Before the season actually comes around and spoils everyone’s fun, let’s take our time to embrace optimism and tell you why your team will win the title. We continue with the Chicago Bulls.
Chicago hasn’t made a lot of changes in the offseason to a team that once again was stifled by LeBron James in the playoffs. The rookie Bobby Portis looks ready to be a role player in Year 1, but it’s hard to see what moves put this team over the top, other than the hiring of Fred Hoiberg.
Yet, we don’t have to look too far to see a team that maintained most of its roster after a disappointing playoff run, hired a new coach who optimized the team’s talents and ascended to the throne. Last year’s Warriors did just that.
Steve Kerr took a very similar roster from first-round exodus to a championship. Kerr switched to a more motion-based offense that played much better in the modern NBA than the isolation and post-up plays Mark Jackson often ran. All signs are that Hoiberg will employ a more modern offense than Tom Thibodeau did, and the Bulls could have an offense more suited for the playoffs.
Comparing Thibodeau to Jackson is an insult to Thibodeau’s coaching acumen, and it remains to be seen whether Hoiberg can be in the same league as Kerr as an NBA coach. But Hoiberg could get key players more rest, and there’s reason to expect internal improvement from a few players that could push the Bulls to another level.
Derrick Rose is now fully removed from another midseason surgery on his knee, and looked great in the playoffs. There are also reports that he looks like his old self again. Obviously, comments from his training partner and trainer have to be taken with a grain of salt, but it stands to reason that Rose at least could have a more consistent season if he can stay healthy.
The Bulls also have a young, budding star in Nikola Mirotic who should thrive in the new fast-paced offense. Mirotic is a playmaking 4 (h/t Zach Lowe), and is excellent at reading the defense and making smart plays. Any team that plays two traditional bigs will have issues guarding him, and he showed flashes of a post game last year that could punish smaller players. His shooting will probably be much better in his second season, and he’s an elite talent in terms of drawing fouls. This could be the breakout year for Mirotic.
Finally, Chicago has a player who was fourth in MVP voting just two years ago and was a liability last season. Joakim Noah had surgery after his big 2013-14 campaign and never seemed to get right during the 2014-15 season. He’s never going to have as much value on a good team as he did in 2013-14, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Noah bounces back this season.
If Noah can get to even close to where he was two years ago, the Bulls will be starting a former MVP in Rose, a current top 15 player in Jimmy Butler, a key glue guy in Mike Dunleavy, last season’s All-NBA Second Team center Pau Gasol and the revitalized Noah. That’s a great starting point for an elite team, and Mirotic will likely come off the bench alongside Taj Gibson and Portis to once again give the Bulls the deepest frontcourt in the league.
Chicago won’t be as good as the 2014-15 Warriors, but it doesn’t have to be. The team needs to be good enough to contend with Cleveland and give itself a chance in the Finals against any Western competitor. With a few bounce-back seasons, maybe the Bulls can finally get over the hump that is LeBron James and into the Finals.