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.