It will be said throughout the entire season, “If the Bulls had Derrick Rose. . .”, so let’s just get it out of the way right now: Chicago will struggle this season. We saw what happened in the playoffs after Rose went down with a torn ACL, Chicago ended up losing to Philadelphia (a tough 8th seed, but nonetheless, an 8th seed). What’s the diagnosis for the Bulls this season?
To be quite frank, I am surprised the Bulls didn’t try to add some better players to the roster. Kirk Hinrich is the biggest named they added and, at 30 years of age, he is solid, but remember this team was built around a superstar. Can they still be successful even if Rose doesn’t return this season? I am thinking yes, but look at the teams who have a solid core, but no superstar: Denver, Houston, Indiana, and Utah. Chicago plays better defense than these teams, but their offense and/or is nowhere near any of these teams.
Rose said he would be “OK” sitting out the entire season, which might be a smart thing for him because he will never, fully, be the player he once was before the injury. He relied on his athleticism and explosiveness to dominate opposing point guards. I don’t think he is a genetic freak like Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL and MCL against the Washington Redskins, rehabs and eight months later, he is back on the football field looking like his old self. One thing Rose has going for him is his age. At only 24 years old, it’s hard to think he can’t come back and be 85% of what he used to be, athletically. The Bulls won’t be the same team even if they had Rose. I think the Bulls could be in for a tough year.
Point guard(s) – Kirk Hinrich: I think head coach Tom Thibodeau will go with the more-experienced Hinrich over the rookie Marquis Teague. Hinrich has been a solid pro since the Bulls drafted him in 2003. He is back after a two-year trip that included stops in Washington and Atlanta. Hinrich will provide stability at point guard until Rose comes back, if Rose comes back. A nine-year veteran and career 37.8% three-point shooter, Hinrich has “been there, done that” and that’s why I think Thibs goes with Hinrich over any other point guard on the roster.
Rookie Marquis Teague will back up Hinrich.
Position Grade: C+
Shooting guard(s) – Richard Hamilton: His health will be a big key for the Bulls. He played in 28 games last season, missing time with various injuries. Even with missing a significant amount of time, Hamilton was still productive (45.2/37/78.4 shooting splits). Not to mention, he only played 25 minutes per game because the Bulls had Ronnie Brewer, who is now with the Knicks. Hamilton will help in terms of scoring, but at age 34, I don’t feel he will bring much else to the table.
Marco Belinelli will back up Hamilton.
Position Grade: B-
Small forward(s) – Luol Deng: You could argue that Deng was Chicago’s second-best player last season until the playoffs when we saw that he had a lot of trouble creating his own shot after Rose went down. Deng is entering the prime of his career (27) and, I will say it again, if Rose is unable to return, Deng is going to have to carry the majority of the offensive load for the Bulls. We all know basketball is like a family. Everyone is expected to do their job, but without a mother or father, the rest of the team is lost. Deng needs to step up this season, not only because his team needs him, but also because he is making $13 million. PROVE YOUR WORTH.
Jimmy Butler will back up Deng.
Position Grade: B
Power forward(s) – Carlos Boozer: I have been critical of Boozer in the past because of his long history of injuries. I can’t after last season, when he played in all 66 games and averaged 15 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He shot a stellar 53.2% from the floor while helping lead the Bulls to the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls will need Boozer for all 82 games this season if they want to have a chance to return to the playoffs. I think he is the X-factor for this Bulls team because he can still be somewhat dominant, at times, even at the age of 30 (he will turn 31 in November).
Taj Gibson will back up Boozer.
Position Grade: B
Center(s) – Joakim Noah: The loss of backup center Omir Asik to free agency places more pressure on the defensive-minded Noah. His health will also be an ingredient if the Bulls want to have success this season. He anchors the defense and, probably, is one of the hardest playing players in the league. A lot of players and coaches view Noah as a “pest” because he has the ability to get under an opponent’s skin, but I think, today, that it could be considered a skill. But with no proven backup behind Noah, the coaching staff and Noah, himself, are going to have to make sure he can handle an increased minute load.
As of right now, Kyrylo Fesenko will back up Noah. The other option would be veteran Nazr Mohammed
Position Grade: B
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Kirk Hinrich
G: Richard Hamilton
F: Luol Deng
F: Carlos Boozer
C: Joakim Noah
Starting Lineup Grade: B
G: Marquis Teague
G: Marco Belinelli
F: Jimmy Butler
F: Taj Gibson
Bench Grade: C+
Coaching Grade: B+ (Tom Thibodeau)
Without Derrick Rose, it’s clear Chicago isn’t as good. I am predicting a second-place finish in the Central Division and the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.