I have found myself staring at this Chicago Bulls lineup at times, completely wondering why this team is 4th, and competing for 3rd, in the Eastern Conference, and why they are so good. They are without Derrick Rose for the entire season, and played better after his second knee injury. They traded Luol Deng to the Cavaliers mid-way through the season, and they played better without him. Their best player is Joakim Noah, who isn’t your team’s typical star player. So why are the Bulls so good?
First off, they have an incredible coach in Tom Thibodeau, one of the NBA’s best and brightest. He preaches defense, intense effort for a full 48 minutes, team basketball, and doesn’t put up with prima donnas. He was the 2011 Coach of the Year, the All-Star game head coach for the East in 2012, and even won a title with the Boston Celtics as an assistant in 2008. He has the experience and coaching mentality to get it done in the NBA, and even with a lineup like this, the Bulls and Thibodeau are winning games and beating teams badly.
Secondly, the Bulls are behind only the Indiana Pacers as the NBA’s most efficient defense. They also only give up 91.9 points per game, which is also second behind the Pacers in the NBA (who are at 91.8 points per game). A huge stat is that they are also second in the NBA in opponent fourth quarter points per game, giving up only 22.6. They are also second in the NBA in opponent’s points per game in the paint, at 37.0. They are also in the top 10 in every meaningful defensive statistic as well. In other words, the Chicago Bulls will shut your offense down, and score enough points themselves to beat you at your own game.
As stated previously, Chicago plays very fundamental team basketball, on both the offensive and defensive ends. One statistic I look at all the time to see if a team plays like a team or not is assists per field goal made. The Bulls are second in the NBA for assists per field goal made at .65. A team like the Knicks, who have guys like JR Smith and Carmelo Anthony who do not rack up the assists as much, are fourth last in the NBA. They are only twelfth in the NBA in assists per game, and are dead last in points per game in the entire NBA, but they heavily rely on the defensive end, and if you’ve watch film of the Bulls this season, you see that they play hard all 48 minutes, take charges, get blocks, shut down opponents, and grind out wins.
This season for the Bulls will pay benefits to them come postseason time. Their average scoring margin is only +1.8 points per game. At 40-31, this means they’ve grinded out tough wins throughout the entire season. They’ve also gone 2-2 against Miami, Toronto, and the Pacers each this season, the three top teams in the Eastern Conference. With that being said, they could definitely take Miami or Indiana to seven games, and I truly think they could beat Miami or Indiana and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. All of this without a healthy Derrick Rose.
The roster consists of 6 good players that average double digit points per game, as well as other important statistics, like Joakim Noah (12.4 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.6 bpg, and 1.2 spg), Carlos Boozer, (13.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg), and DJ Augustin (14.1 ppg, 5.0 apg). Taj Gibson is a possible 6th man of the year candidate (13.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg at only 28.8 mpg), and I think he is better than Carlos Boozer; I think he is only starting because of his big contract. Their core rotation of eight guys, who also includes Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich, and Tony Snell, all fit their roles extremely well, and there are no selfish attitudes on this team; they just want to win.
The Bulls are so good because of their tenacity, their defensive poise, their willingness to sacrifice whatever it takes to win, and their motivation to take down the best. They are led by a man in Joakim Noah who provides lots of energy and every important intangible a true leader needs to lead a successful team. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls pull off an upset against the Pacers or the Heat in the playoffs, keep in mind, without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng.
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