Before the 2012-13 NBA season started, I wrote a best/worst case scenario post about the Chicago Bulls. A healthy dose of cautious optimism kept me from believing that the Bulls would be terrible, even without point guard Derrick Rose. Sensibility also didn’t really allow me to think that the Bulls would remain one of the league’s elite without him. Despite what the diminutive Jeff Van Gundy said, I didn’t view a 50-win season for the 2012-13 Bulls as far-fetched. So long as another key contributor didn’t miss substantial time due to injury, I felt that head coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive scheme alone would enable the Bulls to easily win more games than lose. This Bulls roster has been mostly healthy, and the team hits the halfway mark with an overall record of 25-16. They are a woeful 13-11 at home, but 12-5 on the road. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder have a better in-conference record than the Bulls’ 20-6, and the Bulls are 7-3 in their last 10 ballgames. Surprisingly, the Bulls are in first place in the NBA’s Central Division, even if only by a matter of win percentage points.
Statistically, this Bulls squad mirrors the first two teams of Thibs’ tenure: Just good enough on offense and elite on defense. In the entire NBA, the Bulls rank 22nd in field goal percentage, 13th in 3-point percentage, 7th in free throw percentage and 12th in offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers committed per game. Averaging 93.6 points per game, the Bulls rank 25th in the NBA in that category. Defensively, this team has been ridiculous. They rank 4th in the league in defensive rating, 3rd in points allowed per game, 2nd and 5th in opponents’ field goal and 3-point percentage, respectively and 7th in rebounds allowed per game.
Small forward Luol Deng and center Joakim Noah were named All-Stars yesterday, and one could make the argument that power forward Carlos Boozer was worthy of more All-Star recognition than he has received. Point guard Kirk Hinrich has shot the ball terribly, but has done a great job of distributing the ball and not turning it over very often. Shooting guard Richard Hamilton has been solid as well. Bulls fans are still getting used to seeing a new “Bench Mob,” but the new reserves have not entirely disappointed this season. Sure, backup point guard Nate Robinson frustrates, but he also excites. It’s hard to watch two guard Marco Belinelli at times, but I still believe he is a better option than the departed Kyle Korver, who is now an Atlanta Hawk. No, second-year small forward Jimmy Butler is not a “Kobe stopper,” but it’s pretty difficult to watch the former Marquette University standout play and not become excited at his potential. Power forward Taj Gibson has rebounded from a bit of a slow start after receiving a contract extension before the season, and is currently enjoying his best month of the 2012-13 campaign.
Recently, we learned that DRose is being made available for more contact during practice, another positive step towards his full recovery from that gruesome ACL tear he suffered in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. Folks are already throwing out guesses about when he could possibly make his return to the lineup, and seeing DRose on the floor some time after the All-Star break is definitely plausible.
The 2012-13 Bulls have been a weird team to watch at certain points this season. There was the early home loss to the New Orleans Hornets, and New Year’s Eve home loss to the Charlotte Bobcats which ended the Bobcats’ 18-game losing streak. Following a home loss to the dysfunctional Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls beat the Knicks for the third consecutive time, on the road…only to lose their next game, a home tilt against the awful Phoenix Suns. Of course, two days later, the Bulls obliterated the Hawks at home, 97-58.
I think it’s safe to say that with the Bulls comfortably in the playoff race, fans have started to turn their attention to the inevitable return of Derrick Rose. Winners of 9 of their last 12, this team is one that would be strongly aided by Rose’s mere suiting up to play. From what I’ve heard and read, the Bulls brass is in no rush to bring Rose back, which is just fine with me. On pace for a 50-32 record, maybe the Bulls could do without Rose for a little longer than originally thought.
Tonight, the Bulls play the surprising Golden State Warriors (25-16) at home. Warriors power forward David Lee was also named an All-Star yesterday, and point guard Stephen Curry could have easily made the squad as well. The Warriors have beaten the LA Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder in their last two games, and second-year head coach Mark Jackson seems to have his team (18-23 at the halfway point in 2011-12) in position to make some noise not only this season, but for seasons to come.