There will be more questions than answers for the Chicago Bulls this upcoming season. Luckily the season is still a few months away. Many of the Bulls’ strengths in the previous two years are no longer strengths.
The Bulls remain a somewhat deep group despite losing several players thus far in the offseason. With exception to an injured Derrick Rose, the starters are intact. The bench on the other hand, that is another story.
The bench depth was a huge advantage for the Bulls. It encompassed many of the elements necessary for a team’s success. The blueprint for the Bulls in the past two years was: defense, rebounding, depth, timely scoring, overall flexibility and Rose.
Only two of those elements continue to be strengths as of now, and for the Bulls that is not good news.
How will the Bulls cure their newfound weaknesses?
First, one has to identify what those weaknesses are.
The Bulls will miss Ome Asik inside.
The impact of losing Omer Asik to the Rockets has the potential to be staggering. It is not because he was a great player, but for what the Bulls needed Asik was a perfect blend. In his 15-plus minutes a game, Asik was a defensive force to be reckoned with by blocking shots and altering others. Nazr Mohammed, his replacement, gives up close to four inches in height and although he is not a bad defender, Mohammed is not the shot-blocker that Asik is.
That leaves a big hole for the Bulls: interior defense.
To fix this problem the Bulls will have to defend the interior by committee.
Taj Gibson must reprise his role as the lead member of the beloved “Bench Mob” while Joakim Noah must become more disciplined with his shot-blocking. Improved footwork from Carlos Boozer can help the Bulls lock the inside down and cure the loss of Asik.
The injury to Rose left the Bulls without a natural point guard through the rest of the playoffs.
When Derrick Rose went down it caused a chain reaction. The championship status for the Bulls took a serious blow.
So did the point guard position.
The Bulls’ Game 6 playoff loss to the 76ers was perhaps the lowlight in backup point guard C.J. Watson’s career. As many can recall, it was Watson’s ill-advised pass to Asik in the closing seconds that may have cost the Bulls a shot at a Game 7.
It is understandable as to why the Bulls decided to part ways with him. A play of that nature can surely make or break a player’s mindset. On the play, Watson was acting as a point guard, despite not being a true point guard.
Enter Kirk Hinrich, a combo guard with more natural point guard skills than Watson brought to the Bulls.
Adding to that will be the development of rookie Marquis Teague. Teague, in my opinion has the potential to become the floor leader that the Bulls lacked coming off the bench. His point guard abilities are on par with where many scouts had Rose in his rookie season.
The free-agent signing of Nate Robinson may help also, as one overlooked factor is the fact that Bulls’ head coach Tom Thibodeau is familiar with him from his days with the Boston Celtics.
The Bulls must put their premature playoff exit behind them.
Another weakness for the Bulls is one that is more of a mental aspect than a physical one.
They must put their first-round elimination behind them. This will require confidence which, at times, the Bulls seem to lack. An untimely defeat may begin a swoon that could have a very long carryover effect.
When the season starts, the Bulls have to come ready to win.
Thibodeau will prove to be the key here in how he has the team prepared for next season. The Bulls management has already dismissed most of the “Bench Mob” and I wonder if a lack of confidence was a factor in their decision-making process. After all, none of the free-agent signings are hindered by a confidence issue.
Luol Deng's injuries were just a tip of the iceberg last season.
Overall health eventually did the Bulls in during last season.
As we know, the NBA season can be a war of attrition at times. The healthier teams usually have a better chance at making deep playoff runs. With Luol Deng already restricted with a wrist injury, the Bulls can least afford another injury.
Who knows what will happen with the health of the oft-injured Richard Hamilton, Joakim Noah and Boozer? The Bulls will have to fix this with good fortune. Hopefully a full-length training camp and fewer games in a short succession will be the elixir the Bulls need for a healthier 2012-13 campaign.
Did you know that only Boozer played and started in each of the 66 games last season?
Marco Belinelli may be due for a breakout season.
When looking at the Bulls’ lineup from top to bottom, one has to ask the question: where are the points going to come from? An injured Rose will not play and score his usual 22-28 points while assisting on at least seven baskets.
What the other players must do until Rose returns is pick up the scoring burden. There were too many scoring lapses even when Rose was on the floor for the Bulls.
Too often, Bulls’ teammates would watch what Rose was able to do offensively. This took away from their talents and added to Rose’s workload every game.
This problem can be solved by Deng and Boozer taking over as the team’s “go-to-guys.” Another way that the Bulls can remedy this is by playing newcomers Marco Belinelli, Vladimir Radmanovic and Nate Robinson as often as possible.
Each player is regarded as an offensive-minded player who looks to score. This is a stark difference from the likes of Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver. The latter three were seldom aggressive when the Bulls needed them to be. I especially expect Belinelli to have a breakout season.
Bulls' coach Tom Thibodeau will be faced with the task of finding balance and some good combinations for the team.
Nobody expects the Bulls to compete for a championship but they may not be that far away if Rose can return at 75 percent.
First, they must somehow mask their weaknesses. They must also find some balance to their lineup.
This will be a different team than the past two seasons in terms of what they can do well. Thibodeau’s task will be looking for the right combination of players to have on the floor. This time there should be some good balance offensively but it will be on the defensive side that they will perhaps struggle.
When it is all over the Bulls should make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. How deep will they go in the playoffs will depend on whether or not the Bulls can indeed fix their weaknesses.