Can the Chicago Bulls Still Be Contenders Without Derrick Rose?
After the torn ACL he suffered against Philadelphia in last season's playoffs, Rose is on the rehab trail. But are the Bulls on the rebuilding trail with their best player sidelined until at least the All-Star break?
That remains to be seen. It is very plausible the Bulls can still be contenders in the East without Derrick Rose.
The 2012-2013 Bulls will look a lot different than past seasons. There is an almost entirely new "Bench Mob," and it remains to be seen whether this incarnation can perform as well as recent ones.
The starters are still intact sans Derrick Rose, but this group is still good enough to keep the Bulls in the thick of the playoff race.
So the question really becomes: Can the Bulls be contenders without Derrick Rose?
I believe that answer is "yes", and there are three reasons why.
Tom Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the NBA, if not the best. His defensive schemes are second to none and his motion offense does enough to score consistently.
In fact, Thibs motion scheme is one of the most effective in the league. According to statistics provided by teamrankings.com, the Bulls were No. 1 in the league in average first-half margin, Effective Possession Ratio and MAR (Average Scoring Margin).
On defense, the picture remains the same. Chicago was No. 1 in the NBA in opponent shooting percentage, points-per-game allowed and defensive efficiency.
With Thibodeau at the helm, the Bulls will continue to be among the league's best. Even without Derrick Rose, the Bulls have a variety of players who can score when called upon.
Forwards Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer both averaged 15 points per game. The bench also has a variety of players who could chip in with 10 points on any given night.
Thibs schemes will allow the Bulls to be successful no matter who is in the lineup.
2. Improved Bench
I covered this more extensively here, but in my opinion, this year's bench is better than last season's.
The "Bench Mob" of last year was among the league's best defensively, but they often had trouble putting the ball through the net.
This year's rendition shouldn't have that problem.
The Bulls brought in Marco Belinelli to take on Kyle Korver's role, and he should play that role even better. Belinelli is superior off the dribble, and his athleticism should allow him to be a better defender than Korver. They are equivalent spot-up shooters, so, on the whole, Belinelli appears to be a better option.
Vladimir Radmanovic brings a new dimension to the Bulls bench. At 6'10", the power forward excels beyond the arc. His ability to draw his defender out to the perimeter should open things up on the inside for Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Boozer.
Jimmy Butler played extremely well in the summer league, and Thibs is looking for the second-year forward to play a larger role on the team.
Marquis Teague, Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich will split time at point guard as they try to fill the shoes of D Rose. All three should be adequate for the time being.
They also added more depth up front with Nazr Mohammed.
There is also Taj Gibson, a "Bench Mob" staple. He should improve offensively while maintaining his status as one of the NBA's elite frontcourt defenders.
The entire group will be a big key to the Bulls success. And this improved supporting cast should provide better scoring and defense comparable to last year's squad.
3. They've Played Well Without Derrick Rose Before
The Bulls have proven in the past that they can succeed without Derrick Rose.
Last year, Chicago was 18-9 in the regular season while Derrick Rose was sitting out due to various injuries.
You may point to the playoff series against Philadelphia, where the Bulls didn't win a game after Rose went down, but it must be noted that Joakim Noah got injured, as well. The loss to Philadelphia was more mental than it was talent or ability. The losses of Rose and Noah took all the wind out of the Bulls, and they played like it.
In 2012-2013, this won't be the case.
The Bulls know that, in the worse-case scenario, Rose will be back for the playoffs. With that in mind, they are going to play as hard as they can so that when Rose does come back, it will be for meaningful games.
Rose has already been evaluated as being ahead of schedule in his rehab. But it's safe to assume that the Bulls will take extreme precaution with their star. Even if he is out until the playoffs, the Bulls should be right there in the postseason hunt, waiting for him to get back and lead them to a title.
The Bulls can be contenders without Derrick Rose. And when he gets back the rest of the league better watch out, because he will come back with a vengeance.