Saturday, October 30, 2010

Chicago Bulls: What To Look For In 2010-11

2009-10 Regular Season: 41-41
2009-10 Playoffs: #8 seed; lost in Round 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games
Additions: Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans, Kurt Thomas, Omer Asik
Key Losses: Kirk Hinrich, Brad Miller, Hakim Warrick, Acie Law
Projected Rotation Players: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Kurt Thomas, C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans

Look for the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls to make a run at 50 wins and top-four playoff seed… but to look more comfortable playing without Carlos Boozer.

Watching the Bulls in their season opener in Oklahoma City, a couple of things of jumped out about the 2009-10 incarnation of this team:

First, as great as he’s already been, Derrick Rose looks ready to take his game to new heights and make his first (and by NO means last!) appearance in the annual MVP discussion. This is not to say that his performance in the game (28 points, 12-for-31 FG, six assists) was MVP-worthy. It clearly was not. However, it’s worth noting that this is probably one of the worst games he’ll play this season.

Rose’s overall demeanor (this really IS his team now) and the way in which he charged out of the gate in first quarter- slicing through the OKC defense, getting into the paint at will and finishing spectacularly- suggest that Rose now has not only physical gifts, but the mental and emotional preparedness to lead a team. In two years as a pro, he’s been productive (18.8 ppg, 6.2 apg), efficient (48% FG, 78% FT, less than one 3-pt attempt per game) and frequently spectacular. Now in his third season, Rose, who’s something of a hybrid of Chris Paul and Allen Iverson, looks ready to dominate.

This is not to say that he’s a finished product, but Rose seems to have a greater understanding of who he is as a player than he did in first two years. He’s an exceptional finisher, a top-notch passer and impossible for a defender to stay with. As long as he’s aware of his limitations (he’s still not good from the outside; until he is, there’s NO NEED to attempt one 3-pointer per quarter) and continues working toward achieving the right balance (a little less A.I., a little more CP3- he’s not far from the sweet spot), he’ll cement his place in the NBA’s top ten for the next decade.

Bottom line: The other thing that became evident on Wednesday is that for all of Carlos Boozer’s considerable gifts on offense, it’s not entirely clear where this summer’s $80-million man will fit on this team. His presence in OKC would have been helpful, but his offensive game (much more effective facing up than posting up), the style of play in which he thrives (slow) and his well-publicized shortcomings as a defender (I hope Tom Thibodeau likes a challenge!) do not seem to be suited to complement the parts that will surround him on this team.

Sure, he’ll still be good for at least 18 and 10 (because he’s just a damn good player) and give the Bulls more scoring out of the frontcourt than they’ve had in years, but it will take a bit of time to figure out exactly where Boozer actually fits on this team.

With all of that said, the Bulls have added some nice parts (the Utah Jazz trio of Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, sharpshooter Kyle Korver, Kurt Thomas and talented Turkish center, Omer Asik) to an already-impressive collection of incumbent talent (Rose, a healthy Luol Deng, the ever-improving Joakim Noah and 2009-10 sleeper Taj Gibson). There is simply too much talent and too many solid character guys here for this team to not figure out a way to make this work. Led by Rose, Noah, Deng and eventually Boozer, the Bulls will improve on last season’s 41-41 mark.

Vegas has the over-under on regular seasons wins for the Bulls at 46.5. Look for the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls to win 48+ games and earn home court for at least one playoff round.

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