The Chicago Bulls were met with high expectations to start the season considering former MVP Derrick Rose was set to return after suffering an ACL injury in the 2012 playoffs, which prevented the point guard from playing the entirety of the 2012-2013 season. Unfortunately, the Chicago Bulls who have had playoff hopes of returning to the finals for the first time since the Michael Jordan era were shot down at the start of the season when Rose only played 10 games after his extensive surgery. Surprisingly though, with a turnaround in 2014 led by Joakim Noah, the Bulls may very well make their return after all.
Initially Chicago put in a mediocre record after Rose made his exit to the season in a weak Eastern Conference that allowed them to stay afloat in third place. However, as time went on throughout the early to midway point of the season, the Bulls dipped further and further to the point where they became a sub .500 team.
Many fans and skeptics expected the Bulls to absolutely plummet though when they traded Luol Deng for a few draft picks and an Andrew Bynum who was immediately waived. When this move occurred, it seemed as though the Bulls were tanking.
However, instead of tanking, they shocked the world by posting an 8-2 record in the first 10 games without the swingman. What’s even more remarkable is during this time, Jimmy Butler was hurt and Carlos Boozer was on and off the court. This eventually led the Bulls to having a plus .500 team with a 26-25 record heading into the all-star break, something that wasn’t thinkable with all the hits the team had taken.
The streak continued and as of today, the Bulls are firm in posting a 39-31 record, leaving them only half a game behind the third place Toronto Raptors.
So what happened that propelled the squad to a turnaround season? There are a couple of things that attributed to this, but above all else, Joakim Noah happened. He might not be the most prolific scorer, but Noah may very well be one of the best all-around players in the entire NBA. Currently he is leading the bulls in four categories with 11.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg, a 48.3 field goal percentage and tying backup point guard D.J. Augustin with 5.0 apg, an impressive feat for a center. In addition, he is second in steals with a 1.2 average and a decent 12.4 ppg average.
Those are impressive numbers, but it doesn’t explain everything. Over the last ten games, Noah has increased those numbers with 14.9 ppg, 7.3 apg, 10.3 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 1.4 spg and a 51.7 field goal percentage. Additionally, he put up two triple doubles in three games in March. Those are almost MVP-like stats and is what has pushed the Chicago Bulls to the forefront of the Eastern Conference where they have a legitimate shot at making the finals.
He isn’t the only one transforming Chicago into a contender though. Boozer is averaging 13.8 ppg and 8.4 rpg, cheap pickup D.J. Augustin has been the steal of the NBA this season with 14.3 ppg and 5.0 apg, Jimmy Butler has put up 13.1 ppg, 2.0 apg and 5.0 rpg, backup big man Taj Gibson has 13.2 ppg and 6.8 rpg and even the inconsistent Mike Dunleavy has put together some solid games. .
Another aspect that is putting Chicago in a surge is their team play. Proof? They have eight players averaging double digits in points.
However, the key statistic of why they are a force to be reckoned with is their team defense, which has always been coach Tom Thibodeau’s philosophy. As a result, they are second only to the Indiana Pacers in points allowed at 92.1 ppg. It also doesn’t hurt that they are 10th in the league in rpg at 44.7.
That said, there’s a reason Chicago has suffered previously in the season and that is offense, which has been a statistic that has haunted them since before Thibodeau entered the fold. How bad is their offense? They rank 30th in ppg at 93.2. If there’s one thing that’s holding back this emerging team it’s the ability to score.
Luckily for the Bulls and why they have managed to make some noise in the East as of late is their conference rivals in the Pacers and Heat have slumped recently. It is with this reality that the Bulls may very well surprise the world.
That said, the Bulls are not guaranteed a fantastic run in the playoffs. Considering they are in the East though and their counterparts are struggling, saying the Chicago Bulls don’t have a shot at the finals is a fallacy. As good as their defense is though, if they can’t shoot the ball well, the Bulls will end their underdog season early.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey