On the surface, the Chicago Bulls look like a team poised to return to their dominant regular-season form. But does a closer assessment keep in line with that superficial logic?
The positives are pretty obvious: They went undefeated in preseason play, Derrick Rose looked impressive, and the overall roster has some balance.
There are some lingering issues, though: The injury bug is biting, the center position needs reinforcing, and the uncertainty of Luol Deng’s future could turn into a distraction.
This group is never the kind that tips their hand too much, but a number of things can be gleaned from the regular season's preliminary stage.
Here is some closer analysis of—and grades for—the Bulls on their offseason personnel moves and performance over the eight tune-up games.
Chicago has had considerable prowess in drafting late-round talent in recent years. Look no further than Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler as exemplars.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding the Tony Snell pick, and Erik Murphy had a desirable-enough skill set to make him a potential second-round steal.
Outside of a lottery pick, the most any team can really hope for from a rookie is for the player not to royally screw up and show some positive things when on the court.
Both of the Bulls' young guys held up their ends of the bargain in that respect.
Tom Thibodeau gave them a fair shot to prove themselves, allotting Snell 17.5 minutes per game and Murphy 16.8.
Their final preseason stat lines shaped up as thus:
These guys were drafted because of their offensive repertoires, but it was obvious that the pace of the NBA game stifled them a little bit. There shouldn’t be any concerns, however, because there were other areas in which these rookies showed promise.
Out of all the positives of Snell’s offensive game, it has been his ability to dish out assists that has stood out more than his scoring.
Making the smart pass will continue to benefit Chicago, given the number of teammates who shoot and move without the ball well.
Snell’s shooting will develop as he gets used to playing at the professional level. The flashes he’s shown with getting the ball to an open teammate will be a much more serviceable skill this season.
The knock on Murphy in college was his lack of proficient rebounding, especially since he was bigger than a lot of his competitors.
While playing under 20 minutes per preseason game, Murphy did a solid job on the boards.
Seeing as how he was pegged as one-dimensional when drafted, showing that he could contribute in other ways definitely helped his case for being a legitimate part of the rotation.
The Bulls’ rookies didn’t blow anyone away.
However, they stayed within the system and exhibited other strengths that the team can use as the season progresses.
Offseason Acquisitions: B+
Chicago made very little noise during the free-agency period, limiting their new additions to experienced swingman Mike Dunleavy, Jr.
Dunleavy was lauded for being a productive veteran who could contribute to a team’s success in a myriad of ways.
His final preseason statistics suggest that he’s not the impact player management was hoping he would be:
Mike Dunleavy, Jr.
This is where raw data can be misleading.
The main thing to take into account is that he is on a new team where most players’ roles have already been defined.
As the preseason moved along, it was apparent that Dunleavy was starting to get comfortable with his teammates.
In games like the ones against the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks, he was not shooting particularly well but managed to contribute in other ways, with his rebounding, assists and free-throw accuracy.
The veteran poise he has shown so far is something that is needed in the Bulls’ young second unit.
Dunleavy is no longer the guy who has to make up for a team’s many shortcomings like he was expected to in the past. He only has to play smart and fill in wherever there is a statistical void.
As the season moves along, he will pick up even more on the subtleties of thriving within the current system, and as he figures it out, he is really going to start helping this team mold the championship look they’ve been seeking.
Preseason Performance: A+
It is preposterous not to award this team the highest mark possible for its preseason run.
Eight games. Eight wins.
Bring on the regular season.
There was some rust to be knocked off since most of this team was playing with Rose for the first time since April of 2012, but the basic production indicators show that this team is ready to quickly reassert itself into the championship discussion.
In its last full season with the former MVP, Chicago averaged 98.6 points per game while holding opponents to 91.3 points.
If you do the preseason math, the Bulls averaged 96.6 points and held their challengers to 86.4.
Things are starting off on a familiar note, and since this squad is still finding its groove, it bodes well for the 82-game stretch.
Crowning Chicago the official Miami Heat three-peat spoilers may be a little premature, however.
A major impediment that has sidetracked the Bulls in the past has also presented itself during the October warm-ups.
This team still can’t catch a break when it comes to injuries.
The Bulls have been down this road before with the oft-injured center. This time they played it more cautiously than usual, and now Noah is certain that he can play in his team’s season-opener at Miami.
On the surface, this does not seem too serious since rest usually alleviates any ill symptoms. One can only hope that the lingering effects associated with this type of injury don’t come back later on.
Since Chicago is used to weathering these kinds of hardships, they continued to thrive.
There is no questioning this team’s talent, but their best shot at besting the Heat—and new big dogs like the Brooklyn Nets—lies in them being fully healthy.
Rose’s high level of play does give Bulls fans real reason for having grand expectations for the 2013-14 regular season. On the other hand, those same fans already know how difficult things will get in the postseason if there are players nursing physical ailments.
Thibodeau and the Bulls management have done very well in being prudent with handling maladies during the preseason. If this practice continues, Chicago could finally break through this year.