The Chicago Bulls: A second half of the season team

Through seven preseason games, the Bulls have earned a pretty sweet record of 5-2. But there are problems. The main problem is that Derrick Rose injured his right ankle during the first preseason game and it hasn’t fully healed. He’ll almost certainly sit out of Friday’s final preseason game against the Wizards, and he could even miss the regular season opener against the Spurs. Yesterday, Rose ran during practice for the first time since the injury occurred. That’s a promising sign, but the fact remains that Derrick hasn’t gotten the chance to get accustomed to his team and teammates in the new post-Gordon era.

Beyond Rose, projected starters Tyrus Thomas (hip injury) and John Salmons (personal reasons) missed a clump of practices and preseason games. And, of course, Tyrus is already grumpy about Taj Gibson starting over him at power forward in the final preseason game. Preseason is supposed to be a tune-up, where coaches begin to establish a set rotation and players dribble, shoot and run themselves into game shape. That hasn’t worked out very well for the Bulls.

Is it a long-term problem? No. The necessary continuity hopefully should be established in two or three weeks. Unfortunately, that’s going to put the Bulls a step or two behind their NBA peers. This is especially dire considering how badly the Bulls’ need to come out of the gates strong. But history and circumstances are against them.

Over the past five seasons, the Bulls have been a second half of the season team. The numbers speak for themselves:

second half team (2)

If we throw out the 2007-08 season — during which the team either quit or simply fell apart completely — the most recent Bulls squads have gone 101-107 (48 percent) before the All-Star break and 77-43 (64 percent) after it. There’s a pretty wide gulf between those winning percentages.

So what’s the deal? The Bulls always have a brutal first-half schedule, which typically is due to events taking place at the United Center. This forces the team into extended road swings. Take this season’s schedule for instance. The Bulls play 10 of their first 15 games on the road and face 10 playoff teams (Spurs, Celtics, Heat, Cavaliers, Sixers, Lakers, Blazers, Jazz and the Nuggets twice). With Rose still acclimating, with Luol Deng still putting his game back together, with Del Negro still working on the rotation, with the team still figuring out how to fill the Ben Gordon scoring gap…it’s virtually inconceivable that the Bulls will enter December with anything other than a sub-.500 record.

Deng knows this, although he thinks the Bulls have the personnel necessary to potentially avoid the annual rocky start: “We could lose a bunch of games early. But you can always tell how you’re going to be by the way you play. How we approach games and the chemistry of the team and how unselfish we are can tell a lot. We’ve started slowly before. I think we have the right mix of people to succeed.”

The Bulls have a lot of home games in December, but eight of their 15 games are against playoff teams (Cavs, Celtics, Lakers, Hornets and twice each against the Pistons and Hawks). In January, they play another 10 of 15 games on the road, including a seven-game Western Conference road trip to finish up the month (at Golden State, the L.A. Clippers, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and New Orleans). Things start to ease up by February, but by then it’s possible — even likely — that the Bulls will be digging their way out of a hole and scrambling to get back into the playoff race. Oh, and let’s not forget that Chicago has a league-high 22 sets of back-to-back games.

It’s a bummer. The Bulls have solid talent this year. Not championship-caliber, of course, but on paper I think this team could win 45-ish games and challenge for the fourth seed in the East. But a slow, if not downright awful start is almost a sure thing. Which means before the All-Star break everybody will be wondering what’s wrong with the Bulls and talking about how much of a disappointment they are. People will question the talent and desire of the existing players, lament the exit of Ben Gordon and cry for a blockbuster trade for someone like Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh. After the All-Star break the big story will be the team’s “resurgence” and amazing “comeback” in the playoff race.

Again.

Note: Eight of the Bulls last 11 games are against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season…so don’t be amazed when the Bulls finish strong.

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11 Responses to The Chicago Bulls: A second half of the season team

  1. bscholtens@hotmail.com'
    Brad S. October 22, 2009 at 4:47 pm #

    I agree, Matt. It’s annoying. Especially since all the waiting during the off-season gets us really hungry for some awesome Bull’s games, and then out of the gate they are bad almost every year.

    I would like to note that you can pencil in wins for the 2 early games against the Pistons. I have been watching that team closely and I don’t beleive they are built to win. I think the Pistons are in a state of flux right now with a bunch of decent value pieces, and they are waiting for the right trade to materialize. Until that happens, the Bulls will be fielding a much more complete basketball team, and they should be able to win those games.

  2. ikuhasunuma@hotmail.com'
    Spike October 22, 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    Starting the season in a dreadful way is nothing unsual for the Bulls.
    They’ll be alright.
    Tough to watch, of course, but they’ll be alright.

    Why is it that the Bulls have a league-high 22 back-to-back games?

  3. rossana-AHA@hotmail.c?om'
    DJ October 22, 2009 at 9:18 pm #

    Only time will tell what kind of Bulls team this will be…. hopefully a successful playoff team that will become a contender for championship next year!

  4. bigrut8719@yahoo.com'
    rut October 22, 2009 at 11:03 pm #

    I also dont like this at all, Matt. For the sole reason of Thomas. I’m find with Rose, because it’s his second year. He’s not a rookie anymore. Thomas complaining about the rotation is the MAJOR problem. What happens if he doesn’t start Friday? What happens if he does but doesnt show anything? And he has to walk the walk when the season starts, since he decided to talk so much.

    This schedule also doesnt help out for all the reasons you pointed out. I dont like it and it might force the organization to push a trade when the complainers start coming out in mid-season. When we should wait for free agency.

  5. Mahmoud October 23, 2009 at 3:09 am #

    To be honest, I kind of like that it ends easy, as opposed to starting easy. At the beginning, all the teams are hopeful and chip and put their best foot forward. You’re not really going to catch a team sleeping the first couple weeks. However, when you approach the end, the teams that have no shot won’t be playing their guys, and the same holds for the teams who have already made it. So really, it’s much better to have a more difficult schedule early on, interspersed with a few easy games here and there, as opposed to one in which you start off hard and then have it be really difficult down the stretch.

    By the way, can I say again how excited I am that Bulls season is starting up again? This is the best time of the year, for sure :-)

    Mahmoud

  6. bob.edwards47@yahoo.com'
    Boppinbob October 23, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    This should be interesting, the early part of the season does look tougher and that is the time that Deng and Thomas have to prove that they belong in the long-term future of the Bulls. If the Bulls are not at or very near .500 as they near the trading deadline I believe that both Deng and Thomas will be on the trading block. Thomas is already a disappointment due to his complaining and his need, after 3 years in the league, to define his role on the team. By now he should know that a power forward rebounds and provides inside scoring. He seems to be playing like he is a small forward, taking outside shots. I am not impressed with Deng either. He seems to take games off. He is being paid like an all-star and we should see all-star effort much more often, not in spurts. The efforts have to be there, then the results will come. I have not seen the effort yet.

  7. bscholtens@hotmail.com'
    Brad S. October 23, 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    Mahmoud,

    Hey, thanks for the post. I had’nt thought of it in those terms. You’re right about teams packing it in, we just have to hope the Bulls don’t fall prey to that same thought process if they get down early. Also, I agree, I love the begining of the season.

  8. PTFC October 23, 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    At this point we know what we get from most of Bulls players. That is not a mystery. Rose – best scoring threat, explosive player, Noah – rebounding, defense, hustle, Salmons – scoring, penetration threat, Thomas -inconsistency, Henrich – solid ball handling, defense, 3-point, Miller – another big body, knock down open jumpers, leadership.

    But the only Bulls that is a mystery and can make the Bulls exceed expectation is Deng. It seems like he’s been gone forever (which I guess he has). Will he come back to form of the allstar caliber Deng of the past or will there be too much rust and/or lack of effort. If he can get his groove back the bulls survive the first half of the season and can possibly over achieve if not then it will be the same ole same.

  9. mrgar87@live.com'
    mike killer October 26, 2009 at 9:13 pm #

    I am not to worry about Deng performance this year, since what I saw from him during the preseason games. Remember he was playing small minutes and he was able to put up decent numbers and once he starts getting more minutes his numbers will increase as well. My main problem is Tyrus Thomas, I just hope he can put up strong big numbers, so the Bulls can trade him for a player that wants to work hard every year and want to get better like; Bosh, Lee and other good PF players in the league.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    [...] are several things that worry me about the 2009-10 Bulls season. The first-half schedule. Vinny Del Negro’s coaching. Luol Deng’s ability to return from injury and regain his [...]

  2. Complete embarrassment: Raptors 110, Bulls 78 » By The Horns - December 6, 2009

    [...] I predicted the Bulls would suffer through a rough start. The team has had to contend with a change in identity (due to the loss of Ben Gordon), key¬†injuries and an early schedule that has been packed with road games. So the sub-.500 record — currently 7-11 — I expected. What I did not expect was to repeatedly watch the Bulls fail to even¬†compete. Blowout losses to the Nuggets, Lakers, Blazers, and Cavaliers are one thing. Blowout losses at home to other sub-.500 teams are a sign that something is seriously wrong. [...]

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