Chicago Bulls fans have been longing for a championship-caliber team ever since Michael Jordan retired after winning his sixth NBA championship in the 1998 season. Jordan somewhat spoiled Bulls fans throughout the 90s with his overall dominance of the game, and ever since, Bulls fans have held high expectations for every team that has followed. However, after an extremely successful 2011 campaign, never have expectations been as high as they are now.
Last season, the Bulls posted an impressive 62-20 record, a 21-game improvement from the previous season. Their record was also good enough for the best record in the entire league and earned them the overall No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
The Bulls were able to cruise through the first two rounds of the playoffs behind Derrick Rose’s strong play, but the team hit a speed bump when they finally faced off against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Rose looked lost throughout, as he was shut down by LeBron James, and the rest of the Bulls roster failed to make many significant contributions.
After an embarrassing collapse in Game 5, a game the Bulls should have easily won, the Bulls went home empty handed and their fans went home disappointed.
This year, the Bulls team is set on one goal and one goal only: bringing a NBA championship back to the city of Chicago. Nothing else will suffice. Led by last season’s MVP, the Bulls roster looks poised to make another deep run in to the playoffs and take the next step by making and winning the NBA Finals.
Through 11 games, the Bulls have recorded a 9-2 record and seem to be stronger than ever. Here is a look at 20 takeaways from the start of the Chicago Bulls' 2012 season. Hope you enjoy!
Although Rose made the game-winning shot versus the Lakers on Christmas Day, there is no question that the reigning MVP has had a slow start to the 2012 campaign. After a loss to Golden State, a game where Rose shot 4-of-17 from the field, he vowed to play more aggressively.
Two games later, Rose fulfilled that promise in a battle with the Clippers newly-acquired point guard, Chris Paul. Rose recorded 29 points, eight rebounds and 16 assists, a stat line that proves Rose is still playing at a MVP level.
Last season, the Bulls had the No. 1-ranked defense in the league thanks to Tom Thibodeau’s strong commitment on the defensive end of the ball. Thibodeau was the defensive mastermind for Boston’s 2008 championship team and has carried over his “defense first” philosophy to a young and committed Bulls team.
So far this season, the Bulls are holding their opponents to just under 90 points per game, good enough for second in the league. The strong start on defense goes to show that the Bulls defense is strong, if not stronger, than it was last year. With Joakim Noah anchoring the defense, there is no doubt that the Bulls will be one of the top defensive teams this season.
The chemistry that the Bulls bench established last season helped label the second unit as the, “Bench Mob,” a nickname that is now well known around the league. While C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver provide much-needed instant offense, the defensive combination of Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik makes the Bulls bench the strongest in the NBA.
With a full year of playing together under their belt, the Bench Mob is more experienced and ready to have a bigger impact on the 2012 season.
Chicago fans have been waiting for a long time for Luol Deng to have a breakout year. After the 2007 season, when Deng was getting All-Star team considerations and on the verge of stardom, Deng has suffered from injuries that have clearly hampered his career thus far.
Last season, Deng played all 82 games for the first time since the 2007 season and looked to be healthier than ever. That being said, Deng has started off the 2012 season just as strong. Through the first six games, Deng is averaging career highs in rebounds (7.6), blocks (one) and is second in the league in minutes played, trailing only Golden States guard Monta Ellis.
It is safe to say after Deng’s strong start, he could potentially be an All-Star reserve come February.
Sixty-six games in 124 days is going to be rough on everyone. Although the Bulls are younger than most teams, it’s difficult for any team to win their second game in a back to back.
The Bulls' first opportunity came just the second day of the season against the Golden State Warriors, a team that has been known to push the tempo. From the start, the Bulls entire team looked exhausted as they watched the Warriors run all over them in a 99-91 loss.
Even though a shortened season favors a team like the Bulls, it is obvious that the compact schedule is going to be difficult to weather.
Two years, 10 million with a third-year option. That is the contract the Bulls signed Richard Hamilton to just weeks before the season began.
So far, it’s safe to say that Hamilton was definitely worth the money. Hamilton has been a solid addition to the backcourt and has provided the Bulls with a reliable fourth scoring option, averaging 12 ppg through the first four games. Hamilton’s playoff experience should also come in handy come playoff time when the Bulls will need his offense the most.
Signing Hamilton in the offseason is an undeniable upgrade from Keith Bogans, making the Bulls even more dangerous moving forward.
Ronnie Brewer’s emergence as a three-point shooter has every Bulls fan in complete shock. The Bulls were in dire need for more three-point shooters since sharpshooter Kyle Korver was and still is too much of a liability on defense.
So what does Brewer do in the offseason? Add range to his game.
Believe it or not, this season, Brewer is shooting 53 percent from the field, including an astounding 64 from three. Brewer’s hot start is a clear result of hard work this offseason and is earning the sixth-year guard much deserved minutes. His shot might not look pretty, but it has been going in, which is all that really matters.
Last year around the All-Star break, multiple trade rumors surfaced involving first-year center Omer Asik. There were rumors that shooting guards such as Courtney Lee and O.J. Mayo were offered to the Bulls; however, the front office was reluctant to deal Asik.
Looking back, the Bulls must be very satisfied with their decision to keep Asik on the roster since both Lee and Mayo have been struggling this season, averaging just 8.4 and 10.1 ppg respectively. Let’s also not forget that Asik’s defensive presence cannot be replaced. True centers are hard to come by these days, let alone back-up centers as tough as Asik.
Even though Boozer averaged 17.5 ppg and 9.6 rpg during the regular season last year, he underperformed in the playoffs when the Bulls needed him the most. Boozer might not have been 100 percent healthy, but that doesn’t excuse his inconsistent play so far this season. One day, Boozer will look like the $80 million dollar power forward the Bulls signed last year, while another day, he will look like the Boozer who struggled mightily in last year’s playoffs.
Boozer came into this season claiming he was as healthy and motivated as ever, but his performance on the court says otherwise. After averaging just 14.2 points and 8.1 boards in the first 11 games, it is clear that his inconsistency is going to continue to be a big issue as the season goes on.
C.J. Watson is in an unfortunate position, as he is backing up the reigning MVP and struggling to see the court. However, when Watson does get in the game, he has been taking full advantage. Watson is shooting an unbelievable 46 percent from deep, and in the Bulls' win versus the Sacramento Kings, Watson recorded a game-high nine assists in just 16 minutes of play.
Unfortunately, Watson did suffer an elbow injury in the Bulls' home opener against the Grizzlies, and the severity of the injury is still unknown. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious and Watson will back on the court sooner rather than later. He is still listed as day-to-day.
The Bulls roster is arguably the deepest in the league. The starting five includes none other than the reigning MVP, veterans Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, as well as a defensive force in Joakim Noah.
If that wasn’t enough, the Bulls may have the deepest bench in the NBA. The second unit, known as the “Bench Mob,” includes a group of young and gritty players that do a phenomenal job complimenting the starting five. The outcome results in the deepest team in the league from top to bottom.
So far this season, the Bulls have proven that by posting a 9-2 record, which included eight games on the road.
Last season, both Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer missed significant time due to their respective injuries. Boozer was out the first few weeks of the season due to a hand injury, giving Noah a much needed opportunity to prove he can be the go-to guy in the paint. Noah took full advantage of Boozer being sidelined by averaging a double-double before he too suffered an extended injury of his own.
So far this season, both Noah and Boozer have been able to avoid injury; however, some believe the two cannot coexist. Boozer has established himself as the go-to guy in the paint, all while taking rebounds away from Noah. As long as Boozer is healthy and producing at a high level, Noah’s production will continue to decline.
In 2011, the Bulls ran over their Western Conference opponents, finishing the season with an impressive 23-7 record.
This season doesn’t seem to be any different. The Bulls have started the 2012 campaign with a 5-1 record versus their Western Conference opponents, with all five wins coming on the road. Because of a significant power shift into the Eastern Conference, there is no doubt that the Bulls will continue their dominance against a weaker Western Conference as the season progresses.
Every team feared playing at the United Center a season ago, as the Bulls posted a 36-5 home record, which was tied for the best in the league with the San Antonio Spurs. The Bulls came out just as strong in their home opener with a 40-point beatdown of the Memphis Grizzlies. The Bulls followed up the win against the Grizzlies with an impressive 19-point comeback against the Atlanta Hawks and an easy win versus the Detroit Pistons.
After starting the season 3-0 at home, it is safe to say that the Bulls are going to be just as dominant at home this year.
What impresses me the most about second-year head coach Tom Thibodeau is the fact that he never seems to be satisfied. Even when the Bulls are up big and seem to be playing an almost flawless game, the reigning Coach of the Year always finds something that needs to be worked on. He is constantly yelling at his players from the sideline and making sure they’re on the right spots on the floor defensively.
Due to the heavy minutes that Rose and Deng have seen, as well as the lack of minutes Boozer and Noah have seen in the fourth quarter, it is clear that Thibodeau does not tolerate mistakes and will never be satisfied with the Bulls' performance any time soon. He demands perfection, and that is what separates him from most coaches around the league.
Derrick Rose needs help. Period. Rose carried the team to the best record in the league, as well as through the first two rounds of the playoffs, with a banged-up body.
As soon as the Bulls faced off against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Rose could no longer do it all by himself. He desperately needed offensive production from Boozer and needed Noah to be the defensive leader we all know he can be. However, neither Noah nor Boozer showed up, resulting in an embarrassing and quick FIVE-game exit.
If the Bulls wish to get past Miami and eventually into the NBA Finals, they are going to need a healthy and productive Boozer and Noah. So far this season, Thibodeau has been playing the two big men limited minutes. It may be a testament to their inconsistency or may be a way for Thibodeau to monitor their minutes to ensure they stay healthy throughout the course of the shortened season.
Jimmy Butler was drafted with the last pick of the first round in this year’s draft. The rookie is without question in a tough spot, sitting third on the depth chart at the small forward position. Although Thibodeau has praised Butler’s work ethic and knowledge of the game at such a young age, it is clear that he is still not ready for the big stage.
Butler was known at Marquette as a defensive force, but if he wants to see minutes, he is going to have to prove he can be affective on the offensive end. So far, Butler has only seen garbage minutes late in games, but has been taking full advantage of his opportunities.
In a blowout loss to the Hawks, Butler scored 12 points and pulled down three rebounds in only 12 minutes of play. Butler will need to continue this production before he is incorporated into the daily rotation.
According to many analysts, what kept the Bulls from advancing to the NBA Finals last season was a reliable two-guard. Keith Bogans held his own most of last year, but his lack of offensive production hurt the Bulls in the playoffs when they desperately needed a shooter to compliment Rose.
Bulls management did a great job this offseason by acquiring 13-year veteran Richard Hamilton. Despite an ailing groin injury, Hamilton has been impressive thus far, posting 12 ppg, a huge upgrade from Bogans 4.4 ppg last year. With the addition of Hamilton, there is no question the Bulls have the strongest starting fvive in the league.
The only question now is, can the Bulls starting five top Miami’s big three come playoff time?
Taj Gibson, now in his third year in the league, has shown signs that he can not only be a starter in the NBA, but maybe even dethrone Boozer as the Bulls starting power forward.
So far this season, Gibson has failed to live up to these expectations. Gibson’s immaturity and failure to consistently produce on offense has shown that he is still not ready to take over the starting position. Thibodeau has been visibly upset with Gibson multiple times this year for not being able to execute simple offensive fundamentals, and it has cut into his playing time.
Although Gibson is a reliable back-up for an injury-prone Boozer, he should remain on the bench for the time being until he can prove he deserves more minutes.
Both Luol Deng and Derrick Rose rank in the top 10 in minutes played this season, which has sparked a lot of concern around Chicago. Many believe Thibodeau is playing Deng and Rose too many minutes early on in the season and that it will eventually catch up to them come playoff time. Everyone knows what happened last year when Rose ran out of gas in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Others have been concerned about Noah and Boozer’s lack of minutes in the fourth quarter. Thibodeau continues to play Omer Asik and Taj Gibson late in games, which hasn’t been settling well with fans. With the amount of money the Bulls have invested in both Boozer and Noah, many believe they should be on the court in crunch time. There is no question the heavy minutes for some and lack of playing time for others is a cause for concern for the Bulls.