Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls are going to rely on half-court defense and make sure every possession is more valuable offensively. That's their calling card and it's going to be the only way they can beat good teams.
Last year without Rose [he missed 27 of 66 regular-season games and tore his ACL in the playoff opener against Philadelphia], they spread the offense around a little more, ran sets where they got ball reversals and shots on the second side and really executed. But when they went against Philly without Rose [in the Bulls' first-round loss], point guards John Lucas and C.J. Watson tried to play like Rose. They ended up with the ball in their hands a lot at the end of the clock, and obviously that's a tough spot for either of those guys. Philly was going to give them a go with Rose or without, but without Rose the Bulls lost their spark.
Kirk Hinrich definitely helps. He has never really changed his game. He's a pro's pro. Hinrich can play point guard and shooting guard and he can defend. I've seen him effectively guard small forwards. He will be a great running mate for Rose and he will fill in adequately while he is gone. He's not a great shooter but he's had some good years from three-point range.
[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Bulls this season]
Carlos Boozer needs to be more of a go-to player, but I don't think he ever was one. He is still an undersized 4, a jump shooter, a pick-and-pop kind of guy. He has had some good games and he has not been there some nights. I think that's what he will be this year. Expectations are a little high because of his contract [which will pay him $15 million this season]. Is he a guy who can carry them? No. Teams figure out ways to defend him. Plus, he's a jump shooter. Sometimes they just don't go in. He struggles against longer and quicker guys who can challenge the shot better. He can knock down open shots but he doesn't make enough of the challenged ones.
Joakim Noah surprises me every time he hits a jump shot because of that unorthodox delivery. He can score in the low post. He has an array of step-through moves. When he gets his back to the basket, he can put it on the floor and pass out of the post. He has really good footwork and can go left and right. He has improved every year. When Noah got hurt in that Philly series and tried to come back, that was incredible. You could see how hurt he was but he still wanted to play. He has unbelievable heart.
[Rob Mahoney: Noah among the players to watch this season]
Defensively, Noah's length and athleticism give every center problems. That length enables him to challenge shots without overcommitting. Some people overcommit and they are susceptible to an escape dribble to a jump shot. If you go by a jump shooter, you're left with four players defending five. He can play a man and a half with that wingspan. He deflects so many passes.
Noah anchors their team defense, which is tremendous. They hold each other accountable. Every player digs in on every possession. And when a guy does get beat off the dribble, the big men, particularly Noah, are excellent at closing the lane and either contesting a shot or forcing a pass. No team is better at forcing an opponent to take long two-point shots. They contest everything. And they don't give up a lot of offensive boards, so you usually get only one shot at beating them each possession.
I didn't see much from Richard Hamilton last year. I always had a lot of respect for him and his conditioning. He could run and run in Detroit. Guys like that, when they hit a certain age [Hamilton is 34], it's hard for them to change their style. If he can't run around screens and beat people off the dribble, retirement is coming.
Luol Deng is just a solid, fundamentally strong player. He defends, handles, shoots and runs the floor. He's not flashy, he's not a superstar, but he's solid in all categories. Coach Tom Thibodeau appreciates that about him. The wrist injury hurt his ball handling and confidence last year. You could tell it wore on him mentally. He uses his hands a lot, always putting arms out to create distance. That stings every time.
[Chris Mannnix: Central Division preview]
Taj Gibson made great strides last year in his third season. He's not a knock-down jump shooter yet but he is a tough defender and rebounder and gets those inside stick-backs. He has to refine his skills and hit jump shots. I don't view him as someone who is a go-to post-up player, either. This is the year we will find out if he is a starter. He has to show more. Losing center Omer Asik to Houston cost them some good depth. I liked Asik and Gibson playing together.
They basically swapped Marco Belinelli for Kyle Korver, and that makes no basketball sense. Korver disappeared on them against the 76ers, but he produced all year long. Belinelli is a good shooter, but he was playing on a bad team [in New Orleans]. There was no pressure. Korver's experience is more valuable. He has proved himself as a three-point threat while Belinelli is still trying to establish himself on a successful team.
The Bulls are still expecting to be in the playoffs. They have to hope to hang in there and get a push from Rose if he comes back after the All-Star break. I get the sense that nobody, except Thibs, thinks they can take the Central Division. Indiana is the power there. And who knows how Rose is going to play when he comes back? With that injury, I've seen success stories and I've seen people not able to compete the way they envision. There are going to be a lot of people waiting on that.