The Chicago Bulls head into next season in a state of complete uncertainty. There is uncertainty about how the new acquisitions will fit on the team. There is uncertainty about whether Coach Tom Thibodeau will receive an extension. But above all, there is uncertainty about when star point guard Derrick Rose will return from reconstructive ACL surgery. Because of this, the Bulls are one of the hardest teams to project for next season.
Although it's difficult, it's not impossible.
Overall, this team isn't a whole lot different from last year's team which led the league in wins with a 50-16 record. The Bulls lost their Bench Mob, but acquired a good group of players who should be able to step in and produce. They are a different rotation than the Bench Mob that's for sure, but they still will likely be able to produce in a similar fashion.
Of course the guiding question throughout all of this is when will Derrick Rose return to the court? Early estimates by Bulls' team physician Dr. Brian Cole back in May projected Derrick to be back in 8-12 months, putting him back somewhere between January and May. Ever since then, Derrick has been reported as being "ahead of schedule."
If I had to give a realistic expectation for recovery, I would guess that Derrick will return after the All-Star break.
Out of the first 53 games, 27 are against teams that were playoff teams last season. For projections sake, I would predict that Chicago has the ability to win two-thirds of the games against non-playoff teams without Derrick Rose in the lineup. In addition, Chicago still should be able to win about a third of their games against playoff teams as well. Those predictions would have Chicago going 27-26.
Why those numbers? Chicago is still a playoff team, even with Derrick Rose out of the lineup. They absolutely are not a high playoff team, but they are a playoff team.
The biggest issue will be consistency, as the team will not be able to dominate lesser teams like they did. However they still will be able to beat them fairly consistently. The team should also be able to win some matchups against good teams too. Not great teams, but good teams.
So game-wise, Rose would be slated to return after 53 games. Out of the remaining 29 games, 15 are against playoff teams. Chicago will be a much more dangerous team when Rose returns, but will require an adjustment period.
For the first ten games, I expect Chicago to go .500 overall, winning some good games, but losing some bad ones as well. That gives us five wins in this span.
So that leaves us with 19 games left in the regular season. Nine of those games are against playoff teams.
At that point, I have much more faith in Chicago as a team, as Derrick should be coming back to full strength. I would predict that Chicago could win up to two-thirds of their games against playoff teams. In addition, they should be able to beat non-playoff teams at a high level, let's say 90% of the time for the stretch run, especially since they'll be fighting for playoff position. That projection would leave us with 15 wins in that stretch.
With all my predictions combined, that gives Chicago a projected record of 47-35. This is a more than reasonable estimate for wins, but is dependent on many factors.
We have to hope that Chicago can stay relatively healthy this season. The Bulls don't have the big man depth that they had last year, so health will be a key factor. It also relies on Chicago going on a true run to close out the season, which is no given.
However, Chicago has the ability to come out of this season with a record like that. With that record, Chicago could logically challenge for a top five seed. If Chicago can avoid Miami in the second round, then who knows what could happen.