Can Chicago really win the NBA title this season?

All season long it's been a three team race. Chicago, Miami, Oklahoma City. There may be a few other teams in the mix (Spurs, Lakers, and maybe a few more if you want to get real generous), but the cumulative odds of everyone outside of the big three are probably less than 10% in terms of winning the finals.

It's hard to look at the team with the best record in the NBA, and say things aren't going well. However....

Things aren't going well

Tom Thibodeau has been the MacGuyver of coaches this year. He's pieced together the best record in the NBA out toothpicks, duct tape, and a pineapple. The Chicago Bulls clearly have great talent, but they've been missing so much of it. They're managed to stay on top with the defending MVP of the league missing over 40% of the season.

Luol Deng has missed nearly 20% of the season as well and has played well beneath his ability level due to significant injury for half of it. Hamilton's been out for half the season. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have remained healthy, but they've both been up in down in terms of play.

The Bulls have had nothing consistent to lean on this year, yet they've managed to piece together the best record in the NBA. Call me paranoid, but I have a San Antonio Spurs feeling about the playoffs this year. Not a "upset in the first round" feeling, but a "this team isn't as good as its record" feeling.

Last season, when the Spurs entered the playoffs, I thought they had no chance whatsoever of winning a title. They put together a great record, but I never felt they were dangerous to the good teams. Sadly, I'm starting to feel that way about Chicago now as well.

Time is simply running out

I believe Chicago has the will to win a title. I think they want it more than anyone else in the NBA. Their depth, chemistry, work ethic, and sacrifice is greater than their opponents. They have tremendous talent on top of those pieces as well. Unfortunately, they're lacking anything remotely resembling rhythm.

It starts with Derrick Rose. Since returning from a groin injury he's played three games and sat out two more with two different injuries (ankle and foot). He hasn't looked particularly great in any of the three games he played. The Bulls almost lost to Miami because he played, barely beat Detroit, and fell to the Knicks.

If Derrick Rose were at his peak, I think I'd jump onto the "Bulls are favorites to win this thing" bandwagon, but he's not at his peak. He's not close to his peak, and with very little time remaining in the season, the realization that he's likely never going to hit his peak in the playoffs is upon us.

We know for sure that Deng won't be 100%. Who could complain about the effort, minutes, and pain he's endured? No one. Deng's been a warrior, and I have nothing but appreciation for what he's sacrificed for Chicago this season. That said, he's not himself. He won't be until after surgery. His game is now limited. His shooting percentages are down, and he can't drive the ball as effectively.

Richard Hamilton has shown some spark lately, but has played big minutes just once since returning from his shoulder injury and still has a TS% under 50% on the season [really bad for those who aren't stat geeks] because he doesn't knock down threes or get to the free throw line to complement a fairly pedestrian shooting percentage from the field.

Hamilton can do a lot for Chicago at times, but he's built no chemistry with the starters he's expected to play with yet.

Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have both been up and down. In general, both are having better seasons than last year in terms of the efficiency of their play. More assists, fewer turnovers, and slightly decreased scoring due to fewer shots. However, neither guy has been able to cement himself as a 4th quarter regular where Thibodeau is as likely to close the game the backups as the starters.

That's the Bulls starting lineup. Five guys, all with varying degrees of health or consistency problems and very limited chemistry playing together. If this team had a chance to gel at some point this year and ran into a tough stretch at the end, I'd feel better about their odds of piecing it back together when everyone is healthy. However, that hasn't been the case.

Depth is tough to build on in the playoffs

The Bulls greatest strength has been their depth. It's allowed Tom Thibodeau to weather the injury storm. The bench mob may have led them to as many victories as the starters this season. It's easy to say that the Bulls shouldn't change a thing when the playoffs start. Keep playing with the same depth and use it to their advantage.

The problem is that everyone else changes. No more are teams playing five games in seven nights. No more are the Bulls the freshest team on the court because they can run out two completely distinct quality five man rosters at their opponent. Teams can dissect each other's weaknesses now.

The bench mob won't be going up against the inferior bench of their opponents as much. They'll be playing against the starters, and while still capable of holding their own, they're unlikely to dominate those matchups the way they would against an opposing bench.

Depth loses a lot of value come playoff time.

All that said, plenty to build on

I don't want to go completely doom and gloom with the Bulls odds. Certain things need to fall into place for Chicago to win the title, but none of them are completely outrageous. Chicago is still sitting on the verge of having everything it needs to win the title.

1: Derrick Rose needs to get healthy enough to play at full speed.
2: The Bulls need to avoid further injury
3: The team needs to find a rhythm with their players prior to the ECF which is still about five weeks away.

None of those tasks are insurmountable, and while time is dwindling to find rhythm in the regular season, the Bulls can probably make it through the first two rounds while not playing their best basketball.

Championship teams are built on defense, rebounding, and timely scoring. Chicago owns the NBA in two of those three categories. If they can get timely scoring then they can beat anyone in the NBA. The Bulls have the 2nd best defensive rating in the NBA and the sixth best offensive rating. They're cruising along at an elite level in all aspects and have done it despite significant injuries.

Their bench and role players will be bolstered by carrying the team to victory, repeatedly, over elite teams this season. In a key situation, Chicago's role players should have more confidence and experience to carry the day than anyone else's.

If Chicago puts everything together, they'll be right in the mix. OKC and Miami are dealing with their own struggles down the stretch as well and have their own issues to answer as well.

Chicago has plenty going for it heading into the playoffs even if they aren't playing at their best right now.

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  • Honestly I think the bulls have a shot, but like you mentioned it hinges completely on them being healthy. I don't really have a "spurs" feeling about this team because "if" (being the key word) hold down the one seed they can beat Philly. Most likely in 6. It would have to be a tremendous lapse in everything for Philly to beat CHI. But if the bulls fall to 2nd and face NY I can very easily see the bulls losing in the first round. Melo is playing out of his mind and Amare is supposedly ready to return. The Knicks can just get hot, just as easily as they can get cold but i think the bulls would struggle nightly against them. And with the season the bulls are having they desperately need HCA, for whatever reason people act as if it's not a big deal. Any advantage you can give yourself is a big deal. With all that said the playoffs seem to be as wide open a they have been in a while IMO anyway. The spurs are better than last year. Never discount what Kobe can do either. So we shall see

  • In reply to insertclichehere:

    The thing about Ny though is that they may struggle when Amare comes back. Much of their success has been due to the gimmicky Melo at PF lineup.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I agree, not too scared of NY at all should our Bulls meet them in the 1st round...even with their 'gimick' lineup w/ Mello at PF. I see this scenario easily ending up like it did for them last year against the Celtics when Melo was the only threat the Knicks had. With Amare coming back, that will just disrupt their chemistry even more. It won't matter even if Amare agrees to coming off the bench to spell T. Chandler, keeping Melo at the PF.

    I in fact would much rather our Bulls facing the Knicks than the Sixers in the 1st round. I understand they've been in a free fall lately but, playing the Bulls in their current state might benefit the Sixers perimeter defense and make it much more difficult for the Bulls to close them out. I see the Knicks winning perhaps 1 game against our Bulls if at all.

  • Two things to keep in mind: first, it doesn't really matter how the bulls are playing right now. The bulls only have to be better than their first round opponent, then better than their second round opponent in a month, etc. They have plenty of time to get better. Second, nobody else is playing better. Miami needed a huge 4th quarter from Lebron to beat NJ without Deron Williams. OKC is losing games. The Spurs are old. The bulls have just as good a chance as anybody else this year.

  • In reply to bullshooter:

    I feel like it does matter how the Bulls are playing cause they have had far too many injuries this year and lack of chemistry with RIP and the rest of the starters. Bulls will be guilty of maybe having the best record in the league 2 yrs. in a row and not making it to the finals, not a good look imo.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Would you rather not have the best record and not make it to the finals? Having the best record and missing the finals would be disappointing, but it's not like they're leaps and bounds ahead of everyone either year.

  • If they get past the Pacers.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    They aren't going to play the pacers unless they drop down to the #2 seed or Miami is upset by Indiana. I'd say both are possible but unlikely.

  • It's a very odd year. As if the lockout wasnt enough. It's easy to go all doom and gloom with the bad luck we've had health wise but I dont think its MORE likely we have another injury. We've been bit by the injury bug enough.

    We're due some good luck right?

    If we get a little luck by staying as healthy as possible this team CAN get on a roll and as Bullshooter pointed out the other teams like MIA and OKC etc are losing games too. I'm staying positive but if Rose and Rip have any other setbacks were in big trouble obviously. If both players can stay healthy and build on where they are now and keep building then the sky is the limit.

  • If the Bulls don't win the NBA title this year, the man responsible will be their coach Tom Thibodeau. And I'll predict that if he (Thibs) doesn't win the title this year, Phil Jackson will return to Chicago as Bulls coach.

    If he (Thibs) doesn't win it all it will be a repeat of last year when with the best overall record he lost 1--4 to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Final.

    This team has flaws, but it plays defence, has one of the best centers in the NBA (Joakim Noah) and one of the three best point guards in the NBA in Derek Rose.
    But the coach has an ego and feels at times he invented the wheel. That was evident last year with how he used or abused Noah his starting center in the playoffs. There are signs recently that he will repeat his performance.

  • In reply to SlamDunk:

    Really hard for me to see the Bulls losing because of Thibs. Not to say he'll be perfect in the playoffs, but I think other factors will clearly weigh more heavily in a loss.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    even harder to see Phil Jackson ever returning to the Bulls.

  • Really SlamDunk? Phil Jackson to the Bulls? Does that mean you believe, honestly, that the Bulls are going to fire Coach Thibbs? Come on.

    Doug any chance we can get a couple playoff scenarios going later in the week or early next week? Who are the likely first round matchups etc. What is the likelyhood the knicks move up from the 8 spot? Can Orlando sink back to the 8?

    Thanks.

  • In reply to Dmband:

    Playoffs aren't entirely set, but most likely scenario right now is something like this:
    Chicago vs Philly (1vs8)
    Miami vs NY (2vs7)
    Indiana vs Orlando (3vs6)
    Boston vs Atlanta (home court up in the air)

    I believe Orlando has a magic number of two to clinch the sixth seed and they have one game remaining against the Bobcats. Chicago needs to win three of four against @charlotte, @miami, @indiana, Cleveland or rely on a Miami loss to get the 1 seed.

    New York is up a game on Philly and holds the tiebreaker and has a relatively soft schedule down the stretch, odds are very strong that they hang on to the 7th seed.

    Milwaukee still has a good shot to beat Philly as well. Only one game separates the two in the loss column, and they play once more in Milwaukee where the winner gets the tiebreaker. Both teams control their own destiny at this point.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    thanks doug I appreciate the info

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    As a result of the Wizards loss, I am not sure that the Bulls finishing #1 is the most likely scenario.

    If we lose to the Heat on Thursday(which I call likely) then it becomes a 50/50 proposition(whether we can beat the Pacers or the Mavs).

    The way that we are playing, and with both Rose and Deng f-ed up how much confidence does anybody have that we can win 2 out of those 3 games.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Don't count the Heat as automatically winning out. The Heat still have @Boston, which on current form is at best a 50/50 game for them. They've been poor on the road since the all-star break and Boston is probably still going to be playing for home court in the first round at that point (winning the division gives you a top 4 seed but you still lose home court if the 5 seed has a better record).

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Chicago needs to beat 2 of Indiana, Miami, and Cleveland or they need to beat Cleveland and have Miami drop a game to Houston or Boston.

    It isn't a lock, but it's the most likely scenario that Chicago is in.

  • SlamDunk, how you figure?

    Thibs coached as well as he possibly could have given the nature of the condensed schedule (which I feel was a terrible decision based on greed, rather than the players' well-being or providing fans with the highest quality basketball....but anyway).

    Sure, Thibs could have shortened minutes for some guys and took a few more losses. But then you're probably complaining about being a 2nd or 3rd seed, and not having any chance against the Heat after losing home court.

    I blame the NBA for putting the Bulls in the position they are in now.

  • And I blame Columbian prostitutes for the bulls current position.

  • In reply to Crown:

    I sense a good your momma joke coming on.

  • and now some news about the guy that will be our starting power forward when we actually do compete for a title, Nikola Mirotic

    The Euroleague Rising Star Trophy has a repeat winner for the first time! Real Madrid forward Nikola Mirotic, whose breakout a year ago earned him the vote of Turkish Airlines Euroleague head coaches, is the Rising Star Trophy winner once again after dramatically improving his output this season. If last season Mirotic rose from a prospect to an important contributor for Los Blancos, this season he took the next step as a full-time starter and bona fide star. It was a season full of firsts for the 21-year-old forward. After just 10 weeks, Mirotic had notched his first Euroleague double-double, his first weekly bwin MVP honor and his first bwin MVP of the month award, for December. Despite being its youngest regular player, Mirotic led Madrid in performance index rating, 14.6 per game, and ranked among the team's top three in scoring, shooting percentage from all ranges, rebounding, steals and fouls drawn. Moreover, he was the Euroleague's single best free throw shooter, making 56 of 61 tries for a 91.8% accuracy rate, while ranking ninth overall in performance index rating. Euroleague.net

    can't we just send the Matasnoozer to the Euroleague and sign Mirotic now.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Quote from Doug,

    "Championship teams are built on defense, rebounding, and timely scoring".

    As I've always maintained, even the Jordan dynasty won in exactly that fashion.

    Glad your finally on board on the order of things, however, this is not the way you argued back in the day when you were defending the need to retain Ben Gordon, and it certainly argues against retaining the Mataboozer, who certainly doesn't do #1 or #3, and it is debateable whether he effectively does #2..

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I've always thought defense/rebounding were important, but Gordon was the only timely scorer the Bulls had back in the day, and given that the Bulls greatest shortage is in area #3, I think he could still help the team now.

    I also think front court defense is vastly, vastly more important than perimeter defense and thought the Bulls fairly trivially managed with Gordon's liabilities defensively which I also felt were overstated.

  • what's the deal with all these Rose bitchin articles? (being a celebrity in Chicago, getting fouled too hard, all the injuries) Is he going through a depression or somethin? Better call the team psychologist (if Reinsdorf even has one on the staff, which I figure he does not)

  • I'd say the Bulls can win the title because someone has to win the title. OKC and Miami have also both struggled. The only teams finishing strong are San Antonio, Indiana and the Clippers. I think we can rule out Indiana as not having the horses, and the Clippers as being coached by Vinny. So what, based on end of season form SA is going to win for sure?

    This sort of thing comes up every year and as I recall the stats say that early season form correlates better with playoff success than end of season form. Just last year Dallas finished the season going 12-9, hardly storming form, while the Bulls won 21 out of their last 23. No way Dallas could win the title and the Bulls fail to make the finals, right?

    If Rose can get healthy then the Bulls have as good a chance as anybody. If he can't get healthy then they're rank outsiders. It's really that simple, no point over-analysing recent games.

  • The bulls have a shot at the title because the league is weak this year. the big three(okc,chi,mia) all have a shot and also can all be knocked off. its wide open this year and its gonna come down to star power. if miami's big three play well consitently they are the clear favorite to win the east. same for okc in the west but for chicago its different because rose alone will not beat the heat. chicago will need rose to dominate and they need consistent play from deng, boozer and hamilton to have a shot at the title.

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