10 Thoughts on the Chicago Bulls in 2011-2012 (NBA Season Preview)
December 20, 2011INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
1. Derrick Rose wasn’t the best player or most valuable in the NBA last year, but he’s a truly elite player who both cares and has the talent to make his team a title contender. He’s everything a first overall pick should be, and merely needs to fix his shot to ascend from the Top 10 to the Top 5.
2. Reason #1 Rose is a bit overrated is Tom Thibodeau. He’s a truly fantastic coach as both teams that use his defense are the top 2 defensive teams in basketball. That isn’t a coincidence, as he has his players playing smart and hard within a brilliant system.
3. And manning that system is the top collection of defensive bigs in basketball. First, let’s discuss the star – Joakim Noah. In addition to an improving shot, great passing, and a good free throw rate, Noah is the second best help big in basketball, after Kevin Garnett. Given Garnett’s age and Noah’s work ethic, don’t expect him to remain second for long. He’s the heart of the team and all the attention paid Rose makes him one of the more underrated players in the league.
4. And, frighteningly, as good as he is on D, his backups might be better. Omer Asik is a mobile freak who’s injury turned the entire conference finals on its head last year. He’s terribly offensively, but so shut down on defense that, as a backup, it hardly matters. Then you add in Taj Gibson, and it just gets mean. Both fast and strong, Gibson is a game changer on defense. He blocks and rebounds, helps on bigs and guards, and is even reasonably capable offensively when set up. These two simply shut down the offense of whoever they’re matched up against.
5. And it makes Carlos Boozer look worse than he is. Boozer played hurt, but is an excellent offensive complement to Rose and Noah makes up for a ton of his defensive deficiencies. Hopefully, now that he’s healthy, Chicago will run actual plays for him, and he’ll add a new dimension to their offense.
6. Also helping on offense will be newcomer Rip Hamilton. Hamilton’s game is motion off screens and between the bigs mentioned earlier, the attention paid to Rose and Boozer should make him extremely effective. He’s already a great team defender when he wants to be. The Bulls might even be favored above the Heat if their offensive production and creativity can in any way match their defensive intensity.
7. Earlier I called Noah among the most underrated players in the league and said this team might be favored against the Heat. In this series I’ve continually noted the importance of shooters and lockdown defenders. All of this is true in spades of Luol Deng. Deng is a good shooter, good athlete, and long defender who can really harass any opposing wing. With the defense behind him, he’s absolutely lethal and may even be the key to this defense being so incredible – the bigs all have capable replacements, but Deng is irreplaceable on the roster.
8. As great as they are now, if they can keep Asik and Gibson, they stand poised to get better. Jimmy Butler gives the Bulls a second capable defensive wing who can shoot, and, eventually, Nikola Mirotic will come over and be a great scoring Euroball 3/4. Adding a shooting point-forward of this ability to the Bulls, even if it’s in 3 years, just seems mean.
9. It’ll be interesting to see what the Bulls do backing up at the wings. Kyle Korver adds much needed shooting and tries on defense, but Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans are bulldogs on D. The second unit lacks scorers, but things get interesting when we get a mix of starters and bench players, particularly against the other elite teams.
10. So, I love this team’s construction, coaching and selflessness. They’re my current title favorites this year if their offense comes together and they stay healthy. They should lead the league in wins and can now score enough that they should be able to let their defense lead them to the promised land.