7 Things We Learned About the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls After Week 1
It's not easy being the Chicago Bulls.
When they're not busy accepting the reality that Derrick Rose's return is anything but imminent, they're left to listen to the sounds of pundits proclaiming their season is over when it barely started.
Yet if we learned one thing from the Bulls of last season, it's that they can never be counted out. Rose may be the face of the franchise, but there are plenty of other bodies that help him hold him up.
At the same time, however, putting forth a championship worthy effort without him in the lineup is extremely difficult.
As deep as the Bulls are and as impressive as their initial record without Rose may seem, there are still plenty of concerns to address.
So what was our first impression of Chicago this season? And does the good outweigh the bad enough to warrant believing in it moving forward?
Because while the NBA season is still young, the Bulls are already providing us with a battery of lessons to digest.
Carlos Boozer Is Heading for the Amnesty Wire
I had thought—or rather hoped—that Carlos Boozer would step up in Derrick Rose's absence.
But he hasn't.
The defensively inept power forward not only continues to play horrific defense in the paint, but he's hardly proving his worth on the glass or the scoreboard.
Boozer is averaging just 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game on a career-worst 44 percent shooting from the field. Quite frankly, his stats across the board right now are the lowest he's put up since his rookie season.
That's a problem, not just because it makes it more difficult for the Bulls to win when Boozer isn't scoring, but because he's owed more than $30 million the next two seasons.
If he doesn't pick up his production and consistency on the offensive, he'll likely be looking for a new home come this summer.
Luol Deng Needs to Become More Consistent on Offense
I love Luol Deng.
The small forward is a two-way workhorse, a superstar in his own right.
But he needs to ensure we don't forget that.
Deng has had a handful of impressive performances under his belt, yet he needs to be more consistent. He's putting up just under 16 points per game, but he's shooting under 10 percent from behind the three-point line.
Chicago as a whole is shooting just 26 percent from behind the rainbow as well, so it really needs Deng to amp up his efficiency from there.
Aside from that, he needs to ensure he's attacking the rim whenever the ball is in his hands and not disappear the way he did against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when he shot just eight times.
With Rose out, Deng needs to assume a more prominent. And though he hasn't crashed and burned, he needs to assert himself more and do so efficiently.
Or the Rose-less Bulls won't reach their full potential.
Bulls Are Still a Top Defensive Team
The Bulls have not missed a beat defensively.
Chicago's offense has been shaky at times, but its defense remains borderline impenetrable.
The NBA's best defensive team last season is holding its opponents to just under 89 points per contest, fourth best in the league. Stellar defense has also allowed the Bulls to post the Association's fourth best win differential in the league as well; they're outscoring their opponents by 8.5 per game.
Aside from that, Chicago is capping off its already impressive defensive performance by also holding its foes to a mere 41.4 percent shooting.
Even with Derrick Rose in the lineup, defense is always been the backbone of the Bulls' success.
And amid a sometimes struggling offense, that holds true now more than ever.
Nate Robinson Has a Score to Settle
Nate Robinson, despite winning three slam dunk competitions, has gone overlooked his entire career.
It has become abundantly clear in Chicago that this won't happen, though.
Robinson is averaging 12.3 points, 5.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds on a career-best 51.2 percent shooting. He also leads the team—aside from Vladimir Radmanovic—with a 21.22 PER.
Many expect his efficiency as a floor general to disappear sooner or later, but after another summer where he struggled to find work and couldn't earn a multi-year contract, the 5'9" Robinson is back with a vengeance.
He's passing more, scoring at a higher rate and on pace to have the most productive and respectable season of his career.
Despite what his past tendencies suggest, there's no denying he has finally matured as a player, leaving me to believe this hot start is not a fluke, but instead a changing of the tides.
One that proves the new and improved Robinson is here to stay.
Rebounding Is an Issue
Chicago has to do a better job on the glass.
The Bulls led the NBA last year with 46.7 rebounds per game. So far this season, however, they find themselves in the bottom half of the Association, pulling down just 42.8.
While they aren't far off from last year's mark, players like Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson, who are snagging a career low—or around a career low—number of rebounds per bout, must become more aggressive.
We saw how a lack of rebounding doomed a team like the Boston Celtics last season—and continue to watch as it hurts them now—so the Bulls must not be careful to continue such stagnancy on the glass.
Unless they wish to be headed toward an early postseason exit once again.
Joakim Noah Is a Officially a Star
Joakim Noah is an absolute stud.
For the better part of a decade, we have been pining for the defensively-inclined center to become an offensive threat as well, but to no avail.
This season, however, has been a completely different story.
Noah continues to play prolific defense, but he also—brace yourself—currently leads the Bulls in scoring, piling on 16 points per game. He's also leading the team in blocks and rebounds per game as well.
Not bad for a player who was once considered a liability on offense, eh?
No, not at all.
Noah is no longer just defending; he's defending to create offense; he's running the floor with the intent to score.
Which has made for a more dominant Noah, a more effective Noah.
A Noah who has emerged as not only a star, but a two-way leader.
The Bulls Cannot Be Taken Lightly
Once Derrick Rose went down, the Bulls could have become a pushover.
But they haven't.
Yes, this was the team that fell to the underwhelming Philadelphia 76ers last season in the playoffs. However, it's also a team playing with a chip on its shoulder.
While it's fantastic that Rose means so much to the organization, it was important that the Bulls establish an identity outside of him. Yet that was something many were unsure that they could do.
But they have.
It hasn't always been pretty, but early on, Chicago has found ways to win.
Which has left the Bulls where they belong, with or without Rose—atop the Central Division.