Bulls need more than a Rose return to win a championship

Bulls need more than a Rose return to win a championship

The Chicago Bulls have had an up and down season. Early on, they looked like they might be the favorite to win the whole thing. Then they went through a terrible stretch and looked like a team that might get bounced in the first round. They're closer to that last team than the first presently.

That said, the recent games with all the injuries mean Bulls fans can look past the most recent performance. Once the team is at full health, they have a chance to return to that team that we thought might have a shot at winning it all.

However, it will take more than a return to health to get it done.

Derrick Rose needs elite athleticism

It's one thing for Derrick to return from injury. It's quite another for him to play with the speed and athleticism of a superstar. We've actually seen that level of athleticism in just a handful of games this season and have seen injuries shortly after each of those games.

Derrick doesn't need to play like the MVP he was prior to the ACL injury all of the time. He doesn't need to dominate the ball like he used to. However, he does need to do it enough that he draws double teams and makes things easier on his teammates out there.

He does need to get the Bulls critical baskets at times as well.

Derrick needs to have his mental game back

It might even be more fair to say he needs to find out how he fits into this team in the first place, as we haven't ever really seen a good meshing of all of the pieces.

This is even more true when Derrick isn't able to attack with his full athleticism. Tom Thibodeau's offense has gotten more and more complex as there is more continuity with more options available for teammates. It puts the PG in a key position to make plays or pass out.

However, the offense also relies on the PG making decisions to attack or move the ball quickly. The offense relies on swinging the ball side to side to get the defense off balance when they try to overload the strong side of the court.

Derrick hasn't yet shown that he consistently makes good decisions in the offense. He often plays hero ball while attempting bad three point attempts because he's used to being the star or holds on to the ball too long.

The other problem is he will go into ultra deferral mode and remove himself as a threat from the offense. He brings the ball up the court and doesn't put any pressure on the defense by simply making a slow lazy pass to the other wing.

Beyond those negatives, we've also seen Derrick make great decisions in stretches where the majority of his shots are at the rim and he plays with a good mix of passing and shooting.

Much like the athleticism, the problem is these stretches haven't been the norm. Even in his bad stretches, Rose is vastly superior to his replacements and helps the Bulls win, but to win the championship he'll need to be play like his fewer great stretches rather than just be superior to Hinrich/Brooks.

The team needs to find continuity

While the injuries to Rose, Butler, and Gibson have allowed Tony Snell and Nikola Mirotic consistent minutes to step up, they have also removed any opportunity for the Bulls to head into the post season with a sense of continuity.

The starters still haven't played that many games with all five of them on the court and haven't ever really established the offensive pecking order with each other. They haven't performed consistently as a group and play well beneath the sum of their parts.

The bench has been an even bigger hodge podge as players have been in and out of the lineup due to injuries in the starting lineup, injuries on the bench, and Thibodeau trying to find a back up two/three until Snell stepped up.

The Bulls have seen Nikola Mirotic become a dominant force, but they now need to figure out where/when to play him with a fully healthy front court. In my opinion, Thibodeau likely won't be aggressive enough with this decision and will either play him out of position at SF or not play him enough minutes.

In short, it won't be easy

It's hard to believe, but the Bulls are down to their final eight games of the season. They have one meaningful game against Cleveland and close with an Atlanta team that will likely rest everyone in the finale given they've already locked up the #1 seed.

Unfortunately, Rose isn't back yet, so they can't even begin the work on all of this. The latest reports have him to likely be cleared for full contact practice in the next week or so. He'll likely come back at the very end of the initial timeline laid out for his recovery [no surprise there], and there's still some chance he won't come back at all [which ends everything real quick].

I'll stick to the April 11th prediction from long ago which was the first game after the full six weeks elapses. That means the Bulls have three warm up games to try and solve the questions above and maybe four to six warm up games in the playoffs if they hang on to the three seed [or climb to the two seed] to draw a weak first round opponent.

If they fall to four to play Washington, then they'll need to bring their A game right at the start.

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    Derrick needs to get back on the court asap. Waiting the full six weeks is waiting two weeks too long imo. He's been out of the lineup for nearly half of the regular season, and he has to get back into the groove of things. The longer he's away from competition, the harder it'll be to play against competition. He has stated how he doesn't feel any soreness in his knees, so management should give him the green light to play.

    When he does return, the Bulls would be wise to bring him off of the bench and monitor his mins closely. There's no need for him to log starters mins when Brooks has done a great job running the team as starting PG, and Hinrich has played really well as of late.

    As the playoffs begin, it's going to be all about matchups. If the Bulls should face Milwaukee, I would not start Rose, and allow Brooks to carry the team into the 2nd rd. MCW is a tall talented PG who could be a matchup problem for both Rose and Brooks, but the Bulls have the matchup advantage at the other positions, including their bench.
    Divide the mins evenly between Brooks and Rose and allow Rose to get himself back into game shape without overplaying him.

    In the 2nd rd, Rose should start, but again monitor his mins, and divide playing time evenly between Brooks, and Rose. I suspect the Bulls will be playing the Cavs, and LeBron will be assigned to shut down Rose if Derrick should go on a scoring spurt. This is where having team depth plays a big part of the Bulls success. They must be willing to go deep into their lineup and not expect Rose to bail them out offensively for 4 qtrs. If Rose sticks to a mins restriction, he'll be able to show flashes of his former self and play lockdown defense without burning out in the 4 qtr when the team needs him the most.

    Fortunately, the Bulls have found a 2nd 4th qtr player in Nikola Mirotic and his play should aid in the Bulls championship hopes along with Derrick. Coach must be willing to play Niko 30 mins per game, and he must be in action during the 4th qtr.

    As for Derrick Rose, he can still remain an intrical part of the team's success as long as Coach doesn't ride Derrick like the team's savior, but put him in for instant offense, and when Derrick has the matchup advantage.

    The team has built continuity over the regular season with and without Derrick Rose, and they must be willing to use all of their players when needed. All except for Bairstow, McDermott and Nazr Mohammed. While other teams have a set lineup using 8 to 9 players, the Bulls should be willing to play 9 to 10 to maintain a high level of energy during a long and grinding 7 game playoff series.

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    I agree with this and was just about to write that Rose should come off the bench. I'm really not a big fan of Brooks being a starter as he's too streaky at times but even so he's been our most consistent option all season. I'm not saying to completely give Rose the backseat but rather bring him along as a second option because right now the Bulls do have continuity with Brooks as pg. Bringing Rose back as a starter could disrupt that. No one knows exactly what level Rose is at these days, and like most I see him more as a trump card. Having said that the Bulls 100% need Rose to be a superstar to have a shot. It would be a dream come true if Rose having a similar surgery like Westbrook could come back as healthy and rejuvenated as Westbrook. I have the hope that he will.

  • Don't hold your breath for a quick return, on the 25th, Rose said he would likely be cleared for physical contact "this week or next" and would return "1-2 weeks after being cleared". I haven't heard about him being cleared yet, which means we're still 1-3 weeks away from him playing.

  • Great analysis. The bit you're ignoring is the Bulls' defense, which has been trending upward. If Rose can fit-in on defense quickly (hopefully an easier transition) the Bulls should fair well in the playoffs. If miraculously he contributes all-star-esque offense on-top of strong D, the Bulls have a solid shot at the title.

  • Welcome back Doug. Hope you had a nice vacation. Thanks for subbing with Mort he's one of if not thee best replacement/fill in writer you've had on here IMO.

    Couple of points: 1) Just as you/Doug predicted a guy coming back from multiple knee injuries and long, long absences from the league is just not historically a good sign going forward. Note Derrick's spotty play this season and subsequent re(re)-injury. Rose, IF he comes back, being regarded as "the final piece" or core piece or missing link whatever, he's not going to be some world beater IMO. I liked the poster who first suggested Derrick should not start, but come in off the bench. This puts less pressure on Derrick, and less disruption of continuity of the offense. When he's playing well you leave him in and ride that train, and when he's not you can pull the plug. Thus he builds confidence and momentum and not wallowing in very possible poor stretches magnified by the spotlight of the playoffs. Just the lazy volume threes have to stop as in two or three per game max unless he's hitting all of them then stop once you start missing.

    2) Nikola Mirotic whether he turns out to be just a good player or a star he certainly is one of the Bulls best offensive players right now, and he needs 30 minutes minimum as such from here on out obviously including the playoffs. Sure, it's his first rodeo in the NBA post season, but the full fledged experience good or mixed results will be good for him and critical moving forward. And if Thibs plays him up and down minutes game to game or Niko has one bad game and then gets little burn the following game then the fire should be turned on his Lunkheadedness at season's end.

    3) Finally, while the Bulls as a team are shooting an icy 44%, however that number gets warmer as Niko gets more minutes and likewise Tony Snell. Snell as "just a rotation player" or 3-D what have you, the guy is shooting 49% from two and 39% from three. I say you play him at minimum 18 minutes per game AVERAGE meaning ride him when he's on and Dunleavy hopefully as the counter ON guy. This team managed adeptly including Jimmy, Pau, and Noah(with dashes of Taj when he's really on shooting) could be an ECF bound squad IMO. However, the TEAM defense from guys like Rose, Brooks, and Gasol must be them doing their best at ALL times.

    P.S. Overplaying Dunleavy, over reliance on Jimmy. and any significant minutes for Kirk could spell disaster for this ball club. And if so then all I have to say is "THIBSS!!!!"

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    The over reliance on Jimmy simply means you wear a guy down with a Luol Deng like 40 minutes per game. 34-35 minutes average or so sounds good, and if Jimmy's numbers/play translate to the post season then look out. I think honestly we might be underestimating the potency and entertainment level of this Bulls team if utilized correctly.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    Let's not compare Luol Deng's last few years with the Bulls(at what age?) to a (how young?)Jimmy Butler. Even if you forget age, Butler has always seemed to handle high minutes much better than the fragile Luol Deng. Butler has had quite a bit of rest this season, and playing him 38 mpg in the playoffs where there are a total of zero back to backs, won't be a problem for him at all.

  • this team would have a shot if rose comes back and plays like he did in the USA basketball games this summer. Play 25-30 minutes a night, focus on aggressive, high energy defense, push the ball at every opportunity and get it to your scorers and shoot no more than 2 three pointers per game. That Rose plus Butler, Pau, Joe and Niko can make some noise. The Rose who jogs up and down the court, makes lazy cross court passes and refuses to fight through a pick on defense will kill this team. And in the 4th quarter, Rose needs to defer to Jimmy and Pau to create offense. Next year, he can try to be the alpha dog again.

  • In reply to piggy7:

    Excellent post. If "alpha dog" means taking too many 3s and lazy defense there is no way the Bulls go deep into the playoffs. He needs to know that the team has different weapons than they have had in the past. This includes Niko, Pau and a Jimmy who can score.

    Jeff Teague was great this year in that he was able to get talented teammates involved on offense without sacrificing his own scoring abilities. Will Rose be physically and emotionally capable to accommodate an essentially different set of scorers on the team?

  • Rose practiced and took contact today. If he comes back next week, he should be able to get 6 games in before the playoffs.

  • In reply to piggy7:

    Thanks piggy, that's big news. Rose has a shot of being back for the final Cleveland game, which would an ideal game for him to play in since it's an overall tough opponent but a matchup in Kyrie that Rose is generally comfortable with.

  • Rose is officially back in full contact practice today. Per report, there is a high likelihood Rose's first game is against Orlando on April 8th or Miami April 9th. This will give him 3/4 games before playoffs plus likely 4 games within the first round against the Bucks assuming a sweep. A total of 7/8 games before the big showdown against the Cavs. Whether that's enough to get Rose to playing at a high level nobody knows, but the hope is always there.

  • If James brakes an ankle....the Bulls got a shot.

  • Ok but here's the thing, if you thought the Bulls would have a chance to win the East in the beginning of the season, I don't see how you wouldn't feel great about their chances now.

    Bare with me on this, and tell me where I'm wrong. Early on most who thought the Bulls would have a good chance to win the title, added one main caveat, "Derrick Rose will have to return to at least close to 100%".

    Now using this requisite alone would lead one to say that the chances of that happening are very low considering Rose's arc this season, thereby making the chances the Bulls pull this thing out very low as well.

    However, for those who held the "If Rose gets back to close to where he was we have a great chance" opinion.. answer me this: Did you, in your preseason analysis and figurative prediction model, assume that Pau Gasol would be this good? Ok I get it go ahead and discount Gasol, his defense is bad and it's had a negative effect on that end of the floor. Still, answer this one then: Did your prediction model assume that Jimmy Butler would become a 20 plus PPG scorer at very solid efficiency? I'll venture to guess, the answer is NO. Another question: Did your subjective calculations include a Bulls season that would reveal Nikola Mirotic to be arguably already, one of the leagues top 30 offensive players? Did you honestly assume he would, at this point, be even half as good as he's proven to be? If you didn't predict the incredible rise of Jimmy Butler and Mirotic, then logic would seem to point to a sizable marginalization in the importance of Derrick Rose's level of performance. I'm not one of these idiots who thinks Derrick doesn't matter. But when the same people who said in pre-season that this team would be championship caliber if Derrick came back near full strength, still believe he'll need to be 90% of MVP Rose for them to win this EC? It doesn't add up all things considered. Sure Doug McDermott hasn't been quite what we thought he might be at this point, and Noah has struggled to play through immense pain. Yet it would seem to me that otherworldly improvement of Butler, a shockingly good Mirotic(at this point in his young career), combined with a better than expected Pau; means that Derrick doesn't need to be even close to what he once was. He needs to be a smart player, and one that can bring the assassin's attacker attitude late in games, and allow the amazing and shocking surprises in Butler and Mirotic to supplement the deficit between what we thought Rose needed to be vs what he is going to be. If you thought the Bulls had a great chance at season's start, you should feel as good or better about their chances now.

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