You must look past their recent bumps in the road, most notably their 120-97 Christmas Day loss to the Houston Rockets. In that game, the Bulls, in unlikely fashion, gave up more than 90 points in three quarters. They also struggled rebounding the basketball and playing transition defense.
Those games make you ask the question: How good are these Bulls?
Let's start with rebounding.
The Bulls are a good rebounding team with or without Rose. Chicago played without him for much of last season and outrebounded their opponents on average of 46.7 to 40.0. This season, the Bulls are averaging 42.9 RPG while giving up 40.1 RPG.
Rose is a terrific rebounder given his point guard position. He happens to play for a team with three players that are among the best rebounders at their positions as well.
Rebounding requires a total team effort. Missing a key player does not necessarily hurt the team in that aspect.
Another element that requires a total team effort is defense, especially in transition.
Against the Rockets, James Harden and Jeremy Lin ran the floor at will. Their constant fast breaks bothered the Bulls' slow-footed defenders, who were out of position early and often. It was Christmas, and the Bulls were surely in a giving mood, allowing 31 fast-break points.
Bulls defenders were often taking the wrong angles, and the Rockets had several uncontested layups as a result. Can Rose help the Bulls’ transitional defense when he returns?
The answer is yes and no. Rose at 75 percent of his normal capacity is the Bulls' most athletic player. He could get back on defense when he was healthy, but you have to grade him on a curve once he returns. His trust in his lateral movement may not be there right away.
Can Rose quickly regain his form?
Not so fast. An ACL injury is difficult to come back from and has robbed several players of their explosiveness.
Jason Kidd from the New York Knicks can attest to ACL surgery.
Before a recent Bulls game versus the Knicks, Kidd spoke with CSN Chicago’s Aggrey Sam about Rose and his recovery:
It's a lot of hard work, especially when you're talking about your knee. You've just got to be patient, but you've got to do all the little things to maintain that strength and I know Derrick is going to do that. From what I'm hearing, he's worked extremely hard. It takes time. Sometimes things happen for a reason and maybe now, he'll pay a little more attention to that jump shot. If he gets that, then he's pretty much unguardable because of his athletic ability and his knowledge of the game, so I think it's a good thing.
Before the injury, Kidd was an athletic point guard with excellent court vision. Over the course of his career, he developed into a great three-point shooter and had to rely more on guile and less on athleticism.
Rose will have to do the same thing.
Working solely on his jumper, Rose will improve as a shooter. This helps the Bulls, but does it guarantee that they'll be NBA title contenders?
Rose's return gets the Bulls closer to title contention, but they still have holes.
Chicago needs to stabilize their 2-guard spot. Is Richard Hamilton the short-term solution, or is he potential trade bait? Can Marco Belinelli become the answer? He has given the Bulls a lift as a starter, but can he play with Rose?
The other problem the Bulls face is the health of the remaining members of their core.
Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are both in the top five in minutes played. If either player is injured, the Bulls are finished.
Luck will play a role in deciding the Bulls' fate. It certainly wasn't on their side last season, which proves that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.