For the most part, it isn't about how you win, but that you win. In one of the most dramatic and entertaining NBA seasons off all time, new legacies are being established. LeBron James took his MVP talents to South Beach for a less-hectic path to an NBA title. Rookie sensation Blake Griffin amazed fans across the country with breathtaking displays of acrobatics. And then there's the Chicago Bulls, who knocked on the door of the true contenders party.
The stellar play of Derrick Rose has a lot to do with the team's rise to prominence, but two things have opened the door for one of the league's most exciting teams. First, the implementation of a system founded on the tough defensive principles of Tom Thibodeau. Secondly—and equally important—is the amount of size the Bulls have. Although the Bulls had some talent on the defensive end coming into the season, few expected them to yield the least offense in basketball, thus claiming the league's best record.
They can now competently defend any team. If a guy is in foul trouble, there is an equally intense bench player to step into the role. They have followed the example of teams like the Lakers and Spurs, who have won multiple championships in the last decade due to an imposing front line.
This slideshow points to each of Chicago's big bodies and what they bring to the team. By committee, the Bulls are able to counteract some of the things that make players like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol so special.
In Chicago, he's known as the Turkish Hammer. The man born Omer Asik is a tenacious first-year player and key member if the Bulls' notorious "Bench Mob." He's a lot like teammate Joakim Noah, but with less of an offensive game. Asik does all the little things. Whether it's setting a hard screen to free up the open man or stopping the opposition at the rim, he is a true hard-hat type of guy that coach Thibodeau covets.
He has proven that he can be a dominant rebounder if given minutes and has no problem selling out on "50-50" plays. He will dive for a loose ball and willingly take a charge.
Thibodeau has brought his rookie big along slowly, but received solid contributions from him in the absence of Noah earlier in the season. At this point, Asik lacks the ability to operate in heavy traffic. But because of his length and athleticism, he has some offensive potential. Asik was also a huge part of the Turkish National team that won the silver medal in the FIBA World Championships last summer.
Omer has yet to play in the early stages of this year's playoffs, but as the opponents get stronger, he will be needed to take on bigger bodies like Dwight Howard or Shaquille O'Neal. His length alone causes problems for opposing big men and he has quick feet for a man his size. He will be around for a long time in the league.
The Bulls were highly speculated to have been in the running for superstars Dwayne Wade and LeBron James. Instead, they came to terms with All-Star and Olympic Gold-Medalist Carlos Boozer. Many thought Chicago had simply settled on Boozer, due to weak bids for the aforementioned stars. In reality, he filled a void that the Bulls so desperately needed to address.
They were previously known as a jump-shooting team, with no reliable post player on their roster. The signing of Boozer changed the focus to a team that would feed off an inside game. He would miss the first two months of the season with a hand injury, but the team weathered the storm in his absence and remained steady. He returned shaky in the first couple of games, but quickly showed just what the team could be with him on board.
He provides the Bulls with a reliable second option to Derrick Rose and a physical presence on the glass. His wide 260-lb frame allows him to muscle his way to the basket and create scoring opportunities for himself and others.He passes the ball effectively and has an overall great feel for the game.
Boozer's problems come on the other end of the floor. He doesn't have ideal length at his position and taller, longer players often take advantage of his size. He has pretty good hands on defense, but he's not very quick with his feet. Although defending is not his strong suit, he is an aggressive rebounder and a vocal leader on and off the court.
Throughout his career, Carlos Boozer has been a consistent player and has been a steadying force for the Bulls. He may not have been dominant this season, but he will find his rhythm with this team.
No player on Chicago's roster has donned a Bulls uniform longer than Luol Deng. He's seen the ups and downs of the basketball seesaw. He came into the league with some pretty high expectations and underperformed by the standards of many. Everyone thought the guy was overpaid and too mercurial to build around.
Deng is no stranger to being slammed by fans and media. He came into the 2010-2011 season with a new focus and a new attitude.
The subsequent events had much to do with a conversation between he and first year coach Tom Thibodeau. They talked about leadership, execution and effort—three things that could turn Luol Deng into the player Bulls management and fans hoped he would be.
The new coach believed that Deng could be one of the best defenders in all of pro basketball. The seventh-year man out of Duke seems to have heard that message loud and clear.
Statistically, he has played rather consistently throughout his career. Deng makes big shots while defending the opposing team's best players and putting in heavy minutes all the while. In fact, he logged the fourth-most minutes per game in the regular season.
When things break down, he can make things happen. Derrick Rose may be the most valuable player in the league, but Deng is the heart and soul of the team.
At 6-9, he also gives the Bulls flexibility to utilize him as a power forward in small lineups. He causes mismatches all over the court and serves as the barometer of Chicago's success. If Luol Deng is playing well, the Chicago Bulls are playing well.
Taj Gibson's NBA career started on a positive note. He became a starter as a rookie and got the valuable experience of playing in the postseason in his rookie year. He had people talking about his activity around the basket and his ability to block shots. It appeared he was on track to have a solid NBA career. The acquisition of Carlos Boozer pushed the young forward to the bench. Gibson surrendered his ego to the team and graciously accepted his new reserve role.
It wasn't an easy transition, initially, but the second-year man out of USC provides a spark off the Chicago bench. He can score comfortably out to 18 feet and is a force on the glass. Gibson is not the strongest of power forwards, but his quickness and athleticism at his size compensate for what he lacks. He gives the Bulls a solid one-on-one defender as well as a guy who can come up with blocks and deflections from the weak side.
Taj Gibson is a great complement to Boozer, who is the better scorer but not as mobile on the defensive end. The Bulls usually don't lose much in terms of production when he's on the floor. The versatile young forward is a pest and a matchup problem for a lot of teams. There are times when he is on the wrong end of a matchup, which results in foul trouble, but he generally makes good choices on the floor. Any scenario of the Bulls making a deep playoff run will have to involve a spirited effort from Taj Gibson.
Every team needs an energy guy. A guy to go inside for the tough rebounds, step in and take a charge, or hit the deck and chase a loose ball. The harsh reality is that not every team has that kind of player. Luckily for the Bulls, they do.
The fourth-year man from the University of Florida wants to do one thing and one thing, only: win. It's in his DNA to compete and succeed at a high level.
He is the son of a pro tennis champion and grandson of a world soccer champion. His mother was a professional model as well.
He was a part of two national championship teams in college and has carried that same all-out intensity with him to the NBA. Noah doesn't live for the highlights or big numbers. His job is to do the dirty work and protect the basket for the team. Few in the game are better than him in either regard.
He is not noted for scoring, but he put up impressive numbers early in the injury-shortened season, averaging a double-double.
The Bulls' success during stretches of the season without Boozer and Noah shows how deep they are up front. With Noah healthy, the Bulls will always be one of the premier defensive teams in the league. One of the game's best shot blockers, Noah makes teams think twice about attacking the rim.
He has room to grow offensively, but his activity on the offensive boards gives him opportunities to score easy baskets.
Aside from that, he is a very fundamentally sound big man with great hands and mobility. He also passes the ball as well as any center in the NBA. Bulls fans and teammates feed off his intensity, making him a favorite around the city and organization. Chicago has a bright future with Joakim Noah, who serves as the team's emotional leader.
Brian Scalabrine hardly sees any action on the floor. But don't think for one minute that he isn't important to what the Bulls do. He's been around the game for a long time and hit some pretty big shots in the postseason. Scal is a valuable asset to a group of young players trying to establish themselves as true professionals.
Nothing really jumps out at you about Brian Scalabrine the player. He's not quick, athletic or very strong. What he does is point guys in the right direction. From the bench, he can be seen encouraging his teammates to stay the course and keep up the effort. He is also an extension of their coach. Having served a role with the Boston Celtics, he is very familiar with what Thibs expects of his team.
In terms of basketball skill, you won't see this guy trying to play beyond his capabilities. He'll go in the game, compete and make intelligent decisions when called upon.
His greatest skill is his perimeter shooting. He can make open shots from the outside and doesn't mind doing the little things to help his team. Things like setting screens, hitting the glass and stepping up to take a charge.
It isn't likely that the Bulls will use him as a rotational player in the playoffs. But the value of having such a veteran presence and an extra body down low cannot be overlooked.
Kurt Thomas is the second-oldest player in the NBA. But this past season, he played like he was 28. Thomas held the fort down in crucial minutes in relief of the injured Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. All season long, he has been the enforcer and teacher for the Bulls' defense. After all these years, he still hits the glass hard and sacrifices his body each time down the floor.
He also gives Chicago a capable scorer with a reliable mid-range jumper and tough inside game. He isn't afraid to take a tough foul to remind opponents that nothing is easy in this game. Kurt Thomas is a true professional. He quietly goes about his business and shows up for his team in whatever capacity is asked of him.
It's a bit strange that Thomas led the nation in scoring and rebounding as a collegiate player. From the beginning, he never complained about not getting the ball or being a major part of a team's plans. Thomas set his path to be around for many years, rather than looking to be a star. He is important to what the Bulls do, because he can play and defend the four and five. He also rebounds the ball at a high level, despite playing limited minutes.
It appears age hasn't gotten the best of 38 year-old Kurt Thomas. He is still a very productive NBA player and is as eager as ever to help a team get that elusive championship he'd love to have. The Bulls will need more of the same positive contributions from the 16-year vet to accomplish that goal.