Bulls claim three seed on night off, how legit is Chicago?

Bulls claim three seed on night off, how legit is Chicago?

If we go into the way back machine, back to preseason, many NBA analysts would have put the Bulls, Pacers, and Heat as the top three teams in the East. With Toronto's lost last night, that's exactly where they are.

I don't even think the order is even that surprising going back to preseason. What is surprising is the overall weakness of the East, and the fact that the Bulls have done it without Derrick Rose and after trading Luol Deng.

While Chicago certainly has no chance to advance past Miami for the two spot, since the New Year, Chicago has played as well as pretty much anyone in the NBA. They've split games against the best of the East, picked up some quality Western Conference wins (GS, Dallas, Houston), and have comported themselves quite well.

The team, surprisingly, looks much better after the Luol Deng trade. I didn't think that losing Deng would kill Chicago, but I never imagined it would make them better. I mocked John Paxson for saying "You never know" in regards to the Bulls potentially playing better without Deng similar to the Raptors playing better without Gay.

Gay was an obvious team loser. The type of player who makes your team worse because he's selfish and low percentage. Deng's been trumped up as the ultimate glue guy. The guy who's impact goes further than his stats, but he hasn't helped Cleveland and the Bulls have thrived without him.

The dynamic of why the Bulls have done better without Deng is interesting, but I think it actually reflects poorly on the rest of the Bulls in some regards. The Bulls players are tough, they keep at it, they go with whatever they have, but they are also full of players who want to defer.

When Rose is here they all defer to Rose. This worked out pretty well in the regular season, but not so much against Miami in the playoffs. With Rose out, everyone started deferring to Luol Deng. This really didn't work out at all, because Luol Deng doesn't have the offensive game that anyone should defer to him.

With Deng gone, the next best player is Noah, but the Bulls aren't simply deferring to Noah on offense because we all know he can't score. However, they are putting him in position to run a lot more offense, and the result is the Bulls are running the system better. I suspect this will become a real problem in the playoffs when a team gets to match up against Chicago for seven straight games, but it's working well enough now.

Perhaps the one point that's surprising is that the defense doesn't appear to have taken much of a hit with Deng out. While I've always thought Luol was a bit overrated as a defender, Tony Snell offers relatively little at this point, and Deng certainly outdefends Dunleavy by quite a margin.

I think what it comes down to is that against most opponents a team really only needs one elite perimeter defender. The Bulls have one in Butler and a second good one in Hinrich. There really aren't any teams that are attacking on the perimeter from three different players, so having three great defensive perimeter players has a big diminishing return.

Tom Thibodeau will simply play Butler 48 minutes a night, so we don't need to worry about rest. Yes, that was sarcastic.

Anyway, in the short term everything is working out pretty well for Chicago, and surprisingly, the Bulls are pace to increase their win total from a year ago despite decimating their bench again this off-season. The mid-season signing of D.J. Augustin fixed that problem, but you'd still figure that losing Belinelli, Robinson, and Deng while gaining Augustin, Snell, and Dunleavy would be a pretty huge net negative.

Instead with 11 games left, the Bulls have 40 wins. Given that there's only three teams left on the schedule who don't stink, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the Bulls will surpass last year's 45 win total which brings us to the real question.

How legit are the Chicago Bulls when it comes to the playoffs?

At this point, I can't say I'd be surprised to see the Bulls get bounced in round one even though they'll be the favorites. As I noted, I think their present offense doesn't suit itself at all for the playoffs where teams won't fall for Joakim's high post pass to the basket to hit the player making a backcut by the third game.

That said, after watching the Bulls play the Pacers the past two games, I have to say, I'm not all that impressed by Indiana either. I think Chicago's best off sliding back down to the four seed to line themselves up against the Pacers. Miami may stink right now, Chris Bosh noted that they've be losing to sub .500 teams for a month and have no passion, but Miami has the switch that they'll likely flip once the games mean something.

I don't think Indiana has any such switch. Vogel runs the Pacers closer to how Thibodeau runs the Bulls. He wants his players to always be grinding and working and playing their hardest. He needs that number one seed [or at least feels he does] in the playoffs.

I think a Bulls/Pacers regular season game is a reasonably fair reputation of what to expect in the playoffs while a Bulls/Heat game is perhaps not, and while the Bulls split against Indiana most recently, the Pacers weren't really all that impressive in either game.

Paul George is having a magnificent season, but he's still not a true superstar, Lance Stephenson is still 50% bonehead, 50% awesome, and Roy Hibbert only looks like a stud because people only paid any attention to him when the Pacers were playing Miami who has no center.

The numbers don't lie, the Pacers are an awfully pedestrian offensive team, worse than the 2010/11 Bulls against even easier competition. Chicago's elite defense can slow these guys down and while I'd predict the Pacers to win a series against Chicago, I don't think it'd be a shocking upset if they lost.

The Heat on the other hand? Who knows? Maybe they can't flip the switch this time. It's worth noting that their team is also simply getting old. Haslem's basically fallen out of the rotation in decline, Allen's 38 and his PER has dropped to 12.8, Battier's 35 and his has dropped to 8.8.

That said, the big outlier for them is really Dwyane Wade. He's missed a crapload of games with planned rest due to bad knees but has played well when he's played. The real question at this point is whether or not Wade can really hold up for a playoff run. If all the rest has made him healthy enough to play in 25 or so playoff games then the Heat have an excellent chance at another title.

If Wade's quality of play dips down to crap without taking every third game off then the Heat will have a tough time flipping the switch. Personally, I'd still pick Miami to win the whole thing even if I'll take the field over them. As noted above, the Pacers simply aren't that scary and while the Bulls are playing their hearts out, I don't think any of us believe they'll really challenge Miami in the playoffs.

So how legit is Chicago? They're probably legitimately the third best team in the East and might be able to challenge the Pacers if they got the chance in round two, but that's about it. It's not as amazing as we'd like, it's not what we hoped in preseason, but I'll take it.

Perhaps the best news for Chicago after the last two seasons the reputational boost they get with free agents. Hey Carmelo, notice who your team didn't make the playoffs last year? Look which team is the three seed without Derrick Rose? What if it gets you and Derrick Rose back?

That type of argument goes pretty far and might push the Bulls to some interesting places next season. I don't think the Bulls will land Anthony personally, but if they do, then it will be worth remembering they'd have had no chance at it at all if they had tanked.

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  • Can we all agree that GarPax know what they are doing now? They continue to bring in guys who in fill in the gaps.

  • In reply to bullshooter:

    GarPax know what they are doing with bringing in quality defensive minded players but they are incompetent when it comes to bringing in the right offensive scorer to complement this team. I can see the bulls getting past the first round in 6 or 7 games depending on who they draw but with their stagnant offense, getting bounced in the second round. This has to be the summer that the Bulls bring in a an experienced scorer to get this team to compete with Miami come playoff time.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    If by "right offensive scorer" you mean a secondary star player, then I don't think that's a matter of incompetence as much as it's a matter of extraordinarily difficult/impossible to do.

    They have found smaller quality offensive pieces in Augustin and Robinson each of the past two years at cheap prices, Dunleavy's also been a good value contract as an offensive guy.

    I agree with the need of a real secondary star on offense, but sadly if you just look at the movement of players that fit that description in the past 2 years, there are only a couple that switch teams and usually that requires lots of trade value or cap room to do.

    It's not to say they get a full excuse for failing to do so, just that it's worth recognizing that it's not like there were 100s of opportunities and they just fail repeatedly at it. There's been very few (possibly no good) opportunities to do so.

  • In reply to bullshooter:

    Will never happen because GarPax has made some mistakes and no other FO's ever make mistakes, only GarPax. Plus everyone is upset about Snell.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I really do believe GarPax blew it with Snell. The breakdown at Draft Express clearly revealed that Snell was an extremely poor rebounder and did not get to the free throw line often. This indicated a player who was either non-aggressive, physically weak, or both. His strong suit was ostensibly his shooting. However, his shooting has often underwhelmed which makes him pretty much useless.

    The real harm,IMO, in drafting Snell is that they blew the chance to draft one of either Plumlee or Dieng. This was probably because they knew they could get Nazr for the minimum. Now they will likely need to use one of their first rounders to get a back-up big.

    If any of you guys can identify for me a softer player in the NBA now than Snell, please tell me. He reminds me of a perimeter version of Brad Sellers.

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    Oh no, not Brad Sellers, I don't know if it was subliminal but as I was reading your question, Sellers name immediately popped up in my mind. Unfortunately, on draft day, I was worried that Lamarcus Aldridge was going to be the second coming of Brad Sellers. I was in the minority Brandon Roy camp.

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    Snell may suck, and both guys you named might be serviceable, but I don't think enough has been done by any of these players to draw any real conclusions.

    I also don't think the Bulls have to do anything back up big wise with their 1st rounders. They'll take whomever they feel the best player available is.

  • Can the Bulls beat the Heat in a 7 game series without Wade playing for the Heat?

  • In reply to Tamaraw:

    I think yes. If Wade was out, I think the Bulls would have a legit shot at beating them.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    The Heat will be facing the Bobcats in the first round and Wade might get 2 games worth of rest for that series. However, for the series with the Bulls, the Heat will need its full compliment of players. The Bulls might be able to bang and bruise the Heat enough that the Heat wont make it all the way to the finals...

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    That is a pretty large condemnation of Lebron. At this point in his career he should be able to carry Miami to a win over a team like the Bulls even without Wade, don't you think that Jordan would have.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I think Miami would probably win. I just think the Bulls would have a legit shot at it. As for LeBron, he's great, but he's no Jordan

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Thank You!

  • Many people will point to Thib's defensive system as the reason the Bulls win in the regular season. That and the effort, solid character guys that were drafted. Post season the Bulls, if they can advance, and say give the Pacers a real battle then some free agents, yeah they might take note of that. Still, with a last place offense and no all-star or even 18-20 ppg scorers I doubt many guys are going to be flocking to Chicago. Again though, if Mirotic somehow is an offensive very good player 16ppg and up on 45% in year one and higher then that would be big. And if one of their draft picks turns into an offensive talent then they are in business provided Rose comes back to at least functional play 17ppg 43-44% to start and hopefully better with time.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    I think a team that gets far and needs someone to take lots of shots looks awfully compelling to Anthony. If you were Carmelo, wouldn't you look at the Bulls and think "they're missing exactly what I do, and have everything I need around me".

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I agree with that provided they do well say versus Pacers and if people have confidence Rose, who is saying he could or will play this summer with Team USA, will come back productive to the Bulls. Bulls win round one and follow that up with a tough battle with the Pacers like 4-2 with close, close games or a Game 7 then yes that should help them some. Let's say they draft an attractive, well viewed offensive prospect and look serious about landing Mirotic with a Boozer amnesty then those factors combined could add up to landing a big name FA such as Carmelo. A lot of ifs though.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I couldn't agree more with this statement

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Doug, I agree that is what Carmelo should think. So, if he agrees with us, two big questions:
    1) Will Carmelo sign for a low enough salary so the Bulls can keep most of the pieces they need? Say, $16 million per? If he wins a couple of rings with the Bulls, he will make far more from endorsements than he ever would have staying in NY for more money!
    2) If the Bulls sign Carmelo, move a piece (Dunleavy? Taj?), and amnesty Boozer, will they be able to bring over Mirotic The way Taj is playing, I would hate to see him go.

    How far up in the draft could the Bulls move by trading Taj, Dunleavy, and a couple of picks? Should they even do it? Taj and Dunleavy seem to be real solid pieces.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    There is no way Melo is settling for $12 million or even $16 million per, so we'd have to dump Taj for draft picks to get to $20 million and Dunleavy to get over that amount.

    Whatever the amount, if the Bulls sign Melo or anybody else into cap space, they will only have the room exception, not the MLE to offer Mirotic. That is $2.7 million vs $5+ million. His portion of the buyout is about $2.9 million so I see no way in hell that he would come over for the room exception.

    Thus, the only way that the Bulls can get Melo and bring over Mirotic, is to trade for Melo, and the only trade that makes any sense is the one that Doug has proposed, 4-5 #1 picks and pieceofshitzers expiring contract.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    In that case, forget Melo. We all know that the last 1st round picks of the Bulls have been poor! However, with 4 1st rounders in the next two drafts, plus moving Taj, plus waiting on Mirotic, plus maybe losing Dunleavy, to pay a guy $20 million per, handicapping later signings ... That might not be worth it!

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Could be, but at some point the Bulls need to decide to take a chance on talent. Of the various picks the Bulls would give up, they all largely are pedestrian.

    There's a good chance it's basically trading four role players for Melo.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I think that a team that can pay him $130 million looks awfully appealing to Melo, who thinks, "cashing the biggest paycheck. that's exactly what I do"

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Could be. LeBron and Wade advised him that winning titles will net him more money than the salary though.

  • I feel that the Bulls have a better shot this year than last year, and here is why:
    1) Taj and Noah are way better on offense and defense
    2) The team is healthier, so we will likely play with a healthy Noah and Kirk (he did not last year) on the second round against Miami
    3) DJ = or better than Nate
    4) Dunlevey = or better than Belinelli
    5) We still have Jimmer who can provide volume score like Nate
    6) Miami appears to be worse than last year

  • In reply to BullsDynasty:

    3 & 4 are laughable. In the playoffs DJ will be exposed as he isn't as big time as Nate. Nate carried the offense on his shoulders for certain stretches in the playoffs. Marco gives you much more than Mike on O (ballhandling, shot creation). I think if we do a good job with these picks and can land a FA like Jerryd Bayless, Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Caron Butler, Gordon Hayward, Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce, Greivis Vasquez, Evan Turner, Rodney Stuckey we should be legit contenders next season!

    Of course this is all if Rose comes back healthy, plays at a high level and stays healthy

  • Side Note: It's clear NBA posters are just not that interested in the NCAA tournament or don't want to comment on players here, but interesting to note that guys with NBA bloodlines like Nick Johnson Arizona (cousin of Dennis Johnson Celtics) and Joseph Young Oregon (dad played with H-Akeem on Houston NCAA sensation and in NBA for 15 years) may rise/appear in late first round and early second of this year's draft. Johnson's a freak hops, winner who can shoot threes and Young is a flat out scorer. Even if Rose comes back and actually stays healthy these guys would be great adds IMO.

  • fb_avatar

    You mentioned that you predict that Joakim's offensive dishing becomes predictable in a playoff scenario. I disagree. He is not a one trick pony with his assists. Power of will and high basketball IQ supplement his passing skills- fooling & frustrating defense, predicting his teammates, and anticipating (not to mention dictating) the backcourt constantly. These are qualities you want in the playoffs- and its most likely his assist stats will be in the double digits.
    Watch out for those intangibles... might screw up your stats.

  • fb_avatar

    Thibs will play a 5 man defense, and a 5 man offense. Other teams know what the Bulls are going to do, yet they still fall short when they play them. They key to beating the Bulls in a 7 gm series will come down to rebounding, and keeping the Bulls frontcourt from getting 2nd chance points. Brooklyn and Indy will pose the biggest threat on winning a series with the Bulls.

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    Exactly! Or vastly outplaying us on O, which is what Miami does, and the only team in the East that I think is capable of being so efficient enough on O against our stout D to pull it off.

  • In reply to muckfiami:

    That is why Brooklyn has me worried this year, they have a lot of talent on O and have added some defensive intensity this year with the addition of the Boston guys.

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    I agree that Brooklyn is a team that should worry the Bulls in the first round. They have way more veteran playoff tested toughness than last season, and will be looking for revenge for last season. I don't expect the Bulls to beat them this year.

  • I think too many fans are getting drunk on the DJ juice. So much so that people are thinking he is worth more than Kirk. Yes even you Doug!

    So you're telling me you don't want the Bulls to bring back Kirk for anything more than the min but you're willing to give DJ 3 mil/yr for what?? What Kirk bings is faaarrr more valuable than what DJ brings. Great Perimeter defense at the 1 and 2 position. DJ gives shooting, ball handling, and very low level creation IMO, while giving little to nothing on D (he gets abused by big PGs). The Bulls have proved that they can find this at the min every year, but an elite level defender with ball handling skills, decent shooter (enough to scretch the floor), with the high bball IQ & ability to run the offense like Kirk is VERY hard to find.

    DJ's strengths may be in areas where the Bulls are weak, but they are not elite enough to improve the team enough in those areas to give us an edge over the teams we are trying to get past to advance to the championship.

  • In reply to muckfiami:

    They happen to make a very good tandem. Without DJ, we would all be hating on Kirk(Mr Ambien offense) as usual, and without Kirk, we would all be hating on DJ's defense.

    The reason that one would place more value on DJ vs Kirk is a simply as 20 something vs 30 something, their respective ages. I agree with Doug, and would like to see them both back next season, @ the bi-annual or room exception level for DJ and the veterans minimum for Hinrich, those would be salary cap prudent and basketball prudent moves.

    I'd like to have Jimmer back also, but at this point who knows why, certainly not Thibs.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    and if I had to chose between Jimmer and Hinrich, I would take the blind chance on Jimmer.

  • In reply to muckfiami:

    I disagree, but I'm not a big Hinrich fan. I think D.J. gives you more shooting, ball handling, and creation than Kirk. I think the Bulls can live with the defense.

    Perimeter defense is overrated. Interior defense is critical. You typically need one lock down perimeter defender, one decent one, and can afford one guy who stinks without ever being threatened. Not enough teams can attack you with three different perimeter players to make a single weak spot on the perimeter an issue.

    I do agree that D.J. isn't the type of player to get the Bulls a championship, but neither is Hinrich and neither is any guy who will sign for 3 million or less, it's not a valid argument to make for or against either player.

    I don't think Hinrich's skills are nearly so good as you think. His offense running isn't that great, and his defense is pesky but well below elite at this point. He's a strong fundamental guy but goes through huge lapses of complete crap in terms of offensive production.

    He hasn't had a good offensive year in a long, long time.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    You can't play DJ next to Rose b/c Rose doesn't guard the 2 well enough. You can play Kirk with him though b/c Kirk can. That gives you two guys who can handle the ball. While Kirk can't really create, he at least gives enough of a threat on offense (you can't just leave him open) to give who the real addition (Melo or some other FA) space to operate while successfully guarding his man.

  • You just made most of our points with this post. The Bulls success this year and last year are purely a result of a system that Thibs has built and developed. Most of the players on the Bulls are dispensable - Rose elevates this team from a mid 40's to 60 - that's a serious increase and a reason why he is a star, when healthy. Noah is a borderline star, but his game is so unique in the sense that he influences the game so much without being much of an offensive threat. Every other player on the Bulls roster is dispensable - which is exactly why the Bulls need to do everything in their power to pair Rose & Noah with Carmelo Anthony.

  • The way the Bulls have seamlessly reloaded with rotation pieces means they could easily dump Augustine for "greener" pastures as in saving cash. I'm sure there's a group that would be happy to see Kirk depart as well. Still, you win with vets, not rookies.

    So, Let's assume Derrick Rose does come back. I'd think odds are he'll need a year under his belt to get back to a good level of play after so much frickin' time off. So if you do reload with two rookie talents and get at least one right maybe by the end of year two come playoff time they are ready to help. Then you have Rose, Noah, Mirotic(?), and another scorer who actually can shoot. And add Carmelo to this..? Gar/Pax have a unique opportunity here IMO. So if the haters are wrong then maybe we'll be glad to eat crow all the way to the Finals. Carmelo, Mirotic, loaded draft, could be a perfect storm. Or a hum drum hurricane with us on the outside looking in.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    I said "seamlessly reload" referring somewhat to perception not totally my opinion. I liked Belinelli and Nate better then Cap and Deej myself. Thought Nate's rep and snobby Chicago media way over did it with the "bonehead Nate" mantra. Guy was f-ing fun to watch. As was Marco I liked his versatility and presence just as a competitor/person.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    The more apt comparison is Dunleavy and DJ vs Belli and Nate. That is a pretty tough call, Nate was certainly the most fun to watch if not necessarily the best player. Belli felt like he might have been the more impactful player as a Bull(hitting a few game winners). DJ has been the best overall point guard/shooter combo, and Dunleavy is probably more Kyle Korver than Belli style wise.

    Hinrich was signed to a 2 year deal irrespective of those other moves.

  • 1. Why did everyone stop talking about Kevin Love? Because it'd have to be a trade if in 2014-15? Because he's supposed to want LA? I tuned out the rumors for a while, and now it's all Melo talk. Just curious how/why that happened.

    2. Since Miami could still catch Indiana, I think we should aim for the 3rd seed and let the chips fall where they may. Heat and Pacers are 1-1 with two games remaining (including tonight), so Miami could still even get the tiebreaker. (If they split at 2-2, Indiana gets the top seed because their Eastern Conference record is way better.)

    3. RE muckfiami: I really like the idea of going after Stuckey or Hayward. I haven't seen Stuckey play much lately because Detroit is so boring but he always struck me as a potential fit. And maybe on Bayless.

  • In reply to bzoooty:

    I could be wrong, but I think people gave up on Love because of Mirrotic . They play the same position and the hope is that Mirrotic can become the kind of player that Love is. If Mirrotic was not coming, then people would probably still be begging for Love.

  • I think the Bulls have a real shot at the Conference Finals. I'm not going to predict that they go that far, but it could happen. The one thing I will predict is that the Heat and Pacers will not play each other, one of them is going to lose in the second round. I don't know which one, but the Bulls or Nets will get one of them. The Pacers are falling apart and don't have the track record of the Heat to make me believe they will turn it on again. The Heat need to be dead and gone for me to really believe that they are done, but they are looking very vulnerable. Last year, around this time, they were winning 27 in a row. This year, they are trying to stay over .500 for the month. Maybe this is the year that they are finally done. But I'll have to see it to believe it.

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