If Derrick Rose is fully healthy, the Bulls will be entering their first October training camp since the 2010-11 season with their star guard at full strength.
In the 2011-12 season, the NBA had its lockout, shortening its season to 66 games, with Rose playing in just 39 of them before tearing his ACL in the playoffs. Last season, as all Bulls fans already know, Derrick Rose never returned and Chicago spent the year in limbo. It was a frustrating year for everyone involved, as fans, players and coaches waited all season long for something that never came. Some teams would have given up on their season, spending the year licking their wounds and hoping for some lottery magic (see 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs), but Tom Thibodeau’s crew fought for all 82 games. Even without their floor general, they were able to get the fifth seed in the East and amazingly beat the favored and more talented Brooklyn Nets in the first round.
Honestly, how many teams could have a bunch of their players getting sick during a highly contested 4 vs. 5 matchup and still come out on top? Not many, right? Well, Thibodeau’s Bulls did it and with Rose back, the rest of the East will see just how much better Derrick Rose makes this team.
With training camp right around the corner, it’s time to start wondering: Is this Bulls team, better, worse or about the same as the 2010-11 Bulls were?
Five players in this year’s projected nine-man rotation (including four starters) are the same as the 2010-11 Bulls. Rose will probably need a portion of the season to get back to MVP form, but for the sake of comparison, let’s say that Rose comes back near full strength and averages 22/7/3 instead of the 25/8/4 he averaged in 2010-11. That’s a slight drop off, but let’s assume that if he’s healthy, he’s still a top-five point guard.
Luol Deng should be about where he was in 2010-11, if not a little more seasoned. From a statistical standpoint, he’s been the same player for a while, as his career numbers of 16 points, 6.4 boards and percentages of 46/33/77 should be close to his statistical output this season. Deng isn’t a guy whose numbers have ever jumped out at you, but he’s a two-way player who defends with intensity and consistency. He’s still a great spot-up shooter–something that he evolved into as an NBA player–and I don’t expect that skill to ever really leave him. Deng has been the rock of this team since D-Rose turned them into an elite squad and you can expect him to continue in that role.
Down low, Chicago will still feature Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, with Boozer’s age slightly changing the dynamic. Noah is still in his prime and will still provide the defense, shot-blocking ability and gritty offense that Chicago has gotten used to for a handful of years. Gibson is pretty much in the same boat, too, providing Chicago with defense, a little bit of scoring and rebounding for 20 to 25 minutes a night. On the other hand, Boozer might be declining slightly with age, but I still expect him to average 15 and nine, while continuing to trash talk (he’s by far the loudest I’ve heard, screaming things like “Give me that (ya know)” after a rebound) and shoot consistently, despite what has to be one of the ugliest shooting forms in recent memory.
With Rose, Deng, Noah, Gibson and Boozer all relatively close to where they were in the 2010-11 campaign, the rest of the rotation has changed dramatically.
2010-11 Bulls Supporting Cast
Starting Shooting Guard: Keith Bogans (82 GS, 17.8 mpg, 4.4 ppg, 38% 3pt)
Reserve Wing Shooter: Kyle Korver (82 GP, 20 mpg, 8.3 ppg, 42% 3pt)
Reserve Forward: Ronnie Brewer (81 GP, 22 mpg, 6.2 ppg)
Backup Point Guard: C.J. Watson (82 GP, 13.3 mpg, 4.9 ppg)
4th/5th Big Man: Omer Asik (82 GP, 12.1 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
4th/5th Big Man: Kurt Thomas (52 GP, 37 GS, 4.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
2013-14 Bulls Supporting Cast
Starting Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler (24 years old, entering third year)
Backup Combo Guard: Kirk Hinrich (32 years old)
Reserve Wing Scorer: Mike Dunleavy (33 years old)
4th Big Man: Nazr Mohammed (36 years old)
Third-String Point Guard: Marquis Teague (20 years old, entering second year)
Reserve Wing: Tony Snell (Rookie, 20th overall pick)
Reserve Big: Erick Murphy (Rookie, 49th overall pick)
These supporting casts are pretty close to each other, but Dunleavy, Hinrich and Butler push 2013-14 over the top. When it comes to playoff time and rotations get cut to eight or nine, the Bulls will be able to play to feature a very strong eight-man rotation and if Mohammed needs to play six to eight minutes a game, it isn’t going to kill them. Chicago will definitely get more production out of Butler than they did with Bogans and Dunleavy’s scoring numbers will likely be higher than Korver’s (Dunleavy’s averaged 9.9, 11.2, 12.3, and 10.5 points per game the last four seasons, while averaging 22.2, 27.6, 26.3, 25.9 minutes per game over the same time span).
To go along with the projected nine-man rotation, the 2013-14 Bulls will have a trio of young reinforcements in Teague, Snell and Murphy and if Chicago doesn’t feel they are ready to play when called upon, they can sign an out-of-work veteran.
In the best case scenario of Rose being fully healthy, this could be the best Bulls team we’ve seen in the last four years. If Rose continues to struggle with injuries or declines noticeably, he’ll be the biggest injury casualty since Brandon Roy. Hopefully, for the sake of Bulls fans and NBA junkies everywhere, he’s the same old D-Rose and the hard-nosed Bulls make a run at the Eastern Conference crown. Right now, there should be hope in Chicago because Rose will be there from day one, but the sad reality still remains; Rose is always a play away from another injury. Let’s hope he’s fully healed and ready to lead this talented and well-coached squad.