Still, this team won 62 games last year with the league’s best defense and it’s 11th best offense. A tweak here or there might serve them well, and there’s no doubt adding a player with shooting, defense, and one-on-one scoring capabilities like Arron Afflalo would be a boon. But there’s no need for a personnel overhaul. If anything, last season’s occasional offensive struggles were less a product of the players on the court than they how the Bulls’ coaching staffed employed them.
Start with Derrick Rose. As thrilling and dynamic as he was for just about every second he was on the floor last year, Rose bore an undue burden down the stretch. Part of this was the fault of the Bulls strategy, which resembled a football team’s ball control philosophy: protect the ball, defend like hell and pound away with a big, talented back. The other issue was that, in search of a hole to hit, Rose tends to stop the ball.
The offense doesn’t flow through Rose, but from him. A lot of times, especially at the end of games, when he has a titanic ability to defy determined defenders and will his way to the rim, this works out just fine. But as a philosophy, it lacks the elegance–and more importantly, the unpredictability–of the read-and-react systems in Los Angeles, Houston and San Antonio.
The other thing to remember is that Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, two players uniquely suited to thrive along side Rose, battled through debilitating injuries throughout last season. Boozer was left almost entirely without lift by the playoffs and should be expected to be more effective this year, though I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for his defense to improve. Noah was particularly underutilized after he returned from injury, perhaps lacking confidence after busting up his thumb and foot.
Bogans and Brewer are accurately maligned for their inability to create in isolation, but that’s what Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer are supposed to be doing. The Rose-Boozer-Deng trioka, along with Noah terrorizing the offensive glass, is enough firepower to sustain one player who primarily impacts the game on the defensive end–it didn’t bother San Antonio much during the Bowen years (though Bowen was, admittedly, a killer from the corner).
Chicago may yet pull off a trade or be able to sign a player who gives them a bit more scoring pop for the off-guard position. But the Bulls have assembled an unselfish, hardworking group full of people who seem to genuinely like each other–don’t take it for granted! It’s a group that draws its pride from its singular ability to crash its collective fist through a team’s ribcage, grab it’s still-beating heart and squeeze with relentless pressure defense.
The Bulls don’t want to that compromise that identity by doing what Pheonix when it acquired Shaquille O’Neal.
So how to the Bulls cure what ails them? The antidote may be as simple as getting back to the flex-motion principles that served them so well at the start of last season. Kevin Arnovitz has already detailed why this particular Bulls squad is so well equipped to thrive in the flex.
Simply committing to a system that makes use of the Bull’s glut of intelligent passers and cutters rather than one that requests all defenders eyes and elbows focus on Derrick Rose may be improvement enough. You don’t want Ronnie Brewer, or even Luol Deng, camping in the corner. You want them curling hard off a murderous Joakim Noah screen, or flaring to the short corner and encouraging ball and player movement that leaves help defenders poorly positioned to prepare for Rose’s furious drives.
When that stuff doesn’t work, well, Derrick Rose is still Derrick Rose.
The pieces are there. Look at the Houston Rockets, who boasted the league’s 4th most productive offense last season (and missed the playoffs). It’s understood that Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry and Louis Scola are talented and clever offensive players, but some glory must go to former coach Rick Adelman’s system for putting players in position to help each other and opposing defenses in the unenviable position of accounting for a dizzying combination of passers, cutters and screeners.
The idea that the Bulls are “a player away” for a title is bunk. They were the best team in the NBA for 82 games last season despite two of their four most important players being injured for a ton of games.
No contender is without serious flaws. The quest to build a perfect team is a fool’s errand, but a team that plays together perfectly–that’s something attainable.
The Bulls were battered and bruised heading into the Eastern Conference Finals, and were finally broken by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. No shame there. And no reason to believe that can’t put it all together this season.
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