The Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose had a storybook year in the making last season. Behind the leadership of the league's MVP and Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau's defensive mindset, the Bulls fought hard to an NBA-best 62-20 record in the regular season. The playoffs, however, were marred by injuries and a lack of chemistry on the offensive end of the ball, and the Bulls fell to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals 4-1.
With a lockout in progress, no one can really be sure whether or not there will be a full season this year, or even a season at all. Regardless of whether there is professional ball being played, you can bet that the entire Bulls team will be training and preparing for whenever the lockout ends.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the Bulls in the next NBA season.
Carlos Boozer has been the talk of the town since the Bulls lost in the Eastern Conference finals. Many amateur writers and fans have quickly turned Boozer into the pseudo-scapegoat of the team and place the blame of the defeat solely on his shoulders.
I, however, will give Boozer the benefit of the doubt; Bulls management seems to agree. Being injured for a large part of the season and missing training camp entirely put Boozer at a disadvantage from day one, and he never got fully acclimated to his new team, nor did he fully develop chemistry with Joakim Noah.
I think that we have not seen the best of Boozer on the Bulls, and I think he will concentrate on staying healthy this season, resulting in him playing more than 60 games.
At first, this may look like an outlandish statement. But after a little bit of research, it actually seems like more of a possibility. Looking at www.basketball-reference.com's page on Boozer and performing some quick calculations, some very interesting trends occur.
In seasons where Boozer plays more than 70 games, he averages 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Keep in mind that these numbers also include his rookie season where he averaged 10.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in only 25 minutes a game. Omit his rookie season and those numbers jump to 19.3 points and 11.1 rebounds.
If Boozer manages to stay healthy this season, it is not a stretch to predict him averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds, especially as his role in Chicago's offense increases.
Luol Deng's health and performance have been big question marks for the Bulls and their fans (sound familiar?) for the past few years, at least until last season. In Deng's 2010-11 campaign, he sported career highs in minutes played and three-point shot attempts. He was described by many as the glue that held the team together.
He truly did it all, being the defensive assignment for the best wing player on the opposing squad, as well as the secondary ball-handler. He scored from various spots on the court, and defended with vigor.
Last season, Deng averaged 4.1 three-point shot attempts per game. The next season even close to this number was his rookie season, where he averaged 1.9 per game. He took nearly three times as many shots from deep on the season than he did in any other. Even with that, he managed to shoot a respectable 34.5 percent from beyond the arc.
I expect him to work on his deep ball in the offseason and come back stronger next season, taking about 350 attempts overall and converting on about 140 to 150 of them.
Last season, Rose put up career highs and team highs in points and assists, with 25.0 and 7.7 respectively. He also averaged almost 20 field-goal attempts per game, which drove his efficiency down slightly. Not only that, he averaged 6.6 free-throw attempts each game, as well as 4.8 threes a game. With all of those shots, 25 points a game is almost to be expected.
If Rose continues to improve and mature as he has in his three years thus far, I expect him to take on more of a pure-point type of role. He attacks the paint very aggressively, and if his teammates can stretch the floor better than they did this past season, I would expect Rose to have more open options as opposing defenses collapse on him.
I could see Rose's assist numbers somewhere in between 8.3 and 8.6 a night, and close to 700 on the year.
This is another hot topic of the Bulls' offseason. Clearly, Keith Bogans was not the answer as the team's shooting guard, and questions are still floating about Ronnie Brewer's offense. Rose needs a running mate in the open court who can dribble effectively, create his own shot and knock down a three. A good defender would only help the system.
Two guys fit the bill almost perfectly, though many names have been floated about. Courtney Lee of the Houston Rockets and Arron Afflalo of the Denver Nuggets are two names that have come up rather frequently in Bulls trade talks, and it was rumored that the Bulls were actively pursuing Lee around the trade deadline last season.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, Afflalo is a fan favorite in Denver, and all signs point towards his contract being negotiated there. Lee seems to be the most realistic option available. Last season, he was a bench player behind Houston's Kevin Martin, but he still managed to put up 8.3 points per contest on 43.9 percent shooting. He also put up a three-ball per game, and he shot a very respectable 40.8 percent from deep. He's also known to be a solid defender.
Although his dribble game isn't known to be as good as some other names floating around, he still can create a shot if he needs to. The Bulls could offer a number of assets to Houston for Lee, and salary is almost a non-issue, as Houston has a good amount of money due to trade exceptions.
Joakim Noah is the ultimate hustle player. He always gives 110 percent on the court, and rarely leaves any behind after the game. Watching him in game, he often ended up on the floor diving for loose balls, and even running on the break with Rose. Last season, he averaged a double-double for the second consecutive season with 11.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest.
His youth and energy are still at a premium, and I predict that Noah will average a double-double for his third season in a row. I believe that his scoring numbers will go up slightly, but I don't think his rebounding numbers will get much higher, as nearly every starter on the court next season will be an above-average rebounder. I expect to see about 12.5 to 13 points per contest and another year of around 10.5 rebounds a game.
Last season, the Bulls averaged 98.6 points per contest. Their opponents averaged 91.3 points per contest, a differential of 7.3 points a night. That means that the Bulls won games by an average of three possessions.
With the core of the team still very young, there is still plenty of room to grow for these guys. The offense will be a little more composed, the defensive rotations a little more solid, and the team will improve on the whole. Averaging at least 1.4 more points per contest? Piece of cake for a young team destined for greatness.
Under the leadership of Derrick Rose and the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau, it is not a stretch to predict another 60-win season for the Bulls. If they could do it last year with key players injured for the majority of the season, imagine the possibilities with a fully healthy starting lineup. I predict that the Bulls will go 60 and 22.
Even though I believe the Bulls will develop more as a team and will focus on offense, I think there are a lot of other teams in the league who will also get better.
Say what you will about Derrick Rose, but in the end, he was the most valuable player on the court last year. He won the award because his dominant play kept the Bulls winning streak alive, even when Boozer and Noah were hurt. The only other player who had this type of effect on his team's success was Orlando's Dwight Howard.
Rose has recently been quoted (stated in this article) saying that “Being that close [to the NBA Finals], and not getting it, hurt." Later in the article, he places the blame of the loss solely on his own shoulders. He vows to condition harder, and be ready for next year.
I believe that Rose will continue his development and maturation and defend his honor for the league's MVP Award. He may or may not win it again, but he will certainly be among those strongly considered for it. His attitude shows it; he has that killer instinct. He has the ability to will his team to a win, and those instincts will only get sharper as he gets older.
You can bet your bottom dollar that the Bulls are going to play with a chip on their team's collective shoulder this next season. After such an aggravating loss to Miami in their last campaign, the Bulls will be out for blood next season.
As a team, they have been improving steadily each year for the past three years. Slowly, they have been developing a chemistry. They have made the right moves in the offseasons. The players are ready, and the coach has something to prove. The rebuilding process is now complete, and the Bulls are ready to take their shot at the title.
But of course, this is all just my opinion—I could be wrong.