How far can the Bulls go without Rose?
The Chicago Bulls played 27 games without MVP Derrick Rose and went 18-9. They had impressive wins over Miami, at Orlando (won by 26), in Atlanta (won by 21), against Boston twice and home against the Knicks after losing at MSG two days prior with Rose. The only game against upper echelon competition they did not compete in was at Oklahoma City. A game in which they trailed by 30 points.
I recall receiving text messages from friends telling me Rose is overrated and the Bulls may be better without him. All I could do was shake my head in disbelief at such an absurd thought. Rose literally carried the Bulls on his back last season due to countless injuries from Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. The Bulls won 62 games and Rose was deservedly given the league's MVP award. This year the Bulls went 32-7 with Rose. If you do the math, the Bulls with a healthy Rose in a normal 82 game schedule, were on pace to go 66-16. Now without Rose they were on pace to finish 55-27. How many teams can play without their star player and say they could win that many games?
The last team I can think of was the 1993-94 Chicago Bulls that played the entire season without Michael Jordan after he retired. That team led by Scottie Pippen won 55 games. Nobody thought that Bulls team would be any good without Jordan, but they exceeded expectations. One can make a case it was Phil Jackson's best coaching job of his career. That team eventually lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Knicks in 7 games. Now while this Bulls team doesn't have another Hall-of-Famer like Pippen to lead them in the playoffs, they do have great depth at every position that is battle tested. They all know their roles and never play outside their abilities.
Besides shaky late game free throw shooting, the one thing I can say about Rose negatively is that at times the ball may stick in his hands too long, which can eliminate good ball movement, and that often results in lower percentage shots. Without Rose the ball is constantly moving and often times you get better shot selection. Now that doesn't always result in buckets. The Bulls do have streaky shooters and are often subject to scoring droughts.
The Bulls gave Carlos Boozer a max contract and for the most part he has disappointed. In his defense, his role has changed drastically since his days in Utah. Boozer has been asked to play defense for the first time since at Duke, and to his credit he has responded this year nicely. If there is ever a time to earn that max money--this is that time. Boozer averaged 15 points per game; his lowest total since he was a rookie in Cleveland. For the Bulls to have a legit chance without Rose, Boozer must elevate his game offensively while remaining consistent on the defensive side.
Luol Deng was named to the NBA all-star team for the first time in his career. Deng is very valuable to the Bulls and their success. Deng is as good on defense as any small forward in the game. The only negative is Deng often disappears offensively. Deng needs to get his shots and head coach Tom Thibodeau must utilize Deng's versatility. Deng and Boozer must lead the Bulls in shot attempts. I will be disappointed as a fan if I look at any box score going forward and see either guy with less than 15 shots.
Rip Hamilton, who looked 10 years younger in Game 1 (6-7 FG, 19 Pts), has to be that consistent mid range shooter. Hamilton also runs really good give-and-go's with Joakim Noah that confuses the defense. The Bulls run a lot of plays setting up Rip that is conducive for his game. He doesn't go to the rim a lot, but will instead just pull up from inside 10 feet. Watching Noah and Hamilton work together in Game 1 makes you remember how the game is supposed to be played; it really is a work of art.
Guys like Kyle Korver, CJ Watson, Joakim Noah, John Lucas III and Taj Gibson just need to play within themselves and provide more scoring options. All are capable of giving the offense a spark. Each guy brings something different to the table and have had valuable moments throughout the season. The most dangerous is Kyle Korver, who had his 2nd highest 3-point shooting percentage of his career.
The Bulls will only go as far as the offense takes them. If Boozer and Deng vanish so will their hopes of advancing. The defense will keep them in every game. Their games will not be pretty to watch. How far can they go without Rose? I expect them to have a re-match with Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. I have no idea what will happen after that. I do believe anything is possible with this man coaching the team.