Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 45-37, No. 2 in Central Division, No. 5 in Eastern Conference
Roster additions: Mike Dunleavy, Erik Murphy (Rookie, No. 49 overall), Tony Snell (Rookie, No. 20 overall)
Roster subtractions: Marco Belinelli, Daequan Cook, Richard Hamilton, Vladimir Radmanovic, Nate Robinson
After sitting out the entire 2012-2013 season, former NBA Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose is finally back on the court for the Chicago Bulls. Alongside him are almost all of the rotational players from last year and coach Tom Thibodeau, considered one of the best defensive minds in the game by many.
Rose's health is the key to a successful season for the Bulls. He was able to play 20 minutes in his first preseason game, and even claimed afterward that his vertical leap had increased post-injury. If Rose is healthy and near his 2011 form, when he poured in 25 points a game and dished 7.7 assists, Chicago's offense will be dangerous.
Even though Rose has been a career 31 percent three-point shooter, he is flanked on the wing by shooting guard Jimmy Butler, who nailed over 40 percent of his threes in the 2013 playoffs. Small forward Luol Deng is not perennially a consistent outside shooter, but his numbers are solid in years that Rose has been healthy, and they took a nosedive last year when Rose missed the season. Expect a return to form for Deng and possibly a breakout year from behind the arc for Butler as Rose's return means defenses will have to focus on him, and as he penetrates and forces opposing defenses to collapse, his teammates on the wing will see many more open looks than last year.
Starting power forward Carlos Boozer is, well...Carlos Boozer. Bulls fans know what they're going to get out of him at this point: about 16 points and 8-10 rebounds a game, lots of shot attempts and poor defense. Backup post Taj Gibson is younger than Boozer but isn't as effective on the offensive end, though he is a far superior defender. If Boozer's production on offense doesn't offset his lack of defensive skills, look for Gibson's minutes to increase, as coach Thibodeau values strong defense more than anything.
Joakim Noah is one of the best defensive centers in the league, using his length and quickness to cover an impressive amount of ground. Chicago defended the three-pointer better than any other team last year, and Noah is the spark of that defense. Backup center Nazr Mohammed is well past his most effective playing days, but he can spell Noah for short bursts. Other than Boozer, Gibson and Noah, the Bulls are a bit thin in the front court.
Chicago has a few solid bench pieces in Gibson, veteran wing Mike Dunleavy and point guard Kirk Hinrich, but past that they're relying on some pretty unproven young players and a couple of rookies for depth. Thibodeau will probably have to keep a pretty short playing rotation if he wants to maximize the amount of wins he can get out of this roster.
Will the Bulls be able to get their rotation players enough rest and still be successful enough during the regular season to earn a better playoff seed? One of the main criticisms against Thibodeau is that he rides his players too hard during the season. Deng and Hinrich were dinged up pretty badly by the end of the year and both missed playoff games, while Noah was forced to play through plantar fasciitis. If Thibodeau plays this team to the point of exhaustion again, Chicago's possibilities of playoff success will diminish as teams like Miami, Indiana and Brooklyn will most likely have the depth to sustain long playoff runs.
Between young guys Marquis Teague, Malcom Thomas and rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy, someone will have to step up and earn some meaningful minutes. Snell may be the most likely target for playing time, as he is penciled in as the fourth man in a short rotation of wings. If he can play effectively within Thibodeau's defensive scheme and hit the occasional outside shot - he made 39 percent of his attempts last year in college - Snell can allow Dunleavy to play some backup shooting guard, a role he's played periodically throughout his career.
Chicago should again be one of the best defensive teams in the league, with standouts Butler, Deng and Noah contributing to a stingy team defense that challenges shots well and rebounds. On the flip side, the Bulls were a pretty lousy offensive team last year. They're going to have to convert more from all areas of the court. Rose may not see his own averages increase much, as opposing defenses will be keying in on him all season. In fact, his field-goal percentage has decreased every season he's played.
The real difference maker is going to be the open looks Rose creates for his teammates. While he is an elite scorer, twisting in ways previously thought impossible in order to convert around the rim, he is also a flat-out playmaker. Teams will have to account for Rose at all times when he has the ball, and if the players around him can consistently capitalize on the open looks he affords them, the Bulls could find themselves in the top-half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture next spring.
If a key rotational player misses significant time and none of the young guys step up, the Bulls will be in for another long, grueling season. They could conceivably duplicate their regular season success from last year in that scenario, but the other teams at the top of the East would have too much depth to overcome in the playoffs.
A lot of things have to go right in order for the Bulls to make an extended postseason run this year, but don't count them out. They have some of the best individual defenders in the league to go along with one of the best team defenses, coached by one of the best in the business on that side of the ball. If Rose returns to MVP form and the defense is as good or better than it has historically been under Thibodeau, the Bulls could go deep into the playoffs.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter