When Derrick Rose tore his ACL in last year's playoffs, Chicago Bulls fans' hearts immediately sank. Rose had played a key role in the team being the NBA's best each of the past two seasons, so how could they continue to play well without its fearless leader?
However, while Rose continues his road to recovery, the Bulls have continued to play well. The team is 4-3 and just a half game behind the Milwaukee Bucks in the Central Division.
More importantly, the rest of the team has done a great job of stepping up and looks like it is more than capable of doing well in the playoffs. Richard Hamilton has done a fine job staying healthy and Luol Deng has been clutch on both sides of the floor per usual.
The best player in Chicago, however, has been center Joakim Noah. Through seven games, he has averaged 15.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. He has not once turned off the afterburners and finally seems to be living up to his full potential.
That said, Bulls fans need to stop the pity party and just root for the team that has played well all season long. Yes, Rose is a big loss, but it's not as though Chicago has just lost an irreplaceable player. Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson have done a fine job running the point in the former No. 1 pick's absence and are keeping the Bulls in the hunt early in the season.
On top of that, just look at how the rest of the key Bulls players have performed thus far. Rose's injury has brought them together and they are playing with the type of motivation that most coaches can only dream of. They are determined to prove that they are still a dangerous squad without Rose, and it is clearly working based on Chicago's place in the standings.
The best part of it all is that the Bulls are not merely getting by. They may rank 21st in points scored per game, but that can be attributed to Rose's absence, as the 2011 MVP has averaged 21 points per game for his career. Factor that in, and Chicago goes from being 21st to the very top offensive team.
Can the Chicago Bulls contend without Derrick Rose?
On the other side of the coin, the team's defense is looking top notch, ranked fifth in the NBA. With Rose out, everyone has turned up the effort on this side of the court to successful results.
Thus, Bulls fans need to stop putting Derrick Rose on a pedestal. He is important to the team, but not so much to the point where it is lost without him. Four and three isn't a great record to start the season, but it's better than anyone could have expected them to do thus far.
Seeing as how Rose has just started cutting on his knee again (via ESPN Chicago), it may only be a matter of time before he returns to the lineup. At that point, fans' cries may return to smiles and so will the Bulls to the top of the standings.