What We Learned About Chicago Bulls During Their First Half of the Season
This isn’t how the first half of the season was supposed to go for the Chicago Bulls.
With the return of superstar Derrick Rose, who missed all of last season recovering from ACL surgery, Chicago was expected to emerge as an elite team that could possibly knock the Miami Heat out of the playoffs and capture its seventh title in franchise history.
But you know how the story goes. Rose went on to tear his right meniscus, which will likely force him to miss the remainder of the season. And just like that, the championship dream was over.
We’ve learned that Chicago still has a good chance to reach the postseason this year, despite the absence of Rose and All-Star Luol Deng, who was shipped out of town. Although they currently own a 18-19 record, the Bulls would be the East's No. 6 seed if the season ended today.
What else have we learned about the “Men in Red” thus far?
All stats are from basketball-reference.com and accurate as of Jan. 16.
They Can Still Play Suffocating Defense
The Bulls’ offense has been horrific to say the least. They rank 29th in scoring (a measly 92.3 points per game) and field-goal percentage (42.3); however, their play on the defensive end of the floor is a totally different story. The Bulls are holding opponents to only 92.8 points per game, which ranks second in the NBA.
This isn’t shocking at all since they're coached by defensive guru Tom Thibodeau. No matter what players are on the roster, the Bulls are sure to play hard-nosed, gritty defense each and every night.
In their Jan. 10 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago did not allow a single basket during the final five minutes of the game.
Now that’s what you call suffocating D.
Tony Snell Has Game
Chicago selected New Mexico swingman Tony Snell with the 20th overall pick in last June’s draft.
Many fans were left scratching their heads, as they had hoped for a backup big man, such as Gorgui Dieng or Mason Plumlee, instead; however, drafting Snell has looked like a great decision so far.
The athletic California native can shoot and possesses the ability to put the ball on the floor at times as well. Although he's only averaging 5.7 points per game, Snell has shown flashes of becoming a special player down the road for the Bulls.
On Nov. 30, when the Bulls played the Cleveland Cavaliers, he scored a career-high 18 points and hit three of his five long-range attempts. Snell had another nice performance against the Cavs on Dec. 17, scoring 17 and shooting 5-of-8 from downtown.
The Bulls have a knack for finding draft steals, and it looks like they have another one in this kid.
D.J. Augustin Was an Excellent Pickup
On Dec. 13, the Bulls signed free agent guard D.J. Augustin, who had been waived by the Toronto Raptors a few days prior.
Augustin wasn't expected to have a big impact in Chicago, seeing that he was an end-of-the-bench player with the Raptors.
Fortunately, the sixth-year pro out of Texas has looked rather impressive with his new team so far. Through 17 games as a Bull, Augustin is averaging 10.8 points, 6.4 assists (which leads the team) and 1.8 steals per contest.
He has a few quality performances under his belt, including a 20-point, 12-assist effort in a win over the Charlotte Bobcats. Impressively, those all-star numbers were achieved off the bench as he backed up starter Hinrich.
Augustin could very well be re-signed this summer to play the point behind Rose.
Management Didn't Let Luol Deng Walk and Get Nothing in Return
Recently, the Bulls traded Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum—who was immediately released—and a package of future draft picks.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Deng had rejected a three-year, $30 million contract extension with the Bulls.
Within days of the Chicago Bulls unloading Luol Deng for salary-cap relief and a first-round draft pick, the All-Star forward rejected a three-year, $30 million contact extension, a league source told Yahoo Sports.
Deng, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, turned down the deal on Friday, clearing the way for Bulls management to complete a deal with Cleveland for broken-down center Andrew Bynum and a package of draft picks on Monday night.
So basically, Chicago had to deal Deng before the trade deadline or they would've lost him as a free agent during the offseason.
By unloading Deng’s contract and possibly using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer, the Bulls could actually land a big-name free agent this summer. Wouldn't you love to see LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony playing alongside Rose and Noah? Okay, maybe that's taking things a little too far.
It’s unclear whether the future draft picks will ever bring a valuable player to Chicago, but at least the Bulls received something in return for Deng.
The Injury Bug Continues to Bite
Perhaps injuries are the main reason the Bulls haven’t won a championship during the Derrick Rose era.
Rose didn’t play a single minute last season due to a torn ACL, and he’ll miss the rest of this year after tearing his meniscus. Even if you despise the Bulls, you have to feel sorry for the former MVP, who just can’t seem to stay healthy.
Some people out there believe Rose is the next Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway or Tracy McGrady. In other words, they feel he’s the next player to go from a megastar to just an average player due to injuries.
That shouldn’t be the case for D-Rose, though. Look for him to bounce back next season and regain his status as one of the league’s top-five players.
Other key Bulls players to miss time this season include the departed Deng, Butler, Hinrich and Boozer.
Chicago’s starting five of Rose, Butler, Deng, Boozer and Noah have played together only eight games, which is pretty sad.
Hopefully the injury bug won’t bite next year. Cross your fingers.