1. Will Derrick Rose ascend to superstardom?
Due to a preseason ankle injury, Rose got off to a slow start last season. But if you check out his splits, you can see the month-by-month progression that earned him a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team. This progression was punctuated by a blistering April in which Derrick averaged 25.4 PPG, 7.0 APG and 4.1 RPG while shooting 54 percent from the field and leading the Bulls into the playoffs.
By all accounts, Rose has spent this summer doing and saying all the right things. He’s been working on both his defense and his outside shooting while proclaiming his loyalty to Chicago, stating his desire to lead the Bulls to glory, and accepting any and all challenges his team will be facing in the coming season (coughMiamiHeatcough).
I can see Rose’s development accelerating this season, thanks to his innate desire, improved coaching and better teammates. Individually, Rose needs to become a solid three-point threat (which he’s working on), a better defender (which new coach Tom Thibodeau should help with) and a more consistent floor leader (which will be aided by dishing to guys like Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver). And, frankly, he needs to earn more than 4.3 free throws per game and hit better than 76 percent from the line.
I believe in Derrick. I think he’ll do it.
2. Will Carlos Boozer come through?
Boozer is the Bulls’ most significant free agent acquisition since they signed Ben Wallace in July of 2006. But trust me, the Bulls can expect much more out of Carlos than Big Ben ever gave them. Boozer is a dominant scorer and rebounder, and he gives the Bulls their first true inside scoring threat since Elton Brand.
However, there are concerns, such as Boozer’s health (which has been questionable at times), his size (which is small-ish for a power forward) and his defense (which is suspect). What’s more, some people even question his ability to score down low because, by the numbers, that’s not where he scores most of his points.
But while Boozer doesn’t spend all his time in the post, the important thing is he canscore from there. He also has an excellent midrange game and is a fantastic pick-and-roll player, which means he and Rose should be a perfect fit.
Boozer’s presence will make the Bulls much better.
3. Will Joakim Noah develop into an All-Star?
Last season, Noah ranked in the top 10 in Rebounds Per Game (11.0), Defensive Rebounds Per Game (7.6), Offensive Rebounds Per Game (3.4), Rebounding Rate (20.4) and Defensive Rebounding Rate (12.9) and Defensive Rating (101.0).
But wait, there’s more. Despite being limited to only 64 games due to plantar fasciitis, Noah had 28 double-doubles last season. That’s more than Kevin Durant, Lamar Odom, LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Andrew Bynum and Dirk Nowitzki.
Let’s face it, Noah has surprised a lot of people with how much he’s improved since his rookie season. But it shouldn’t be surprising. Noah has always been a winner, and winner’s have a way of rising to the top.
Assuming he can stay healthy, there’s no reason he can provide All-Star caliber play in the pivot. Last season’s per 36 minute stats (12.8 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG) and Player Efficiency Rating (17.9) were signs of a player on the rise. Assuming Jo’s injury problems are behind him, the sky really is the limit.
4. Will the three-point shooting improve?
Last season, the Bulls ranked 29th in three-point attempts and 28th in three-point percentage. The only team that attempted fewer threes was the Memphis Grizzlies and the only teams that shot worse were the New Jersey Nets and Detroit Pistons. Note that those three teams missed the playoffs, and the Nets were one of the worst teams in league history.
The Bulls addressed the situation by acquiring Kyle Korver, who set a league record for three-point percentage last season (53.6), and C.J. Watson, who has canned 35 percent of his treys in his three seasons (including 40 percent of them in 2008-09). Then too, Keith Bogans has canned a few open triples during his career and Rose has been working on his long-distance shooting all summer.
I don’t think three-point shooting will be an issue this season.
4. Will new coach Tom Thibodeau improve the defense?
During the 2009-10 campaign, the Bulls ranked 4th in Opponents Field Goal Percentage (.442), 7th in Opponents Effective Field Goal Percentage (.484), 9th in Opponents Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt (.212) and 11th in Defensive Rating (105.3). And frankly, they were even better before Noah was slowed and then sidelines by plantar fasciitis.
Now enter Thibodeau, who has served as an assistant with seven teams over 18 NBA seasons, finishing in the top-10 defensively 15 times. Which mean if everybody stays healthy, the Bulls could be one of the best defensive units in the league this season.
5. More importantly, will Thibs improve the offense?
Last season, the Bulls ranked 23rd in FGP (.451), 24th in PPG (97.5), 27th in Offensive Rating (103.5) and 28th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (.477). Simply put, they were one of the worst offensive teams in the league.
Can Thibodeau, who is known for defense rather than offense, change that? Well, according the K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Thibodeau wowed [GM Gar] Forman and executive vice president John Paxson during an interview in Los Angeles on the eve of Game 1 of the Finals with creative offensive ideas centered on drive-and-kick and pick-and-roll schemes.”
Said Forman: “He’s got a great reputation around the league. Obviously, most of it is for his defensive knowledge and defensive credentials. … We really went back off a number of people he’s worked with over the years, and consistently, they said he’s really got a terrific offensive mind. He’s got creative ideas offensively and maybe wasn’t asked to do that as much in Boston. But he was very, very capable offensively. When we met with him, we asked a lot of questions as far as that was concerned and we liked what we heard.”
I hope all that is true. And anyway, Thibs is going to have more weapons than any Bulls coach since Phil Jackson. That should help.