Tuesday, December 27, 2011

All Chicago got for Christmas

The Bulls had the best record in the NBA last year.  They won 62 games and were the only team in the league to beat all other 29 teams in the regular season.  In his first season as a head coach, defensive guru Tom Thibideau (we now know that the h is not silent) took home Coach of the Year honors while transforming this team into an elite defense.  Derrick Rose now seems prophetic when, before the season began, he asked a group of reporters, "Why can't I be MVP?"  In keeping with the spirit of the holidays, let us pose the question,

"What does Gar Forman get the team that has everything?"

Getting further than the Eastern Conference Finals has to be all this Chicago Bulls team wants for Christmas.  What went wrong last May?  The overly simplistic explanation is that Derrick Rose did not get enough help from his supporting cast in that fateful series with the Miami Heat.  Miami double-teamed the league's Most Valuable Player the second he pulled off the Eisenhower Expressway.  Somebody else was going to have to beat them.  A less than healthy Carlos Boozer could not get it going in the low post.  After a promising regular season, Loul Deng could not consistently make plays going 1-on-1 against the Miami Heat forwards.  Three-point specialist Kyle Korver saw too many of his wide open jumpers uncharacteristically clang off the front rim.  Keith Bogans gave roughly the same production that he gave in the regular season, which was nothing to write home about.  When you play defense as well as the Chicago Bulls, Playoff games are often close, low-scoring affairs.  Against a similarly defensive-minded Heat team, the Bulls simply could not score enough points down the stretch to win.

What's the solution?  The NBA is a copycat league and this season Rose should expect to be double-teamed, full-court pressed, matchup zone'd, and harassed to the fullest extent of league regulations.  The overly simplistic answer to their anemic scoring would be to get another star to play alongside Rose and share the scoring load.  Disappointed fans and talking heads echoed this sentiment ad nauseum and the sports talk radio airwaves were littered with statements such as,  

"Where is Rose's Scottie Pippen?"
"You need two Superstars to win a championship in today's NBA."
"They should have never let Ben Gordon go."
In the end, the Bulls did not sign another superstar to play alongside Rose.  Instead, they got veteran shooting guard Richard Hamilton without having to give up anything.  Some fans and experts feel that this is not a great move for Chicago.  

Here's why they're wrong.

The Bulls can win now and be a contender for years to come.  This starting 5 dealt with numerous injuries throughout the season, yet they still had the best record in the league.  When healthy, they played very well together.  The list of available free agent swing men was not very impressive.  Getting a serious upgrade would mean trading, which would entail giving up starters.  Let us not forget that this was their first year under Tom Thibodeau and his first year as a head coach.  Expect improvement from Thibodeau as a coach and from the Bulls' overall execution on both ends of the floor.  

Derrick Rose is still developing.  The improvement of his outside shot has been remarkable.  Rose is the consummate gym rat and we can expect his jumper to be even better this year.  When asked what he had been focusing on this offseason, Rose replied that he was working on getting better at drawing fouls on defenders.  After watching film, he felt that he needed to get to the line more times per game.  The videos that have been posted of his workouts in LA show a more muscular Derrick Rose practicing making shots while getting hacked and pushed by trainers.  That is the kind of maturity and hunger to improve that you want to see from a 23 year old who just got his big payday.  Expect Rose to pick up right where he left off last season.

While Richard Hamilton is not a star player or a particularly great 1-on-1 scorer, he should help improve their offense.  Hamilton's game is all about moving without the ball and using screens to get open.  Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah both set screens well.  Hamilton is a willing distributor who could get both Boozer and Noah easy baskets when opposing big men rotate off of screens to help.  Even though he is a bit older, Hamilton is still in great shape and his jump shot is as good as ever.  Shooting guards will be forced to chase him around the baseline every possession, which should give Rose more room to operate at the top of the key and in the lane.  Last year the Bulls ranked 20th in points per game.  Expect that to improve this year.

Thibodeau would love for his Bulls to become a tough defensive unit like the one he helped build in Boston.  Richard Hamilton played with and won a championship with (in my humble opinion) the greatest defensive team in the history of the NBA.  Those Pistons teams made the Playoffs and competed for a championship every year.  Rip knows what it takes for a team to play at that level.  His experience and veteran leadership will be invaluable both on the court and in the locker room.  In addition to being a tall shooting guard, Hamilton is still a pesky on-the-ball defender who should fit right in with Thibodeau's system.  Expect the Bulls to be even better defensively this year. 

Sometimes the overly simplistic answer is not the right one.  The Bulls have a transcendent Superstar.  They have a good head coach.  They defend well and play unselfishly.  Chemistry is important and chemistry can be easily disturbed.  Just ask Richard Hamilton.  After a poor postseason shooting performance, the Pistons traded Chauncey Billups and tried to add Allen Iverson to their starting lineup to increase scoring.  That worked about as well as adding Jar Jar Binks to the Star Wars movies to increase laughs.  I applaud the Bulls for not gutting their roster and/or mortgaging their future to add another scorer.  This Chicago Bulls squad can compete for a championship.  Will they get further than the Eastern Conference Finals this season?  As the optimistic blind men once said, "We shall see."

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