Chicago Bulls: The East's Most Unpredictable Finish
Last season, NBA fans were witnesses to one of the most exciting first round playoffs series anywhere.
But myself, along with many others, including ESPN's "expert panel", which all had Boston winning the series, were shocked. Chicago had pulled off a huge upset, taking the game to overtime, and Bulls rookie Derrick Rose scored 36 points and had 11 assists.
After seven games, seven overtime periods, a few too many clutch free throws missed by Paul Pierce, and a sweet dunk by Joakim Noah on Pierce, you had the Celtics over the Bulls.
Ben Gordon averaged 24 points throughout the series and was the go-to guy for the Bulls all season.
He bolted and went to the Detroit Pistons for a five-year, $50 million dollar deal.
This was a big blow to Chicago's offense. Gordon had been the leading scorer for the Bulls the past four seasons.
Given that fact, you'd think "Chicago certainly won't be as good next year", but things aren't as bad as they seem in Chi-City.
Chicago seems to be a place for surprises. Getting Derrick Rose was a surprise. Earning the seventh seed in a close Eastern Conference race was also a surprise. Finally, giving the Celtics some serious headaches in that playoff series was a shocker too.
Luol Deng, guard-forward out of Duke, is returning. Last season, in 49 games, Deng averaged 14.1 points and 6.0 rebounds a contest. Solid numbers for a third-option player. If the Bulls want to improve, Deng needs to be a huge part of this team.
Also, Derrick Rose is returning with high confidence after a great playoff series. Rose is the face and future of the Chicago Bulls. The reigning Rookie of the Year will be fun to watch. He should work on his three-point shooting and round out his mid-range game, but that's a common rookie problem.
The Bulls lack of post presence though, could pose problems. Brad Miller is a shooter who is in decline and Joakim Noah is a bully down low as a solid defender and great rebounder.
The lack of post play was the reason that Chicago entertained a Carlos Boozer trade.
Kirk Hinrich is likely going to be starting at the shooting guard position, and I like that move. Kirk can shoot well, but is an underrated defender. Late in games, Hinrich was often given the responsibility of guarding Ray Allen, and that's saying something.
Backing up Hinrich and Rose is Jannero Pargo, a 40% three-point shooter. The Bulls are looking for Pargo to be a scorer off the bench and possibly step into a sixth-man role.
In late November, I remember saying "Who the heck is John Salmons?". The swingman was averaging nearly 20 points a game with the Sacramento Kings before he was traded to the Bulls.
Salmons will be a terrific scorer off the bench, and will dominate most second-string small forwards.
The Bulls have a solid lineup, but I think they'll finish seventh in the East. The lack of frontcourt production will be their biggest problem.
But I could be wrong. Deng could be a 20 point-per-game player. Scouting reports say he has that ability, but that he just needs to stay healthy and be given a fair shot.
Rose will improve too, and I think playoff position is up to him. If he can break out and score 20+ ppg, while averaging 8-10 assists, Chicago will be headed for a sixth or fifth playoff seed. If he continues his play as of last season, his team may not even make the playoffs because they don't have Gordon's scoring punch.
Many previews have Miami at fifth, but they have a thinner roster and injury-prone Jermaine O'Neal. Chicago could easily pass them if they stay healthy.
Toronto is another contender for the fifth spot, but I do like Chicago's depth at the three spot to carry them over. With an undersized backup forward, Toronto will have to work hard to make up on defense when the bench comes into the game
I think a fair guess is about 44 games and I'd like to see the Chicago Bulls return to the greatness they had in the '90s.
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