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Bulls Need Both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler to Thrive

Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports

Forget all the hype and hoopla over Derrick Rose’s latest surgical procedure.

He’ll be fine. An orbital fracture isn’t the type of injury to recur or prevent a player from competing – see Westbrook, Russell.

Bulls fans across Twitter sounded like doomsday was approaching yet again after the announcement came down that Rose needed yet another surgery.

The report coming from the Bulls after Rose’s surgery confirmed the panic was unfounded. Rose will miss about two weeks before being able to return to the court, meaning he’ll hopefully play in three (or maybe four) preseason contests ahead of the season-opener against Cleveland.

The hysteria highlighted the fragile nature of the Bulls’ fledgling championship ambitions. They can’t afford players missing chunks of game time, especially with a new head coach trying to implement a new philosophy very different from that of his predecessor.

Fred Hoiberg’s offense will rely on Rose’s dynamic offensive abilities to slice open defenses, but it’s going to take much more than that to return the Bulls to the promised land.

Jimmy Butler – heir apparent or usurping Rose’s throne depending on who you speak to – is equally vital to this Bulls team. In all honesty, he may be the more important of the pair given his ability to play seemingly endless minutes while consistently producing at an All-Star level.

Butler’s massive improvement will again lead to an increasing focus on the swingman on offense. Hoiberg will likely funnel the ball through Butler to initiate sets, while also leaning on him to provide the release valve when the ball sticks and the offense stagnates, much like Rose did during his prime years that now feel like a lifetime ago.

What can’t be understated is the importance of both staying on the court this season. Butler can’t do it by himself. We don’t know if Rose will return to his MVP days or if his body is even capable of allowing him to play for more than five or six weeks without falling to pieces again.

A cursory glance over the Bulls’ most-used three-man lineups last season (all numbers via Basketball-Reference) reveals that nine of their 10 most-used lineups (in minutes played) all featured one of either Butler or Rose, with two of the top six units featuring both players. Those two units featuring both Rose and Butler were 4.3 points per 100 possessions better than their opponent, and the hope is that’ll be even better moving forward.

Weighing even heavier on the Bulls this season will be the subtle improvement of the Central Division and the rest of the Eastern Conference. The East has generally been a cakewalk for Chicago and the handful of other good teams in the conference, but with Cleveland retaining all of its talent, Paul George back in Indiana, Detroit adding significant pieces, Milwaukee now one year older and a lot more confident, the Bulls’ division is no longer a two-horse race.

The importance is heightened further by the injury history of their teammates. Mike Dunleavy is set to miss eight-to-10 weeks – probably more – following back surgery and is 35 years old. Joakim Noah has a long line of lower-body issues in his recent past. Pau Gasol has added another year and a lot more minutes to his body, and there’s still a relative lack of depth at key positions. Yes, Kirk Hinrich is still going to see the court in 2015.

The Bulls need to hope this is the end of Rose’s health problems. Without his ability to cut open defenses with a burst of acceleration or change in direction, the offense loses a unique edge. Few other teams in the league field a point guard with such attributes.

We saw enough flashes of these qualities during Rose’s limited play last season to allow his fans to dream of a return to greatness. If he can stay healthy and consistent, in addition to gaining a rapport with the newly minted star in Butler, the Bulls will enjoy plenty of success this season.

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