Bernstein: Bulls Might Not Start Fast

Everyone seems to agree that the 2010-11 Bulls will be good.

NBA scouts polled by Sports Illustrated say that they are the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference, while oddsmakers regard them similarly, seeing a clear playoff participant, if not viable champion.

Their Central Division is wretched, containing the wasteland rosters of the Cavaliers and Pistons along with the middling Pacers.  Only Scott Skiles’s Bucks merit a second thought.

Analysts love the Bulls’ individual parts, and praise the attention paid to cobbling together a sensible roster after the summer teardown.  Tom Thibodeau is well respected.

But now there are some warning signs that suggest our patience will be necessary, as will our ability to remind ourselves that the season is long.

Injuries have interrupted the installation of new systems for both offense and defense.  Carlos Boozer’s broken hand (and no, you shouldn’t buy the gym bag excuse no matter how hard he tries to sell it), Ronnie Brewer’s hammy, Taj Gibson’s heel, Joakim Noah’s illness and Kyle Korver’s ankle have limited their ability to synchronize.

The words are red flags, too.  Per the Tribune, here’s Korver:  “A lot of us haven’t played this type of system before.  It’s trusting that the man will be there to help.  It hasn’t clicked all the way.”  Here’s Derrick Rose:  “I wouldn’t say it’s all the way there.  This is the type of team that will get stronger as the year goes on.”

Thibodeau is known for his ability to scheme defenses, and that is a function of an entire team working as a single entity, despite the NBA’s inherent individualism.  The proper flow of successful NBA defense — double-team, weakside help, recover, reset — is based on trust and feel.  It needs to be practiced or performed until it becomes a reflex.  And that is before the next layer of opponent-specific strategy is placed on the basic structure for the next game.

These games will come fast.  The Bulls open at Oklahoma City Wednesday, and the 11-day “circus trip” begins Novemeber 16th.  Boozer is not expected to return until after that swing, which features a grueling slate at Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, the Lakers, Phoenix, Denver and Sacramento.  The next two after that, even, are at home against Orlando and in Boston.

I’m not worried as much about their offense.  Points will come, even as they pick up some new plays on the fly.

Stealing a few unexpected wins before Boozer comes back could position them nicely for the softer part of their schedule that begins in mid-December, but they are going to have to stop people the way Thibodeau expects.

The sooner they can actually begin working together, the more likely it is that can happen.

More from Dan Bernstein
  • Jaimie in Hoffman Estates

    I think this Bulls team could be interesting,I’m really not that excited about Boozer, but this is a young team, Rose and Noah are only getting better. I do like that Bucks team, though. I thinl we gave up on Skillis to early.


    I remember the hits Tom Waddle used to take as he jumped high. I remember Steve Pelleur’s last game. Nasty stuff.
    To be honest, I’m not sure why the guy making the hit wants to point helmet to helmet.
    Usually, a head-butt, is a lose lose.


    Do the Yankees need to get their golf clubs out of storage? Please?

    Open note to Rangers: Stop whiffing on chest high fast balls.
    Stop chasing low and outside.

  • mad as hell fan.....

    I think the Bulls will start out 5-14 on the season. Brutal November/early dec. schedule without Boozer will make this ugly early. Also, as Dan writes here, the Bulls are learning a new system and a bunch of new players to try and make this gel. The only way I see the Bulls doing well early will be their enthusiasm. I do think they will out work teams who might get bored with the early part of another long NBA season. The Bulls will be very enthusiastic, as is their new head coach.

    I am very much looking forward to the Bulls season even though i do expect it to be really ugly early on. However, don’t get too discouraged Bulls fans because the schedule will get a lot softer and the team will eventually gel into a team who can compete for the Eastern Conference Championship. I see a 47-35 win team, which should be good enough for 4th or 5th in the east at least. Then the real season starts at the end of April and hopefully everyone will be healthy and motivated, I expect they will be.

  • Lydell

    It’s just nice to have a real coach. The last guy was pulled out of a specially marked box of Trix.


    Tonight is the last Bulls’ preseason game vs. the Indiana Pacers in a basketball game that will be carried on WCIU 26 The U at 7p. Shameless plug aside, the one thing I’ve noticed from first year head coach Tom Thibodeau play Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and his veterans unusually heavy minutes in the preseason games that have been televised to this point. It’s kinda hard to tell if these are preseason games or if they’re regular season games the way Rose, Noah and company are logging some 40 minutes a night already. If “U” watch the Pacers’ game tonight, “U” may know what I mean.

  • bigtime sucker


  • AT3374

    The Bulls will be just fine , the East is a mess and they can pick up the scraps the Heat , Magic and Celtics leave behind . Boozer will help but he still has to have his mandatory time off during the season with another injury so it will be hard to build total continuity with this team for long streaches , but they will be entertaining to watch . Championship team – no , entertaining – yes

  • Chris in Scottsdale

    I think that the players are simply attempting to temper expectations heading into the early part of the season. If they start 5-14, then something else went terribly wrong beyond Boozer’s injury. The minor aches, pains, and other maladies are simply a part of life. I don’t think that they should be a cause for panic.
    Even with Boozer on the shelf to start the season they’re essentially heading into the season with much of the core they had last year, sans Hinrich. You’re plugging Korver and Brewer into that spot, and while it’s a completely different look, I don’t think there’s a huge contrast in production… at least not negatively. Add in the continued maturation of Noah and Rose, and even with that ridiculous road swing, I expect them to be at least .500 when Boozer comes back. Any worse than that, and Boozer isn’t likely the cure for the ills.

    • mad as hell fan.....

      I don’t think something would be “terribly wrong”, I just see a brutal schedule, they won’t have one of their best players, have a new head coach many new players trying to gel. Look at those first 20 games this year, that is easily the hardest in the NBA and they will be doing a lot of that on the road and without their 20/10 PF. I think they will struggle. But the NBA season is very long so they can ease out of that tough beginning.

      I disagree with “Boozer isn’t likely to cure the ills”. You have to look beyond the record early on. That is why I said that Bulls fans need to be patient and not judge them based upon those games without Boozer. The schedule is unforgiving. If it was a different part of their schedule, then yes a bad start would be a lot more concerning. I have looked at the schedule, and even with the horrible start I expect them to have I still see them coming together throughout the season and winning 45-50 games. Even with Boozer I think the Bulls would be satisfied with a .500 record those first 20 games. Don’t dwell on the record that early without boozer considering the sched, new coach, and several new players trying to gel. There are points throughout the season where the Bulls can win 8 of 10, 12 of 15 etc, that’s how soft it can get.

  • bigtime sucker

    that was my comment, if on december 18th they are .500, they can LITERALLY go 17-1 out of their next 18 games, that’s how many bad teams they play during that stretch, i don’t want that stretch to be about getting back to .500, i want that stretch to make yourself 10-12 games OVER

  • puddin' head

    will one of the glass half full optimists posting let me know whenever this Bulls team goes 17-1, no schedule is that weak.

  • bigtime sucker

    FIRST off an apology, i meant .500 by December 10th. Now this makes more sense, from 12/10/10 they play the following teams
    indiana x2
    toronto x2
    detroit x 2
    milwaukee at home
    NJ x2
    charlotte at home and boston
    other than boston, who is really better than chicago out of those teams, i know any team can beat any team any game but really? They should beat milwauke at home and charlotte at home and the bulls are clearly better than those other teams, unless NY or NJ get’s melo without giving up much, that’s how i came to my conclusion

  • General Soreness

    The Bulls will not start out any lower that a .500 team by the time Boozer gets back. Mark my words. I have a feeling they will be a game or two over.
    And I do believe that Boozer tripped over a gym bag…..a gym bag full of the pound of chronic that he took a nug from and smoked.

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