It defies all logic.
They lost their best player to another season-ending injury then traded their most versatile contributor for cap space and remain among the top teams in the East.
Granted, one might argue that the conference is severely lacking in talented franchises outside of the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, but everyone else’s shortcomings do not diminish what this club has done under the tutelage of head coach Tom Thibodeau.
These guys aren’t clawing their way into postseason contention; they are currently a No. 4 seed and just one-half game out of taking over the third-place slot.
So while this group isn’t impressing anyone with their (lack of) star power, the Bulls definitely have the tools to make some playoff noise.
The Defense Is Still Top-Notch
The Bulls’ best weapon going into the playoffs is their ability to prevent the other guys from putting the ball in the basket.
Trading Luol Deng probably gave some the impression that their ability to defend the perimeter would be weakened, but Jimmy Butler has filled in very well.
This is where the team hangs their hat.
They don’t have multiple freak-of-nature athletes like the Miami Heat or the Oklahoma City Thunder, so they have to play to their advantage.
Chicago has size and length, attributes that translate very well in the right defensive scheme.
Their ability to block shots, force turnovers and secure the ball after missed field-goal attempts constantly gives the Bulls chances to pull out a victory.
The Significant Offensive Strides
Without the dynamic skill set of Rose, it’s no surprise that Chicago struggles to score.
Thibodeau’s bunch puts out a league-worst 93.3 points per game, hardly the production that translates into a series win.
Despite the overall offensive dearth, the Bulls have shown some flashes of improvement that will serve them well in the playoffs.
For one, their ball distribution is very solid.
Chicago is 11th overall in team assists, averaging 22.3 dimes per game; with an average of 34.6 field goals made each contest, 64.5 percent of their baskets are produced by teammates setting up each other.
In addition to spreading the floor, the Bulls also help themselves with second-chance possessions.
The team is sixth in the league in offensive rebounds, pulling down 12 each outing.
In the context of postseason success, Chicago will make up for their low points output with efficient possessions.
Being able to establish appropriate spacing and moving the ball will make their opponents’ work harder on defense, forcing them to exert a lot of energy.
Crashing the offensive glass creates more opportunities for the Bulls and fewer chances for the other team.
In a staff piece on ESPNChicago.com, Steve Kerr pointed out the significance of extra chances as it relates to playoff success:
In a playoff game it's all about possessions. You want to get extra possessions because usually games come down to two or three plays here and there. If you can get a few extra possessions it's huge.
The context of this quote was a nod to Joakim Noah and the intangibles he has that impact winning, but it’s indicative of the entire squad.
Chicago won’t run a team off of the court, but they’ll wear them down with great spacing and fighting for those missed shots.
When the Playoffs Start
The Bulls find themselves in a very favorable situation.
By hovering right in the middle of the postseason seeding, they are in a position to match up with a team they can beat and move on to the second round.
This is where things get interesting.
It is very likely that if Chicago gets past round one, they would face either Miami or Indiana as the next opponent.
There is no denying that Noah and company would play their very best against both of these clubs; however, this team is not loaded with enough talent to make it beyond either one in a seven-game series.
Since the Eastern Conference is so anemic, the Pacers and Heat will probably square off again in a bid to get to the championship round.
The advantage in that rematch would go to the team that didn’t play the Bulls in round two.
Chicago plays with such ferocity that most every win against them is a hard-fought endeavor.
Extend that competitive effort over what could possibly be a seven-game series, and the winning team would not have much left for their next challenger.
This is the threat the Bulls pose in this year’s playoffs.
Despite all of the heart they’ll put into each contest, the team is not a contender without Rose, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t leave an influential mark on the rest of the field.
Chicago’s impact will be an indirect one, but the results will be major.