The Chicago Bulls ended their pre-season in winning fashion with a 94-89 win over the Denver Nuggets on Friday. This win capped off an undefeated preseason for the Bulls, at 8-0. While the preseason obviously has very little bearing on the rest of the season, it matter a lot for the Bulls compared to other teams, most of it due to the questions surrounding Derrick Rose.
Rose played very well in the preseason coming off of missing an entire season with a torn ACL.
He was especially effective after the first two preseason games. He scored 13 points in both of those games, and averaged nearly 20 per game the rest of the way. More importantly the 25 year-old former MVP looked explosive with his quickness and jumping, and has said he has added five inches to his vertical leap.
Rose’s biggest improvement is likely his shooting; however, as he had a lot of time to spend on his shooting over the past year. Derrick Rose shot 44 percent from three-point-range, and was above 40 percent for every game except for the last of the preseason. Rose was also able to get to the free-throw line about eight times per game, and that number was elevated towards the end of the preseason. This number allowed Rose to be very efficient on offense, as he never attempted more than 15 field goals in a game this preseason.
All of this shows that Derrick Rose will come back and be a force and will be the go to guy the Bulls will need down the stretch if the Bulls want to beat the Miami Heat in the playoffs this year.
The Bulls lost some key role players this offense in Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli, but one thing will stay constant for the Bulls, defense. Kirk Hinrich was the Bulls starting point guard during the regular season, and he will provide a good passing, good defending point guard who will be a solid role player this year. Nazr Robinson was resigned by the Bulls to be the back-up center, and he will play more solid defense off the bench, but will not give much on the offensive end
The Bulls also signed Mike Dunleavy Jr. to replace Belinelli. Dunleavy is a good distance shooter who shot 43 percent from three-point-range last year, and shoots 37 percent for his career. He also averages over ten points a game and might not be able to create his well as Belinelli, but his upgrade defense will help the Bulls.
This is the major difference between Chicago’s role players this year; they will not have to create their own shots, due to Derrick Rose being back, so they need to be able to knock down jump shots.
This where the Bulls draft picks come into play, Tony Snell and Erik Murphy. Snell was the 20th overall draft pick this year. He compares a lot to Jimmy Butler, lengthy defenders who can shoot from distance. While Snell is not quite as polished as Butler, he shot 43 percent from three his last two years in college, so he will be a solid off the bench defender who will knock down open looks.
Erik Murphy compares similarly, good shooter, good defender. At 6’ 10”, Murphy will hit some threes and has the height to where he is a great option of the bench for a few minutes if the Bulls need some points.
With the exception of Rose, the Bulls starters will be the same as last year with Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah. Late in games Taj Gibson will be plugged in to play defense and provide a spark, as one of the Bulls best bench players.
Deng, Butler, and Noah all received votes for defensive player of the year last year, Deng and Noah were all-stars. Butler is the only starter who has not been an all-star.
The Bulls starting line-up will be more than set defensively, so the only question left is how they will perform offensively.
With Derrick Rose back, they should be more than okay. Again, the biggest difference with him is his shooting. Take a 31 percent three point shooter who won the MVP, and turn that into the 40 plus percent his shot this preseason, and he becomes a force. Then take him as he enters his prime at age 25, add five inches to his vertical, and make the quickest and fastest player in the NBA even more athletic and you have a beast named Derrick Rose. On top of this, he says he is not even at full lethality, as he said to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I bet I surprised a lot of people, but at the same time, I know how hard I worked in the offseason just to get back on the court. My hard work is paying off. I’m not in my groove yet, but I’m still able to go out there and control the game a little bit. I guess when I get back into my groove, it’s really going to be scary.”
With improve shooting around him, and a team that has had its nucleus together for a few seasons under Tom Thibodeau’s aggressive defensive schemes, the Bulls should be one of the biggest challengers to the Heat this year.
The Bulls value the regular season more than most teams, which should help them reach the number one seed on the Eastern Conference. In most years, this does not mean too much, but this season will not be most years. The Eastern Conference has three teams, the Heat, the Bulls, and the Indiana Pacers, who can beat each other in any given series.
So avoiding a matchup with either of those in the Eastern Conference semi-finals is why the Bulls will represent the East in the NBA Finals. The NBA playoffs are grueling. Especially when matched up against the grind it out defensive teams that these three are. That is why whoever the number one seed is in the East its team in the finals, and due to the Bulls value in the regular season it should be them.
The Western Conference is wide open, so the fate of any East team in the finals relies heavily on the opponent. But the East has more strong teams, and by the East being more battle tested (and stronger), the winner of the NBA Finals comes from the east, and there is no reason why it cannot be the Bulls, especially if they are the one seed.
The Bulls have come so close before, but this is the year they need to win a championship ring.
Their quest to do so starts this at Miami, on opening night (this Tuesday), as Miami will receive their championship rings. This should be good motivation for the Bulls throughout the season, and they should ride this motivation to an opening game win. This is due to the Bulls tendency play well in important regular season games. Joakim Noah (groin) and Kirk Hinrich (concussion) are both expected to play, so the Bulls will have their full army starting the season, including Derrick Rose.