Can the Bulls hold it together without Derrick Rose?

Last season, the Bulls finished 18-9 without Derrick Rose putting them on a 54 win pace. This season, many are predicting disaster for the squad that will likely play somewhere between 30-60 games without him. Were the Bulls a fluke last season winning without Rose? Was the cast that moved on so good this team can't repeat that?

Was schedule a factor?

The Bulls played a fairly even schedule with Rose out with 13 of the 27 games going against playoff teams. They also won a fair amount of those games (2 against Boston, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Philly, New York). To go slightly over .500 against playoff teams and then mop up against the poor teams is what good teams do, and the Bulls showed they were a good team without Rose last season.

The one factor that might have played heavily in their favor is 18 of the 27 games were at home. However the Bulls won an identical 66% of the games over the stretch at home and on the road. I think the schedule slightly favored them due to the home/road split, but not enough to call the performance a fluke.

Was there more belief last season?

Going into last year, the Bulls were viewed largely as a title contender. Rose was out, but he wasn't necessarily recovering from something serious. The belief was that the team only needed to hold on for a little while, and Derrick would be back to lead them to the championship in the playoffs.

That extra belief may have filled the team with confidence to perform better. Teams in all leagues have frequently played well while their star player is out when they know he's coming back but fall apart when they know he's not.

This season has a somewhat in between vibe. The Bulls know Rose is coming back, but they don't know how healthy he'll be when he gets back. Does the team really feel it has championship aspirations this year? Are they that confident in themselves. At media day, everyone was discussing how they could be a good team, but there definitely wasn't a championship vibe to this season.

When it was brought up players would, of course, give the championship goal as their answer, but it didn't feel like they necessarily bought in. Yet. Let's give Tom Thibodeau a month to work with them and see what happens.

Can this new bench make it work?

The old bench had a ton of chemistry, complementing styles of play, and hit their full potential. The new bench is similarly talented, but it remains to be seen whether the pieces fit as well skill wise and whether they'll play off each other as well.

Kyle Korver said it best when leaving Chicago when he noted that Bulls team had the best chemistry of any team he'd ever played on. Everyone was dead set on performing their role to win a title with no egos. Can Tom Thibodeau get the team to buy in again and did Gar Forman and John Paxson give him the correct players?

My bet is yes. Tom's the best coach in the NBA. He'll get them to buy in and perform as well as possible, and I do think Gar/Pax brought in similarly talented players.

Too much fluke factor?

So despite logically breaking down the various reasons why the Bulls performed well last year but might not this season, I still struggle to buy in this season. Things felt magical last season. They felt special. It felt like there was a fluke factor that can't be repeated.

Was it really a fluke or was it simply great coaching and good players playing great basketball? The great coaching is still there, the players are similarly talented. We'll see what Chicago does. I'm skeptical but excited to get the season going.

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  • I think the biggest reason for their success last year was coaching. Thibs knew what to say and when to say it. I also believe that the players were waiting for Rose. Korver said in an interview one time about how they wanted to win for Rose and not let him down. I think that drove them through some stretches. That is why I think they were so bad in that game two against Philly too. I think they were so dejected that Rose was not comming back that they lost focus. They got it back in the following games but it was to late, and then Noah got hurt and it was over. I think this bench can be better than last years bench. My one big concern for them is that they will not have that same push or drive that was there the last two years. They may feel that they have a built in excuse for not winning without Rose.

  • Two questions to anyone who can answer. Are the Bulls looking into sending Teague to the D league? I read they were interest in Jaric and I don't see how they can bring him in with so many guards already on the roster. If they do send him, does he count toward roster and salary cap?

  • In reply to PaBullfan:

    I do thing there's a good chance they send him if he doesn't impress in training camp. I don't think Jaric will stick to the roster. They can't legally sign him until mid to late November, and I doubt they will then either.

  • I have similar thoughts too, Doug. And I feel sort of guilty not having the same amount of enthusiasm as I did in past years. Even the Skiles coach teams induced more enthusiasm from me than this current team. Having said that, I'm sure all it will take will be a few crazy Nate Robinson plays, clutch shots by Bellini, and some Kurt Thomasesque veteran play from Nazr to get the enthusiasm juices flowing again.

  • In reply to HINrichPolice:

    I feel the same I think it was last year we thought we might actually have a shot at making the finals. Now with the heat loading up and the east getting much tougher at the top that door has basically shut on the Bulls (this season) and that is why the lack of enthusiasm this season.

    Its a long season and the stud RBs in the NFL coming off ACL injuries are deffinately a bright spot for what Rose will be.

  • In reply to HINrichPolice:

    I'm actually pretty excited about the season despite feeling that it has no championship aspirations attached to it.

  • I hope so. Outside of the massive talent drop at center the bench is similar. I think their bench strength came from being able to go Taj and Asik and just lockdown the low post defensively. Noah isn't the post defender Asik was he is more on the ball defender. I just don't see the same success as last year but hopefully I am wrong.

  • In reply to Chad:

    Who did the Bulls need to lock down in the post last year though? Especially coming off the bench? I do think they'll lose something there, but not so much. Asik was good but his skillset was still largely redundant.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    They were able to turn teams that live on driving to the basket into Jumpshooters by putting out a lineup with dual rim protectors. It was extremely effective in spurts against the Heat in praticular.

    From a basic defense and rebounding stand point Asik was redundant yes but the type of defense he brought was unique. He was the rim protector which is probably only duplicated by Taj and he is too small to play center. Noah doesn't play that role as his strenth is as a on the ball defender using his quickness and size combo.

  • I still think this can be a competitive team like last year's team without Rose. They still have elite rebounders in Noah, Boozer, Deng and Taj. The basic formula of that rose-less team was shooting the 3ball well, ball movement and outrebounding the other team. Nate, Hinrich, Radmanovic and Belinelli all shoot 36%+ from 3 which will be crucial in thib's "inside-out" offensive philosophy. The loss of Asik is huge but some of those minutes will be added on to Gibson's pt and I think Nazr might be decent, he's in great shape so we just have to wait and see what he gives the Bulls. I'm sticking to my prediction of this version of the rose-less Bulls being slightly better offensively and slightly worse defensively so I think a 45 win total is a good guess since thibodeau will have these guys ready game in and game out, giving maximum effort.

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    So tough to predict wins without knowing when Rose comes back, but I agree that the key for offense will be ball movement and outside shooting.

    Then we'll just have to see how the defense gels.

  • Firstly I think the 2/3 run was legit and not a fluke: they weren't just scraping games, they were regularly blowing teams out without Rose. I think their point differential was comparable (maybe better, can't remember) than when they had Rose. If anything only winning 2/3 of the games was a bit on the low side of what you'd expect for a team playing that well.

    I don't think it's a matter of thinking themselves a championship team allowing them to play at that level: that can go both ways, other teams can look at the Bulls without Rose last year and think there's their chance to get a win against a top team while they're weak. I also don't think you can put it entirely down to coaching either, that gives too little credit to the players.

    I do think the lockout was a factor: all the teams struggled offensively, which suited a Bulls team looking to grind out results. It also suited the Bulls that they'd kept the team mostly intact so weren't trying to integrate new players: the Bulls offense was one of the few that stayed on about the same level as the previous year. They wont have those advantages next year.

    As far as players go I think we're going to find a few things: Belinelli is a good 3 point shooter but not an all time great one like Korver, the idea that Butler is able to step up and replace Brewer straight away (especially at the 2 when Rip inevitably gets injured) is a myth, and Taj Gibson doesn't look like one of the best defenders in the league next to Nazr or Boozer like he did with Asik.

    Combined I think they'll drag the Bulls down well below the 2/3 pace from last year. Also the Bulls outside of Rose were relatively healthy: other than Deng playing hurt they had a mostly full team for those games. IMO Rip missing games helped since he was mostly awful when he did play, and Brewer/Korver were better off with those minutes. With no Asik this year it's going to be vital for Noah/Gibson/Boozer to all stay healthy.

    Really the health of the bigs is the question mark to me. If they stay healthy then I think the defense will stay strong enough for the Bulls to make it into the playoffs even if Rose sits the whole year. They wont win 2/3 of their games but they'll do enough. On the other hand if Noah has a long term injury then I really can't see them being above .500.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    Great points regarding the lockout being a factor giving defensive teams more of an edge as well as the health of the bigs this year being one of the biggest factors.

  • The fact that the bulls have to redevelop all of the chemistry on the second unit and the rest of the league will actually have a chance to practice and gameplan for the bulls this year means the bulls will drop off a lot. But if the bulls can stay healthy, Rip and Deng in particular, I think Thibs can coach them up to play around .600 ball.

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    I think that many overlook the fact that the starting backcourt was missing for a lot of last season. That backcourt was supposed to count for a lot of the offense. Despite that lack of offense, and a diminished Deng, still had best record in league. This team is better offensively than last year and can provide similar defense with Gibson and Noah playing most of the Asik minutes. Rose will be back later in season and team will have strong finish.

  • In reply to MobtownLarry:

    I think it really remains to be seen that this team is better offensively this year than last year. I hope it is, but I fear this won't be the case.

  • Hey Doug,
    Sometimes people second guess you, but I gotta put a feather in your cap here. I've been watching Courtney Lee with the Celts and I really think you are right, we blew it on not signing him. He can shoot, drive, finish and play D. We're pretending to be excited about Belineli, but imagine if we had signed a real basketball player?? And he doesn't seem to be one of those attitude guys the Bulls avoid like a plague. I think we're gonna regret this one....

  • In reply to retrodman:

    Bull are going to regret a lot of things this year and over the next 4 to 5 years as well because the east has gotten that much better with the talented players from the west coast teams over the last couple of years coming over to the east. Too much talent on other teams in the east for the Bulls to overcome without the owner trying to make any major moves to improve this bulls team. And with players becoming free agents in the future, especially the better free agents wanting to win now, Miami is the place to go for players who are ring chasers. Look at Lebron, it payed off for him after 2 years, even Ray Allen is sticking it to the Celtics after some successful years in Boston. Point being the Bulls won't get far in the east without making some major moves over the next few years and not wasting the next few years of Rose career. Seeing the kid break down a couple of weeks ago at his shoe launch and how much he cares for the city of Chicago and the Bulls shows this guy deserves a real chance to win big, not just during the regular season, but a legitimately chance to het to the finals and compete for a championship. Unfortunately I just don't see it happening with Lebron being at the top of his game and the talent level being where it is on other teams in the east not to mention teams like OKC on the west and the team that always get the players that they want and that I really do admire in the Lakers. It's just too much stacked not in favor of the Bulls.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    I think with Miami it would be stacked against the Bulls no matter what they did unless they landed Dwight Howard. That was the only move they could make that would have given them a fighting chance in an arms race.

    As it stands now, the Bulls will need to win based on intangible things out of an underdog role regardless of whom they add.

  • In reply to retrodman:

    Courtney Lee is a great attitude player. I've met him a few times and know him a bit by reputation. Definitely a worker, good lockerroom guy.

    Whether the Bulls miss guys like Mayo/Lee/Rush in a few year will depend both on their development and what else the Bulls are able to do with the money.

    It's worth remembering how cheap the Bulls are. Maybe if they got Lee/Mayo they wouldn't have been able to keep Gibson whereas now they will [of course that remains to be seen as well].

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    How would signing Mayo have cost us Gibson? He signed a contract shorter than Kirk and for only slightly more... Even if he maxed out the MLE (Dollars and Years) Kirk has a two year deal at like 85% of the MLE and which goes into Taj's first year of his new deal. After that I believe Deng's contract is up and he should receive a pay cut or move on. I doubt the Bulls would dump Taj over a million dollar difference in Kirk and a projected Max MLE offer to Mayo for one year its hard to see even them explaining that to the dedicated fan base.

  • In reply to Chad:

    Well if we went for Mayo my assumption is we would have had to trump the Dallas offer, but yeah, if we could have got May for 2/10 with a player option on year 2 similar to the Mavs but for 1 million more per year it wouldn't have changed much salary wise.

  • In reply to retrodman:

    I've always loved Lee. He's definitely a great attitude guy as well.

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