The NBA's most complete contender rises to No. 1 in the Power Rankings this week.
The temptation of adding a superstar talent like Carmelo is obvious. He’s one of the best scorers in the game and a trio of Melo, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah is formidable on paper. The interest from Anthony was even more obvious — looking to play for a title contender for the first time in his career.
Anthony was impressed by Chicago — even calling it the “perfect” situation for him earlier this month — but he elected to stay in New York, taking the guaranteed money over the guaranteed relevancy.
Let's cut to the chase of this week’s Power Rankings: the Bulls are first and the Knicks are last.
While New York “won” the Melo sweepstakes, Chicago “settled” for a variety of less-heralded players now playing critical roles. It landed Pau Gasol, who is playing his best basketball in years and thriving alongside Noah. It added Nikola Mirotic, a Rookie of the Year candidate and a dangerous stretch-four off the bench. And it’s been rewarded by turning over the reins to Jimmy Butler, who has miraculously leapt from role player to MVP candidate in a matter of months.
Without Carmelo dominating the ball, Rose is getting the reps he needs to knock off the rust, averaging 18.1 points per game. The Bulls are also proving they didn’t need a superstar to transform their offense, going from No. 28 in offensive efficiency last year to No. 6 this year.
The Bulls are deep, versatile and experienced -- the trifecta when looking for contenders. But Chicago does have its share of concerns, which go beyond the obligatory mention of Rose’s knees. The most glaring is that its defense is no longer as stout as it used to be, allowing opponents to top the century mark 13 times in 30 games after allowing the feat just 16 times in 82 last season.
The good news is Chicago’s defense has tightened of late, yielding more impressive results. The Bulls have won nine of their last 10, leading the league in net rating (10.8) and ranking No. 7 in defensive efficiency over that span. With the offense also near the top -- and the Warriors hobbled without Andrew Bogut -- it's tough to argue there's a more complete contender right now than the Bulls.
Let's take a look at where all 30 teams stand in this week's NBA Power Rankings.
(All stats and records through Dec. 28).