The Chicago Bulls finished their preseason with a perfect record of 8-0. Tom Thibodeau once again proved to everyone that if the game’s close, preseason, regular season, or post season, he’s going to put his starters in to ensure the win is in the bag. But that’s nothing new for people who watch the Bulls closely.
Let’s take a look at five things we’ve learned throughout the course of his incredibly long preseason:
1. Derrick Rose is back with a vengeance.
Through seven preseason games, Rose averaged 20.7 PPG, 5.0 APG, and 3.3 RPG. The all-star point guard missed one game in the preseason, but that was due to ensure his surgically repaired left knee was not overworked in the preseason. Rose showed throughout the preseason that he was ready to show everyone that he’s back to the player that he was and even more.
The young Chicago icon has been very coy with the media, as he hasn’t given the media any tidbits on how his knee is really feeling. There are reports out there that Rose has increased his vertical 5 inches, among other areas of his physical abilities. But let’s keep this in perspective. This isn’t the NFL Draft Combine. Think about it: Does he look comfortable cutting and driving through traffic? Has he missed any unscheduled time over the preseason because of his knee? Can he play extended minutes when they are required of him? D-Rose has answered these questions and more over the course of the preseason, as he’s attacking the basket with no fear and has shown the ability to take contact.
The one concern that is still on the table is how Rose will be able to play along side Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy. It takes time to develop chemistry with teammates you haven’t played with before, as the 2010-2011 Miami Heat found out with their 9-8 record through the first 17 games with Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh together. Obviously Butler and Dunleavy are not of the same quality as Wade — although Butler is coming up on his heels, but we’ll talk about that soon — and Bosh, but having the confidence to play along side a teammate you trust is important to success. I have full confidence chemistry will develop between Rose, Butler, and Dunleavy, as they are all intelligent players, but don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t happen right off the bat.
2. Jimmy Butler is going to have another breakout year.
The third year guard appeared in five preseason games, averaging 11.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, and 2.4 SPG. Jimmy Butler did miss three games this preseason with a knee bruise, but has since been practicing and it shouldn’t affect him throughout the season.
Butler took advantage of a barrage of injuries last year, especially during the playoffs. With Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, and Rose out with injuries, Thibs played the then second year wing out of Marquette, and Butler did not disappoint. Throughout the 2013 playoffs, Butler averaged 40.8 minutes a game, putting up 13.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, and 1.3 SPG. Without a doubt, Butler was the Bulls iron man throughout the post season and will be expected to transition into the starting line-up with no drop off.
Based on the preseason stats Butler has provided, I don’t foresee this to be an issue. Jimmy traveled to Los Angeles this off-season to work out with Derrick Rose and get accustomed to the All-Star’s work habits and game. This type of behavior is of a man that’s willing to put in the work to get successful results. Butler has put in work in the offseason and has looked strong this preseason when on the court.
Barring serious injury, I can foresee Butler improving his scoring, rebounding, and assist average, as playing with an All-Star point guard in Derrick Rose can’t be undervalued. He will be counted on to cover the top players at shooting guard and small forward, which Butler will not shy away from and relishes. Watch out NBA, Jimmy Butler is ready to let everyone know he’s here to stay.
3. Taj Gibson will live up to his contract extension this year.
According to ESPN.com, Gibson’s salary for the 2013-2014 season is $7.55 million. That’s a fairly large contract to live up to, and it can put pressure on anyone to do so. Through eight preseason games, Taj averaged 12.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 1.38 BPG. Gibson has put some serious work in the weight room, as he’s put on more weight in order to deal with the rigors of a regular season and post season schedule.
Gibson’s mid range jump shot has looked solid throughout the preseason, and his post game looks great as well. Carlos Boozer will continue to start for Chicago as long as he’s healthy, but the talks of the organization using the amnesty clause on Boozington still exist and don’t expect to go away anytime soon. If Taj Gibson work that he’s put in over the offseason transfers over to the regular season and playoffs — and I believe it will — then we might see Mr. Gibson starting for the Chicago Bulls in 2014-2015.
4. The Bulls are missing one solid big man.
With Joakim Noah’s groin injury during the preseason still not healed, the Bulls worst fear has come true: Nazr Mohammed will be the starting center for the Chicago Bulls opening night.
(Ed. note: Come on, Rose tearing his ACL has to be worst, right? Actually, let’s forget I said anything.)
Don’t get me wrong, I was so ecstatic when Nazr shoved Lebron James down to the floor during last year’s playoffs that I jumped out of my recliner and fist pumped. Is it because I wanted to see Lebron James get hurt? Absolutely not. But for Nazr Mohammed, a grizzled verteran, to have the stones to do that to the top player in the game at this time — although Derrick Rose might say otherwise — that’s downright impressive.
OK, enough about that for now. The fact of the matter is beyond Joakim Noah there’s Nazr and Taj Gibson, who would be a stretch playing center even though I think he could hold his own against most of the NBA’s centers. With Noah’s injury history, an insurance policy may be needed at some point throughout the season. There have been some people who have judged the utilization of the 2013 draft picks on a stretch four in Erik Murphy and a shooting guard/small forward in Tony Snell. But let’s think about this for a second. Tom Thibodeau, unless his hand is forced, does not believe in playing rookie players unless they are up or down 30 points. The Bulls may be in need look for veteran help at the deadline, and the development of Marquis Teague in an already loaded backcourt will be interesting come the trade deadline or even before pending on Noah’s health as we move forward.
5. The Chicago Bulls Finally Have the Pieces to Contend with the Miami Heat.
The Bulls have matched up with the Heat in two of the previous three postseasons, with the Heat prevailing both times. Ironically, since the “Big 3″ have been together with the Miami Heat, the Bulls own a 8-4 record over them during the regular season, but have gone just 2-10 in the playoffs.
So what happens during the playoffs? Timely shooting, defense, and a star that can take over a game is a key formula to winning a title in the NBA. The only issue for the Bulls is Miami has three of them in Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. The Bulls have their game-changer back in Derrick Rose, so that’ll be a big improvement for them moving forward.
Defensively, this may be the best Bulls team over the course of this four-year rivalry that has begun. Jimmy Butler has the ability to take Wade out of the game, Luol Deng plays Lebron as tough as anyone, and Taj Gibson will be able to guard Chris Bosh during the end of the game.
So far we’ve covered a star that can take a game over in Rose and an overall team defense that may be the best the Bulls have produced in the Tom Thibodeau era. So we are left with timely shooting. The addition of Mike Dunleavy was big for this area, as his 42.8% three-point field goal percentage along with his intelligent play making skill set will be an improvement over Marco Belinelli. The improvement in Derrick Rose’s three point shooting, Taj Gibson’s mid range shooting, and Jimmy Butler’s ability to knock down open shots will be the key.
Overall, based on the current roster and the development of players in-house, the Chicago Bulls will have their best shot with the current core players of Rose, Deng, Noah, and Boozer to unseat the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
Ed. note: Just two more days, folks.