At 30-14, the Chicago Bulls have just passed the midseason point in the 2010-11 NBA season. I know, this isn't the halfway point of the season, but the talk around the team is still similar.
Derrick Rose is a monster, Carlos Boozer is a double-double machine, Luol Deng continues to play his role, and Joakim Noah is still out with torn ligaments in his right hand.
The Bulls are in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference standings as of right now, behind the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. However, the Orlando Magic are right behind the Bulls' tail, 1 game behind, and the Atlanta Hawks are still right there at 1.5 games behind.
Most fans thought that the Bulls would be a lock at the 4 seed, but the Bulls have surprised. Am I surprised? No, I'm not. This Bulls team has lost some tough games against quality teams, but they've flat out destroyed the competition with below-.500 teams, going 22-5 against those teams.
They've played 27 of their 44 games against below-.500 teams, so what does this show about the Bulls? Is their record fluky?
Let's take a look at that along with individual players report cards:
Player report cards:
Omer Asik, C+
Asik has done a good job defensively -- rebounding and blocking shots -- but offensively he's a train-wreak. It's clear Asik has yet to get confidence in any sort of offensive game, and that's hurt him when the Bulls give him the ball in the post.
Then again, Asik is a rookie. Stuff like this should be expected, but I thought coming into the season that Asik would provide much more offensively than he has so far. It's been his defense that's kept him on the court; good thing to bring to the team, especially with Tom Thibodeau as the head coach.
Keith Bogans, D
Bogans has been very underwhelming this season, averaging just 3.5 PPG in 17 minutes played. What's worse is that he's shooting just 32% from the three-point line, which is an awful percentage considering that most of his offense is shooting three's.
When Bogans was signed, I expected solid defense and shooting. He's looked slow defensively and hasn't been a reliable shooter, either. It's clear coach Thibs feels comfortable with him in the starting lineup, as he's stood behind Bogans multiple times.
It really isn't that big of a deal if Bogans starts any more, really. He isn't the one finishing games; he gets the bulk of his playing time at the beginning of each half, which is fine with me.
Carlos Boozer, B+
The only thing preventing Boozer from getting that A is his injuries. Boozer is like the student who does great on the tests but fails to turn in the homework assignments.
Nonetheless, Boozer has been everything I expected and more. He's averaging 20.1 PPG and 10.1 RPG, with double-double's in 17 of the 26 games played.
Boozer has been the low-post presense the Bulls have missed for a while; it also does help that his game fits perfectly with Rose's.
Ronnie Brewer, B
After being slowed down by an hamstring injury during training camp and early this season, Brewer has turned it around and played a big role in the Bulls' 30-14 record.
There's no question he's the team's best overall option at SG, but Thibs has always been more content with Brewer coming off the bench. Why? Because of Brewer's energy.
Brewer, since shaking off the rust from a couple hamstring issues over the past year, has been a pretty consistent mid-range shooter, good finisher around the rim, and makes a lot of plays defensively. The knock on Brewer has always been his shot, but he's been fairly consistent this season with his mid-range jumper.
As I mentioned a month ago, I expect Brewer to be the starter come playoff time. He does much more on both ends than Bogans, that's for sure.
Luol Deng, A
Deng has done everything you can ask of a role player. When Boozer was out, Deng stepped his game up offensively; when Boozer came back, Deng still scored 15-17 per game, but he started to do more on the other end of the court.
Deng not only can score, but he's a good defender and outstanding rebounder for his position. Looking at Deng's production -- 17.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, and 35% three-point shooting -- begs the question, do we really need Carmelo Anthony? Why "fix" what isn't broken?
The Bulls would definitely look good with Anthony running along side Derrick Rose, but at the expense of Deng, a player who does it all? Deng doesn't ever bark about not getting the ball -- which also shows his lack of a killer-instinct -- and plays his role defensively. Nothing more I can ask of Deng; he's been superb.
Taj Gibson, B-
Gibson started the season off great, but since Boozer's return, Gibson has fallen off the map.
His mid-range jumper has also fallen off the map; it was a great asset for him in his rookie season last year, and was looking new and improved early this season, but it's been inconsistent since Boozer's return. Why this is happening, I don't know. Could be because Gibson's limited to less minutes, but he played 26 MPG last season and shot 49% from the field.
It's been an up-and-down season for Gibson, but his defense hasn't wavered. He's averaging 1.7 blocks per game this season and has been clearly the 2nd best defender of the rim on this team behind Noah.
James Johnson, F
Johnson reportedly lost 15 pounds during the past offseason; I was expecting big things from him after hearing all of the reports on how hard he's been working.
This season has been an utter disappointment for Johnson. For one, Johnson has only played in 12 games this season. Translation: he isn't trusted -- should I say needed? -- by coach Thibs. One season after playing 65 games, Johnson will likely play less than 25 games this season; why? Thibs just doesn't see him as a fit with this team.
Johnson has the skill set to provide something for this team, but he needs playing time, right? Thibs gave him a chance during the preseason, hoping for an improvement from last season, but Johnson obviously showed him he's still the same old inconsistent player on the court.
Kyle Korver, B-
Korver started the year off strong, but thanks to a putrid December, Korver's overall stats have dipped a little bit.
Nonetheless, Korver has been the Bulls' version of Ray Allen. The Bulls run him off plenty of screens, however, he hasn't shot the ball as well as many thought he would coming in. He's still a reliable shooter, no doubt, but he isn't "money" as I thought coming in.
Defensively, Korver gives it his all. He hustles and puts in the effort, but against athletic players, he's clearly over matched. Still, he's just as good an option as Bogans defensively. Korver has quick feet and is pretty lengthy. He isn't a great defender, but you don't have to be when the Bulls' team defense is this good.
His shooting leaves something to be desired, but I have confidence in him. The 54% 3P% he shot last season makes his 40% this year look bad, however, Korver attempted just 2 three's per game last season, while attempting nearly 3.5 this season. Shooting more has brought his 3P% down, but I didn't think it'd come down this bad.
Joakim Noah, B
Noah was heading to an All-Star berth before suffering torn ligaments in his right thumb, an injury that has sidelined him for 20 games so far.
Noah is the heart and sole of this Bulls team; it's clear they miss him, especially in games where they look "down" in terms of their energy level. Yet they're still 16 games over .500, something they should be proud of without their emotional leader.
It's going to be interesting, scary for other teams, to see how a healthy Noah and Boozer gel together. This Bulls team will be dangerous come playoff time, but it's important to have Noah at 100% come April.
Derrick Rose, A+
Rose, averaging 24.7 PPG, 8 APG, and 4.7 RPG, has had an amazing season. He's carried the Bulls on his back numerous times this season, even when they were short-handed or completely healthy. It doesn't matter, this guy is relentless.
He's even averaging a career-high in steals per game with 1.1, and even though guards aren't supposed to be blocking shots, Rose has averaged .74 BPG, along with an 8-game block streak going into Monday night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Rose has led the Bulls to a 30-14 record even though they've missed two stars, Boozer and Noah, for a combined 38 games this season. The way Boozer is performing, and Noah did perform, it's easy to see that if they were healthy all season they, too, would be heading to the All-Star game with Rose.
No matter, it's Rose that keeps this Bulls team going. Even without Boozer or Noah; he gets this team wins.
Brian Scalabrine, C
What more did you expect from Scal? He's been a great cheerleader and has already became a fan favorite. Hopefully there will be a moment this season where we go, "That's why we got Scal!"
Kurt Thomas, B+
Many thought Thomas was brought here for veteran leadership, but with the way he's played with Noah out, it shows what kind of professional he is.
In 19 starts, Thomas is averaging 5.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 1.26 BPG. Seriously, what more can you ask for from the 2nd-oldest player in the NBA?
He's done a great job defensively and hitting the mid-range jumper; I've been even more impressed with his solid ability to finish layups around the rim. With Rose, he gets plenty of those.
C.J. Watson, C+
Watson has had an up-and-down season so far; his high point: scoring 33 points against the Denver Nuggets in a one-point loss. His low point(s) have really just been not being aggressive offensively.
It's tough to really put any major critisism on Watson, as he plays just 13-14 MPG, a far cry from the 28 MPG he played last season.
However, the past week or two, Watson has stepped up his play. He's always had quick hands and feet, making him an above average defender, but he's being much more aggressive offensively recently. As long as continues to do the latter, he'll be what most Bulls fans expect from the backup PG spot.
What to expect in the second half
I expect the Bulls to reach around 53-55 wins this season. They're certainly on pace to do so.
The schedule gets more difficult as the season goes on, inevitably. Hopefully Boozer stays healthy and Noah gets healthy.
3rd seed or 4th seed
If the season ended today, the Bulls, at 30-14, would hold the 3red seed and face the 6th seeded New York Knicks. The Knicks are 2-0 against the Bulls this season, and there's no doubt they'd welcome the Knicks would welcome the playoff matchup.
If the Bulls were to slip to the 4th seed, they'd most likely face the Hawks. I like this matchup more than the Knicks, but the Hawks are arguably more dangerous.
I'd much rather prefer a matchup against the Hawks, but I wouldn't mind getting the highest seed possible, which is likely the 3rd seed. Everything else will fall into place.
It's been an impressive first half by the Bulls, but fans might think of it as fluky because the Bulls have played 27 below-.500 teams. It isn't fluky; the Bulls have missed two of their core players for a combined 38 games this season, so it's not like they've been at 100% this entire season.
I think the Bulls will get 53-55 wins this season and the 4th seed. I just don't think they can hold onto that 3rd seed for long. Hopefully it works out for the best, as I'd rather play the Hawks any ways.