by Kevin Ferrigan
1. Statistical Breakdown
PPG: 14.9 – D.J. Augustin
APG: 5.4 – Joakim Noah
RPG: 11.3 – Joakim Noah
SPG: 1.9 — Jimmy Butler
BPG: 1.5 – Joakim Noah
Net Rating: 1.9
2. Regular season overview
Chicago entered the season with aspirations of a championship, but just 10 games into the season all of that was, once again, dashed due to a ligament tear in one of Derrick Rose’s knees. The Bulls went into a tailspin, as all their plans and dreams were set adrift and alight in what is sadly becoming a semi-annual Viking funeral for the Bulls’ title hopes. The Bulls struggled without competent point guard play in Rose’s absence, as Kirk Hinrich was not up to the task and Marquis Teague just does not look like an NBA player. Bulls management, reading the tea leaves, saw an opportunity to cut costs and slip beneath the luxury tax, and so they did with the unceremonious salary dumping of decade long face of the franchise and all-around great guy, Luol Deng. You’d be forgiven if you thought this was a white flag of surrender, but then the Bulls picked up D.J. Augustin off the scrap heap after he was cut by Toronto, Tom Thibodeau worked his voodoo magic that he works on scoring point guards, and suddenly the Bulls looked like a functioning basketball team again. A half season of grind-it-out wins later and the Bulls finished the season with an astonishing 48 wins.
3. Which player(s) are most important for the Bulls in the playoffs? Why?
During the time the Bulls turned things around, Joakim Noah became a true, if unorthodox, superstar. Noah has become the team’s quarterback on both ends of the floor, running the offense from the high post and patrolling the backline of the defense (and everywhere else Tom Thibodeau’s exacting defensive scheme requires of him). As such, Noah is the Bulls’ most important player, in the sense that he is the Bulls’ best player. On the other hand, the player the Bulls most need to play well in order to win is D.J. Augustin. It has been astonishing how reliant Chicago’s offense has become on a player signed to a minimum deal midway through the season, but here we are. When Augustin is raining threes off catch and shoot looks (often set up by Noah) and dynamically getting into the paint, the Bulls offense can look great. When D.J.’s not hitting, the Bulls offense looks really bad. As such, the Bulls need a lot out of D.J. Augustin in order have any hope of making an improbable playoff run.
4. What is Chicago’s biggest question mark heading into the playoffs?
The biggest question mark Chicago faces is whether their aforementioned weak offense can do enough to consistently win games against the stingier defenses they’re going to face in the playoffs. It’ll likely make for a lot of ugly, low-scoring basketball, much like the Bulls’ regular season finale against fellow playoff team, Charlotte.
5. How far can the Bulls realistically go?
The Bulls should win their first round matchup with the Wizards, as they are a bit more talented and they have an enormous advantage in the coaching department. Thibodeau is one of the league’s top sideline walkers, while Randy Wittman is a coach with a career winning percentage that marks him as one of the worst head coaches in league history. Beyond that, the Bulls are going to be pretty big underdogs. They have some hope of an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals if the Pacers continue to implode in the way that they have for most of the second half of the season, but it still seems like an unlikely dream scenario, if a bit more likely in recent weeks than previously.
6. What is one matchup Chicago doesn’t want to see? Why?
I don’t think the Bulls fear any team out there. They seem to relish playing Indiana and Miami, despite being outmatched, especially against the latter. Beating Miami in a seven game series, though, has proven an insurmountable challenge in the Heat’s Big 3 era for Chicago and I don’t expect that will change, should they make it to face off against the defending champs. As to the why, well, because LeBron. Not a whole lot else to be said about it, really.