By Nick Shepkowski-
(CBS) After winning 50 games in a short season that saw their MVP miss 27 games, you’d think the Bulls were getting set for a championship run in 2012-13. Instead, with Derrick Rose still rehabbing from a torn-ACL, it’s more realistic that the Bulls are unseated from the loft they’ve held in the NBA’s Central Division the past two seasons than it is to expect them to chase a championship.
Regardless, the real season begins on Halloween night at the United Center and expectations very possibly have never been so wide spread with a team.
PG – The positive is that the Bulls were able to sign perhaps the best possible/realistic replacement for Rose in veteran guard Kirk Hinrich. The negative is that Hinrich isn’t the same guy he was in his first stint as a Bull. He’ll be a solid defender as he’s shown in his nine seasons in the league, while also being a spot up threat from the outside. A shock to no one, he won’t be anything near what Rose brings in running the offense and the bailouts Rose has so often offered with the shot clock winding down over the past few seasons won’t end in points nearly as often. Because of that, you may see a more high-tempo game from the Bulls offense for much of this season.
SG – Richard Hamilton returns for his second season in a Bulls uniform and remains in great shape while still being a strong shooter (45.2 fg % last year). He averaged 11.6 points per game a season ago but rarely was called upon in the fourth quarter of games. Hamilton’s on the wrong side of 30 (34, to be exact) and has missed an average of 29 games over the past four seasons.
SF – Much has been made about Luol Deng’s wrist and many were upset with his decision to play in the 2012 Summer Olympics instead of getting his wrist operated on. All indications are that the wrist is fine for Deng, who will be counted on to step up in Rose’s absence. While having to defend the opponents best player on many evenings and playing nearly 40 minutes a night, Deng figures to have good enough numbers to make his second straight All-Star appearance likely.
PF – Make no bones about it, this is a make or break season for Carlos Boozer, who many Bulls fans wanted to see amnestied this past offseason. Has Boozer been that bad as a Bull, though? As a whole, no. However, factor in his $15,300,000 he’ll earn this year and his 15.0 ppg and 8.5 rpg from a season aren’t worth it. With Rose out, the Bulls need Boozer to become more of a scorer than ever…oh, and don’t forget about his defensive short comings.
C – Joakim Noah is loved for his grindy fashion but in a year the offense will struggle to score points, Noah isn’t going to do a whole lot to help out besides his efforts on the offensive boards. He’ll give maximum effort on both sides but needs to step up as his defense seemed to not quite be the same a season ago.
Gone are the days of the “Bench Mob” as Omer Asik went to Houston, Ronnie Brewer wound up in New York and Kyle Korver found his way to Atlanta. Still in place are the likes of fan favorite Taj Gibson, who looks to be a Bull for quite some time after the team let Asik walk. Also still in place is Luol Deng, who despite starting, plays as many minutes with his team’s second team as anyone in the league.
Marco Belinelli will fill the Kyle Korver role as the pure shooter but at best is only a slight upgrade in the rest of the game that Korver lacked.
Nate Robinson has won the hearts of Bulls fans this preseason as he averaged 12.3 ppg but offers little on the defensive end, much because of his 5’8” frame and is a guy who gave Knicks fans headaches. The Bulls can take hope in his final preseason tune-up where he scored 21 points and dished out 8 assists against the Pacers but his career has offered just a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio. As lovable as Robinson has been early on in Chicago, he’s the same guy who was once benched for 14 consecutive games by Mark D’Antoni.
Nazr Mohammad will get minutes as the off-the-bench big man, but is an obvious down grade in terms of defense from Asik. Vladimir Radmanovich isn’t going to be the answer to any questions the Bulls have, and first-round draft pick Marquis Teague doesn’t factor to get much playing time barring more injury to this roster.
What to Expect
Whenever you lose a league MVP, your team takes a hit, but it especially hurts the Bulls who already struggle at times to score. Expect the defense to still be strong most of the season, despite what they lose from Rose, who has become one of the league’s better defensive point guards.
The Bulls went 18-9 when playing without Rose a season ago, but to say the team will have the same success this season is a reach. Kirk Hinrich has already had slight health concerns this preseason, while the bench has been significantly downgraded.
The Bulls should still compete for a playoff spot and undoubtedly will be “the team nobody wants to play” in the first round if Rose is indeed back by then like he projects to be. Staving off an up and coming Pacers team will require possibly Thibodeau’s best coaching performance to date.
45 wins is a realistic expectation for Bulls fans, and if Rose is indeed healthy by playoff time, they have enough that they could go on a bit of a run once they’re in, but expecting “everything to be fine” once Rose is back is a bit of a reach.
Nick Shepkowski is the associate producer for The McNeil and Spiegel Show. For more information, follow him on Twitter @Shep670