The Chicago Bulls started the lockout-shortened season slow, barely beating the shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers and losing to Golden State. However, Derrick Rose led his team back into Los Angeles last night and carved up the Clippers to give his team a 3-1 start to the season.
From all over the sports universe, pundits and fans alike have proclaimed this year's Bulls team as the group that's ready to take down the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. With the Miami Heat starting the season 4-0 and seeing an emergence in their first-round pick, Norris Cole, against the Boston Celtics (where he scored 14 points in the fourth quarter), the Bulls still have work to do to truly challenge Miami for a berth in the NBA Finals.
But that's a long way away from now. The Bulls will get their chance to play Miami later in the regular season this year, yet they did sweep the Heat last year and that didn't translate to success against them in the playoffs. The Bulls No. 1 goal this regular season is to get the No. 1 seed over the Heat because, to beat Miami, they are going to need home-court advantage.
It has been an up and down start to the season for the Bulls so far this year, though. After watching all four of their opening games, here are five observations I have of this exciting Bulls team.
A lot of Bulls fans would tell you that Luol Deng should have made the All-Star team last year. While I may not have been one of them, I certainly think Deng was deserving last year for the contributions he made to the Bulls on defense and as a third scoring option. (It's debatable whether Boozer or Deng was the second scoring option last year. In my opinion, Rose was the first scoring option and everyone else just pitched in the best they could. No one was second, third or fourth, but Deng played like a third option last year if you placed him on a different team.)
When you look at what Deng has done to start this season, it would be a crime for Deng not to be in the All-Star game.
Deng has really developed into a strong player. When I looked at Deng years back, I really didn't feel like he brought much to the table. And trust me, I'm not the only Bulls fan that thought that. Deng may not have been bad on defense, but it certainly wasn't a part of his game where you would acclaim him for. Also, on offense Deng would score double digits in the first quarter and then disappear. Literally.
I could not count the times where Deng would score 13 points in the first quarter only to finish the game with 13 points. Maybe 15 points on a good night.
That's all changed, though.
Deng has transformed into one of the better defenders in the league and has also really worked on his offensive arsenal.
Before, Deng had basically one offensive move, besides from the occasional drive to the basket where he would miss open layups. Deng would get the ball and just stand there. He would fake once, twice, three times and then shoot. In the first quarter those shots would all go in, but he missed all of those shots in the next two quarters before he just stopped attacking in the fourth quarter. The crazy thing was, once Deng started doing the pump fake routine, he always shot the ball. You would think, to sell the pump fakes, he wouldn't do the exact same thing every time he did a pump fake (which is going on to shoot the ball).
This year, I don't think I've seen Deng do his patented pump fake routine. No, this season Deng has quietly taken the opportunities given to him to consistently hit his jump shot, make highlight reel drives to the basket and pass the ball to the next man open.
And gone are the days where Deng would do his best LeBron James impersonation and disappear in the fourth quarter. This season Deng has been at his best in the fourth quarter. You've heard and seen it a million times, but Deng was the best player on the court in the fourth quarter of the Bulls' win against the Lakers. Luol hit all of his key free throws to get the Bulls back in the game, he stole a pass from Kobe Bryant to set up Derrick Rose with for the game-winning shot and he blocked Bryant's final shot that could have won the game for L.A.
Luol Deng has truly become the Bulls best player behind Derrick Rose. If nothing else, I think Deng should get more involved in the offense. Don't take away Rose's shots, but he could definitely take away Noah's shots and Taj Gibson's shots. Deng has the talent and game this year to score 22 points a game if he was given all the lee-way he wanted to create for himself. Only reason I say this is because with the minutes he plays, he could definitely take more shots. I'm tired of seeing the worst jump shooter of all time, Taj Gibson, ruin opportunities for the Bulls whenever he pulls up to shoot. (OK, maybe a little exaggerated.)
The Bulls lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals last season in five games. This was even with the Bulls blowing the Heat out of the United Center in the first game of that series.
Many people slated the reason for the Bulls downfall to no one in the backcourt to complement MVP Derrick Rose. The Bulls starting shooting guard last year was Keith Bogans, and while he wasn't terrible by any stretch, he didn't cut it in the starting lineup.
So, of course, the Bulls front office addressed the position in this past offseason when it signed Rip Hamilton, fresh of his buyout from the Detroit Pistons. Hamilton supposedly was what the Bulls lacked last season, a shooting guard who could shoot and guard.
While Hamilton has played well to start the season (besides from his horrific three-point shooting, which we'll get to later), there's another shooting guard on this Bulls roster that may have been the answer all along.
Brewer was already a phenomenal defender last year, for that is the primary reason he was brought to Chicago. But to start the year, Brewer has been the hottest jump shooter on the Bulls. Brewer is shooting 65 percent from the floor and 100 percent from behind the three-point line. Yes, 100 percent.
Brewer has clearly worked on his shot in the offseason, because he is shooting with absolutely no hesitation and sinking most of his shots. To be honest, I did not see this coming at all. I love Brewer for his defense, but whenever he pulls up for a jumper I yell at my TV. I can't help but wonder what the hell Brewer is thinking because he really isn't a jump shooter. Especially when he takes threes, I mean, doesn't he know he is a career 21 percent three-point shooter?
But he continues to make his shots. And don't get me wrong, I'm not completely sold on Brewer's new found stroke just yet. It's not even Brewer's fault actually.
It's Taj Gibson. Gibson started last season on fire with his jump shot. He was quoted two offseasons ago to have worked on his jump shot and that he will work on a three-point shot (similar to Derrick Rose's career path), and he really did deliver to start last season. He shot 65 percent from the floor for the majority of the beginning of last year, and Bulls fans everywhere were screaming sixth man of the year (even though he was actually starting during this stretch since Boozer was injured).
Once Gibson went to the bench, though, his shot started to decline until he looked like Dwight Howard when he would shoot. And he still does. His jump shot is awful.
He clearly can't shoot and last year he just went through a hot stretch where everything went in for him. My opinion is that Gibson worked hard on his shot and once he had that stretch he simply stopped working on it because he thought he was done. That's why he hasn't developed a three-point shot because he hasn't even finished developing his regular jump shot.
However, I digress. Taj Gibson just shows us that Ronnie Brewer needs to show us more before we proclaim that he is now a reliable jump shooter. Brewer should get more playing time until his jump shot returns to normal, if it does that at all.
Rip Hamilton needs more time in more ways than one. First, he needs more minutes on the court with this Bulls team to fully feel comfortable in the offense, and I am very confident that won't take very long. Second, he needs to be given more time before fans and experts make opinions on his move to the Bulls.
You might be confused by that statement because I am about to be giving my opinions on Hamilton's performance over the Bulls first four games. All I mean by saying fans need more time is that Hamilton is neither a bust nor a fantastic pickup just yet. He needs to consistently play well or play poorly for at least 15 more games before any proclamation can be rightfully made on him.
However, I will give some of my observations on his early performances so far this season.
First, Hamilton started a bit slowly to start the season, and that was to be expected. But that really only lasted two games, which surprised me. Hamilton, in the past two games, has been more implemented in this Bulls offense than I could have ever imagined this early in the season.
In yesterday's game against the Clippers, Hamilton took 18 shots. He was given the ball early and often and he was money from 10-18 feet away from the basket. I don't even think he hit the rim on those jump shots, they were all nothing but net. He also looked good on defense.
That was just one game, though, and it was against the Clippers. And he may have just taken six three-point shots this year, but he better pick up his game from behind the arc. I honestly think Carlos Boozer could have been closer to making a three-pointer than Hamilton last night. Obviously Rip is a good shooter and was probably just a little cold from distance last night, but his shots weren't even close. When he has time, he needs to take it because he rushed all his three-pointers last night and it showed when they bounced off the front of the rim.
Hamilton should be a good player for the Bulls this season, and let's hope he finds his three-point stroke because then he will flat out dangerous with Rose as his backcourt mate.
Derrick Rose covered up his puzzling game against the Lakers with the game-winning shot with about four seconds left. But he was found out the next night when he only scored 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting in a loss to Golden State. Rose was not playing aggressive at all and was trying to be a facilitator. It is not a bad thing to be a facilitator by any stretch, especially when he has Hamilton, Deng and Boozer to give the ball to. But Rose didn't realize passing the ball at the top of the key and not getting the ball back was not facilitating at all. That's just taking yourself out of the game and letting the Bulls play 4-on-5.
Thankfully, after the loss to Golden State, Rose realized he could still be a facilitator and be aggressive at the same time. In fact, to be the best facilitator you have to be aggressive. Attacking the basket and taking shots when you're open will create the double-teams and help defense that will allow the opportunities to pass the ball to the open Bull. This was proven last night when Rose attacked the basket and took four three-point shots and still dished out 16 assists.
It's this kind of play that will get Rose to where he wants to be, which is playing on a championship caliber team averaging 22-plus points per game and 10 assists.
Attacking the rim doesn't necessarily mean driving for a layup. It could just be trying to draw attention to himself so he can pass the ball back out for an open three-point shot, a foul on himself for an easy two at the free-throw line or passing to a teammate in the paint for a dunk. Rose did that last night against the Clippers, and if it weren't for a couple cold-blooded threes, Rose would have had 23 points last night. Rose could easily average 23 and 10 this year and have it be considered a better year than his MVP year last season.
If Rose continues to give his teammates open looks by being aggressive, then he will no doubt find enough opportunities to score and dish out assists to satisfy his, and our, desires.
Next game for the Bulls is their home opener against Memphis. We all know Derrick Rose went to Memphis and the last time he traveled to Memphis with the Bulls he recorded his first triple-double. While this game will be in Chicago and the Grizzlies are a very good team this year, you've got to think Rose will be just as motivated to perform well. Memphis could definitely beat the Bulls tomorrow, but they better double-team Derrick Rose all day or it could get ugly.