NBA Season Preview: Chicago Bulls
Last season: 41-41, same as it ever was with Vinny Del Negro
Head Coach: Tom Thibodeau, the defensive guru from the Boston Celtics gets his first head coaching gig. He’s earned it, but this is not a soft landing sprt -- there are expectations.
Key Departures: Kirk Hinrich, Brad Miller, Hakim Warrick
Key Additions: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, CJ Watson, and the aforementioned Thibodeau. In any other summer they Bulls would have had the best haul in free agency. But this wasn’t like any other summer.
Best case scenario: Title contender out of the East. Most people -- myself included -- have them on a second tier behind Miami and Boston, kind of there on the “good but not quite good enough” level. But we don’t really know. If they can defend, if the chemistry really is there, this is a roster with a lot of potential.
For that to happen: Tom Thibodeu is going to have to work his defensive magic, and prove he can devise an offense that uses some interesting talents.
In Boston, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce did not come in with stellar defensive reputations, but they bought into the system, worked in concert with guys behind them and became part of a very good defensive unit. Chicago is going to need to do that with Boozer and Rose, having Deng and Noah with them and being the intimidating force at the rim. It can work, and if it does the Bulls instantly become dangerous.
That defense should be able to get them out and running a little with transition baskets. A good defensive team that gets a few easy transition buckets becomes hard to beat (see Thunder, Oklahoma City).
On offense, Thibodeau has said he wants to go inside out. Which means you can have Rose driving the lane or post up Boozer, depending on matchups. Boozer was not as dominating in post up scoring as one would think last season -- he shot 47.5 percent and scored 0.87 points per possessions, not stellar numbers - but because he can step out and knock down a midrange some teams will go smaller on him. The NBA remains a game of creating and exploiting mismatches.
Where Boozer is effective -- the roll man on the pick-and-roll. Boozer and Rose could become a deadly combination at that game.
With Boozer, Deng and Noah the Bulls should clean up the boards and get a number of points off offensive rebounds.
More likely the Bulls will: Take a little time to gel, then probably finish somewhere between third and sixth in the East. Yes, that’s a wide range but things will be tight at the top of the East. Miami and Orlando are going to win a lot of regular season games (yes, Orlando in the regular season will be a beast and get a top-two seed). After that you have the Bulls, Hawks, Celtics and maybe the Bucks all hovering around 50 wins. How healthy they all stay will determine the matchup -- the first round in the East this playoffs will have some tough ones.
Frankly, we don’t know exactly how well this team will mesh, and how fast. On paper there is potential, but seeing how it all fits together under a first-time head coach means there are a lot of questions. The Bulls could be very good, or they could be one of those nice teams that should be better. One that isn’t bad but isn’t inspiring.
At the end of the day, they likely land on that second tier in the East. Barack Obama will talk about how much he likes this team, they will be fun to watch, they will be good but not quite good enough. And they will need to go looking for more moves.
Prediction: 52 wins, and they make it to the second round of the playoffs, where they will push somebody seven games. That may be enough for a first year... except that the Heat likely will only get better in the next couple years, too.