Can Chicago Bulls Be NBA Title Contender Without Derrick Rose?
Last week, Rose's pronouncement that he would not return until he was "110 percent" left Bulls fans wondering if the team could realistically contend in the playoffs, especially considering they were mired in their worst stretch of basketball in the Tom Thibodeau era at the time.
The question may very well be moot. Rose's words were spun a bit out of control. He told Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:
I don't have a set date. I'm not coming back until I'm 110%. Who knows when that can be? It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year. It could be any day. It could be any time. It's just that I'm not coming back until I'm ready.
If we're examining the entirety of the statement, he's just as likely to come back "any day" as he is "next year."
Rose was actually saying what everyone has always been saying: He'll be back when he's ready. It amazes me how much argument there is on a subject most agree upon.
If Chris Broussard is to be believed, that time is more likely sooner than later:
Eyewitness at D Rose's first 5-on-5 practice Monday said Rose looks "ready to go." Said Rose looks like he's able to play in games.— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) February 20, 2013
Still, it remains a possibility that Rose won't be back this year. So what happens if he isn't? The Bulls have fared better without him than they were expected to. Could they make a run for a title?
It would be extremely unlikely.
The Bulls are ranked 20th in offensive rating right now, and they simply don't have the offense to win an NBA title. No team since the merger has won a championship with an offense ranked that low.
The 1979 Seattle SuperSonics, with the NBA's best defense, were ranked only 14th in offensive rating in a 22-team league—the equivalent of a ranking of 19 today. Without Rose, the Bulls just don't have enough offense to win a title.
That doesn't mean they don't have enough of an offense to beat a contender in a seven-game series, though. That's where things get interesting.
There is no playoff fairy which chooses to bless one team over the other. While some things do change, such as the pace slowing down, weaknesses remain weaknesses and strengths remain strengths.
The regular season establishes that the Bulls are well equipped to handle both teams, albeit for different reasons.
The way to beat the Heat is twofold: Make them miss their shots, and get rebounds.
Their record in those games is 21-48. In the playoffs alone, the Heat are 4-11 when that happens.
Because the Heat have gone small, the Bulls have a decisive edge in the frontcourt. The Bulls are fourth in rebound percentage, while the Heat are 20th.
The other half of the battle is not so easy. The Heat are by far the league's best shooting team, boasting an effective field-goal percentage of .545. However, the Bulls give up the league's second-lowest effective field-goal percentage, .469.
It's little wonder that the Bulls are 6-2 against the Heat when they've met those two standards.
Similarly, the Bulls nullify the Knicks' strength.
The Knicks live and die by the three. They are 6-13 in games where they shoot .360 or worse from deep. They are 26-5 when they shoot .361 or better.
They are also 19-3 when they make at least 12 threes in a game. They are only 13-15 when registering 11 or fewer. In three games against the Bulls, they have made a total of 27 threes and shot below the .360 mark twice.
Once again, we see that the Bulls have the capacity to work the upset.
But winning four consecutive series is different than winning one or two. The Bulls measure up well with the Knicks or Heat in a potential second-round series, but they would be hard-pressed to keep turning the upsets.
The Bulls don't have what it takes to win a title without Rose, but they do have the makings of a team that could play spoiler and derail the season of one of their rivals.
That would certainly help take some of the sting out of a Rose-less spring.
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