Playoff Result: Lost in Second Round
Key Additions: Derrick Rose (from injury), Mike Dunleavy (free agency), Tony Snell (draft)
Key Losses: Nate Robinson (free agency), Marco Belinelli (free agency), Derrick Rose return date jokes
Projected 2013-14 Record: 54-28 (3rd in East)*
What to Expect: If there’s anything to expect from the Bulls, it’s lock-down, terrifyingly good defense. Derrick Rose, no Derrick Rose, Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls are an elite defensive team that makes a struggling Rose-less offense obsolete. Last year’s Bulls were 6th in DRTG per Basketball-Reference, the year before second and in 2011 first. But with Rose’s return this upcoming season, Jimmy Butler improving and Chicago adding a couple of floor-spacers, their stifling defense will likely now be backed up with a very star-driven offense – making for a scary prospect.
It would be unjust to say this team won’t be contending this season, with no real glaring flaws to be addressed. Spacing issues aren’t nearly as drastic as they once were with this team. The returning Rose has no rust to shake off, as far as we’ve seen in the pre-season. There are health questions, with Noah and Rose both with their fair share of injuries in recent years, but a lot of which are isolated incidents and in reality it could happen to any team.
The only tangible quip is their bench, where there are serious holes. Losing Nate Robinson was tough, with the pint-sized spark-plug subbing in as a shot of energy whenever Chicago’s offense stagnated. Their front court lacks much depth outside of Taj Gibson, only going two deep at the four and five spots with their backup center being Nazr Mohammed. This gripe should be taken with a grain of salt though, when you consider how much coach Thibodeau relies on his starters minutes-wise.
The Bulls will be back to their dominance of 2012 and 2011, and you can expect an Eastern Conference Finals visit if not a trip to the NBA Finals.
Matchup with the Hawks: Chicago has seemingly always had Atlanta’s number in recent years, not losing a season series since 2010. Their combination of suffocating defense and Derrick Rose has caused the Hawks major problems, with Woodson-era offenses too stagnant to find buckets and last year’s lack of firepower disallowing Atlanta to take advantage of a Rose-less Chicago.
Hopefulness is granted this year though, with coach Budenholzer bringing an offensive system that can, at it’s best, rip apart Chicago’s elite defense. What is stressed by the Bulls is strong-side attention, primarily all five players will be watching the strong side as that’s where the action usually happens for an offense. What the Spurs did so well last year was utilize the weak-side, forcing opposing defenses to make split-second recoveries. With strong-side focus ingrained into the minds of Bulls players, Bud can use his knowledge of San Antonio’s weak-side exploits to find open looks across the hardwood, perhaps ultimately forcing Chicago to make major adjustments mid-game.
Another positive for the Hawks is in the frontcourt department, where as previously noted the Bulls have a shallow pond to show for Atlanta’s lake. Chicago has three dependable bigs in Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson. Nazr Mohammed is basically just an obese stop sign. Meanwhile, Atlanta is sporting the dominant duo of Horford and Millsap, then have Elton Brand, Pero Antic, Gustavo Ayon, Mike Scott and James Johnson – all who can step onto the court and positively influence the game at hand. Sending the Bulls’ bigs into early-game foul trouble would give Atlanta a big upper hand, so look for it to be a point of emphasis when these two meet.
The Hawks still have a major issue in having to deal with the returning Derrick Rose, who is arguably stronger than ever. We would have to see major defensive improvements from Jeff Teague in order to expect anything less than obliteration by the 2011 MVP, which hasn’t made itself very clear yet so it’s safe to assume Atlanta’s only hope is (insert cool nickname for Dennis Schroeder here.)
The Bulls are now packing legitimate shooters around the perimeter, just waiting for a defense to collapse on the physics-defying point guard. Thus, the task drops on an individual to try and hamper down Rose, perhaps bother him some, and keep him outside of the paint. Schroeder is but a wee freshman in the NBA, but his remarkable wingspan and solid quickness could be Atlanta’s only hope in pestering Rose. The biggest downside with Schroeder apart from the lack of experience is brute strength, where D-Rose has a clear-cut edge.
Another question mark is when Lou Williams will return and how effective he will be, with his dribble-drive and outside shooting abilities being a key part in the Hawks’ lone win against the Bulls last season. At the end of the day, I’m optimistic about this series in particular, despite Chicago’s contender status and superstar back from the land of the injured. I predict at least one Hawks victory, perhaps even a series win.
*predicted record based on Bo’s ESPN Forecast projections for every team