Following the Kobe Bryant trade rumors last offseason, the Chicago Bulls produced a very forgettable season. After missing the playoffs, they were fortunate to have the NBA Draft ping pong balls bounce their way when they ended up with the first overall pick. They would select Illinois native Derrick Rose, hoping he could turn their fortunes around and take them back to the postseason. Along with Rose, the Bulls were able to lock up talented forward Luol Deng, who is now going to be looked at as the teamís leader. Ben Gordon, however, has been holding out on the team all summer looking for a big-time contract like Deng, which, regardless of what people say, is dragging the team back down, just like the trade rumors of last summer. Gordon will probably be back for at least one more season, and that will ultimately help the Bulls, but the team will lack the chemistry it once had, and it will take some time to repair the damages of these last two summers. This team is chock-full of talent, and is heading down the right path, but this team is still full of questions.
Offense: It may take a little while, but the Bulls are essentially Derrick Roseís team. Whether Rose is ready or not, pressure will be placed on the kid from day one of the NBA season. This team has the ability to score the ball, but was last in the league in field goal percentage last season. This team has many, many weapons, and quite a few of them are in the post, so there was no excuse for shooting a measly 43.5%. That is where Derrick Rose will come in. With his unearthly combination of size and speed, he can get to the basket at will, and the majority of his points will come from inside the perimeter. His job will be to pass the ball, though, and if he can get Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, and Drew Gooden some touches, along with finding open baskets for Luol Deng, Derrick Rose will find his job much easier than many other rookie point guards have in the past. Kirk Hinrich will likely run the team from the beginning, but Derrick Rose will slowly begin to take the reigns as the season progresses. Expect the Bulls to play both Rose and Hinrich on the floor together many times, much like they did with Hinrich and Chris Duhon over the past few years. The Bulls have anything but a smooth offense, but if Derrick Rose can work his magic for Chicago, in just his rookie season, we may see the Running of the Bulls in the Playoffs much sooner rather than later.
Defense: In 2006-07, the Bulls were sixth in the league in points allowed, and second in opponent field goal percentage. In 2007-08, the Bulls dropped to sixteenth and ninth in those categories, respectively. This team was a defensive powerhouse for years, but last year they went off-course. They were no longer a top defensive squad last season, but the potential to be great is still there. Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah are great post defenders, when they get the time. Drew Gooden is strong enough to handle the bigger power forwards, and has no trouble rebounding the ball. Luol Deng is a firm one-on-one defender, and provides great help on the perimeter. Two players, though, who dropped off last year, were Kirk Hinrich and Andres Nocioni. Before, these two would provide non-stop movement on the defensive end, but last season, they seemed disinterested. If these two can get back to their high-level of play, the Bulls will be back on track. Derrick Rose also has the potential to be a hard-nosed defender, so it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table. This team can get back to the level of defensive superiority they were at back in 2007, but for that, they need motivation. If that doesnít come around, expect another unsatisfactory season for Chicago on the defensive side of the ball.
Strengths: The athleticism and youth on this team is amazing. In terms of pure talent, this team can contend with anyone. Derrick Rose, Tyrus Thomas, and Luol Deng are all freaks when talking about their athletic abilities. The fact that these guys are all under the age of 24 is another very scary thought. The more this team grows together, the bigger threat they are down the road, and an appearance in the NBA Finals in a few years is not out of the question. If the team can gel together, especially the three players I mentioned, they will be a playoff team, and could be very dangerous to anyone they face.
Weaknesses: This team has no identity. They donít know what they want to be. A consistent scorer has yet to step up, and no one has volunteered to lead this team, as evidenced by last yearís mediocre play in the regular season. Luol Deng needs to step up for this team to get anywhere. This may be Derrick Roseís team in the very near future, but for now, Luol Deng will be looked at to be the teamís leader on the floor every night.
Five Players to Watch:
Luol Deng - As stated above, Luol Deng needs to be the leader of this team, and the team needs him to be the leader in return. After a sub-par showing last season, Luol Deng needs to step his play up to a higher level. He has the potential to be a superstar in this league, and this season will be the telling point as to how is career will turn out. A star player, or a career role player, this season should tell us everything.
Derrick Rose - Since Magic Johnson was drafted with the first overall pick in 1979, a point guard had not been taken in the slot until this season when the Bulls took the highly-touted Memphis Tiger, Derrick Rose. Garnering comparisons to players like Jason Kidd and Dwyane Wade, Rose has a lot to prove. It is usually much more difficult to translate your game from college to the pros if youíre a point guard, and expect Rose to face some trouble spots this season. Rose should be valuable for this team whether he has problems adjusting, or not. With Kirk Hinrich still in a Chicago uniform, Rose will be able to learn at a steady pace, but the pressure will still be there. Derrick Rose, though, seems to be a very smart player, as well as a quick learner, so he will likely adapt his game and limit his ďrookie mistakes.Ē By the end of the year, donít be surprised if Rose is considered the true leader of this Chicago Bullsí team.
Tyrus Thomas - The most physically gifted player on the Chicago Bulls is Tyrus Thomas. He can play three positions due to his strength and speed, and should be a perfect compliment to Derrick Rose in the future. If Thomas gets the time, he is a great asset to the Bulls. For some reason, Tyrus Thomas has only played over 30 minutes ten times in his two years in the league. Here are his averages in those ten games: PTS: 17.9 REB: 10.1 AST: 1.4 STL: 1.6 BLK: 2.1. Well, those numbers seem pretty good, donít they? Itís only ten games, but those are All-Star caliber numbers. Also, the team went 5-5 in those ten games, so there is absolutely no excuse for not using this guy. If Thomas can get at least 25 minutes a night this year, expect some monster games. Tyrus Thomas will provide some high-energy offense, and some great defense in the post. Hopefully new coach Vinny Del Negro uses this kid, and hopefully Tyrus Thomas lives up to his hype, because Vinny may come out looking like a genius if Thomas explodes this year.
Ben Gordon - Assuming he returns to the Bulls, he is always a great asset. He provides unmatched scoring from the bench, and can light teams up in the fourth quarter. This year, Gordon needs to prove that he is worth what he thinks he is, or he may be heading overseas with Josh Childress. Of course, he may just do that anyway.
Vinny Del Negro Ė No, he isnít the starting shooting guard, but he will try to provide some help from the coaching seat for this young team. At just 42 years of age, he isnít much older than many players around the league, so he may have some trouble commanding respect from his players, but I expect him to win them over. His problem will be trying to find time for Larry Hughes, Thabo Sefolosha, and if he comes back, Ben Gordon. Other than a few more challenges, and ultimately attempting to turn this team around, Vinny may have a perfect job, if he plays his cards right.
Playoff Chances: The Bulls have a shot, but only if they can get a chemistry together. Coach Vinny Del Negro, I believe, can get that done. The East, however, grew even stronger around this team, so a playoff spot is anything but open for them to grab. The best they can hope for is the seventh or eighth seed, and that is still a stretch. They have a chance to get back to the playoffs, but it will take a lot of things going right for them to get there again.
Prediction: 4th Place, Central Division