Derrick Rose's health is Chicago's major storyline heading into training camp.
A healthy Rose is the difference between the Bulls being slightly above average and being a legitimate contender. They thus have their sights on the NBA pinnacle and stroll into training camp with lofty expectations.
Bulls 2012-13 Results
- 45-37 record (.549)
- 2nd in the Central Division
- 5th in the Eastern Conference
- Lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Miami Heat (4-1)
Key Stats: The Good and Bad
A couple statistics largely indicate the nature of the 2012-13 Bulls.
From a positive standpoint, they ranked third in points allowed per game (92.9). Their defensive identity has been at their core since coach Tom Thibodeau arrived in 2010. This remained despite Rose's absence.
Negatively, the Bulls mightily struggled at the other end, ranking tied for last in points per game (93.2). One trouble in particular was subpar production from three-point land, where they only averaged 5.4 three-pointers made per outing (second-to-last in the NBA).
Biggest Storylines Entering Training Camp
One thing is for sure: Rose's return is their featured storyline as they begin training camp. If he regains his old form, Chicago's offense receives a needed jolt of life.
You can count on Rose's health and performance being heavily monitored not just during training camp but also throughout the whole season. His presence is unquestionably paramount to Chicago's potential.
Chicago's secondary narratives center upon some other core figures. Is Jimmy Butler the missing piece the Bulls have desired at shooting guard? Since Luol Deng is in a contract year, could he be dealt before the trade deadline?
These subsidiary issues could become prominent ones as the season progresses.
Key Additions and Losses
Key Additions: Mike Dunleavy, SG-SF (Two years, $6 million); Tony Snell, SG-SF (Four years, $6.8 million); Erik Murphy, PF (One year, $490,180, second season is fully unguaranteed)
Key Losses: Marco Belinelli, SG (Two years, $5.6 million with the San Antonio Spurs); Nate Robinson, PG (Two years, $4 million with the Denver Nuggets); Richard Hamilton, SG (remains unsigned); Assistant Coach Ron Adams (hired by the Boston Celtics as an assistant coach)
Biggest addition: Mike Dunleavy
Dunleavy is undoubtedly the most notable newcomer, namely because of his three-point shooting and veteran presence. In 2012-13 with the Milwaukee Bucks, he averaged 10.5 points per game while compiling an impressive 42.8 percent mark from distance.
Take a peak at his shot chart and note how much green is sprinkled around the perimeter.
Dunleavy should bolster Chicago's lackluster long-range shooting, providing them with a proven weapon who will stretch the defense. He should mesh wonderfully with Rose and will surely have games where his hot hand is a major factor.
Furthermore, his defense is underrated. In 2012-13, he limited oppositions at the small forward slot to per-48 minute production as follows (per 82games.com): 17.6 PPG, 6.7 rebounds per game, 3.0 assists per game and a PER of 10.3. He held shooting guards to an even more eye-popping PER: 7.0.
It should be said that James, Iguodala and Deng spend considerable more time guarding elite weapons than Dunleavy, so it's illogical to conclude that Dunleavy is at their top-notch level defensively.
With that said, Dunleavy's numbers are eye-opening enough to reveal that he is by no means a defensive liability. In fact, his understanding of team defense and ability to at least contain his counterpart should enhance Thibodeau's brilliant defensive schemes.
This analysis magnifies why Dunleavy is Chicago's finest addition, and he could end up being one of the best bargain signings from the entire NBA offseason.
Biggest loss: Marco Belinelli
Some may wonder why Nate Robinson is not highlighted here. While his contributions were crucial to the 2012-13 Bulls, they had no need for him with Rose returning and Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague still under contract.
The player who is much harder to replace is Marco Belinelli, who contributed in an array of ways offensively. They'll specifically miss his penetration abilities from the two-guard spot. His savvy playmaking skills and crafty finishes provided Chicago with a unique threat.
A fear for the 2013-14 Bulls is if they possess an offensive creator besides Rose. This has been a problem in the past, resulting in Rose carrying too much weight. While Dunleavy is a potent new weapon, he isn't a ball-handler.
Therefore, the loss of Belinelli could really sting in this area. He, as an off-the-ball playmaker, could have lightened the burden Rose will carry.
|Point Guard||Derrick Rose||Kirk Hinrich||Marquis Teague|
|Shooting Guard||Jimmy Butler||Mike Dunleavy|
|Small Forward||Luol Deng||Tony Snell|
|Power Forward||Carlos Boozer||Taj Gibson||Erik Murphy|
|Center||Joakim Noah||Nazr Mohammed|
*C Dexter Pittman, PG Mike James, SG Patrick Christopher and PG Kalin Lucas have been invited to Chicago's training camp, but none of them have a guaranteed deal for 2013-14.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Kirk Hinrich vs. Marquis Teague
The Bulls have pretty established roles throughout their roster, but a battle could potentially present itself for the backup point guard reins.
Veteran Kirk Hinrich was a starter last year when healthy, and while his offensive output was subpar (9.4 points per game per-36 minutes, 37.7 percent field-goal percentage), his lockdown defense remains valuable. It's hard to visualize him getting lost in the shuffle because of his defensive grit.
However, second-year floor general Marquis Teague could make this interesting. Teague surely doesn't view himself as a scrub, and his play in the summer league showcased significant strides (18.3 PPG and 4.8 assists per game). His progression could force Thibs to thoroughly evaluate his second unit.
No matter how stellar Teague looks in training camp or during preseason games, it's unlikely that he'll steal all of Hinrich's minutes. Here are a couple scenarios that are much more likely to unfold.
First of all, they could end up sharing time, and Hinrich could perhaps even snag minutes at shooting guard.
Still, this would inevitably reduce Hinrich's involvement, even if he's plugged in on occasion as an off-guard. This is because Rose and Butler will own the overwhelming majority of the backcourt minutes. There won't be much left over for anybody, so if Teague cracks the rotation, Hinrich could only see 10 or fewer minutes a game.
Secondly, if Teague raises eyebrows in convincing fashion, Chicago could explore trade options involving Hinrich. Teague's development could make Hinrich expendable, and the Bulls could in turn look to deal Captain Kirk for a shooter.
At any rate, this is the primary training camp battle to watch. It is minor, but it still holds significance for Chicago's 2013-14 outlook.
Battling for a Roster Spot: Pittman vs. James vs. Christopher vs. Lucas
Chicago will likely only keep one of these hopefuls, potentially two. Pittman has the upper hand because he is a center, a position where they could use more depth since Nazr Mohammed is now 36 years old.
Truthfully, if Pittman emerges amid training camp, he could even sidestep Mohammed as Joakim Noah's backup. It's unlikely since Pittman hasn't attained much in his three-year NBA tenure, but when you're 6'11'' and 285 pounds, you'll at least be given a chance.
It wouldn't be surprising if he at least earns a roster spot.
Mike James, Patrick Christopher and Kalin Lucas will also compete for a position. Christopher and Lucas are long shots, largely because neither have actually played in the NBA.
James, on the other hand, is an 11-year NBA veteran who even started 23 games for the Dallas Mavericks in 2012-13. Furthermore, he played with the Bulls during 2011-12 and drew quality reviews from Thibs.
James is the type of veteran player who could boost team morale with his presence alone, and he therefore has a distinct advantage over Christopher and Lucas.
The likelihood is that one (maybe both) of Pittman or James are kept. Their training camp performances should dictate this.
Biggest X-Factor: Jimmy Butler
Butler enjoyed a breakout second half of 2012-13. His defense garnered recognition as he limited opposing shooting guards to a PER of 7.0, per 82games.com.
Plus, his offensive repertoire dramatically improved.
For instance, prior to the All-Star break, he shot 25.0 percent from three-point land, per NBA.com/Stats (subscription required). Post All-Star break, he manufactured an astounding 47.5 percent from deep.
Butler also displayed versatility by scoring in multiple ways, such as slashing to the rim, knocking down the mid-range jumper or scoring in transition.
If Butler's career trajectory continues its ascent, or merely emulates his performance from the spring of 2013, the Bulls suddenly have a multi-faceted shooting guard who should thrive alongside D-Rose.
The specific questions here are: Was Butler's emergence last spring more of a fluke (it is a small sample size)? Will he continue to elevate his game? Just how good is he exactly?
This is the biggest X-factor heading into the Bulls' season.
Best-Case Scenario: His defense is a constant, and he produces an offensive output near 15 PPG while shooting 40-plus percent from three. If Butler further advances his offensive approach like this, then the Bulls could have the missing piece to the championship puzzle.
Worst-Case Scenario: While his defense remains solid, he regresses offensively and struggles with confidence, leading to a PPG average below 10 and a three-point percentage in the 34-36 percent range.
Bulls' Best-Case Scenario in 2013-14
Rose stays healthy and regains his old form, Butler develops further and excels with Rose, and Dunleavy proves to be an ideal fit. Further, Noah, Deng, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson perform similarly to last year, and Chicago's overall team chemistry is second to none.
They steamroll their way through the regular season by winning 60-65 games, securing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference while poising themselves for an NBA finals run.
Bulls' Worst-Case Scenario in 2013-14
Rose can't find his old form, Butler reaches his ceiling, and Deng and Boozer show signs of regression. In a competitive Eastern Conference, the Bulls look like a middle-of-the-pack team.
They win 45-50 games while nabbing the 5th seed, and they then lose their opening round matchup in a tight series.
Remember that the Bulls led the Association in wins during 2010-11 and 2011-12. When healthy, they're more than capable of winning plenty of contests.
This will be a bit more troublesome in 2013-14 due to a stronger Eastern Conference. Not only are the Heat, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks formidable ballclubs, but two division rivals—the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons—made noteworthy offseason additions.
As a result, 60 wins is a stretch, but the Bulls should still rattle off 55-60 victories. This should situate them as the second or third seed for the playoffs.
From there, we can expect an outstanding playoff showing from Chicago.
They should meet the Heat in the conference finals, and the Bulls possess the intangibles needed (size, perimeter defense, a superstar in Rose) to oust the reigning champs.
The Heat were undeniably vulnerable in 2012-13, and the Bulls are perfectly positioned (assuming health) to dethrone the star-studded cast from South Beach.
The bold prediction here is that the Bulls will not only shock the world and beat the Heat but that they'll also cruise through the NBA finals and notch their first title since the Michael Jordan days.
Prediction: 58-24, No. 2 seed in East, Win NBA Championship
There's much that must happen prior to then, but these predictions illustrate where the Bulls are setting their hopes at the moment.
Training camp launches for the Bulls with one goal in mind: bringing a championship trophy back to the city of Chicago.