The NBA season is upon us! The Chicago Bulls tip off their season in South Beach tonight, as Derrick Rose makes his triumphant return against the Miami Heat. Here’s a look at what the PAE staff is expecting for this season.
1) Summarize your feelings on Derrick Rose’s return.
Albert Hanson: The only way I can describe it is when you were little and you woke up for Christmas morning. We have our superstar back. We have our starting point guard back. And most importantly, we have our closer back. When the Bulls have a game that’s close in the 4th quarter, there’s no one I’d rather have with the ball.
Ashley Wijangco: Everyone knows about the criticism Derrick Rose received concerning #TheReturn, or lack of one at the time. Whether you were for or against the decision to sit out doesn’t matter now. Rose is, as I like to put it, #BackInFullBloom. It’s a hashtag I developed months ago during the summer for a reason I cannot recall. As far as I know, only I and one other person have used it, but that’s besides the point. The point is that Rose has returned. He’s ready to get going again, and it’s evident. There was the obvious, expected rust he experienced at the beginning of preseason, but that’s worn off now. He looks just like his old self again, except even better. He’s just as fast as we all remember and still weaves through defenders in the paint while contorting his body to finish at the hole. Rose’s three-point shot surely has improved, at least from what we’ve seen from preseason. Oh, and have you noticed the elevation he gets when attempting threes now? He really gets up there. Derrick Rose is back, better, and ready. There’s no reason not to be excited now.
Chad Bertrand: I’m very excited to see Derrick Rose back on the court and having an immediate impact. It seems like he hasn’t missed a beat and has come back better than ever. It’s very evident that he was working on his shot during his rehab so I think he could potentially make another push for a MVP this season.
Caleb Nordgren: I honestly don’t know how I made it through last season without him. The Bulls with him versus the Bulls without him is like night and day and if he gets hurt again I might have to swear off the NBA forever.
2) Besides Rose being back, pick one thing that you’re most looking forward to most about this season.
Hanson: The one think I’m looking forward to this season is Jimmy Butler. Butler is poised for a break out season after last year’s playoff run. Playing along side D-Rose should give him opportunities for quality shots while still having the ability to drive to the basket. Jimmy Butler also brings it on defense night in and night out, and we know as long as Thibs is coaching, anyone that can play great defense will be on the court when it matters.
Wijangco: This might be cheating, but the thing I’m most looking forward to is the potential backcourt pairing of Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich. Most people find much more hype in the backcourt pair of Rose and Jimmy Butler. Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited about that as well. All that athleticism with the emergence of Butler and return of Rose, it’s really exciting, but this is really just a personal matter. I really enjoyed when Hinrich and Rose got to play together during Hinrich’s first stint in Chicago, so naturally, it’s just great to have them playing on the same team again. In particular, I really enjoy the aspect of having two ball handlers in the backcourt, but having Rose also allows for the aggressive, scoring sense to still be present.
Bertrand: I’m most looking forward to seeing the development of Tony Snell. I feel has a lot of potential to be a crucial player in the league with his athletic ability and lock down defensive skills. I almost see him as a Kenneth Faried hybrid that could help push the Bulls over the top this season.
Nordgren: The Rose/Jimmy Butler/Luol Deng/Taj Gibson/Joakim Noah closing lineup is going to eat teams alive and I can’t wait.
3) What’s one thing you’re worried about this year besides injuries?
Hanson: Depth in the front court. If Joakim Noah and Nazr Mohammed get in foul trouble, who do the Bulls have? I know Taj Gibson can play either power forward or center, but in reality he’s better fit for power forward. I’d like to see the Bulls add someone to back up Noah and save Nazr for a rainy day when you need to use him, but with the salary cap in the state it’s in this year, we might not see that happen.
Wijangco: The lack of depth in the frontcourt is a clear concern. At the four, the Bulls have Carlos Boozer to start with Taj Gibson backing him up. There’s also rookie Erik Murphy, considered to be a stretch four, but this is Tom Thibodeau’s team; the chance Murphy gets quality minutes when Boozer and Gibson are available are very slim. As for centers, there’s Joakim Noah with Nazr Mohammed backing him up. Gibson could also see minutes at the five, which is a reason he bulked up in the offseason. But what the Bulls have still doesn’t seem like enough. In the preseason finale, the lack of depth in the frontcourt was evident. Noah was out with a groin strain. Boozer got into early foul trouble. Then, Gibson eventually fouled out. There just isn’t enough flexibility, not to mention Dexter Pittman was released once preseason ended. Again, this might be cheating, but if any big man becomes injured, there won’t be too much to work with. Depending on the opponent, it may not be as much of a problem, particularly if they can go small. Thibodeau may put Deng at the four if that’s the case, but I doubt Deng will play that position too much, so it’s still a problem.
Bertrand: The eastern conference has gotten stronger at the top with the Pacers and Nets emerging as true powers that could give the Bulls headaches. This result has made me most worried about the Bulls being able to secure home court advantage in the first couple of rounds of the playoffs. I feel they need to finish at least second in the east to have a legitimate chance to make it to the finals.
Nordgren: Trading Marquis Teague. It’s such a Bulls move and it’s so dumb. Kirk Hinrich has already had two separate injuries and you’re going to leave the backup point guard spot in the hands of Mike James? Come on.
4. Can this Bulls team beat the Miami Heat in a 7-game series? Explain.
Hanson: Maybe. I’d like to just say yes and run with this, but I have to remain realistic. The Bulls played the Heat hard last year considering who they had on the floor in the second round of the playoffs. But this year is different. Derrick Rose is back. They’ve added a more consistent 3-point threat in Mike Dunleavy. Luol Deng has recovered from his health problems in the postseason. Defensively I think they can take Wade and Bosh out of the game with Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. The main reason why I say maybe is the Bulls (other than D-Rose) need to prove they can hit key shots down the stretch of playoff games. We haven’t seen that in previous years against Miami. If that can happen and Luol/Jimmy can keep Lebron contained, I like their chances in a 7 game series.
Wijangco: This Bulls team has what it takes to beat the Miami Heat in a seven-game series, but only if they’re healthy. If they don’t have their full roster, they’ll only be able to win a game or two, as we’ve seen short-handed Bulls team do in the past. They have the experience and mindset to win. The determining factor of them actually winning, though, will depend on health. It’s as simple as that.
Bertrand: I think they can because the most obvious reason is Derrick Rose being back, and they gave the Heat some troubles in last season’s playoffs without him so adding your best player in the lineup can only improve your chances. Also, the Bulls match up well with the Heat and can better defend them this time around with the additions of defensive guys like Dunleavy, Snell and others that can come off the bench and slow down the Heat players.
Nordgren: This is my own question and I’m still going to equivocate. On paper, this is the best Bulls team since the 90s. They’re not as deep as the 2010-11 or 2011-12 Bulls, but there’s more talent at the top and I think there’s something to be said for the idea that Rose’s return will make everyone else better just because it’s the polar opposite of last year. That said, the Bulls are still depending on Jimmy Butler to keep doing what he did last year, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to stay healthy… you get the idea. I think any series with the Heat would go 7. Beyond that? Couldn’t say.
5. Give us your prediction for regular season record and how far the Bulls will go in the playoffs.
Hanson: The Chicago Bulls will finish at 61-21 and win the Central Division. They will face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals where they finally get over the hump. The Bulls will face off against Thibs former colleague in Doc Rivers and the Clippers. The Bulls will win the NBA title in 6 games.
Wijangco: With Rose finally back, I can see the Bulls winning about 60 games, give or take a few. Whatever happens after that, though, will depend on health. The NBA Finals are a likely destination for the Bulls. But if there’s a player or two they lose to injury come playoff time, it’s still possible they can make the Eastern Conference Finals, but it stops there.
Bertrand: Realistically, I think the Bulls will be at least 50-32 and reach the Semi Finals.
Nordgren: 57-25, 2nd in the Central Division. Lose in the Finals to the Oklahoma City Thunder.