The Chicago Bulls’ 2014-15 season relies on one factor above all: the health of Derrick Rose. He’s played just 10 games over the past two years, and no one truly knows if he can put in significant time on mended knees going forward.
But provided that Rose can last a full season at a level nearing his 2010-11 MVP swagger, this Bulls squad looks to be the most fearsome one for which he's played. Not least of all because of the addition of Pau Gasol.
Gasol left the Los Angeles Lakers because "instinct told me to pick Chicago,” in his words. A likely part of Gasol’s impulse was the promise of playing with Rose: a lane-penetrator more dynamic than any with which he's shared the floor.
Rose’s proclivity for sucking defenses into sudden rim-bound vortices should match well with Gasol’s more stationary comfort in the paint. Gasol is 34, but he's still enough of a threat in the post to draw some double-teams. Defenses looking to protect the basket from both players are sure to lose track of many jump-shooters, a boon for Chicago’s offense.
Rose has never had a teammate with Gasol’s offensive acumen. Carlos Boozer’s skills were somewhat overlooked due to his excessive contract—the now-amnestied power forward was Rose’s best scoring teammate this side of vintage Ben Gordon. But Gasol’s talents are far more complete than Boozer’s, who is now a Laker.
Gasol has as much floor vision and passing touch as new teammate and “point center” Joakim Noah—it’s safe to wonder if the NBA has ever seen as potent of a big man passing duo. You'd have to go back to the Boston Celtics of the 1980s, starring Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, for a decent comparison.
The Bulls' new Spaniard can also score in bushels, and he does it in a variety of ways. He was still averaging 17.4 points per game last season, on 48 percent shooting. And this was in a Mike D’Antoni offense that didn’t feature him primarily and against defenses that had only the likes of Nick Young and Jodie Meeks to worry about outside of him.
With the attention that both Gasol and Rose draw from the opposition, cutters and catch-and-shoot wingmen like Doug McDermott, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell and Jimmy Butler will be receiving a lot of assists from both players.
And Rose is sure to land many dimes into Gasol’s hands directly, too. A strong mid-range shooter and exceedingly clever roll man, he’ll be a great pick-and-pop partner. Rose will also be able to spot him on mismatches near the rim—be they either through height or IQ.
Having Gasol to dump it to will give Rose some necessary possessions off. It'll also lead to some surely gorgeous high-low action between Gasol and Noah.
Defensively, don’t expect to see much synergy between the two. Fans should look for coach Tom Thibodeau to run Gasol out with either Noah or Taj Gibson since Gasol’s declined as a defender and will need an elite rim-defender next to offset his presence.
Gasol is still a bit better of a stopper than Boozer, though. Here’s the Boozer-Gasol upgrade defensively, as explained by Grantland’s Zach Lowe:
Both were turnstiles on defense last season, but Gasol should perk up playing for a good team under a new coach, and he’s better than Boozer on that end simply by being three inches taller — and by not being Boozer.
That being said, Thibodeau will hide Gasol as much as he can on defense. In the event that Rose lets his assignment by for recovery defense, Noah or Gibson is more likely to snag his man. A team would have to be especially pointed in its attack of Gasol to stymie Thibodeau’s designs set to minimize his defensive role.
The Bulls' identity is carved out on the defensive end, where they’ve landed near the top of the league every year Thibodeau’s been in town. But in Rose and Gasol, they’ve got an offensive pairing that fans can finally get excited about. Let’s just hope that health allows them to.