When asked if the Bulls can keep improving, Derrick Rose replied in the affirmative, and you can tell who his coach is by the reply.
"I think we could become a better defensive team than we did in the past," Rose said after Monday's shootaround. "I think all the guys that are working right now, they're putting their all into the defensive end. Everybody. So for us we just got to stay together getting our chemistry (going) where we're jelling out there. Really just focus on the defensive end, because offensively I think we're going to be all right."
Derrick Rose might be on to something here.
Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and Jokaim Noah.
That just might be a top five defender in the NBA at every position if you throw that lineup out there. That's the lineup I anticipate closing most close games for the Bulls this year.
That said, once, just once, I'd love for someone on the team to say "Our defense is rock solid, pretty much best in the league ever year. We might be able to get a bit better there, but we can really improve from our middle of the pack offense, that's where we'll really make the difference".
Whether the Bulls say it or not, ultimately, whether they can move past the Heat this season will rely more on their offensive improvement than anything additional they do on defense. When the Bulls fell to Miami in the playoffs in 2011 it wasn't over a lack of defense, but a lack of scoring ability.
The Bulls can't expect to beat elite teams 84-82 in the playoffs. It simply isn't likely to work.
The good news for Bulls fans is that the Bulls will likely bring the best offensive team they've ever had to the court this year as well. Looking at the 2010/11 roster, Chicago is effectively replacing Watson, Brewer, Bogans, Korver, and Asik with Butler, Hinrich, Dunleavy, Nazr, and perhaps one of Teague/Snell/Murphy.
The big loss is primarily in Asik for Nazr, but it's only on defense and only matters if one of the primary three bigs is hurt. The Bulls probably gained ground on all the three other positions and will likely simply play better players more minutes in the playoffs rather than trying to run a 10 man rotation.
If the Bulls make it to the playoffs with their full complement of players, the Heat will face the best Bulls team they've ever seen, and despite a lack of respect and a 4-1 loss in 2011 (close games) and 2013 (no Rose, Hinrich, or Deng), the Bulls have still shown they can play with Miami in the regular season winning at least twice every year since the Heat came together.
Derrick Rose also looks like he's on a 1996 style Jordan mission to prove to the league that he's back as he's averaged nearly one point per minute over the past three preseason games.
New offensive playbook?
Beyond better personnel and a rejuvenated Rose, the Bulls bring a new offense to the United Center. It's aim is to get more looks in the early offensive set and focuses on quick cuts, attacks from the wing, and moving the ball side to side which doesn't really seem all that different from the old offense.
From a quick glance in preseason it looks like the Bulls will look to attack from the wing position rather than the top of the key creating more of a strong side/weak side of the court then look to efficiently move the ball to switch sides of the court in an attempt to create defensive gaps.
How is it working? Well any offense probably looks good when Derrick Rose is dominating the hell out of the competition, but we've seen Rose get a lot more action off the ball on cuts and he seems to have no problems finding seams when attacking from the wing. In other words, so far so good.
It's hard to say when going up against preseason opponents whom probably don't have their best personnel and aren't that practiced with their schemes yet, but so far the Bulls appear to be finding more space to work with in the new scheme.
In the end, the Bulls might be the second best team in the NBA based on a good offense and elite defense. If they want to become the best, they're far more likely to do so by becoming a great offense rather than a super-duper-elite defense. Hopefully the improvements in scheme and personnel are enough to get them there.