The Chicago Bulls aren’t a completely glossed-over team. In fact, they’re pretty widely respected. There is, however, one thing that people have forgotten in regard to the present core—namely, that they haven’t hit their peak.
On the other hand, others, like Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops, look at the changing NBA landscape and sell the Bulls short, having forgotten about how good the team really has been and/or can be.
Remember, this is a team that won the most games in the NBA during the 2010-11 season and tied for the most wins in the 2011-12 season.
They did so with a plethora of injuries, filling starting spots with backups and role players. It’s a team where “next man up” became the mantra. They’ve shown they can be the best without being at their best, but we haven’t seen their very best.
Why They Can Still Be Better
I find it interesting when people say things like, “If they stay healthy, they can win 55-60 games.” They did better than that without staying healthy, so if they stay healthy, why can’t they do better than that?
Some people look at the Bulls and think they need a second superstar, but that ignores why the Bulls have been so successful over the last three years. What they have are players who fill every role.
If there is a thing that needs to be done on the court, the Bulls have someone who can do it.
You need perimeter defense? There are Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng. You need low-post defense? There’s Joakim Noah. You need someone who can penetrate and create shots? There’s Derrick Rose. You need three-point shooters to stretch the court? There are Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich, Butler, Deng and Rose. You need low-post scoring? There’s Carlos Boozer.
Noah and Butler are great offensive rebounders. Boozer and Deng are both great defensive rebounders.
Butler and Rose compose an extremely athletic backcourt that can run the fast break. Noah, Boozer and Taj Gibson provide a physical frontcourt that can pound inside.
In fact, they have so many players that do so many things well, they can live without one of those things being done and still win games. We know they can do without them because they’ve actually done so, over and over again.
But what happens if they have everyone healthy? What if everyone is functioning to capacity? Reason stipulates that they shouldn’t just be as good or even marginally better; they should be significantly improved.
Just let this fact sink in: The Bulls were 29-8 with Kurt Thomas and Keith Bogans starting a few years ago. Likewise, they were 33-11 in games where Ronnie Brewer started, regardless of who was starting with him. How do Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler not make them more successful?
That’s not a knock on Brewer or on the tenacious energy he brought to the Bulls. But Brewer is no Butler.
Sure, the Bench Mob in 2011 had Omer Asik, and he’s currently with the Houston Rockets. Yet, people tend to put the current version of Asik on the 2011 Bulls and not the 2011 version of the man who played 12.1 minutes a night. How many people were saying Asik would put them over the Heat in 2011?
Yes, they had the same core, but much of that core was in its first year of learning Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system. Now they have it down. Shouldn’t they be able to execute it better?
That version had flaws, such as not having a player like they have now in Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler—a guy who can handle the ball, knock down the three and play solid defense.
And they are focused. They are locked in. This team is not in it for the regular season. They are in it for the ‘ship.
Why Some People Are Looking Past the Bulls
So, if the Bulls are so good, why are some people overlooking them?
This is because of an epidemic that exists in today’s sports media: the oft-ignored and underreported “Postseason and Offseason-Induced Neurally Transmitted Logical Evaluation Suppression Syndrome,” or POINTLESS for short.
The infected become so inundated with hyperbolic storylines about what happened last postseason and this offseason that the brain actually ceases to properly function. The neural pathways that would normally allow for cognitive function get shut down, blocking rational thought and independent analysis. And thus, all that permeates the brain are spoon-fed narratives.
The worst of POINTLESS victims become cows, eating the narrative(s), regurgitating, chewing, swallowing, regurgitating, swallowing, etc.
And the interim, between the end of one season and the beginning of the next, just serves to magnify the symptoms.
The former depends too much on the underlying premise that Indiana was “close” to Miami because it played the Heat close in a seven-game series, then builds on that false premise by suggesting that since Indiana has gotten better, and Miami hasn’t, Indiana is now better than Miami.
But let’s remember that sometimes postseason success is just about a matchup, and in this case, it was about Roy Hibbert dominating Chris Andersen, which is relevant, since Hibbert is normally a horrible interior scorer.
Indiana wasn’t nearly as good as Miami. The Pacers were a 49-win team which gave a 66-win team a good run. Luis Scola—whatever you think of him—is not worth 17 games.
And on the Nets, let’s remember that Jason Kidd is a player-turned-coach, and that only one coach—Bill Russell—has ever done that and won a championship in his first season. And he did it inheriting a championship team he still played for.
Are the Nets and Pacers better than they were in 2011? Yes. Does that mean they’re better than the Bulls (or the Heat)? No. But sometimes we can get too fixated on a storyline, and thus make a POINTLESS argument without realizing it.
Also, bear in mind that other teams, such as the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers, who were playoff teams in 2011, aren’t as good now. So, even the notion that some teams improving means the entire Eastern Conference is better is flawed. Any conclusions about how it will be harder for the Bulls to pad their win total because other teams are better are equally specious.
Some are better. Some are worse.
I’m not saying there’s nothing to the point that Brooklyn and Indiana have improved. I’m saying, in the context of the Bulls being able to win more than 60 games, the significance of their improvement is overstated.
About Opening Night
I can see the comments flying already: “What about opening night?! Weren’t the Bulls manhandled by the Heat?”
Yes, they were, but even Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick, Miami Heat lead writer, points out positives you can draw from Rose’s performance:
Tipoff of that game was the first time the starting five had ever played together. There were obvious, albeit slight, chemistry issues here and there on both ends. They’ll figure that out.
Joakim Noah was playing for only the second time this year, having notched fewer than 20 minutes during his lone preseason game. He was clearly out of sync. He’ll work things out.
None of the Bulls' shots were falling. They were only 7-of-26 as a team from deep. They won’t always shoot that badly.
And Rose was pretty awful. He’s not going to go 4-of-15 with five turnovers every night. He’ll have his bad nights, but he’ll have some brilliant ones too.
That’s not making excuses. It’s just acknowledging the specifics of how the Bulls were outplayed, not dismissing that they were.
Also, give the Heat some credit; they came out and landed a haymaker. The Bulls weren’t ready for it. By the time they knew what was going on, both Deng and Butler were in foul trouble, and the Heat were running up a 37-18 second-quarter score.
The point being: The Heat ran the Bulls out of the gym, but that was one game. You can’t take any more from that game than you can declare the Philadelphia 76ers the NBA champions and give Michael Carter-Williams MVP for what he did the next night in trouncing Miami.
Opening night does not a season make. The Bulls still have the complete team to win a title. Nothing changed because of one game.
For the Bulls, when healthy, they are the most complete team in the NBA. While “when healthy” is admittedly a massive qualifier for them, don’t forget about how good they can be when they are. If they can make it to the playoffs healthy, it could go a different way, even if they have to go through the Heat.