I have an old video game, “The Lion King” for Super Nintendo. In the opening scene of the game, it begins with Timon saying “it starts.” But he isn’t excited about the start, he seems dejected, as if he knows what’s coming isn’t good (spoiler alert Mufassa dies). That’s how I feel about this Bulls season. Chicago’s Mufasa, Derrick Rose, is out for most, if not all, of the season (Rose didn’t get run over by a stampede though). Add to Rose’s absence that the Bench Mob, the guys Thibs trusted more than his starters on multiple occasions, is also gone for the most part, and who knows what’s to come this season.
Last year it was questionable that there was going to be basketball at all. This year, it seems appropriate to ask whether or not the Bulls will make the playoffs. The hope that last year started with has been replaced with lower expectations. Last season the Bulls had their best winning percentage (.758) since the 1996-1997 Bulls (.841). Those Bulls had Michael Jordan. Now Chicago has Marco Belinelli. You could make an argument that the Bulls are a top five team in the East, or maybe a lottery squad. It’s hard to pinpoint. My guess is they win 45 games and get the sixth or seventh playoff spot, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if they go north or south of that.
This year, the Bulls come in without their star and with a new supporting cast on the bench. The Bulls were used to playing without Rose last season, but many of those role players who filled in (C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, even John Lucas III played a huge part in the Bulls’ success) are now gone. And those guys were replaced by lesser players with smaller contracts for the most part. This is what Chicago has to work with, and under Coach Thibodeau they will come out hard every game.
The preseason had its ups and downs. Carlos Boozer played poorly to start, but looked a lot better in the last two games. Taj Gibson’s never seemed to get it all together and the same can be said for the rest of the bench for the most part. Jimmy Butler took a predictable step backwards after playing well in summer league. Nate Robinson took a lot of shots, but didn’t score enough points. Marco Belinelli barely made anything, except Bulls fans disappointed in his signing. Kirk Hinrich is already fighting injuries and Luol Deng will be dealing with his wrist issues for the entire year.
Chicago went 5-2 in the preseason though, which would be great if the preseason meant anything. But it doesn’t. And a few of those wins came because starters logged big minutes for the Bulls to keep the lead, when the other teams weren’t necessarily trying as hard to get that W. But they have to get used to 40-plus minutes a game at some point, I guess.
They were 4-0 at home in the preseason though, and were 36-5 in the United Center last year. Sacramento was just 6-27 on the road (compared to 16-17 at home). The Kings gave up 105.1 points per game to opponents when playing away from Sac-town. Overall they finished last in opponent field goal percentage and points allowed per game. That’s a good thing for a Bulls team still unsure where their offense will come from.
But offense isn’t as important as the defense. The Bulls lost Brewer, Watson and Omer Asik, three players that range from solid to great defenders. That will hurt. But they still have good defenders and the best defensive coach in the game. Thibs hides Boozer every possession he’s on the floor, it will be interesting what schemes he comes up to help these new guys mesh. And this defense may not win them a championship this year, but it’ll can get them to the playoffs.
From Zach Lowe’s NBA Tier Ranking post on Grantland: “In the last 10 seasons, only one team has finished in the top five in points allowed per possession and missed the playoffs: the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks, who put up one of the half-dozen worst scoring seasons in NBA history. Heck, 91 of the 100 teams who finished in the top 10 in points allowed per possession in that stretch made the playoffs, and of the nine who missed, eight ranked 27th or worse in scoring.
“In other words: It’s very hard to play defense the way Chicago has under Tom Thibodeau and miss the postseason. The Bulls lost two key defenders in Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer, but both were backups, and this defense should remain stout as long as Thibodeau, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson are around.”
Chicago may not be the scariest team defensively anymore, but they still should be one of the top squads in the league on that side of the ball with Thibs at the helm.
Last season the Bulls were 2-0 against the Kings. In the most recent win, February 14, Chicago was without Derrick Rose, but Luol Deng and Joakim Noah stepped up. Deng got pretty close to a triple-double, scoring 23 points to go along with eleven assists and seven rebounds. Jo dropped 22 and added eleven rebounds and four blocks.
The Bulls were 18-9 without Rose last year, putting them as a clear playoff team if they could duplicate that win percentage. But during those wins they relied on a bench that was dismantled. It’s going to be tough, but not impossible.
The Bulls don’t have much of a chance to win the championship this year, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t make the playoffs and be a tough out for any opponent. After last year’s early optimism, it’s unfortunate the Bulls are going to struggle this year. But that’s the circle of life and sports.