In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.
Welcome to the Derrick Rose show, which now boasts a cast of supporting characters that will make the Bulls one of the toughest teams in the league this year. The Bulls were 41-41 last year, and nabbed the eighth seed in the playoffs, where they were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round—their second first round exit in as many years. Sure, the Bulls lost veterans Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller, but after adding Jazz-Lite (Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer), these Chicago Dawgs are ready to nip at the heels of Orlando, Boston and Miami in the East. Expect Chicago to contend for the fourth or fifth seed in the East this season.
D-Will vs. D-Rose
Williams and Rose will be a marquee matchup. To be sure, Rose loves the fast break and he has the edge as a pure scoring threat. D-Will, though, distributes the ball better than Rose—which difference may be more systemic than talent-based. Ultimately, if Williams implements Coach Sloan’s plan for him to improve the use his size on smaller defenders in the paint, he will be virtually unstoppable with his offensive repertoire, even for Rose.
Big Al vs. Noah & Boozer
Joakim Noah is one of my favorite players in the league. He moves to the symphony inside his own head, and delights NBA fans with his impassioned play and ever-improving game. Expect another statistical crescendo from Noah this year, in scoring and rebounding, especially now that he can team up with Boozer in the post. With outside shooting strengthened, Chicago will finally be able to spread defenses and prevent the double teams that have hindered them under the basket the past few years.
Millsap vs. Deng
Deng has been a steady performer in the league for 6 years now—averaging 15.8 points and 6.5 boards for his career. Nevertheless, he has probably not met expectations for his progress as a player. Could he finally demonstrate his latent star power that he has not quite tapped yet? Probably not more than he has. He’s a strong, steady performer, though and will provide a solid matchup with Millsap. Favorite fact: Deng’s basketball mentor? The late, great Manute Bol, fellow Dinka tribesman, who taught Deng how to play in Egypt after his father brought the family from Sudan to avoid their civil war.
The Bulls will be a high-scoring, fast break team on offense and tough as nails on defense. Head coach Tom Thibodeau will want to take the bit out of Rose’s mouth, and let him run on Utah. With outside shooting help, Korver and Brewer will help spread the floor and relieve some of the pressure on Rose–which will boost his own numbers. This year, though, as the Jazz have added some athleticism and tougher defense, the team will be able to contend well in transition defense with the Bulls.
Carlos Boozer will miss the first month of the season due to a broken finger he sustained in a hotel room fall. (He was probably reenacting scenes from his own defensive playoff performance for the Jazz.) His early season absence won’t influence the matchup with Utah, as the two teams square off in February and March, long after Boozer’s return to the lineup.
With Boozer, Deng, and Noah, and backups Taj Gibson and James Johnson, the Bulls are long and strong in the front court. One on one, Jefferson can’t be contained by any of them, with his strength in the block and his scoring ability facing the basket. But the Bulls may have more front court depth, especially if Memo is not at full speed by the time these teams play. Consequently, the low post matchup is a draw.
Reviewing the history between Chicago and Utah is like rummaging through a box of love letters from your biggest heartbreak. What good does it do to relive the pain? The Jazz climbed the NBA Finals mountain twice, in 1997 and 1998, only to be shoved back down the slope both times by MJ, Pippen and their cronies. The consolation prize of being immortalized in replays of Michael Jordan’s “Ten Best” moments is cold comfort. Whether “The Flu” game, or “The Push Off”, as we in Utah call it, the wounds run deep. That said, I don’t sense an outright hatred for the Bulls in Jazzland. The teams don’t play often enough for that, and when they locked horns in those epic Finals series’, the end feeling was moreso one of being awed as witnesses to MJ’s histrionics rather than filled with boiling anger like, say, many Jazz fans feel towards the Lakers. With so much Utah firepower loaded in the Windy City for the upcoming season, surely these games will be of high interest to Jazz fans.
Coach Sloan got his head coaching start with the Bulls, but first built his reputation as a gritty defender with them as a player, where he broke that nose enough times to give Jeremy Evans and his artistic talent something compelling to work with when sketching his new boss. On Chicago’s side, Tom Thibodeau brings his renowned defensive mindset from the Celtics (where he was Doc Rivers’ assistant and helped Boston become the best defensive team in the league during their 2008 title run) to his debut as an NBA head coach in the Windy City. Surely as a result, the Bulls will be among the league’s best defenses. Stories are already emerging from Bulls practices that “Thibs” will stop at every defensive miscue and rerun it until the players get it right. That said, Thibodeau’s offensive plans should not be underestimated. It should be fun to watch his team throughout the season, as he is widely regarded as one of the bright young coaching minds in the game.
This season, Derrick Rose will become more acclaimed as one of the best point guards (and one of the best players) in the league. The first Chicago All-Star since Michael Jordan in 1998, Rose is no longer flying under the radar. But Jerry Reinsdorf’s additions of Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer will give Rose and his talented core of returning veterans the help they need to establish the Bulls as one of the toughest teams in the East. They are not yet to be grouped with Boston or Orlando (don’t get me started on Miami), but they will contend with Milwaukee for the fourth or fifth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. Utah’s two regular season tilts with Chicago will provide the Jazz an opportunity to show, just before and just after the All-Star break, that the Jazz can compete down the stretch with one of the league’s toughest defenses and most explosive offenses.