This Chicago Bulls team was build to contend for titles with two important fundamentals at the basis of that ambition: Derrick Rose turning into a superstar of the highest level, and the defense of Tom Thibdodeau doing the rest.
Rose has become that superstar, but his reign at the top didn’t last very long. One excellent 2010-2011 season that ended with an MVP award, and then an injury riddled season in 2011-2012, before the injury that cost him the entire 2012-2013 season.
The Bulls did what was expected of them last season, more or less. Finishing fifth in the East and beating the Brooklyn Nets in a brutal series, making it to the conference semifinals, and losing in five games to the Miami Heat.
Rose entering next season fully healthy makes them unpredictable. It makes the expectation bar go high up once again, to a place where Bulls fans can dream of knocking the Heat off their perch and make the NBA finals for the first time since the Michael Jordan era. And while it’s not too difficult to project what most of the moving parts in the machine will be doing next season, Rose is one huge question mark.
Is he going to be the best point guard in the NBA? We’ll be patient and give him some time. But how productive will he be? Like in his rookie season, with 16 points and 6 assists a night? That’s good, but not much of an exception in the league’s point guard scenario of the last few years. Rose of later on? More than 20 points a night, with a much improved outside shot but without forgetting about his teammates?
It’s not all up to Rose, of course. Joakim Noah might enjoy having less pivot touches on the ball and getting a bit less attention from defenses, freeing him up to continue and crash the boards with an even higher efficiency than before, averaging almost four offensive rebounds per game last season. This also means Carlos Boozer gets a more efficient and scary pick & roll partner, and maybe finding it easier to put on big numbers like everyone wants to see from him. His 16.2 points per game from last season aren’t that bad considering the Bulls played without a point guard for so many games, but when you look at his salary, it’s simply not enough.
The Bulls have a shot at having one hell of a small forward lineup, although Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell will get minutes at shooting guard as well. Luol Deng shouldn’t be counted out; he led the Bulls in scoring last season, and like everyone else, will enjoy not having to try and create points for himself, which is something only Rose can do consistently on this Bulls roster.
So everything keeps coming back to Rose. The defense will be one of the best, probably top 3 along with the Pacers and Grizzlies once again. The rest of the high hopes have to do with how confident Rose will be right off the bat. If he’s as good as he thinks he is (the best?), that best case scenario might not seem so far fetched.