The Chicago Bulls starting five is underrated when you consider that every member has been All-Defense or to an All-Star game. They'll send a formidable, though not explosive, starting five onto the court.
Point Guard: Kirk Hinrich
When Kirk Hinrich was signed by the Chicago Bulls for a second stint, it was met with a degree of skepticism by a large percentage of Chicago Bulls fans. While he was a popular player during his first stint here, his production, a mere 8.8 points and 3.5 assists, has been woeful since he left.
However, his defense in his preseason action has been outright ubiquitous. The marriage of his tenacity with Tom Thibodeau's system is either holy or unholy, depending on your perspective.
He's also averaged just short of 22 minutes and eight assists per 36 minutes in the preseason. If he can maintain anything close to that kind of production, the Bulls will be in tremendous shape until Rose returns.
Shooting Guard: Richard Hamilton
Hamilton is looking healthier than he did all of last season. His absence in the Bulls' third preseason game was not injury-related. It was just age-related. But then, there's no telling how much of those age-related DNPs there will be this season.
The Bulls will be expecting to see more from Hamilton this year than they did last year, both in terms of production and consistency on the court. They will need Hamilton's scoring if they want to compete for the Central Division title without Derrick Rose.
He still has something. He's shown it flashes. He won't need to carry the team every night, but it would be nice if he could take a turn every once in a while.
Small Froward Luol Deng
Luol Deng is the sole reigning All-Star who will be in the starting lineup to open the season. There are two major questions facing Deng. First, can he be a go-to scorer, and second, will his wrist hold up?
The answer to both questions, to a point, will be yes. Deng has been a decent scorer over the course of his career, netting an average of 16.0 points per game. He has a career high of 18.8 points which came in the 2007 season. He scored 17.4 as recently as 2011.
For Deng to average 18.0 games is both realistic and sufficient if Carlos Boozer can also score consistently. The other things he brings to the game, his defense, his overall "glueness," his ability to stretch the court, his rebounding and passing will all help the Bulls win.
Much of what Deng does is not apparent in box scores, but he'll be the crucial player for the Bulls until Rose returns.
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer
How much of the acrimony directed at Carlos Boozer is truly merited? His per 36 numbers, 19.0 points and 10.6 rebounds, are right in line with his career averages.
To a large degree, what gets overlooked with Boozer is his rebounding and what that brings to the Bulls. He, Joakim Noah and Deng combine to make the best rebounding frontcourt in the NBA according to Hoopdata.com.
The word "scapegoat" has an interesting origin. In the Old Testament, a goat was selected to bear the sins of all the people. The High Priest would figuratively place ever sin of the nation of Israel on his head and send him into the wilderness.
Boozer is a scapegoat—or scapeBull if you will. He bears the sins of the entire team. Something goes wrong, blame Boozer. Someone misses a shot? Blame Boozer. Bulls lose, blame Boozer. If it happens while Boozer is on the court, it's Boozer's fault. If it happens while he's on the bench, it's his fault for not being good enough to be on the court.
This isn't to excuse Boozer entirely or to say there's no fair criticism. It's just to say the degree of criticism is disproportionate with the degree of offense. Boozer has had his bad moments, but he's had moments where he came through as well; some even came in the postseason.
He'll have a chance to redeem himself this year. He looks to be more fit than he has been in his Chicago tenure. If he can stay on the court long enough to post 20 points and 10 rebounds a night during the absence of Rose, he might even get some cheers instead of boos.
Center: Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah has been a defensive force in the NBA. He's been one of the better rebounding players in the game as well, particularly on the offensive end of the court.
Reports are that Noah has worked with Kareem Abdul Jabbar on his offensive game, and he "feels more polished," but as the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowly reports him saying,
I worked with Kareem for a couple of weeks, but just because I worked with Kareem doesn't mean I’m going to be throwing skyhooks from everywhere. I feel like I learned a lot from him, someone who has an unbelievable knowledge for the game and very interesting guy.
Any improvement on the offensive end is great improvement with Noah, who had a limited number of plays running through him, so far, during his career. Through the preseason thus far, he's averaged about 14 points per 36 minutes, a slight uptick from his 12 points last season.
In the Cleveland game, he attempted just two shots, though. In the other two, he took a total of 16 shots and scored 24 points in 48 minutes.
This is a good expectation for Noah. He'll be consistent in energy and defense, but his offense will be up and down. Some games he'll score more than he has in the past, but other games, he'll lapse into his history.
In all, no one starter will replace Rose's scoring, but the collection of starters will be able to pick up a large portion of it.
Still, Rose can't be replaced, and while the Bulls will do what they can, they will feel the impact of Rose not being there, particularly when the offense stagnates.