What Chicago Bulls Must Do Between Now and Start of NBA Playoffs

James DavisAnalyst IFebruary 28, 2014

Head coach Tom Thibodeau (second from left) draws up a play during a timeout.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau (second from left) draws up a play during a timeout.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Despite losing Derrick Rose to another season-ending injury and trading away utility-man extraordinaire Luol Deng, the Chicago Bulls are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

Their competitive spirit certainly can carry them into the postseason, but there are some tweaks this team needs to make if they are going to have a strong showing.

Considering their struggles over the course of this campaign, the Bulls would definitely benefit from improving their offensive production, minimizing turnovers and adjusting playing time to ensure their guys are rested yet prepared.

These adjustments won’t improve this squad’s chances of winning a title this year; however, it would make them a team that other clubs would rather not play in a first-round series.

Let’s delve into what the Bulls need to do in order to bolster their role as spoiler when the second season commences.


Pick up a Scorer from the Waiver Wire

Casual fans tend to ignore basketball transactions once the trade deadline passes, but diehard enthusiasts know that there is a subsequent period that should not be neglected: buyout season.

Presently, Chicago’s roster stands one man short of the league’s 13-player minimum seeing as how current filler Jarvis Varnado is on the back end of his 10-day contract.

Once the Bulls add that final piece, they have to ensure that the prorated salary doesn’t push them over the luxury-tax threshold, and acquiring a bought-out player for the minimum would facilitate that intent.

There’s no question that whomever management adds, he has to be able to contribute consistent scoring.

The Bulls’ 92.9 points per game is last in the league, and they are in the bottom four for three-pointers per game.

Defense is Tom Thibodeau’s calling card, but stopping a team from scoring is only part of the victory equation.

Rumors are beginning to surface that link the team to some offensive-minded players who are either already on waivers or negotiating buyout terms.

There have been conflicting reports on Twitter concerning whether or not Chicago is interested in Ben Gordon.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles counted the Bulls among of the teams courting the Charlotte Bobcats shooting guard.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune said the team has no interest in Gordon and is more interested in Sacramento Kings guard Jimmer Fredette, a claim substantiated by Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

NBA.com's David Aldridge further corroborated Johnson’s report with his own tweet stating that the former Brigham Young standout himself favors the Windy City.

Guard Jimmer Fredette
Guard Jimmer FredetteRocky Widner/Getty Images

Either addition would bring some much-needed scoring potency.

Their notorious scoring droughts, like the 28 combined points scored over two quarters in their February 23 contest against the Miami Heat, have cost them a number of victories and would all but guarantee a quick playoff exit.

If the sports media are reading the signs correctly, then Chicago is definitely making the right move with filling their last vacancy.


Take Better Care of the Ball

Landing a scorer will not cure all of the Bulls’ ails.

As disciplined as Thibodeau’s team can be, they are seriously lacking when it comes to maximizing their possessions.

When looking at the 10 teams the lead the league in committing turnovers, five other squads in addition to Chicago are in playoff contention: the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder.

That may lend to the logic that Chicago’s giveaway problem is not as major as it is being portrayed, but keep in mind that of those aforementioned clubs, the Pacers have the lowest team scoring average at 99.2 points per game.

Indiana’s better-than-typical ability to put up points coupled with their defensive prowess can absorb turning the ball over.

The other teams in that group all produce 100-plus points each contest and can simply score their way through frequently contributing extra possessions to their foes.

The Bulls don’t have that luxury.

They may allow a stifling 92.3 points per game, but they barely produce a little over a half-point more than that.

Chicago needs to preserve as many possessions as possible if they are going to keep the scoreboard so close.

Improving ball security will limit extra opportunities for their opponents and restrict the in-game pace to the half-court set where Thibodeau’s defense thrives.


Adjust Playing Time at the Center Position

Heading into training camp, Thibodeau said that reducing Joakim Noah’s playing time was a priority.

Technically, coach has delivered on his promise, but the All-Star center is still logging the second-highest minutes-per-game average of his career at 34.1, which makes him the third-most-played big man in the league.

Noah’s time is going to have to be tapered to ensure he is in peak physical condition for what are sure to be some hard-fought playoff contests.

Bulls small forward Mike Dunleavy (left) and center Joakim Noah (right)
Bulls small forward Mike Dunleavy (left) and center Joakim Noah (right)Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This is not a call for a drastic cut that would disrupt the team’s rhythm—just a small reduction that can be easily distributed to someone else.

Taking four minutes away from the starter and passing it to reserve Nazr Mohammed is very reasonable.

Right now, the fifteen-year veteran is only pulling a 7.6-minute workload.

While he is not expected to be a game changer, he can surely handle a few more trips up and down the court.

With the recent history of Noah’s plantar fasciitis, it just seems like Thibodeau is really pushing the envelope a bit.

The former Florida Gator has logged more total minutes than anyone else on the team, and that is bound to catch up to him as the season slogs on.

For the past three seasons, the Bulls have gone against the grain when it came to dialing back the floor time of their key contributors in the last handful of games.

That refusal always seemed to contribute to the team quickly deteriorating when the playoffs rolled around.

As far as stars go, Chicago is down to their last one in Noah.

It would be best to safeguard his health so that he is well-rested for a mid-April surge.


Make It All Count

Sure, the championship hopes for the Bulls’ 2013-14 NBA season were dashed when an injury to Derrick Rose took him out for another campaign, but that did not signal a waving of the white flag.

This team is still a respected competitor that other top clubs would love to avoid.

Looking at the other franchises sitting in the middle of the pack, the Bulls have the tools to win a first-round series that would likely result in a conference semi-final matchup with either the Pacers or Miami Heat.

Although they are not likely to beat those top-tier groups, Chicago has enough fight in them to weaken either of those squads enough to cost a conference-finals victory.

The good news is that the suggested adjustments are all things that are within the team’s control.

If these perfectly attainable goals are reached, it could make for some even more surprising basketball in this season’s home stretch.