When the news of Carlos Boozer's injury hit, I think most Bulls fans, including myself, went into survival mode. Just make it through the first month of the season and hang around hoping that Boozer's reinsertion into the offense would help the team play up to their potential.
The reality is that the Bulls are 7-4 right now, which despite the small sample size, is on pace to win 52 games this season. On top of that, the Bulls have already played some of the really tough games on the schedule.
When the season started, I figured this was probably a 41-43 team without Carlos Boozer on it. We lack a secondary offensive creator, ball handling outside of Derrick Rose, and I thought our front court would struggle. I also wasn't convinced the Bulls would shoot well enough from the perimeter.
Rose's brilliance and everyone's hard play would keep them at the water line, but not allow them to go much above it until Boozer came back.
The results have proven much better though.
Looking back at the first 11 games of the season, you've got the following:
@Boston (L) - OT
Out of those 11 games, the only loss that you'd say the Bulls should have won was the game against the Knicks. The Knicks pulled off a fluke night and an incredible shooting display that they'll never pull off again to win that game.
On top of that, the Bulls have lost road games to really good teams, and they weren't all that far away from winning any one of those games either. The Boston game went to OT, the Spurs game was a 3rd Q collapse away from a victory, and the Thunder game the Bulls completed into the middle of the 4th and seemed to run out of steam.
Granted, teams that the Bulls beat, barring Golden State and Washington could largely be thinking the same thing about us, so we shouldn't get too cocky.
The thing is, in preseason, how many of these games would you expect the Bulls to win? If you said 7, then you thought this team was great even without Boozer, and I confess, I certainly did not.
However, this team, as constructed, right now, without Boozer, is legit. Derrick Rose has improved to the point of all-star lock and fringing on superstar. He's still got things to work at, but defenses now use an absolutely ridiculous amount of resources to attempt to contain him and typically fail anyway.
Joakim Noah has proven that his high energy play can not be contained by focusing, that he has legit skills and can help dominate and take over games with his rebounding, passing, and even his offense has improved tremendously. Taj Gibson, those two eyepoppingly bad nights aside, has played like a legit starting PF in the NBA.
Luol Deng has improved his shooting, and though he's struggled recently has looked like a quality third or fourth option for a team. Korver, Brewer, Asik, and Watson are all starting to find their niches and contribute as well.
When Boozer comes back, there might be some initially stumbling over his integration into the offense and the rotation, but their front court depth will become unreal at that point. Their offensive versatility will increase a ton as well.
This team has played a 50+ win pace through a fairly difficult opening schedule without one of it's best players. Right now, the bar has to be set at a minimum of 50 wins on the season with upside to 55+. This team is legit, this team can beat anyone on any given night, and this team will be fun to watch in the playoffs.