues to embrace their new responsibilities, the Bulls could end up surprising the naysayers, injured superstar or not.