I will go out on a limb to say that the Chicago Bulls have upgraded their bench from last season.
After a 3-1 start to the 2012 season, the Bulls have been looking crisp on both the offensive and defensive ends. For starters, Joakim Noah has improved tremendously on his ball-handling and footwork, and he’s adopted a nice mid-range jumper.
In the Bulls' season opener against the Sacramento Kings, Noah had a stat line that read 23 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and three blocks. On top of that, he went 11-12 for free throws, which he struggled with at times last season.
While the Bulls' future remained questionable without star point guard Derrick Rose, the statement they have made on the court thus far carries along hope for the city of Chicago. Try not to forget that the Bulls did go 18-9 without Rose on the court last season in addition to earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Other factors in the Bulls' success this season fall on the shoulders of the “DENGerous” All-Star Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton. With both Deng and Hamilton prone to injuries, their impact remains a mystery this year, but the Bulls need them to continue moving forward.
In the first four games of the season, Luol Deng has averaged 15 points and eight rebounds, and his defense has improved significantly. He’s scoring more in the paint, taking better shots and anticipating a lot more on the defensive end. Honestly, he is one of the only big men out there that can defend LeBron James, but I’ll leave that for another article.
But the question remains: Can Luol Deng be the man that the Bulls can depend on consistently every game throughout the season?
The Bulls need him to succeed this season without a doubt, but whether he can take on the role as leader is the real question.
Another contributor must be Carlos Boozer, and it scares me to have to put so much faith in this man, but I think he can do it. Defensively, he’s improving, but needs to start being more consistent and stop giving up on plays. When it comes to his shooting, he also needs to work on consistency and make better choices. So far this season, he’s averaging 13 points and seven rebounds a game, a sliver shy of what he had last year, but I predict that the Booze will cruise passed those averages and have one hell of a season for Chicago.
Rip Hamilton has contributed somewhat out on the floor, but he can do much better. Given his resume, Rip has potential to give the Bulls the lift they most desperately need shooting-wise. Thus far, he has failed to make one three-point shot this season and he’s only shooting 43 percent from the field, which definitely raises my eyebrows in terms of stats. Although it is the beginning of the season, he needs to get his groove back as soon as possible.
In addition to this starting 4, veteran icon and former Bull Kirk Hinrich was a great pickup for Chicago, and I see his impact on the floor. He has a high basketball IQ to say the least, fits well in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system and is just a high-caliber point guard who makes plays. Although his shooting percentages may be down, he’s exactly what the Bulls need to fulfill the point guard position, and defensively, I know Thibodeau is giving him a round of applause.
Coach Thibodeau is probably one of the best things that could have happened to the city of Chicago, and I don’t think he gets enough of the credit that he deserves. As the former defensive coach for the Boston Celtics, alongside Doc Rivers, he guided that team to an NBA Championship in 2008.
His career accolades include NBA Coach of the Year in 2011 and NBA All-Star head coach in 2012, along with leading the Bulls to an Eastern Conference Finals in his first year as the Bulls coach and led the Bulls to the first round of the playoffs last season with an injured Derrick Rose. This guy is a God to Chicago. By incorporating his defensive coaching skills, the Bulls are recognized as the best defensive team in the NBA.
Off the bench, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler are other players Chicago can expect to see making an impact this year. Gibson recently signed a four-year, $38 million contract extension with the Bulls, and I praise Chicago for doing that. His defense is superb and only continues to get better every year if not every game.
So far, he’s averaged nine points, five rebounds and two blocks a game, and against the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, he made his presence known. Watch out for the “Taj Mahal.”
As far as Jimmy Butler goes, as a rookie, he saw little playing time last year, but wow, has he transformed into an impact player this year or what. He will be seeing a lot more playing time this year, which will give the Bulls a hand on defense. He’ll also be putting up some much-needed baskets and grabbing crucial boards.
As a whole, the Bulls have improved on their teamwork and defense, along with their free-throw shooting, which was a problem last year. As the season progresses, the Bulls really need to spend time focusing on shooting beyond the arc because they will not continue to see victories if only 26 percent of their three-point baskets are going in, especially if they match up against a team who excels at that. Developing more of an outside game is crucial for the Bulls to see success.
In terms of losing the so-called “Bench Mob” that consisted of CJ Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik and Kyle Korver, the Bulls are looking better than ever. Whoever said Chicago was going to regret losing those guys should bang their heads against the wall.
Maybe Asik was a loss given the amount of boards he’s put up for Houston this season, but I still don’t think he’s worth that ridiculous three-year, $25 million contract deal, especially with his lack of hustle in transition.
The additions of Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Vladimir Radmanovic and Nazr Mohammad are just fine by me.
The little firecracker Nate Robinson provides the Bulls with the energy and baskets they need off the bench. So far, he’s averaging 12 points a game and shooting 36 percent from the three-point line. Marco Belinelli was off to a slow start and had some difficulty finding his role in Thibodeau’s system, but once he starts getting comfortable, he’s that go-to shooting guard the Bulls need.
He’s shooting 37 percent from the three-point line, one of his specialties that will continue to get better over time. Defensively, Radmanovic and Mohammad will give the Bulls exactly what they need off the bench if Noah, Boozer or Deng should get into any foul trouble (which most likely will happen more times than I would like).
All in all, the Bulls have a high-quality team this year even without their too fast, too strong, too big, too good point guard Derrick Rose. If the Bulls continue to improve, I have no doubt they’ll be a contender in the Eastern Conference and make it to the playoffs. Chicago has upgraded in every aspect besides three-point shooting thus far, but that is something Thibodeau needs to continue working on with his team. If the Bulls spend as much time on shooting as they spend on defense, Chicago should be in great shape.
Remember: Mess with the Bulls, you’ll get the horns.