Bulls fans around the world are expecting a title run after watching Derrick Rose in the preseason. The 25-year-old superstar, 18 months since last playing in a professional regular-season game, will have ridiculously high expectations from a fanbase that has witnessed the best of the former MVP and Rookie of the Year.
If you thought the pressure on Rose was high when he was on the bench, imagine how heavy the weight of the team feels now.
The Bulls had a quiet offseason and focused on rehabilitating all those injuries that devastated their playoff run in 2012-13. After eating another luxury tax hit, the Bulls were limited in their free-agent acquisitions. The lone veteran addition of Mike Dunleavy was little compared to the overhauls made in previous years.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau believes his team is good enough to make a run if injuries don’t become a critical factor again. His usual defensive mindset will keep the Bulls in the top 10 in all defensive categories and help them remain at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The offense, like it did years ago, will focus around Rose’s ability to drive and collapse defenses. Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler should see their 3-point-shooting numbers increase if they can maintain any kind of consistency throughout the season.
Carlos Boozer’s quietly impressive offensive numbers last year are certain to go down following Rose’s return. The ambidextrous scorer will have fewer chances to capitalize on his one-on-one matchups against the finesse defenders he destroyed last year. If he can rebound well and provide a steady flow of points on second-chance opportunities, Boozer could quietly become a catalyst of an offense that will likely be pulling the trigger on outside shots more often.
I expect Luol Deng to give a high-five to Taj Gibson to check out and sit on the bench many times this year. The All-Star forward led the NBA in minutes per game the last two seasons and the wear and tear may be catching up to him. The team won’t need to rely on his offense now and will allow him to focus on defense with Joakim Noah to create the most difficult layup opportunities any team will see.
Rebounding will be key for the Bulls as they progress into the Rose Era again. Noah averaged 11.1 rebounds per game in 2012 while Boozer averaged 9.8. Second-chance opportunities will be a big factor if shooters like Dunleavy or Tony Snell see significant time on the court.
Unless injuries cripple the Bulls again, there’s no reason the team will regress with Rose returning to draw attention from opposing defenses. If the Thibodeau-coached defense is anything like it has been since the former Celtics coach arrived, they are in a good position to give the Heat and Pacers a run in the East.
@JudgeLucas prediction: 58-24