Can the Chicago Bulls Win a Title with a Healthy Derrick Rose?
Two seasons ago, the youngest MVP in NBA history led a good Chicago Bulls team to the Eastern Conference finals only to fall at the hands of the Miami Heat during the first playoff appearance of their "Big Three" superteam.
Derrick Rose then suffered numerous injuries during his 2011-12 campaign, all leading up to his devastating ACL injury in the first game of the playoffs.
Rose has yet to suit up for a game this season, but it has been reported via ESPN that he's been taking full-contact exercises since the end of January.
Without Rose, the Bulls are sitting as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and only two games behind the second-place Indiana Pacers.
So far this season, the Bulls have defeated the New York Knicks three times and the Heat once. In the recent loss against the Heat, who are unquestionably the team to beat in the East, the Bulls registered just 67 points and went through stretches where they couldn't put the ball into the basket. Committing 26 turnovers doesn't help either.
Had Rose been playing in that game, I can guarantee that the Bulls offense would not have struggled that immensely. They are currently 24th in the league in offensive efficiency (per Hollinger's Team Stats), a far cry from their No. 5 spot from just a year ago.
Unlike the Boston Celtics, who are on a tear after losing Rajon Rondo, the Bulls haven't experienced similar results after the loss of Rose last year.
Maybe it's because Rose was such a huge part of the offense and draws defenders by just being on the court. His ability to penetrate and finish at the rim is so threatening that opposing defenses must collapse on him or he will score.
Right now, the Bulls rely on a balanced attack and an inside-out game by feeding Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah in the post and letting them dictate the offense.
When Rose comes back, he completely changes how the offense is executed and opposing defenses are forced to adjust when he's on the floor. His ball dominance at the point guard position is what makes him so threatening, because he can score in so many ways and possesses the vision to find the open man.
The Bulls are a good team, but Rose elevates them to a whole new level.
This comparison may be a stretch, but the current Bulls team without Rose is similar to the 1993-94 Bulls without Michael Jordan. They still have a bunch of good players who play great team basketball, but the team cannot excel without its superstar.
In the 2011 playoffs, the Rose-led Bulls defeated an inexperienced Pacers team in a tough first-round series. They went on to beat the Atlanta Hawks in six games before losing to the Heat.
This year, the Bulls have a much better team, with an improved Noah and better role players. They're also fourth in the league in defensive efficiency, so their defense has been just as good as before—even with a different supporting cast.
But even with Rose, is it possible that the Bulls could win a championship, let alone get out of the Eastern Conference, with Rose as the only reliable scoring option?
In their playoff defeat to a weaker Heat team two years ago, nobody else stepped up when Rose was suffocated by the entire Heat defense on every possession. Now, both the Heat and Pacers are much better, and the Pacers are the best defensive team in the league with more scoring options than the Bulls.
The road to a championship is very bumpy and the Bulls will struggle on their journey.
It's also worth noting that Rose may not even be the same player he was before his injury. It's possible that he could come back stronger than ever, but it's also possible that he won't be able to harness his explosive, athletic abilities ever again.
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