The team most synonymous with injuries in the NBA over the last few seasons are the Chicago Bulls. However, when their regular lineup of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah is healthy and playing, they just might be the best team in the league.
The Bulls are 5-0 this season when their entire lineup is healthy. Overall they are 11-6, leading the Central Division and good enough for third in the East. They are also 9-3 on the road, playing away from home more than anyone else in the league so far. Looking back at what was wrong with the Bulls in previous seasons, they seem to have addressed everything, although that notion continues to hinge on one name.
Derrick Rose has played in nine of the 17 games, and left a couple of them early with a worry of injury. It seems that every few days there’s a new ankle pain or hamstring pull that’s holding him back. Rose isn’t playing like the guy who struggled with his short comeback in 2013. He’s averaging 16.1 points per game while shooting 44.1% from the field and 31.1% from beyond the arc. Those aren’t his numbers from 2010-to-2012, but they don’t need him to be a superstar.
Why not? While Rose is the point guard, the Bulls might have three players who are better passers: Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Mike Dunleavy. He no longer has to be the only one posing a threat from the outside going in. Jimmy Butler is leading the team in scoring with 21.9 points per game, but is more importantly fourth in the NBA behind only Dwight Howard, James Harden and Kobe Bryant in free throw attempts per game, going to the line 8.8 points a night.
The outside shooting is doing better, or at least it should be. Rose and Butler aren’t exactly sharpshooters, but theyr’e making over 30% of their shots from beyond the arc and not overdoing it. Aaron Brooks, Tony Snell, Kirk Hinric, Mike Dunleavy and Nikola Mirotic are all making over 35% of their 3-point attempts. Doug McDermott, another rookie, is the only one disappointing in that aspect. Offensively, the Bulls suddenly look like one of the more versatile teams in the league, even though Tom Thibodeau has always been a defense first, second and third kind of coach.
The Bulls are still good on defense, ranked ninth in the NBA in defensive efficiency, although when Rose is playing they are by far the best in that category as well. Offensively, the Bulls are leaning a bit more towards the middle of the pack (12th in the league) but once again – when Rose is on the floor, they’re more than just a bit better. They’re almost like a different team when they know he’s playing and in it for the entire ride. It’s also easy to forget that Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah have been missing quite a few games, each crucial in a different way. Taj Gibson has missed the last four games.
The NBA playoffs are more than four months away. The NBA Finals are almost six. A lot of things can happen between now and then. The Bulls have seen seasons go down in flames because of injuries. If they keep building and growing as a team while having the luck and fortune to stay healthy as this season develops, there’s no reason that when the playoffs begin, we’ll look at them and see the best team in the league.