1) THE RETURN OF THE JEDI
Derrick Rose loves making defenders look confused, hapless, and lost. “You don’t want to stay in front of me,” deadpans Rose, and with a casual wave of his hand and some dizzying footwork he is splitting double teams and assaulting the rim. Like Luke Skywalker heading into ROTJ, Rose is dealing with serious injury concerns.
I suspect Rose will deal with his just like Luke did: by briefly tapping into the energies of the dark side to dethrone an evil empire. (That is NOT a steroids metaphor). Luke restored balance to the force after getting his arm completely sliced off. At no point during Rose’s injury or recovery did his leg leave his body, so I feel like he will be just fine. His decision to sit out last season to thoroughly rehabilitate his knee seems to have paid dividends; in the pre-season he has looked explosive, confident and polished.
2) A TWO-WAY SHOOTING GUARD
If you wanted to build the perfect player to complement Derrick Rose, you’d start with someone unselfish, a guy who is equally happy shooting 5 times or 15 times in a game. You’d want a lockdown defender, a cutter with a great sense of how to work in space, a solid jump shooter and a ferocious competitor with unbelievable stamina.
As the Bulls well know, this is neither Keith Bogans nor Kyle Korver. It is Jimmy Butler, a candidate for a breakout season after a stellar playoff run in 2013. It seems like Jimmy Butler was created by Tom Thibodeau in his damp, moldy basketball laboratory; zero ego, sharp defensive intangibles and the ability to play with intense, concentrated effort for as many minutes as necessary. Look for Butler to sustain his scoring uptick (13.3/44/41/82) during last year’s playoffs throughout this season.
Butler and Rose have the chance to become a historically special back court in the vein of Isiah and Dumars if Rose stays healthy and Butler adds a little more pizzazz to his off the bounce game.
3) INTERIOR WARRIORS
Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson give the Bulls’ front court an unfair combination of size, strength, savvy, and quickness; they cover acres of ground on defense with their long arms and quick feet and are absolutely heartless when it comes to delivering the fouls that make perimeter players think twice before flying towards the basket.
Carlos Boozer is slow even for a Duke alumnus, but he loves banging bodies and embodies the Bulls physicality on the boards. Teams that leverage their size to give the Heat fits (San Antonio, Indiana, Memphis) will have no such advantage against the Bulls.
The NBA seems to have two types of teams right now: versatile small-ball lineups that excel in transition, three point bombing and matchup exploitation (Miami, Golden State, The Clippers when Jordan sits) and slower, more methodical teams who excel in the half-court and feature traditional lineups that are strong inside (Indiana, Memphis, Brooklyn).
It may seem like an oversimplification, but I like the Bulls and the Spurs to advance to The Finals because there isn’t a gimmick. They’re big. They’re fast. They can execute in the half court and they are opportunistic in transition. They’re tough as hell and trust their system. Come June, I expect the younger Bulls to have a little more left in the tank. I can’t wait to see if I’m right.