The Chicago Bulls were expected to be good last year, but few saw the team winning a league-high 62 games and reaching the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals behind the MVP season of Derrick Rose, the youngest player to win the award.
Coach Tom Thibodeau turned the Bulls into the NBA’s top defensive team in his first year as head coach.
However, Chicago’s offensive over-reliability on Rose showed in the East Finals five-game loss to Miami. The Heat double-teamed Rose on nearly every possession and often stuck the much-bigger LeBron James on Rose during the fourth quarter.
For example, in the fourth quarter of the Game 5 series-ending loss, Rose made 2-of-9 shots, just one in the final 10 minutes, and committed two turnovers that the Heat converted into four points in the final 2:40. He also missed a free throw that would have tied the game at 81 with 26.7 seconds left.
Rose shot 21.4 percent after the third quarter in the series and just 35.0 percent overall. He shot 6.3 percent from the floor in the series when defended by James, the lowest among any player who defended the MVP on five or more plays.
That result made it clear that the Bulls had to find a second scorer who could create his own shot, and they appear to have done that with Richard Hamilton (see Offseason Moves).
And Chicago should be better this season as well because Carlos Boozer should improve. Boozer was supposed to be that second offensive option and did OK in the regular season: He played in 59 games due to injury, averaging close to 18 points and 10 rebounds. But Boozer struggled mightily in the playoffs, scoring just 12.6 points per game, and was often benched vs. Miami late in games for Taj Gibson.
Boozer was the subject of most criticism by fans, but a turf toe robbed him of any explosiveness in the postseason. Boozer is healthy now (the lockout actually helped him) and 20 pounds lighter. He’s also motivated to quiet the critics.
2011-12 Chicago Bulls Offseason Moves
It was a very quiet offseason for the Bulls until late last week, when Chicago added the shooting guard it desperately needed in Hamilton, the former Piston. The three-time All-Star cleared waivers as expected after being bought out by Detroit and got a two-year deal worth $10 million guaranteed.
The Bulls trotted out a mix of Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver at shooting guard last season and it was a disaster in the East Finals. The Heat knew those guys couldn’t create their own shots or hit consistent mid-range jumpers.
The 6'6" Hamilton long has possessed one of the game's more reliable mid-range jumpers (he’s OK on three-pointers, hitting 38 percent of them last year and 35 percent for his career) and tirelessly runs defenders off screens. His size is also a benefit defensively, and the Bulls are a defense-first club.
The only question is how much Hamilton has left. He averaged 14.1 points (lowest since his rookie year) in just 39 starts last season, incurring disciplinary issues as he feuded with then-coach John Kuester. It’s expected that Hamilton will start, although Thibodeau could decide to bring him off the bench to boost the second unit’s offense and start Brewer instead.
With the Bulls up against the cap—Hamilton got the mid-level exception—his signing meant the end for Bogans, who started every game last year and was a solid defender, but a terrible shooter. Also gone from last year’s team is valuable big man Kurt Thomas. But those two are the only major defections from last year’s 62-win club, and Hamilton the only significant addition.
2011-12 Chicago Bulls Futures Odds
On Bovada, the Bulls’ odds to win the NBA title are 8/1, fourth behind the Heat, Lakers and Thunder and 3/1 to win East (second to Miami).
Rose is 11/2 to repeat as NBA MVP.
2011-12 Chicago Bulls Schedule
Chicago opens the season Christmas Day at the Lakers in a potential Finals preview, and that starts a tough road trip: Dec. 26 at Golden State, Dec. 29 at Sacramento and a return to Los Angeles on Dec. 30 against former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro’s Clippers.
The home opener is New Year’s Day vs. Memphis.
Chicago has only one set of three games in three nights, which starts Jan. 9 at home vs. Detroit, followed by a trip to Minnesota and back home vs. Washington. The good news: Those are three bad teams.
Chicago plays Miami four times, with the first in Miami on Jan. 29. That starts Chicago’s longest trip of the season, a nine-game affair that features stops at Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Milwaukee, New Jersey, New Orleans, Charlotte and Boston.
The season concludes at home vs. Cleveland.
2011-12 Chicago Bulls Picks and Predictions
We still don’t really know what the Bulls truly have, considering Boozer and center Joakim Noah missed a combined 59 games last season—it’s frankly remarkable the team won 62 games and didn’t lose more than two in a row all season (before that Heat series).
And will Luol Deng have another health-free season? He was the team MVP outside of Rose last year, but Deng missed a combined 64 games during the previous three seasons. Can he stay healthy in a compressed schedule?
Here’s one thing I can guarantee: The Bulls will fare much better than they did after the last lockout. The previous time the NBA emerged from one, in 1999, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and their supporting cast were essentially gone from Chicago, and the Bulls sank from 62 victories and a sixth NBA title to a 13-37 team that started a decade of irrelevancy before Chicago lucked into Rose via the draft lottery.
Chicago has more depth than the Heat and is better defensively, but the NBA is all about superstars. And it’s still 3-1 in Miami’s favor in that category.
So look for Chicago to again win the most games in the East and face the Heat in the conference finals. But that will be where the Bulls’ season ends for the second season in a row.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports NBA picks Web site.