Throughout most of the off-season, it was always a matter of hedging bets with predictions. If Rose is healthy XYZ, but if he's only 80% then ABC. Well, after two games of seeing Derrick Rose, it's time to make something a bit more solid.
That's the number I'm going to go with. I think the Bulls have potential for more and obviously a floor of far less, but 61 feels about right. Derrick Rose looks back and as explosive as ever which means the high end mark of predictions seem more realistic.
I'd probably go even higher, but I have significant doubts about the front court's ability to stay healthy, and I see a lack of depth up front costing the Bulls a few games down the stretch.
Still, Chicago is clearly one of the elite teams going into this season, and I think, overall, they've been overlooked by the national media who's largely hedged their bets on Derrick Rose as well. It's common to see the Bulls ranked around the 10th best team in the NBA, but I'm going to say they're sitting around 3rd.
Miami is obviously number one, and the Clippers, yes the Clippers, are my pick for the second best team. After that? I'm going with the Bulls.
Oklahoma City will be dangerous, but Westbrook is now coming off two knee surgeries however minor, and they lost Kevin Martin which will be a bigger impact than people think. OKC no longer has a third scorer, and while Martin was a shade of Harden, there's no one left to be even a shade of Martin unless someone unexpected steps up big time.
Brooklyn and Indiana are obviously wild cards in the East.
Brooklyn could dominate if they can find a way to gel, but quite frankly after Deron Williams was housed by Nate Robinson in the playoffs, it's hard to take him too seriously as a superstar. He's had chronic injuries lately, and I think Paul Pierce doesn't add anything meaningful whatsoever to the team.
If Brooklyn could get everyone playing well, then they have potential to be the top team in the league, but I don't see the pieces fitting together right, and I don't think their best player is really a match for the best player on the better teams. KG will add a ton if he remains healthy while Jason Terry and Andrei Kirlenko are vastly improvements on last year's bench.
Still, I don't like the mix in the starting lineup. Pierce might be better than Wallace on offense, but he doesn't bring the type of offense the Nets need and is far worse on defense. Joe Johnson has been in decline for awhile, and KG's is facing the cliff for the third year in a row where an expected significant decline is ever more likely.
If everything works, they're great, but there are so many ways it could not work.
Indiana's definitely improved this year. I felt they were highly overrated last season due to their close series against Miami, but with Granger coming back and the acquisition of Scola, the team is actually improved quite a bit. Especially if Paul George (probably the most overrated player in the NBA) continues to improve and possibly even becomes 90% of the player people think he already is [and I like George, but really, people talk about him like he's a superstar perpetually, he's not close to a superstar, at least not yet].
All things being equal, I like the Bulls starters much more than the Pacers, because the Bulls have a legit superstar in Derrick Rose while the Pacers have a legit really really good player in Paul George. Both teams are tough and physical, but in the end, I don't think Indiana's a serious problem for Chicago as long as both teams meet healthy in the playoffs.
I think I feel about Indiana what Miami likely feels about Chicago.
So for now? I'm taking the Bulls as second in the East and giving them a 15% chance or so at winning the NBA title this season.