(Editor’s note: We are extremely excited to introduce Drew Hackman to the (D)Roses and Thorns crew as a new contributor! Drew is a very intelligent, very passionate Bulls fan, and we know you’ll enjoy his analysis as much as we do!)
With the preseason over and the regular season tip-off upon us, expectations and excitement are peaking for the Chicago Bulls.
And why shouldn’t they be? The Bulls landed a top free agent and champion in Pau Gasol; Derrick Rose has looked nothing short of spectacular and will only get better; they drafted the Naismith college player of the year and NBA-ready Doug McDermott; the much-anticipated arrival of Euro-League Rising Star sensation Nikola Mirotic is finally here, and the Bulls added Aaron Brooks, who is a great “buy-low” pick up, expected to bring scoring and experience off the bench. They also dumped Boozer’s handcuffing contract and, consequently, his “thunderous roar” defense with which I can only assume he hoped to startle the scorer into missing. All that, plus the core of Noah, Butler, Gibson, and Hinrich returning.
On paper, the Bulls are poised to make a championship run.
But, championship teams aren’t formed on paper, and they’re certainly not formed overnight. I’ve peered into the future and seen the first part of the season. There will be growing pains. And in light of the current sports climate of “win-now, no-patience, no-excuses, I-can-run-the-team-better-than-these-clowns,” I feel obligated to implore your future self to be patient. Here’s what I see in my crystal ball…
Are you sitting down? You sure? … You should sit down. It’s Friday, November 28th and you’re recovering after a very hearty Thanksgiving meal (okay, so maybe you are already sitting down). The Bulls have just lost by double digits on Tuesday to the Nuggets in Denver, bringing their record to a game over .500 at 8-7. They haven’t dominated, only having won one game by 20+ points, most of the wins have been contests up until midway through the 4th quarter. Rose has been the primary reason the Bulls have won the games that they have, not because of the well-balanced attack we had expected. They haven’t looked like a championship team.
In Tuesday’s game, Kenneth Faried dominated the glass, out muscled Noah and Gasol, Taj wasn’t able to be effective in the post, and the Bulls did not take care of the ball on the offensive end. The performance we’ve seen to date has left much to be desired.
Add to this the fact that football in Chicago is nearly over because the Bears are all but out of playoff contention, sitting at (best-case) 5-7, having lost to the Lions on Thanksgiving, and Chicago sports fans are getting restless. They need to find an outlet and are pointing fingers at anything that moves wearing a Chicago uniform.
And those fingers are being pointed with gusto – 1) at Pau for seemingly disrupting Noah’s involvement in the offensive scheme and being a relative liability on defense aside from blocking shots, 2) at Mirotic for not hitting (or taking) the shots we thought he would, 3) at McBuckets for making some mistakes and being, well, a rookie, 4) at the reserves for playing without any real flow, and 5) at Thibs for stubbornly sticking to his defense-first mentality, not letting the Bulls run free, getting bogged down in the half-court offense, and playing Rose and Butler “too many minutes,” (or so say the talking heads).
Everyone has an opinion about the rotation, everyone has the solution, and everyone is crowning Cleveland as the Eastern Conference champs and giving up on the Bulls as an elite team without conviction nor passion for Finals aspirations.
Phew. Okay. Did you get that out of your system? Take a deep breath. Stealing a page from Aaron Rodgers’ book (sorry Bears fans), I’m saying, “R-E-L-A-X.”
Here’s why you shouldn’t worry.
First: Upcoming Schedule
Over the next five games, the Bulls play: at Boston (bottom-feeder, W), at Brooklyn (Noah loves going home, Deron and KG are in wheelchairs, W), home against the Mavs (the Mavs are deep and talented, and might be too much in this potential loss, L), at Charlotte (my pick for the 5 seed, but Stephenson will be taking too many shots early in the season – the Bulls win a close one, W), and Golden State at home (whom the Bulls have had success against in the regular season during the Splash Brothers era, W). The Bulls will be 12-8 after the first quarter of the season, and things will be looking up.
Second: Tom Thibodeau
Thibs is an elite coach, but Chicago fans like to forget this and challenge his methods. He will be the main reason the Bulls will have a winning record after the first 10-to-15 games. His teams prepare with the best of them, and always play good defense, even if that defense will not be perfect in the first quarter of the season – it will be solid enough to win games.
Let’s not forget Thibs was 112-36 in his first two seasons with a healthy Rose (as we have now) despite Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans in the regular rotation in 2010-11 and John Lucas III and an injured and aging Rip Hamilton rounding out the regular rotation in 2011-12. Over the last two seasons, Thibs has been forced to have a seven or eight man rotation with no bench to speak of. He can do a lot with a little. And now he will do a lot with a lot. But there are plenty of rotational combinations at his disposal. It will take time to figure out what works. Having too many good players to choose from is never a bad thing.
In Thibs I Trust.
Third (and by far the most important): Chemistry
This is a players’ league. In order to be a dominant team at this level, the players need to be comfortable with each other and truly understand each others’ strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. The Raptors didn’t exceed expectations last year to snag a 3-seed because of Dwane Casey (although he did a nice job). They did it with players playing as a team, running free, hustling, and working off each other with a chip on their shoulder.
The Bulls will take time to get there. We need to be patient. Very patient. We’ve seen great signs in the preseason: Rose has looked like his former MVP-caliber self and will continue to get better; Butler does whatever the team needs and has been a hawk on defense (as we’ve come to expect); Pau can deny the basket as good as any player in the league (pre-season league leader at 2.4 blocks per game) and has shown he can knock down shots (2/3 from three point range in the preseason), and let’s not forget that he’s a Winner and a Champion – that experience cannot be understated; Noah and Pau are two of the best big men passers in the league and Jo always brings the fire as reigning DPoY; Taj is a monster on the boards and has a much improved post game; Kirk worked on his shot this summer, is feeling relaxed, and the results are there; McBuckets is more than a shooter and has shown it; Nikola Mirotic’s skills are proven, and the game will come to him once he gets more comfortable; Aaron Brooks has had some good offensive sets and will learn how to run the reserves, and Dunleavy can fit in wherever he’s asked.
But these signs are just that at this point: signs. The Bulls are not going to jump to the top spot in the East right away. They’ll need to gel and get into a rhythm and a flow. But once they’re there, boy will that be exciting.
In the mean time, you can bet I’ll be glued to the TV for every game, waiting for Stacey to call out the “heart, hustle, and muscle.” And I have a feeling we’ll see Derrick on a few Sports Center Top 10’s – “too big, too strong, too fast, too good.”
Can’t wait. The journey starts now.
Come back and read this post in a month, and again in another month after that. Then when you look at the standings at that point, you’ll thank me, as we’ll say this was all according to plan. (Relax, future you…)