Chicago Bulls: 10 Keys to Capturing an NBA Title This Year
Coming off their best year since the Jordan Era, the Bulls are hungry to bring a dynasty back to Chicago. The Bulls have a few threats to look out for this year and to complete their title run, they need to improve on a few areas, stay healthy and have a few things bounce their direction at the right time.
Key #1: Derrick Rose Must Improve His Conditioning
In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Rose talked about his conditioning in the playoffs when he said:
"I think my conditioning was a big part in me playing the way I played towards the end, where I think I didn't have enough in the tank and that's sad to say, knowing how far we made it and how close we were. That was the reason why. Stuff like that, I never want to go through that again."
I think one of Rose's best attributes is his willingness to learn and work hard during the summer. Every season, it seems that Rose has added a new move to his repertoire and I don't expect it to be any different this summer when he works on his conditioning.
This would actually make a huge difference come playoff time when Rose is expected to be on the floor for more minutes than in the regular season. Rose managed to to play about 41 minutes per game in the playoffs, but I can't say that he was fully himself at the end of games.
Could this be why he relied on his three-pointer too much in the playoffs? Rose is a slasher that scores a lot of points near the hoop with his floater and his ability to be one of the best finishers in the game. If he is better conditioned for the playoffs, he would be adding a lot of energy at the end of the game that would allow him to drive to the hoop more.
Key #2: Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah Must Stay Healthy
The Chicago Bulls obtained a 62-20 record, mostly without either Boozer or Noah in the game. The two missed a combined 57 games last season. In games where one of the two was missing, the Bulls were 35-14. When both of them were gone, the Bulls were 3-1. When the two were together, the Bulls were an astounding 24-5.
Also, when you think about it, the two weren't even with each other long enough to create the best chemistry, which is why there might have been a drop-off in production for both of these players after they returned from their injuries.
I've heard many claims that these two can't really work together, but to be honest, they haven't had enough time working together to prove they are capable of playing together. They have different styles of play. Boozer is more of a half-court player, whereas Noah is more of a fast-break player, but the beauty of this is that Rose and Thibodeau can mix it up whenever they want.
With a healthy Boozer and Noah, the Bulls have one of the best front courts in the league.
Key #3: The Bench Mob Must Stay Consistent
The three most important things to the Bulls' title run last season were Derrick Rose, the defense and the production of the bench.
With one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, the Bulls used their bench players for defense, clutch scoring and leadership. With one of the best plus/minus rankings of any bench in the NBA, the Bench Mob was not a liability whatsoever. Thibodeau had no problem going to his bench this season and he won't have a problem going to it again next season.
Taj Gibson needs to stay strong on defense and continue to improve on the offensive side as this is a contract year. Ronnie Brewer needs to bring the same defensive mindset next season. Kyle Korver needs to stay clutch like he did this season, leading the league by a long-shot in fourth quarter threes. C.J. Watson needs to be the leader of the Bulls when Rose is off the floor. Lastly, Asik needs to grab every rebound he can reach for.
The Bench Mob was very consistent last season and for the Bulls to go anywhere in the regular season or playoffs, they will need to bring the same enthusiasm and will to win during every game.
Key #4: The Bulls Must Sign a Reliable Shooting Guard
It was evident that the Bulls needed a shooting guard that could create his own shot during the Heat series as the wing players were sitting on the perimeter waiting for Rose to create his own play.
The Bulls really have two options here. They can either sign one of the shooting guards out of free agency or they can look to make a trade.
The free agency class for shooting guards brings up possible candidates such as Jamal Crawford, Jason Richardson, J.R. Smith, etc. The most likely candidates I think are Richardson and Smith.
With Jason Richardson, he's not in his prime anymore, but he can still greatly contribute to this Chicago Bulls team. He has said that he would like to sign with a contending team this season and the Bulls would actually be a great fit for him.
Now, with J.R. Smith, you know that he has potential and the ability to be a great NBA player. However, his attitude has not always been the best. He is an electric scorer on offense and would help the team drastically in that area, but he has never given the most effort on defense. For this partnership to work, I think Rose and Thib would have to sit down with Smith and see if it is at all possible to create a chemistry with him. If not, there is no reason to pursue him any further.
The second option is to obtain a guard by a trade. The possible targets are O.J. Mayo and Courtney Lee. Both players would be an ideal fit for the Bulls, however, it is still unknown whether the Bulls would like to give up a player like Gibson or Asik to get either Mayo or Lee.
Key #5: The Bulls Must Find a Veteran for Their Bench
The Bulls second unit is full of young players like Watson, Brewer, Jimmy Butler, Gibson and Asik. With that said, I think the Bulls would benefit greatly from a veteran player who wants to win a ring.
A veteran player like Shane Battier or Michael Redd could still have an impact on this Bulls team.
Shane Battier has one of the best game IQ's in the game. You never see him take a bad shot on offense and on defense, he has incredible length to make him a great defender. He is also a great leader and would be a great addition to the locker room as well. Memphis seems to want to hold on to Battier, however, as they are trying to make a championship run as well.
Michael Redd used to be one of the stars in the NBA putting up 20-plus PPG for six seasons. Then, he was injured for the majority of the season for the past three seasons. Michael Redd could still provide a scoring threat to the Bulls as he is a sharpshooter, however, his horrendous defense and being an injury-prone player could force the Bulls to look elsewhere.
Injuries happen during the season and adding a veteran player could prove to be quite useful to fill the void. Just look at last season when Noah was hurt and Kurt Thomas filled in and started all of those games.
Key #6: Derrick Rose Must Shoot Near 40 Percent from 3-Point Range
In three seasons, Rose has improved his three-point percentage from 22 percent to 33 percent. Last season, Rose shot almost five three-pointers per game, which was four more than he had ever averaged in his career. There is no question that Rose would like to add this skill to his game, as he tried very hard to work it into his repertoire last season.
However, if this is to become a large part of his game, he needs to become much more effective shooting it. There were games in the playoffs in which Rose would take way too many threes, whether that was because of his injured ankle or not. I would have no problem with him taking those shots if he were able to make them more efficiently.
Also, an improved three-point game would force defenders to honor his shot and guard him much closer to the perimeter causing a defensive mismatch with Rose's speed. He could instantly become the NBA's hardest player to guard.
Key #7: Joakim Noah Must Improve His Post Game
Joakim Noah got most of his points last year from a fast break or from put backs. Before he injured his thumb last season, you saw Noah taking more mid-range jumpers from 15 feet away and saw his new "tornado" move that was fairly successful in the beginning of the season. His postgame right now is limited and there is definitely room for him to improve before next season.
For Noah to be considered a threat on offense to opposing teams, he needs to work on new post moves this summer. He still has plenty of options to go to. He could use a spin move, as he is a very quick center. Also, I would suggest a 10 foot hook shot. This is about the farthest I would like him to shoot in the post, as he has a funky release point in his shot.
With an improved offensive game for Noah, the Bulls would create another reliable option on offense, forcing teams to stick with their man more rather than double-teaming Rose.
Key #8: Kyle Korver Must Stay Clutch in the Fourth Quarter
After an excellent shooting season in Utah, Korver statistically had a down season. Shooting 41 percent from deep, he shot 12 percent lower than in his last season in Utah. However, what he brought to the Bulls last season was being a clutch shooter in the fourth quarter.
Korver led the league last season with 58 fourth quarter three-pointers last season. The Bulls won a lot of games in the fourth quarter last season and there were many games in which Korver sealed the game for them.
In the playoffs, Korver was either hot or cold, but for the Bulls to close out teams like the Heat, Korver will be called on to make clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter. This is now his calling for the team, as he is their most reliable three-point shooter.
Key #9: Luol Deng Needs the Same Productive Season as Last Year
Luol Deng quietly became the team's second best scorer last season, only behind Derrick Rose, averaging 17.4 PPG. The Bulls need Deng to be the exact same player as he was last season, as he was a true two-way threat.
Deng provides the Bulls with a quality offensive threat from both inside and out. However, he could work on his post game if he wants to be even more competitive. On defense, Deng usually guards the opposing team's best player and usually does an excellent job containing them. He was only a few points away from being voted on to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team.
But, for this to happen, Luol Deng must stay healthy this season. Last season, Deng played in all 82 games averaging over 40 minutes per game, which was the highest on the team. However, I don't think the Bulls will rely on Deng to play as many minutes as last season as they have Jimmy Butler and possibly a veteran who will eat up some of those minutes.
Key #10: Derrick Rose Must Stay Healthy
Forget all of these slides, because if Derrick Rose gets hurt the Bulls aren't going anywhere. There was a reason why this kid was the youngest player to ever win MVP. The Bulls have a great supporting cast for D-Rose, but if he gets severely injured at some point in the season, especially in the playoffs, the Bulls could be in serious trouble.