The Chicago Bulls have a roster that should be in the discussion as one of the East’s superpowers. Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol have had All Star caliber seasons and Derrick Rose has been in relatively good nick. However, injuries elsewhere and a faltering offence sees them languishing in 8th place as we head into the 2nd half of the NBA season (spiritually, not mathematically). They are currently 11 games behind the conference leaders the Cavs (who they lost to in the first game back post-All Star) and have found themselves gradually being sucked into a battle to hang onto a playoff berth with 9th seeded Detroit Pistons snapping at their heels. The Bulls have also gone 3-7 in their last 10 and really have the feel of a team that could keep sliding; especially given the current state of their treatment table. During All Star Weekend, however, Pau Gasol spoke to the media and was defiant – albeit somewhat somber and realistic – about the Bulls’ chances at success this season.
Realistically we have to approach these last 30 games with a strong mindset; understanding that we are shorthanded with key injuries from players on our team but you got to fight through that stuff. Whether it’s harder or easier I feel we can still make a strong push in these last 30 games and position ourselves in a higher place to be able to face the playoffs in a good, advantageous position to challenge for the Eastern Conference and have a chance.
A lot of how the Bulls do down the stretch will hinge on their ability to improve their faltering offence. Fred Hoiberg was brought in in the summer to replace Tom Thibodeau in the summer and was expected to represent a change in culture in Chicago. Instead of the grind it out, defense first mentality of the Thibodeau administration, the appointment of Hoiberg was supposed to bring with it a massive improvement in the sputtering offense that had held the Bulls back in postseasons past. However, the Bulls are currently 25th in offensive rating and 25th in FG%. The hope was that the continued growth of Jimmy Butler, a healthy Derrick Rose, and age-defying Pau Gasol and Hoiberg’s offensive genius would mark a change of fortunes for the side but this has simply not been the case. Combined with their slip on the defensive side of the floor this has created the perfect storm for a should-be Eastern Conference Powerhouse to struggle. Pau also had some words to say on this subject.
Well, it does take time for a team to absorb a new system and offensive philosophy. We are missing some key players these last couple weeks (Joakim Noah has been missing for longer than that) but we understand it’s not so much how the offence is going. When we won games and we played well we have defended better and been a top defensive team. We’re not too concerned about the offence – we’re far more concerned about the defense.
Pau claims offence isn’t a concern but the numbers say it should be and he is right in his assessment that the Bulls have not had the sort of consistency in stopping their opponents that is a pre-requisite of a championship contender. But where does that leave their season? Well, at present they hold a 2 game lead on the Pistons for that final spot in the playoffs and it should be noted that they managed to secure a win against the 2nd placed and impressive Toronto Raptors following their double digit loss to the Cavs so there is hope for their season. The first thing that needs to happen, though, is for them to find a way to get healthy. Star man Butler and highly regarded role player Nikola Mirotic are currently sidelined for the next 2-3 weeks with both having missed games prior to this week. The beating heart of the team, Joakim Noah had surgery in January and will likely miss the rest of the season too and that leaves them dangerously thin.
In all likelihood another season of injuries and underachieving awaits MJ’s former team and whilst the team has the talent to be a bogey team for one of the top seeds and be that 1 first round team that the contenders want to face. However, given their sputtering offense, to answer our own question to Pau making the playoffs at all is probably the best they can hope for this year.