The Bulls proved during the 2011-12 season that they could still win without Rose. Their balanced, defense-first play kept them on top of the NBA. They will have to do that this season as well. However, that type of balance does not mean that every player is equal.
Every team has a hierarchy, and the Rose-less Bulls are no different. There is a clear pecking order in this locker room, and I will break it down for you here.
2011-12 Stats: 2.6 points, 1.3 rebounds
Jimmy Butler is a young player who should see more playing time this season. He has just one NBA season under his belt, but he still will be an integral part of the Bulls’ second unit, especially when Derrick Rose is out.
Butler provides a long, athletic wing who can spell Luol Deng. Along with Taj Gibson, Nazr Mohammed and Marco Belinelli, Butler will bolster one of the most underrated benches in the NBA. He only played 8.5 minutes per game last season, but I would expect that number to increase dramatically this season.
2011-12 Stats: 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds
It is possible that Taj Gibson should be higher on this list. The young power forward has been an integral part of this Bulls’ team, and the 2012-13 season will be no exception.
Gibson is a high-octane player who plays hard on both ends of the court. There are those who think he should start over Carlos Boozer at power forward, and those people may be right. He is a promising young player who will play an important role, especially in Rose’s absence.
2011-12 Stats: 11.6 points, 3.0 assists, 2.4 rebounds
His first season as a Bull was anything but satisfying, but that is not all Richard Hamilton’s fault. The 34-year-old shooting guard was plagued by injuries and actually played pretty well when he was not sidelined by some sort of medical malady.
Much as he did when Derrick Rose was on the court, Hamilton will provide perimeter scoring in Rose's absence. He has shown an ability to do that, albeit in a much smaller way than he did in his prime in Detroit.
2011-12 Stats: 15 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists
Carlos Boozer has been much maligned during his time as the starting power forward, and the motivation for that criticism has likely been the huge contract the Bulls signed him to a few seasons ago.
However, when you look at his production, it is hard to keep ragging on the guy. There are few players in the league who can match Boozer’s combination of scoring, rebounding and efficiency at his position. Granted, he can be a bit of a liability on defense, but the rest of the team makes up for that.
Boozer is important to this team, and that importance is magnified by Rose’s absence.
2011-12 Stats (Atlanta): 6.6 points, 2.8 assists, 2.1 rebounds
The player asked to run this team while Derrick Rose is out is Kirk Hinrich, and he is perfect for the job. Hinrich spent the first seven years of his NBA career in Chicago, and he has played with many of these Bulls before, including Rose.
While Hinrich will not be able to completely fill the void left by Rose’s injury, he will serve as a stabilizing force who can help the team in big ways. He is not anywhere near as athletic as Rose, but he is a solid defender. He also knows how to run an offense.
He will be the perfect point guard to orchestrate the balanced offense the Bulls will play.
2011-12 Stats: 10.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.44 blocks
A blossoming star and one of the NBA's most underrated centers, Joakim Noah is a tremendously important player for the Bulls, with or without Derrick Rose. Noah is the team's defensive backbone, guarding the rim and making up for any defensive snafus by the perimeter players.
He will need to be even better on defense and offense while Rose is out, and I have no doubt he will answer the call. He is a gamer and a hard worker who powers the Bulls through tough games.
Noah is one of the best players on this team.
2011-12 Stats: 15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists,1.04 steals
In Derrick Rose's absence, Luol Deng becomes the most important player on this team. He will be expected to lead, and he is up for the challenge. He has elite defensive abilities on the perimeter, and his offensive game has been improving consistently over the past few seasons.
Deng also identifies with the workmanlike attitude of the Bulls and the city of Chicago. He has the talent and mentality to lead this team in Rose’s absence. That makes him the most important player for the Bulls heading into the 2012-13 NBA season.
For more on why Deng can lead this team while Rose is out, check out this earlier article of mine.