Remembering the last truly beloved Chicago Bulls roster of 2012-13

Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

This is all subjective. But from a mentality standpoint, I believe that the 2012-13 season was the last time a truly beloved Chicago Bulls squad was able to form a deeper connection with the city. I mentioned this specific team briefly earlier this week, but I thought it would be fun to dig deeper and further examine what made that rendition of the Bulls so special that season.

Things in life usually work simply. If the reward outperforms expectations, then you feel happy. But if the opposite occurs, then you feel depressed. And that’s what happened during that season. Before the season, they were ranked 15th in the ESPN pre-season rankings. And that was assuming, that Derrick Rose was coming back in the second half of the season, which in reality never capitalized.

Where they were lacking on offense, they’ve made up on defense. On that end, they were solid as a rock. However, they had a few guys who occasionally had to be hidden in the scheme. Even right now, you can still hear Tom Thibodeau screaming from the sidelines, “Ice! Ice!”

That was their main defensive system and it worked close to perfection. When you have such mobile bigs like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson on the roster, you can press pretty aggressively. On the pick-and-roll, the main goal was to push the ball handler to the sidelines and away from the screen, even if it would be pushing to their strong hand. Meanwhile, the player on the weakside moved closer to the paint and left his man open in case of help, especially if the roll man tried to go to the basket and the big hadn’t recovered.

Sometimes they would switch, but it wasn’t often. They pushed you toward mid-range jump shots, which is the least effective shot in the game. Utilizing this system, the Bulls finished third in points allowed, by allowing 92.9 points per game.

I think that team embodied the philosophy of Thibs better than any he has had before or had since. They were tough, and truly played together as a cohesive unit. Even though they were 27th in pace, they ranked 8th in assists. Somehow, they accomplished this feat without a true point guard running the show, as their leader in assists was Kirk Hinrich at 5.2 per game.

Although plenty of Bulls teams have won the fans over, it’s the 2012-13 roster that has represented the city the best in recent memory.

Keep in mind, that this team was forced to overcome a bunch of injuries. Noah only played 66, Gibson 65, and Hinrich just 60 games. Even with such flux, they still were competitive during the season. That’s why I think, that to this day, it was Thibs’ best coaching job. Sure, you can make a case for his most recent season with the Knicks, but I believe the personnel was better suited for Thibs’ style in Chicago.

In Chicago, Thibs was all about defense, fundamentals, and toughness, and that Bulls team executed all of things at a very high level. And they achieved quite a lot, despite the many hurdles the team faced. They stopped Miami’s infamous 27-game win streak and also defeated the Nets in a postseason duel that would completely change the trajectory of their franchise.

They reached the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, where they gave the Heat a tough battle, even if the Bulls were hobbled. Luol Deng barely played in that series. He played only in five games during those playoffs. Kirk Hinrich played in four.

It’s a good “What if?” that very few people talk about. With both of those guys healthy, I think they could’ve posed Miami a real challenge and maybe even beat them. Remember, the Pacers went on to push them to seven games in the Conference Finals. I think Chicago could’ve done the same thing, if not won outright.

Keep in mind, that Luol Deng averaged 44.8 minutes during that postseason. Plus, he was a primary defender on LeBron James or D-Wade. So, Chicago missed a crucial part of their team. Without him, Jimmy Butler was left alone against those guys. And another thing, Wade got hurt during the streak, and never really recovered. He had bruised knee, tendinitis, and other nagging injuries. With Deng in the lineup, Wade would’ve gone against Butler and that would’ve been a tough challenge.

Would Miami still have prevailed? Maybe.

But there was a world, where Deng played, Chicago advanced, and maybe even qualified for the NBA Finals. Even without those guys, three of those five games were close. Deng would’ve given another option offensively, too. Again, I think Miami would’ve won the series, but it would’ve been a close one.

This 2012-13 team is not mentioned a lot, because they haven’t won a championship. But I believe they represented the city of Chicago to the fullest extent and have left fans desperate for something similar ever since.

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