Top 5 Reasons Chicago Can Be Even Better
When the Chicago Bulls finished with the best record of the 2010-2011 season, there was a fair amount of surprise over the feat. Heading into the season, people expected Chicago to be a good team, but not that good, and despite the loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, last season was probably the best non-Jordan Bulls campaign in franchise history.
Of course, not everybody thought they’d be able to do it again in 2011-2012, yet here they are almost a quarter of the way through the season with the best record in the league. There were (and are) high expectations for this team in 2012, but so far it’s hard to say that they’re even playing their best basketball. Here are the top five reasons that Chicago will end up an even more formidable team by the end of the season than they already are:
#5 – Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer can do much, much better. The complaints surrounding Boozer last season were pretty loud, as 17.5 ppg and 9.6 rpg were both pretty middling numbers for him in his career. The fact that he didn’t seem able to play any defense whatsoever on such a strong defensive team made him even more frustrating, however when he entered camp 20 pounds lighter than last year, optimism was high that he’d return to form. Statistically, free agent signings have much better years their second season with the team, so that optimism wasn’t necessarily based in blind hope.
But so far this year, Boozer is averaging fewer than 30 minutes a night for the first time since his rookie season, and his 13.5 ppg and 8.3 rpg are consequently his lowest nightly outputs since that time, as well.
Joakim Noah, meanwhile, is playing on the first year of an extremely lucrative new contract, and thus far he’s having a very hard time living up to the dollar amount. After two straight seasons averaging a double-double, Noah is currently averaging 7.1 ppg and 8.1 rpg through 14 contests. The really frustrating thing for both players is that reserves Taj Gibson and Omer Asik have been getting the majority of the fourth quarter minutes lately. Both Noah and Boozer have more game in their system than they’re showing, and if/when they figure out how to pick things up, it could mean much better things for the Chicago frontcourt.
#4 – The Bulls are 7-2 on the road, and considering 7 of their first 9 games were away, that’s pretty impressive. Early in every season the Bulls have had to endure an extended road trip when the circus came to the United Center. With the late start to the season, you’d have thought they could’ve avoided that, but they still somehow managed to play the overwhelming majority of the start of their season on the road.
Outside of an uninspired thrashing at the hands of Atlanta and that loss to the Golden State Warriors—both the second games in back-to-backs—Chicago hasn’t lost at all so far. Considering they’ve played 9 out of 14 games on the road to start the season and they still have the best record in the league, it might be a while before we see any serious losses pile up for this group.
#3 – The 5-0 home record is pretty impressive, too, but what’s more impressive is that they’re allowing only 66.8 ppg at the United Center this year. Yes, it’s a weird year, and with so many mediocre teams having no opportunity to practice and prepare properly for opponents, the on-court product has, at times, been pretty atrocious. However, this statistic is pretty mind-blowing. The Chicago Bulls are probably the best defensive team in the league (no offense, Philly fans), but are they really that good at home? It seems borderline impossible, and considering that after Monday’s afternoon game at Memphis the Bulls play five of their next six at home, all against very beatable opponents, we could be in for some more low scoring numbers. After ten home games, it will be interesting to see where that opponents’ scoring number will be. If it stays that low, look out.
#2 – We haven’t even seen Richard Hamilton’s influence yet. Some fans have been pretty disappointed in how little Hamilton has been able to play early on in the season, but the team is 8-1 when Rip isn’t on the floor. Most nights, the Bulls can win basketball games pretty handily no matter who the starting shooting guard is. They proved that last season with Keith Bogans.
Where Hamilton comes into play is the postseason, where the upgrade at two will really make a huge difference. He runs the floor with D-Rose better than anybody else on that team, and he’s still as wiry as ever defending and coming off of screens. If he’s good for 12-15 points a night in the postseason, the Bulls have a better shot against Miami than they did last year. Honestly, we still don’t even know how much Hamilton has changed this team, but as long as they figure it out before the end of April, it probably won’t matter how much regular season time he misses.
#1 – Depth and relative youth lend themselves well to this compacted and bullet-speed season. Without Richard Hamilton, Ronnie Brewer has stepped into the starting shooting guard spot and played the best basketball of his life. The same could be said for Taj Gibson and Omer Asik taking advantage of their minutes while Noah and Boozer and figure things out. Even John Lucas III has proved more serviceable than anyone imagined when both Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson were unable to go in that home game against the Wizards.
Chicago has the ability to run 10 players deep, no problem, and several of the guys they have on their Bench Mob would be starting for other organizations. Brewer, Asik, and Gibson are starters for some teams in this league, and Watson and Kyle Korver are more than respectable veteran bench guys to round out that second unit. Teams that deep can weather injuries and stay fresh in a season where older teams are going to struggle. That’s a clear advantage for the Bulls, and one that probably will only grow more advantageous as the season rolls on.
It’s very easy to say that the Chicago Bulls are a good basketball team. We knew that coming into the season, and we also knew that they were built to take proper advantage of the shortened and condensed season. What’s amazing is that there are so many reasons that the they could get even better.
Most of us have still considered Miami the front-runner in the East, but with so many things that could go wrong there, and so many things that could go right with the Bulls, is that really still the case? Has the balance of power in the Eastern Conference shifted ever so slightly? The above five reasons say that maybe it has.