Derrick Rose will be out for the start of the season, and as a result, many are writing off the Chicago Bulls' hopes of having anything but a wasted season. Here's the reality, though. The Bulls won't miss Derrick Rose nearly as much as you might think.
That's not to say that they won't miss him at all, of course. You don't win the MVP award because you're not important to your team (though it is ironic that many of those who argued against him winning are now the ones writing off the Bulls because he's not there).
Some have written off the Bulls as a lottery team. Most have them as somewhere between a sixth and eighth seed. For example, John Hollinger (who vehemently argued against Rose's MVP campaign) has at this point released the top seven seeds in his predictions, and the Bulls have yet to be named.
The Bulls won 67 percent of their games without Rose last year. If you project that over a full season, then that would have the Bulls winning 55 games this year, but most would laugh off the notion of the Bulls even breaking the 50-win barrier.
How many games is Rose worth? 10? 15? 20? More than 20? When they had Rose in the lineup last year, they won over 80 percent of their games, which translates into 65 wins, which is what they had the year prior. Is Derrick Rose worth 20 wins by himself?
If he is, there should never be a complaint about him winning MVP again. If you just go off of winning percentage with and without him, 10 wins is a reasonable answer, though that doesn't account for the injuries that Rose carried the Bulls through.
But it's the bench, right? The bench carried the load while he was absent last year, and they aren't there this year. But how mutter are they really?
After all, the difference in wins, based on Wins Against Replacement Player or WARP, is only 1.5, according to Bradford Doolittle of ESPN.
When you look at the two groups in the charts below, you don't see a huge difference in terms of on-court value, not that 1.5 WARP is anything to sneeze at. The WARP projections are based on the new rosters on which the players will play. That hurts Asik and Brewer, who would both forecast better if they were still key cogs in Tom Thibodeau's defensive juggernaut. Likewise, the new guys are helped by being introduced into Thibodeau's system.
What's interesting here is that the system "hurts" Asik and Brewer, but isn't projected to "help" the arrivals. Why wouldn't Thobodeau's system help the new arrivals the same way it helped Brewer and Asik? Doolittle sees the difference is nominal, but then tries to explain it away rather than have his thinking corrected by his own facts.
There's a kind of "cart-leading-the-horse" mentality when it comes to the offseason moves the Bulls have made too. It's as though by mentioning the departing players in a somber voice accompanied by angles' songs, and the new arrivals with a menacing voice and a warning, that somehow, it changes the way things are.
According to the ESPN Player Rankings, for example, C.J. Watson is ranked as the 232nd-best player in the NBA, while Kirk Hinrich is ranked 188th. Although that's somewhat evened out by Marco Belinelli (225th). Nate Robinson is ranked 276th, and John Lucas III's 278th.
There are two dramatic difference in favor of the old players. Ronnie Brewer is 167th to Jimmy Butler's 371st (which is really just way too low on Butler's end, and probably too on Brewer's). And Asik's 99th rank to Mohammed's 302nd.
Incidentally, Omer Asik is suddenly praised for the stout defense that he provided, even though there's strong evidence that it was Taj Gibson who was most responsible for the Bench Mob's defensive success the last two years.
Apart from the switch from Brewer and Asik to Butler and Moahmmed, it's established that, at least based on the player rankings, the new Mob and the old Mob are a wash.
So how many wins are Brewer and Asik worth? If the Bulls were to win the same 67 percent for the course of a season that they did last year without Rose, they would win 55 games, and that's if they didn't have a single game with Rose coming back.
Over the last several years, it's taken about a .500 record to gain the eighth seed. Are Asik and Brewer a 14-win difference?
Is the difference between Asik and Brewer over Butler and Mohammed greater than having or not having Derrick Rose? If so, then they should have been First Team All-Defense. Either that, or the combined 10.0 points per game they averaged last year is severely underappreciated.
Then again, maybe as Doolittle inadvertently points out, it's the system. But why should we give the coach credit for coaching? If the system is the same, that should count for something.
Furthermore, why should we ignore the rest of the lineup? Why is it necessary to gloss over the contributions of Luol Deng, who was an All-Star and All-Defense player last year? Why ignore Joakim Noah, who was eighth in Win Shares in the entire NBA and who was All-Defense in 2011?
Why ignore Carlos Boozer for that matter, who had the second-best midrange shot in the NBA last season and who led the team in scoring?
For all the talk about how the bench has looked discombobulated during the preseason, why ignore that Kirk Hinrich has looked far more like his old self with the Bulls than the last two years or that Rip Hamilton is looking more like the Detroit Pistons version than the Chicago version?
Has the bench looked sloppy at times? Certainly. It's looked good at times too. Remember that the same can be said about the initial group, who were only 15th in the NBA in defense its first month together.
This is a group that has played three preseason games together. It's ludicrous to imply that it's peaked in what it can do together.
And let's not ignore that all the projections are based on the notion of Derrick Rose not coming back at all. There's a good chance he will.
Let's also not ignore that there's a good chance that whatever Mohammed loses defensively to Asik, he is looking like he'll make up for offensively. Let's not ignore that Belinelli has better ball handling skills than Korver did. Let's not ignore that Hinrich is a vastly superior defender to C.J. Watson.
Is 50 wins for the Bulls too optimistic, too pessimistic, or about right for the Chicago Bulls?
Let's ignore all of that and assume not only that none of that matters, but let's assume that the WARP figures are short. Let's triple them, then round up. That would mean that the new mob will cost the Bulls' five wins compared to the old one.
That means that if Rose doesn't return this year, and if the new bench struggles to acclimate and costs the Bulls three times as many wins as projected (because Thibodeau magically forgets how to coach) and if the addition of Kirk Hinrich or the improved health of Luol Deng doesn't add a single win, the Bulls would win 50 games.
If we're being honest to the facts and the math, a 50-win projection is fairly conservative, not optimistic. That's because the starters are far better than given credit for, the new players aren't as bad as being projected as and Tom Thibodeau is a far better coach than he's getting recognition for.
The Bulls might not win the most games in the NBA this year, but they won't be struggling to find a playoff spot either.