The answer is a simple one, yes! Not only do the Bulls have what it takes to be competitive in the postseason, they can advance to the Eastern Conference Final if a few things fall in their favor.
Before we go into a few “what if” scenarios, currently the team is in shambles. Injuries have shredded the Bulls, who are playing with 10 healthy bodies.
To be where they are—42 wins versus 32 defeats, including winning six out of their last eight games—is short of amazing.
The injured Bulls players would make one heck of a starting five.
Without Derrick Rose all season, the team came together quite cohesively. Take away Richard Hamilton (18 consecutive games missed), Joakim Noah (eight games), Marco Belinelli (seven games) and Taj Gibson (two games), you have a mash unit full of players who have 136 starts between them just this season alone.
Injuries have placed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau in a pickle.
NBA coaches normally give their core players a rest during the final stretch of the regular season. That luxury is something that Thibodeau cannot afford, even if he wanted to rest his players.
Thibodeau discussed the topic of rest in a recent Aggrey Sam article on CSNChicago.com.
I think it all depends on your team and where you are, injury-wise and stuff like that. All the same things go into winning and then the [playoff] seeding takes care of itself at the end. Whoever you have available to play, just go out there and get the job done. It’s whatever your circumstances are. Sometimes you’re not in that position, so there may be some teams where they play guys straight out. Only really the head coach is going to understand how to pace his team going into the playoffs and understanding where you are injury-wise, and that’s an important part of the job.
Have the latest rash of injuries really hurt the Bulls?
Injuries are never good in sports, but they become a blessing in disguise if they happen in a timely fashion.
Health or Lack Thereof Is a Huge Advantage for the Bulls
A 10-8 record since Richard Hamilton has been sidelined may suggest the opposite. To go even further, the injuries have allowed a few key players to rest.
Aside from forwards Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, which player could use a break?
An argument can be made for Nate Robinson.
The Bulls’ unsung hero is on pace to log in the second-most minutes in his eight years in the league. To get him ready for the playoffs, finding time to sit him may help the team. Robinson with fresh legs gives the Bulls a viable scoring threat.
If Deng, Boozer or Robinson cannot get a break, perhaps the return of injured players will pick up the slack.
Take Joakim Noah for instance. The All-Star center is averaging a double-double this season. His foot problems came at a time when he was logging heavy minutes (33.3 MPG in March).
Noah’s setback has forced Coach Thibodeau to start backup center Nazr Mohammad in the pivot. Mohammad has responded averaging 5.0 PPG and 6.7 rebounds over the last 10 games.
Another player who has risen to the challenge, replacing a starter is Jimmy Butler.
As a starter, Butler provides everything a team needs, scoring (14.2 PPG), rebounding (7.2 RPG), passing (2.8 APG) and defense (1.9 SPG). Watching his ascension, it is time to put to bed the Bulls need of a 2-guard and begin to focus on a backcourt with Derrick Rose and Butler.
Together, they would establish an athletic guard tandem that the Bulls have never had.
If the Bulls return all of their injured players and they sign power forward Malcolm Thomas for the rest of the season, they will retain a size advantage in the Eastern Conference.
Noah and Gibson are known commodities. They will bring tough interior defense and rebounding. Mohammed is bouncing back from his early struggles at the right time. Even castoff Vladimir Radmanovic is proving to be worth a few looks when the Bulls need offense.
Adding Thomas to the mix gives the Bulls seven players who are listed at 6’9” and taller.
In the playoffs the only team the Bulls have a strong chance of facing with that advantage are the Pacers.
Indiana’s roster is built similarly to the Bulls in terms of size but the Bulls have stronger frontcourt depth when healthy.
The Bulls get scoring and rebounding from Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Noah and Gibson. No other team can boast that type of production from their frontcourt players.
The Bulls will need some luck if they want to go deep into the playoffs. Seeding will factor in how far they can go as they still can avoid a possible second-round meeting with the Miami Heat.
There is still one nature of business that must be settled: Will Derrick Rose return?
Toss out every variable if he does.
The bench, after stepping up all season, would instantly get an upgrade. There would also be a glut of shot-makers on the Bulls.
Deng, Noah, Boozer, Belinelli, Butler and even Nate Robinson have all put the team on their backs at some point, not to mention the contributions Kirk Hinrich and Mohammad have made.
A Rose comeback is the Bulls biggest hidden advantage as the postseason nears.
Perhaps this is why all has been mum in Chicago.