With the Chicago Bulls missing their superstar for the start of the season, they'll need some of their younger players to step up and help shoulder the load.
Of course, a large part of the burden will be borne by Luol Deng and Joakim Noah as well. Occasionally it will be borne by Carlos Boozer in a "now-you-see-me, now-you-don't" alternating scenario kind of way.
There will be two young players, though, who will step up and play big—and one who won't.
Taj Gibson stepped up last year in the postseason and absolutely shined like a star. Expect him to pick up this year where he left off last year. In fact, he might be even better.
Gibson is already one of the best defensive power forwards in the league. Read carefully here: He's not just one of the best defensive back-up power forwards—he's one of the best power forwards, period.
Lest you think I'm being too much, consider how Gibson stacks up against the league's best.
Here are his defensive points per play, his isolation points per play, his opponent's player efficiency rating, his defensive rating and his defensive rebounds, steals and blocks per 36 minutes compared with some of the best defensive power forwards in the game.
As the numbers reflect, Gibson is right up there with the very best power forwards in the game defensively. And it's not just what the numbers show, either. Watch the Bulls on a regular basis, and it's obvious they are a much better team defensively when Gibson is on the court.
Gibson is a fantastic perimeter defender. He moves his feet exceptionally well and stays in front of players, even wings and point guards. At the same time, he has good strength and doesn't easily get pushed out of the way by the stronger players in the game. His pairing of athleticism and strength makes him the most complete defensive power forward in the NBA.
The problem with Gibson has been his lack of offense, but this year, look for him to break out more of the kind of the offense he started to show during the playoffs last year. During the postseason, he averaged 15 points per 36 minutes; don't be surprised to see him do even better than that and see his numbers go up next season.
Another player who will step up is Jimmy Butler, who tore it up for the Bulls during his Summer League play. He was the unquestioned star of the Summer League team.
Butler already impressed enough with his defense last year that the Bulls were confident he could replace the roll of Ronnie Brewer and let him go.
During Summer League play, Butler averaged 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game—enough to make him a Summer League All-Star. While he won't duplicate those numbers in the NBA, Butler will be able to match the kind of defensive presence that Brewer used to bring, but with a little more offensive game.
Butler showed signs of being able to get to the line last year, and he showed the same in the Summer League. He's an aggressive player who is not afraid to take the ball to the rack.
One player Bulls fans would love to see shine—but probably won't—is Marquis Teague. He struggled mightily during the Summer League, shooting just 29.4 percent from the field even though he scored more than 10 points per game.
Teague also made a number of questionable, youthful decisions. Those are the kinds of things that keep you on the bench in Tom Thibodeau's teams, particularly when you're just a rookie. There is a chance he'll get some minutes because of the Rose injury, but Teague might not do much with them.
In all, it will be enough to keep the Bulls afloat for the playoffs until Rose comes back.
Just don't look for them to win the most games in the league for the third year in a row.