D.J. Augustine has brought many things to the Bulls since his signing. He's given Chicago shooting, ball handling, and scoring. The Bulls definitely need all three. Another thing he's given the Bulls is a look at what a lineup with two legitimate ball handling threats can do on the floor. In general? That look has been awfully good.
Chicago's offense tends to run very smoothly when Hinrich and D.J. play together, and the pair has recently spent plenty of time together on the floor in the fourth quarter. Perhaps it's just that the alternative options aren't so hot.
Tony Snell hasn't played all that well and is gun shy on offense, Mike Dunleavy tends to go through funks, and Jimmer Fredette just arrived and hasn't had much opportunity. I don't think that's the case though. I think what is the case is that when the Bulls can attack off the dribble from multiple directions and still have shooting, that they're dangerous.
That's what the Hinrich/Augusting pairing has offered despite the fact that neither is particularly an elite dribble penetration guy. The question then becomes "How does Derrick Rose fit in with this dynamic?".
Assuming he can get his body fully right and we see a dynamic, athletic Rose, then Derrick certainly gives the Bulls more off the bounce and at the rim than either Augustin or Hinrich. He's not the shooter Augustin is, but he's probably not far off of Hinrich from beyond the arc, particularly what Kirk has done this season.
A healthy Rose can upgrade either player on the defensive end though he struggled at times with his lateral movement in his brief return this season. Bulls fans will simply have to hope for more when he returns, because if he can't move laterally then it's all over anyway.
Would Derrick Rose play more off the ball? That's likely one of the things that's really working in this lineup. That both guards will move the ball around plenty, both to each other and to other players. The Bulls are legitimately swinging the ball side to side with much more frequency.
Joakim Noah's also been in the mix in a big way in the high post and has given the Bulls quite a bit of offensive creation even if his plays aren't that difficult to sniff out and usually rely on bad defense. However, while Noah may not encompass everything someone wants out of a post creator, he still provides an additional point of attack.
Taj Gibson's offensive game has improved considerably this year as well. He doesn't quite have the isolation presence or passing of Boozer [well Boozer playing well which hasn't been so frequent lately], but he since he doesn't create the massive hole on defense, Chicago can play him plenty of minutes without feeding him the ball on offense and still get big benefit.
The result is that Taj gets better opportunities than Boozer when he does get the ball and fits into an offense more fluidly since there's no incentive to force the issue with him.
The Bulls offense is still lacking plenty right now. It's been improved over the past month on the whole, but at best it's middle of the road. Chicago will count on Rose to bring the superstar presence back when he returns next season, but what Chicago should have learned over the past two seasons without Derrick is that they need multiple points of attack.
Sure, against the scrub teams of the league Chicago can just give the ball to Rose and watch him go to work, but when they're playing a great defense, a playoff defense, the Bulls need to have different angles to attack from. That's ultimately why the Bulls lost against the Miami Heat in 2011.
That's why adding a Mike Dunleavy or Kyle Korver helps destroy the dregs of the league but doesn't give them an edge against the best. Players like that can punish you for leaving them open but don't create a new angle to attack from.
It's why the Jimmy Butler/Luol Deng wing combination likely would have failed in the playoffs even if it was good in the regular season. Neither guy could really attack off the dribble with that much effectiveness.
What the Bulls need is a second ball handler on the floor who can also shoot the ball. Derrick Rose + D.J. Augustin would look pretty good. Derrick Rose + Kirk Hinrich playing well would look good [note, I don't trust Kirk to play well for a season or playoffs to bring him back at more than the minimum]. Derrick Rose + a player not yet on this team that can handle and hit open threes will likely look good next year.
With Taj Gibson's emergence, Chicago doesn't need to worry about the perimeter defense so much. They can play two ball handling guards who are both weak defenders and then run them with Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah. Chicago still has an elite perimeter defender and two elite interior defender's on the court.
The opponent is forced to attack and take perimeter jump shots with their 2nd best perimeter threat in this scenario. The Bulls can live with that outcome.
What Chicago does need is to continue to create multiple attacking angles so that we don't see an offense shut down by a mob Rose defense. The Bulls weren't all that successful in learning that lesson last year when Rose returned (however briefly) this season. Chicago quickly fell in the give the ball to Derrick trap.
If the team is ever to get better, ever to win a title, Derrick needs to become more of a cog in the offense rather than the offense. If he returns as a superstar, he can take out a bunch of middling teams, rack up a bunch of points and have a Carmelo Anthony like stamp on his career down the "Derrick does it all" path. However, he'll never get the ring.
Hopefully, Derrick, Thibs, and management all see the problem. Hopefully, we come back with a multi-faceted offense. In the best case, bringing in a star creator next to Rose will solve the problem, but if the very few options for that don't work out, the Bulls have already seen what two ball handlers and Joakim Noah can do. They just need to stick with it with Rose back.