A strange season for the Chicago Bulls, who begin this season not knowing exactly where to aim and how far. Without Derrick Rose and the knowledge of when he’ll return, predictions and speculations don’t mean much. All that’s left is for those who remain – Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton to continue to play the kind of basketball that has made this team so successful over the last couple of season, with Rose and without him.

Kirk Hinrich got the start at point guard, but his shooting looked terrible. Hinrich was always a streak jump shooter, and night like these were always part of his repertoire, back during his first tenure in Chicago and later, after he was reluctantly traded. But he does add a pass first mentality to the position, which makes it a bit more comfortable for certain players stand out.

For example, Joakim Noah, who usually gets a lot of credit for his hustle, defense and rebounding. But he’s also a very good passer and simply a very smart player, who doesn’t try to do things he can’t. He finished with a very impressive stat line of 23 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals and 3 blocks, playing more aggressively on offense and getting a lot more touches on the ball to show what he’s worked on all summer. He went to the line 12 times, making 11 shots, but also made life very difficult for DeMarcus Cousins, limiting him to 14 points and a terrible 7 turnovers.

Coach Tom Thibodeau: We’re not going to change our style of play. That has to be consistent. It has to start with our defense and rebounding, taking care of the ball, playing inside-out and sharing the ball.

Rose might have been the superstar on this team for the last few years, but the Bulls are first and foremost a team that thrives on its defense before anything else. They forced the Sacramento Kings to 19 turnovers, although they were very sloppy themselves, finishing with 18. Their shooting percentage was just a bit higher than the awful 40.5% the Kings had. It wasn’t pretty watching at times, but it’s not that different from last season. The Bulls get their due from defense, enabling to create points through transition.

For example, Luol Deng, who had an awful shooting night of 3-13. Arguably the most talented offensive player while Rose is out, Deng tried to do a bit too much on offense. But he had a very good night on defense, having to guard and front bigger players than him most of the night. There was enough firepower offensively through Noah, Boozer (18 points) and Rip Hamliton, looking a lot more confident than he did last season, with 19 points.

It’s going to be a rough season for the Bulls, even when Rose comes back. The key will be trying to be more than just a scrappy team, that hustles its way each night to victory. That leaves too little for margin of error, like it was for them in the postseason against the Philadelphia 76ers. Defense comes first, but getting better, more fluid and comfortable on offense is a must if they continue to perceive themselves as a legitimate contender for the Eastern crown. Kirk Hinrich might be the point guard, but the Bulls will need the ball to go much more through Deng and Noah if they’re to be a bit more successful on offense.

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