The Bulls head into all-star weekend with a record of 27-8, third in the NBA behind Oklahoma City and Miami based on having one more loss. There have been plenty of reasons to be happy with the Bulls present positioning or disappointed with it so far. Despite a glowing record, the season itself has had plenty of ups and downs.
The glass is 77.1% full
The Chicago Bulls have won 77.1% of their games, a pace that would equate out to a 63 win season. It's awfully hard to complain about their actual record right now. Moreover, the Bulls have largely avoided losing clunker games to lousy teams outside of a loss to the Nets without Derrick Rose and one to the Warriors early in the season.
Granted, beating bad teams is nothing special, but the Bulls consistency in doing it shows how prepared they come to play every night. They've also maintained a huge margin of victory and in the majority of these games they've put their foot down and crushed teams rather than letting them hang around all night.
Quite frankly, much of Bulls basketball this season has been boring and non competitive because Chicago has dominated around half of their games so thoroughly that the outcome felt decided by half time.
They've done it through significant injuries
Derrick Rose has missed 10 games so far and given how reliant the team is on Rose to create, a record of 7-3 without Rose feels pretty good. They have also missed seven games from Luol Deng, 24 games from Richard Hamilton, and one from Joakim Noah.
The injury plagued Carlos Boozer is the only starter to actually play through the whole season without a missed game so far.
The starters have collectively missed 42 games and the Bulls losses have been broken down like this:
@Golden State: Everyone healthy
@Atlanta: Hamilton out
@Memphis: Rose and Hamilton out
Indiana: Hamilton out
@Miami: Deng out
@Philly: Deng and Hamilton out
@Boston: Hamilton and Rose out
New Jersey: Hamilton and Rose out
Four loses missing two starters, three missing one starter, and one while fully healthy. That's a lot of caveats to throw on the losses.
Rip Hamilton looks really good if he can get healthy
Either the Bulls have decided to take a very cautious approach with Richard Hamilton, or we're going to really have to cross our fingers. I'm leaning towards the first. They saw him re-aggravate his groin twice after coming back too soon and are now being more cautious.
Hamilton hasn't been all positives when he's played. He uses up a lot of shots and has pedestrian offensive efficiency. However, he creates tons of openings for other players on the floor and the offense has generally run much smoother in games he's played than when he hasn't.
If Rip can stay healthy post all-star break, and the Bulls can integrate him into the offense then they have considerable upside to a season which already has them on a 63 win pace.
Boozer and Noah finally learned to play together
The two have never had much time together on the court given their alternating injuries, Boozer's missed training camp, and an abbreviated camp this summer. However, they've finally started to develop some strong chemistry with each other.
The Bulls interior passing between our big men has improved tremendously. Boozer and Noah both move have court vision and passing instincts beyond the typical big man and have started to consistently find each other for easy looks. This improvement gives the Bulls far more easy baskets than they've had in the past.
The Bulls have the statistical markers of an elite team
The Bulls are presently second in defensive efficiency and third in offensive efficiency. That's the stuff championship teams are made of. They have a massive point differential, and they've done it all given a more road heavy and injury plagued schedule. In short, things are going pretty well for Chicago on that front.
Unfortunately, it's not all sunshine and rainbows for Chicago, while plenty has gone right, there are still plenty of concerns....
Chicago has played the second easiest schedule in the NBA
Even with the home/road split taken into consideration, Jeff Sagarin ranks the Bulls as having played the second easiest schedule in the NBA. They've only played teams in his top 10 four times and are two and two against them.
While it's commendable the Bulls have had few let down games against weak opponents even when dealing with injuries, beating up the Bucks three times is part of the reason why the Bulls offensive and defensive efficiency numbers look so solid. It's why their record looks so much better.
Quite frankly, it's easier to hit those achievements when you've only played a dozen or so "real" games this season. The Bulls have played a whopping 13 games against teams that are .500 or better this season [at least if my quick math was right]. They're 8-5 against those teams which isn't awe inspiring.
While pundits pointed out after the last road trip that the Bulls had a really favorable schedule due to all the home games, the reverse could be said that they have an unfavorable remaining schedule due to all the tough opponents left.
The Bulls haven't solved their core problems from last season when playing quality opponents
The Bulls biggest problem last season is that teams with high levels of perimeter athleticism could trap Rose and minimize his impact on the game. Then when Chicago passed out of the trap, they struggled to create quality looks.
When we've gone up against Miami, Philly, and Indiana [three teams that can do that, three teams we might see in the playoffs], we ran into the same issue. The Bulls didn't have a fully healthy lineup in those three games, and we can only hope that a fully healthy lineup will make the difference.
Unfortunately, through half a season, you'd have hoped that you'd already see the difference rather than wishing on a star.
The Bulls have done it through injuries, but will they get any healthier?
Rose has suffered two injuries that could plague him the rest of the season. He says he has no pain in his toe or back, but he wore a back support in his last game which tells me something different.
Will the Bulls get Hamilton back for an extended period of time? He's been injury riddled the two seasons prior to this as well, and I don't know that Chicago can count on it.
Luol Deng has said his wrist can't get any worse in terms of aggravating the injury, but he has to play through pain every night and he could certainly get more swelling in the wrist as time goes on.
We've been fortunate not to have a Boozer injury yet, but given his career you have to have at least some concern that we'll see one before the end of the season, and the same can be said of Joakim Noah.
In short, the Bulls have three guys dealing with stuff that simply might not go away and two guys who more likely than a typical player to suffer an injury going forward.
And there's still Miami
Regardless of how good the Bulls have been, the rub will always be whether or not they've done enough to push ahead of the Miami Heat. The Heat run hot and cold, and they proved last year in the Finals that it isn't simply a matter of getting lazy. They just went cold for a whole series against Dallas.
However, when they're hot, they look completely unstoppable.
Chicago lost it's one game against the Heat, but Deng was out and Rip described the game as "playing on one leg" and hasn't played since [he looked like it in that game as well, so I don't think there's any bs there]. That said, Chicago was two clutch Rose free throws away from likely winning the game on the road.
In short, the Bulls seem like they're in Miami's ballpark in terms of talent, but it's hard to feel good about a match up against them yet. However, I think that regardless of what the Bulls do against Miami in the regular season that Bulls fans will (and should) feel that way.
Let's face it, Miami has the best player in the NBA, a player in the running for the second best, and another guy who might be in the top 10 (and at least top 15). There's no way that any team is going to out-talent Miami, so anyone going against them will always have a healthy dose of fear. Chicago will need to win based on depth, chemistry, and hustle on top of putting together a highly talented roster.
In the end, I'll feel good
The Bulls have already jumped to the "championship or bust" state for many fans. I understand that feeling, and if you are such a fan, then your odds of disappointment followed by ranting are high. I give the Bulls about a 20% chance of winning the title this year. It's a good chance for any single team. I think only the Thunder [easier path to the finals] and Heat [better team] can be argued to have better chances.
That said, it's not likely, and unfortunately, no trade the Bulls could reasonably make will notably improve their chances. The Bulls are going to need quite a bit of luck on their side in addition to all of the things they control to hang a new banner this season, but they're one of only three teams with a significant chance to do so.