Recently, Bulls general manager Gar Forman threw out a stat that I was completely unaware of. While I wasn’t foreign to the fact that a healthy foursome of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer gave the Bulls its best chance of winning ballgames, I had no clue that the team wins almost 9 out of every 10 games when those four are on the floor and healthy. Unfortunately, since the beginning of the 2010-11 NBA season, that hasn’t always been the case. All four players have missed a substantial amount of time due to injuries, and 2012-13 was no different. Obviously, there was Rose’s mangled ACL, but both Deng and Noah dealt with various injuries this past season as well. Only Booz went through the regular and postseason relatively unscathed.
Derrick Rose is by far the best offensive threat on the team, and if it weren’t for Joakim Noah, he’d be the best all-around Bull, too. However, I was skeptical of his health before the end of Game 1 in last year’s playoffs. He missed 27 of the team’s 66 games in the lockout-shortened ’11-’12 season because of injury. His shooting proficiency dropped (he wasn’t exactly Stephen Curry before, mind you) and he wasn’t the same attacker that he was in his MVP year. Rose was a better distributor, but 8 assists per game over 66 games would have helped more than 8 per over 39. Still, the Bulls finished ’11-’12 with the best regular-season record and had a very good ’12-’13, considering Rose missing every second of it. One would assume that Rose has used this time on the sidelines to improve his game, most notably from the perimeter and on defense. And please, for the love of my sanity, I am very hopeful that Rose’s decision-making has improved greatly. He isn’t guilty of many of the unforced turnovers that OKC’s Russell Westbrook commits, but sometimes his shot selection is Jamal Crawford-bad. I think it is safe to say that Rose will get over this large rash of injuries in ’13-’14 and be the dominant player that he was. If he doesn’t approach where he was before being felled by a torn ACL, though, the Bulls are up the creek without even a semblance of a paddle.
Center Joakim Noah is the heart and soul of the Bulls, but he’s also a damn good basketball player, too. No other Bull contributes as much as he does on both ends of the floor, and he is a joy to watch as well. Unfortunately, like Rose, “Jo” is prone to catch the injury bug and has missed 70 regular-season games since the start of 2009-10. He was also slowed in this year’s playoffs by plantar fascitis, which slowed him a bit. The eclectic big man is what he is and his ’12-’13 line of 14 pts/11 reb/4 ast/2 Blk per game while playing all but a quarter of them is fine with me. On a defense-first team, he is the perfect player. With 3 years and a little over 36 million left on his contract, he has a very team-friendly deal, too, when you take into account his overall production. He’s not a great jump shooter and doesn’t operate from the low block as well as I’d like, but his offensive rebounding and passing more than make up for it. But, because I am a realist: Is that effing plantar fascitis ever going to go away?
Luol Deng aka “the glue guy,” is the most overrated of the bunch, to no fault of his own. The small forward just goes about his business, whether going for 25 points and 10 rebounds in a win or 10 and 5 in a loss. I believe that fellow wingman Jimmy Butler has shown enough to be a viable replacement for Deng, regardless of popular opinion, whatever it may be. Deng has shown a knack for disappearing in key games, especially in the playoffs. I completely disregard this year’s playoffs, because he was unable to play in over half of it due to complications from a spinal tap procedure. If you watched him before this postseason, though, you may wonder how anyone would think he’s among the elite at even his position. Please, don’t think I am a “hater” of Deng or worse. I just feel he’s a good player in a system that doesn’t heap a ton of responsibility on him, on either end of the floor. Head coach Tom Thibodeau loves the hell out of Deng, which is why he’s on the floor more than any other Bull. Has the added playing time since Thibodeau’s hiring in the summer of 2010 contributed to occasional injuries? Probably. Probably not. Deng’s contract expires after ’13-’14, and it will be interesting to see happens with the two-time All Star in the near future.
Carlos Boozer is the Bulls fanbase’s whipping boy. He was essentially a consolation prize in some eyes in the summer of 2010, and that was before he broke his hand and missed time at the beginning of 2010-11, not after. Defensively, Boozer is downright bad. I credit him for constantly communicating with his teammates, but there have been dozens of times in which he has simply looked lost or somewhat apathetic on that end. Yes, the Bulls are a great defensive team, but how often have you seen an opposing player make an easy layup or dunk because Boozer was late giving help defense? Offensively, Booz is the best and most consistent option the Bulls currently have. One issue I have with the Bulls bland offense (I’m sick of watching that crap, Thibs) is that Booz doesn’t get enough touches, especially early in the game. I’ve realized that Boozer is like a power running back. You can count on him to give you 100 yards on 25 carries, which is nothing really flashy. In all of my years watching football, however, it seems to help those kinds of backs more when their team looks to establish the run early. Booz no longer plays for Jerry Sloan and his flex offense in Utah, and no longer plays alongside a point guard, Deron Williams, who runs the pick-and-roll as well as any point man since John Stockton. Boozer’s number of possessions with the Bulls have also taken a hit because of Rose’s astronomical–for a point guard–USG% numbers. Despite the fact that I have defended Boozer more than most, I wouldn’t mind the Bulls amnestying him, just to free up cap space. No other team wants a soon-to-be 32 year-old, undersized defensive liability who has barely average athleticism, so the amnesty option is probably the best route for the Bulls to take if they want to be rid of Boozer. Of course, I’m writing about the Bulls, so that means in the spring of 2015 I’ll be screaming at Boozer from my living room to rotate on defense properly and go to the rim like a man who is 6’9″, 260, and not 5’9″, 160.
With the exception of Rose, everyone on the Bulls roster should be available to acquire via trade. Since no one in their right mind would give up anything of significant value for Booz, the best remaining assets are Noah and Deng. Losing Noah would cripple an already thin frontcourt, and again, he has a somewhat extensive injury history. So, if the Bulls want to make a splash in the trade market, Deng will be the one to go. In my opinion, he has peaked in terms of ability, and I worry that he won’t take the pay cut that I hope the Bulls ask him to after next season. He’s still technically in his physical prime and was an All-Star last season. I’m sure at least 3/4 of the teams in the league would love to have him. I wouldn’t advocate essentially giving up on a good 28 year-old wing, but the Bulls are in a bit of a precarious situation heading into the 2013-14 regular season. As presently constructed, the Bulls aren’t as safe a bet to win a title as the Heat or Thunder. Part of this is due to the Bulls’ inability to maintain a certain level of health, especially as it pertains to their top four players. The Bulls are in a better position than most other teams, but this offseason, we could see a shakeup to the team’s core, and they would probably be better off in the long run for it.