All most Bulls fans probably remember from the 2011-12 season was the ending. Be it the first-round exit at the hand of
the 8th-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, center Joakim Noah nearly losing his foot and 76ers fans cheering, or the biggie, point guard Derrick Rose tearing his ACL in the final moments of the first game of that same playoff series.
Despite such a disappointing ending, the Bulls did have the best regular-season record at 50-16. Attribute that to head coach/drill seargent Tom Thibodeau. The season was lockout-shortened, but somehow, “Thibs” found a way to pull his troops together. Rose suffered an assortment of injuries and played in only 39 games. Iron man small forward Luol Deng missed 12 games, and offseason acquisition and shooting guard Richard Hamilton was available for a mere 28 games. Largely due to Thibodeau’s defensive scheme, the Bulls were able to shake off those losses. Hell, power forward Carlos Boozer was one of only two members of the 11-12 squad (the other, departed center Omer Asik) to even appear in all 66 games for the Bulls.
Playing a large portion of their season without the 2010-11 MVP Rose, the Bulls managed to finish 5th in the league in Offensive Rating and 2nd in Defensive Rating. In addition, they finished 4th in three-point percentage, 1st in total rebounds, 3rd in blocks, 5th in assists, 6th in turnovers committed, 2nd in field goal percentage allowed, 3rd in three-point percentage allowed and 1st in points allowed per game. And to show that our fanbase is better than yours, the Bulls finished 1st in attendance.
The confusingly vaunted “Bench Mob” was dismantled this past offseason, and new faces replace them. Except for Rose, the core will be in uniform on Opening Night. To bite Talladega Nights, “If you ain’t first, you’re last”. So let’s examine best/worse case scenarios for each member of the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls, including Thibs and general manager Gar Forman.
Note: All statistics from 2011-12 season
PG Derrick Rose: 39 G/39 S, 21.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 7.9 APG, 3.1 TOPG, 35.3 MPG, 44 FG%, 31 3P%, 81 FT%
Best case: From what I have read and heard, we shouldn’t even begin to think about Rose returning to the floor for action until February, or March at the latest. I am sure that the Bulls’ brass is in no rush to have Rose manning the point for the Bulls, especially with the signings of two capable point men and using their only draft pick to select another point guard. However, if the Bulls are a top-4 team by February/March and Rose is either on or ahead of schedule, expect to see Rose back in a uniform. Anticipating a positive change in his style of play, a healthy Rose could virtually serve as a late-season acquisition for a Bulls team, that when healthy and clicking on all cylinders, is easily one of the best teams in the NBA.
Worst case: The Bulls struggle all season long and by the time the All-Star break in February comes around, are nothing more than a middling team. Rose doesn’t suffer any setbacks during the rehab process, but isn’t ready to play again, let alone shoulder the load and try to turn an average team into an elite one. The 24 year-old superstar doesn’t play one second for the 12-13 Bulls, and the Bulls suffer a first-round defeat while making barely a whimper.
SF Luol Deng: 54 G/54 S, 15.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.8 TOPG, 39.4 MPG, 41 FG%, 37 3P%, 77 FT%
Best case: The 2012 All-Star realizes that with Rose sure to miss most of the season, he will have to actually put up numbers that match his playing time, and does. Deng doesn’t compete for a scoring title, but does finish with averages of 20 PPG, 8 RPG, and 3 APG while playing very good, but not great defense. Not only does Deng’s statistical output merit praise from coaches and teammates, but he wears the captain cape and helps keep the Bulls afloat during 12-13, helping them maintain their status as a legitimate title contender.
Worst case: The wrist injury that nagged Deng last season and through the summer continues to nag Deng for the first third of the season, and with his “meh” production, the Bulls have to lean on Boozer…which isn’t a good thing. The Bulls are in purgatory; not close to being a contender, but not close to being a lottery team. With 13-14 being the last year of Deng’s gaudy contract, fans who once showered him with love at every turn clamor for him to be traded.
PF Carlos Boozer: 66 G/66 S, 15 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.7 TOPG, 29.5 MPG, 53 FG%, 69 FT%
Best case: Boozer finally lives up to the 5-year, 75 million dollar contract he received in the summer of 2010. Averaging close to 20/10 per game, Booz becomes the Bulls’ first scoring option and even manages to get through the season relatively unscathed. Defensively, he is nowhere near elite, but he doesn’t serve as the liability that he did in his first two seasons with the team. His improved 12-13 also makes him an attractive player to other teams looking to acquire him via trade or amnesty.
Worst case:Booz is still a defensive liability and doesn’t make up for it by being a consistent, legitimate scoring threat.
Because of his defensive shortcomings, his playing time decreases for the third season in a row and he vents frustration about it. Upon being issued a challenge by Thibs, he responds by being pouty and essentially plays his way out of town. This wouldn’t be such a bad outcome if not for the fact that his toxic contract and lack of production make him unattractive to every team in the NBA.
C Joakim Noah: 64 G/64 S, 10. 2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.4 TOPG, 30.4 MPG, 51 FG%, 75 FT%
Best case: Noah only played 3 games in the Bulls’ 2011 first-round playoff series, but he was outstanding. Noah’s line: 33 MPG, 15 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3 APG, 1.3 BPG, 73 FG%. No, that last stat was not a typo. Jo really shot 73% from the field. If not for his badly sprained ankle, the Bulls more than likely would have at least advanced to the second round, even without Rose, and Noah’s spirit and determination could have helped them possibly advance further. Noah builds off his strong postseason showing and averages a double-double while continuing to establish himself as one of the best defensive players in the NBA. He’s still overpaid, but at least he leaves fans without a doubt that he left it on the floor each and every night.
Worst case: Noah is not a big who you can feed the ball to on the low block and let him do work. He scores the majority of his points on shots close to the rim, partly a product of Rose’s ability to penetrate and dish. Without Rose in the mix, Noah tries to do too much and the gangly 6’11” big man never gets it going during the 12-13 campaign. Defensively, he is stout, but he regresses on the offensive end, which the Bulls cannot afford. He also suffers injuries here and there, stripping this Bulls team of its heart and soul as he misses games and watches his teammates struggle to find their way without him.
SG Richard Hamilton: 28 G/28 S, 11.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3 APG, 1.8 TOPG, 24.9 MPG, 45 FG%, 37 3P%, 78 FT%
Best case: I didn’t like the Hamilton signing from day one. What the Bulls needed from their starting two guard, Hamilton does not provide. However, he has a knack for scoring the basketball and he does it well in 12-13. Running off of screens like a madman, he catches and shoots his way to 15 PPG and close to 50 FG%/40 3P%, and also allows the Bulls to get out on the fast break more than they are accustomed to, even with Rose in the lineup. Rich doesn’t completely make up for the absence of Rose, but he does make things easier for Deng and Boozer, who aren’t aptly equipped to offensively carry a team by themselves.
Worst case: The guy who missed 38 games last year because of injuries doesn’t fare much better this year, despite being healthy. Defensively, he is a slouch, and falls out of favor with Thibs rather quickly. Hamilton doesn’t lead a revolt like he did in Detroit, but when he is on the floor, his demeanor isn’t that of a player who wants to help his team win ballgames. In and out of shooting slumps, Rip even tries ditching the mask, to no avail. Bulls fans can’t wait for the day he is no longer a member of the team.
PF Taj Gibson: 63 G, 7.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 20.4 MPG, 50 FG%, 62 FT%
Best case: The most celebrated member of last year’s “Bench Mob” rivals Booz for playing time, especially after a strong first month. He justifies the 3-year, 24 million dollar contract extension he received before the season started and shows a vast improvement on the offensive end, an area of his game that has always made me cringe. The Bulls don’t seem to miss a beat when he is on the floor with Noah, and his defensive presence helps keep the Bulls atop the Eastern Conference standings throughout the regular season.
Worst case: Taj receives his contract extension and immediately does too much to try to justify it. On the defensive end, he gets himself into foul trouble while trying to block every shot imaginable, and on the offensive end, he takes a step backwards. Gibson remains durable, but his overall production suffers. That, combined with his age, make him an offseason trade candidate.
SF Jimmy Butler: 42 G (Per 36 minutes) 11 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 41 FG%
Best case: I listed Butler’s per36 numbers because as a rookie, Butler didn’t crack the rotation. His per36 numbers should give you a better idea of what he’s capable of when playing solid minutes. I think those stats are accurate. While he doesn’t match that production in 2012-13, he’s good for about half off the bench. His improved defensive abilities nearly make up for the loss of shooting guard Ronnie Brewer, and his athleticism and ability to somewhat create his own shot give the Bulls at least one player on the wing who is capable of making things happen with the ball in his hands. Butler plays so well that when Rose returns late in the season, Thibs has no qualms with having Butler play a little off-guard, to ease some of the stress on Rose.
Worst case: There were definitely times last season when Butler looked absolutely lost, and this pattern continues in 2012-13. Defensively, he is below-average, and he doesn’t contribute nearly anything to the Bulls’ offensive cause. Bulls fans, remembering Brewer’s efforts, don’t get behind the second-year player and he loses confidence by the game.
PG/SG Kirk Hinrich: 48 G/ 31 S, 6.6 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 25.8 MPG, 41 FG%, 35 3P%, 78 FT%
Best case: The return of the other “Captain Kirk” is a good one. Hinrich is no longer the player he was during the early part of his first go-round with the Bulls, but he definitely holds the fort down in DRose’s absence. Obviously not the scorer that Rose is, Hinrich makes a much more concerted effort than Rose to get others involved, and this leads to increased offensive production from just about anyone who shares the floor with him. Even better, he proves to still be a good enough defender to at least contain his counterparts on a game-by-game basis.
Worst case: The return of the other “Captain Kirk” is a bad one. The combo guard who has never shot particularly well from the floor, is guilty of regular disappearing acts in regards to the scoring column, and somehow gets himself into foul trouble very often shows his face, and Bulls fans wonder why the hell he was re-signed in the first place. To add insult to injury…he suffers a serious injury that forces him to miss a substantial amount of time, leaving Bulls fans outraged even more.
PG Nate Robinson: 51 G/9 S, 11.2 PPG, 2 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.5 TOPG, 1.2 SPG, 23.4 MPG, 42 FG%, 37 3P%, 83 FT%
Best case: The diminutive former Washington Husky gives the Bulls a legitimate backcourt scoring threat off the bench, and is actually rewarded with a few starts. Yes, his 2011-12 numbers are more a product of the Golden State Warriors’ high-paced offensive scheme, but his 12-13 numbers aren’t far off. Besides putting up solid numbers, he becomes the heart and soul of the Bulls, supplanting Noah in that role.
Worst case: Robinson draws the ire of Thibs for his on-court displays of emotion and lack of attention to detail on the offensive end. He has his moments that make the crowd go nuts, but more that make the crowd groan. Nate means well, but for a team and fanbase used to winning over the last few seasons, it isn’t enough.
SG Marco Belinelli: 66 G/55 S, 11.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1 TOPG, 29.8 MPG, 42 FG%, 38 3P%, 78 FT%
Best case: Belinelli, a New Orleans Hornet in 2011-12, rebounds from a poor preseason to have a good 12-13. A career 39% shooter from 3-point distance, he betters that mark and provides something Kyle Korver never did: A semblance of offensive creativity. Belinelli, along with Hinrich and Robinson, do their part to make the backcourt at least an above-average one until Rose’s return.
Worst case: Poor preseason play carries over into the regular season, especially on the offensive end. Having never played for a coach who emphasized defense in the way Thibs does, Belinelli struggles with that area of his game even more. And, anyone who remotely knows Thibs’ style knows that if you don’t play defense, you simply don’t play. At the very least, Boozer can attest to that, firsthand.
C Nazr Mohammed: 63 G/1 S, 2.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.6 BPG, 11 MPG, 47 FG%, 57 FT%
Best case: Mohammed, a Chicago native (and fellow Kenwood Academy grad), prospers in his return to the Windy City as a member of the Bulls. Fans don’t expect 20/10, but he does surprise them by being a better defender than previously thought and slightly more of an offensive threat than the departed Omer Asik, which. come to think of it, isn’t saying much. Mohammed is also able to stand upright for all 82 games and provides a breather here and there for both Booz and Noah.
Worst case: Mohammed gives the Bulls absolutely zilch and is virtually a waste of space.
PF Vladimir Radmanovic: 49 G/3 S, 4.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 15.4 MPG, 38 FG%, 37 3P%, 76 FT%
Best case: The “big man” who was once the 12th overall pick of the Seattle Supersonics causes matchup problems for opponents, despite fairly limited playing time. He is not the defender that Thibs wants, but his career 38% mark from 3 allows the Bulls to stretch the floor, giving Bulls’ ballhandlers more opportunities to drive the lane and take high percentage shots, or find open shooters on the wings.
Worst case: Radmanovic turns 32 in November, but you’d swear that he’s approaching 42. Not completely sure of his role on the team, he stumbles and fumbles his way to an incredibly disappointing season with the Bulls.
PG Marquis Teague: 40 G/40 S, 10 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 4.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, 2.7 TOPG, 41 FG%, 33 3P%, 71 FT%
Best case: Teague, the 2012 first-round selection of the Bulls, gives fans reasons to be optimistic not only about his future, but that of the Bulls as well. While still raw, the former University of Kentucky point guard occasionally shows flashes of play that led many NBA pundits to predict that he would be drafted in the middle of the first round instead of towards the very end. Obviously, Teague has much more upside than Hinrich and Robinson combined, but his unexpected success is a welcome sight. Despite some criticism that he’ll fall out of favor with Thibs because of defensive deficiencies, he shows up on that end, too.
Worst case: Everything that could go wrong for the 19 year-old point guard does. He doesn’t make shots. He commits too many turnovers. Accustomed to relying on his speed and athleticism to defend, he gets destroyed by opposing point guards far too often and finds himself in foul trouble like you wouldn’t believe. To cap it off, he presses, knowing that even without Rose available to play, he is still the 3rd-string PG. Big Blue Nation weeps as Teague has a downright awful rookie campaign.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau: 50-16 in regular season, 2-4 in playoffs, eliminated in first round by 8th-seed Philadelphia
Best case: Yes, I know that there is a good chance that Derrick Rose might not play one second for the Bulls this season, regular season and playoffs. Still, madman Thibodeau holds the rest of his players accountable, and that goes double for when they’re playing defense. Knowing that he doesn’t have a floor general who can score almost at will, he preaches stout defending more than ever, and his players’ commitment to his strategy results with them finishing the regular season as a top-3 team in the East.
Worst case: Deng’s wrist continues to nag him. Booz, an iron man in 2011-12, is also felled by injury, and the same goes for Noah. The reserves play fairly well, but cohesiveness is missing, as there is more individual than team play from the second unit. Pundits and media types immediately question whether Thibs was deserving of the 4-year contract extension he received, and he even butts heads with a few players, which is exacerbated by attention-hungry Chicago sports columnists. Suddenly, Bulls fans find Thibs’ ways to be archaic and look at other, more offensive-minded and player-friendly head coaches who they feel would be better suited to lead the Bulls to a title.
GM Gar Forman
Best case: This could go one of two ways. 1) The Bulls, as currently constructed, have a great 12-13 regular season and Forman is praised as putting together an elite team that is sans DRose. 2) The Bulls, as currently constructed, revert to being a scrappy, but barely average team, and Forman jettisons albatross contracts, starting with Boozer’s. Bulls fans rejoice…and then news breaks that Deng is dealt, too. The sentimentalists cry foul, but the objective fans thank Forman for realizing that while the title window has closed, he is taking steps to ensure that another opens soon.
Worst case: Either Hinrich or Robinson absolutely stink it up. Some fans call Forman out for not demanding that Deng not play in the Summer Olympics with a torn ligament in his left wrist. This happens because of Deng’s early-season struggles which put the Bulls in a hole that they cannot dig themselves out of, regardless of their defensive prowess. Boozer’s production drops for the third season in a row, and fans have had it. Either Boozer goes, or Forman does. OUCH.
2012-13 Chicago Bulls
Best case: The Bulls play spirited, team basketball and don’t focus on the return of DRose. Their effort and place among the top of the conference standings makes it easier for both the Bulls and Rose to delay his return until he is fully healthy. Rose returns with two weeks left in the regular season, enough time for him to properly acclimate himself to his new surroundings. “The Return” comes full-circle and rejuvenates the Bulls, and they grind their way through the postseason to an NBA title.
Worst case: No amount of great defense can make up for the loss of one of the league’s best players, the Bulls learn. Deng, Boozer and Noah don’t carry the weight they should, putting more of an onus on the reserves…who fail. The Bull scuffle into the playoffs as a 7 seed, and Bulls brass announces that Rose won’t make his return until the 13-14 season. This is a team too proud to tank, and as a result, they end up with a mid-first round pick, further frustrating Bulls fans who would rather see the team fully rebuild than play their asses off to end up with mediocre results. Rose is the only Bull penciled in as a 13-14 starter.