The Bulls (29-18) have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. They trail the defending champion Miami Heat (30-14) by 2.5 games and the New York Knicks (30-15) by two games. They are one game ahead of the Brooklyn Nets (28-19).
According to John Hollinger’s stats-based power rankings, the Bulls are the sixth-best team in the league behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Heat, Los Angeles Clippers and Knicks.
They have done this despite the fact that Derrick Rose has missed all 47 games this season. Rip Hamilton has missed 12 games. Kirk Hinrich has missed seven. Luol Deng has missed five. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have missed three each.
For those of you who enjoy simple math, that’s a total of 77 player games lost to injury and we haven’t even reached the All-Star break. All the guys who have missed time are starters. One is a former MVP and Deng and Noah have been named All-Stars. And I haven’t even touched on how management disassembled the Bench Mob during the offseason.
This is nothing new. Last season, the Bulls compiled the best record in the league despite the fact that Hamilton (38 games), Rose (17 games), C.J. Watson (17 games), Deng (12 games), Taj Gibson (three games), Noah (two games) and Kyle Korver (one game) combined to miss 9o games in the lockout-shorted 66-game season.
With all due respect to Gregg Popovich, I have no idea how Tom Thibodeau didn’t win Coach of the Year honors for that. And — assuming things continue the way they’re going — he should be the favorite to win it this season too.
Again, Rose hasn’t played a game. On Friday night, the Bulls were missing four starters — Boozer, Hinrich, Noah and Rose — and still almost beat the Nets in Brooklyn. In that game, Gibson played all 48 minutes, Deng played 47 minutes and 56 seconds, Nate Robinson logged 41:26 of PT and Jimmy Butler went for 40 minutes and six seconds.
The next night, the Bulls played in Atlanta against a playoff-caliber team they beat by 39 on January 14. On the second night of back-to-back road games minus four starters against a playoff-caliber team that had to want a little revenge? The Bulls were destined for a blowout, right?
There was a blowout all right, but going the other way, as the Bulls beat the Hawks 93-76 as Deng (45:45), Butler (45:37), Gibson (45:13) and Robinson (40:37) once again ran a marathon. Exhausted and missing some of their best players, the Bulls scored at rate of 109.2 points per 100 possessions, rebounded 35.3 percent of their missed shots and held the Hawks to 89.2 points per 100 possessions.
As of today, the Bulls have a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs. They have impressive wins over teams like the Celtics, Heat, Knicks, Lakers, Nets and Warriors (although it can be argued that Boston and L.A. are having down years). They are doing it despite injuries. They are doing it despite being — in many ways — a rather unremarkable team.
According to Basketball-Reference, Chicago ranks 29th in three-pointers attempted (637) and made (224), 26th in points per game (93.5), 21st in field goal percentage (.439), 16th in three-point percentage (.352) and 14th in free throws attempted (1055).
Per Hollinger’s team stats, the Bulls are 26th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (46.8), 22nd in True Shooting Percentage (51.4), 19th in Defensive Rebounding Rate (72.8), and 18th in Offensive Efficiency (100.5 points per 100 possessions).
The team’s saving grace, as we know, is the defense. The Bulls are third in Defensive Efficiency (97.3 points per 100 possessions), trailing only the Memphis Grizzlies (97.1) and Indiana Pacers (96.3). They are second in opponents field goal percentage (.427) and Effective Field Goal Percentage (.459), third in opponents points per game (90.6), and fifth in opponents three-point percentage (.335).
Still, despite their defensive acumen, it’s astounding the Bulls have been as good as they have despite the injuries and painfully inefficient offensive production. Thibodeau always insists the team has more than enough to win…and then he goes out and proves it against all possible odds.
The Bulls do it with defense. They do it with an excellent coach who doesn’t accept excuses. They do it with players who hustle and play unselfishly. Everybody from top to bottom gives their all.
The Bulls may not win a title this season — it’s probably not possible without a full healthy season from Rose — but this is a team that anybody could get behind.