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.