State of the Franchise: Chicago Bulls

This Season: 41-17 (3rd in Eastern Conference, 2 games back of Boston Celtics)
Last Season: 41-41 (8th in Eastern Conference, lost 4-1 in First Round to Cleveland Cavaliers)

First thing you should’ve noticed about this post is the record of the Bulls this year and their record last year. The win totals are identical. One tiny difference between those two win-loss figures:

The Bulls have 24 games remaining this year. And they’re already at 41 wins.

On paper, there are significant differences between the 2009-10 Bulls and the 2010-11 version. The team fired head coach Vinny Del Negro and replaced him with long-time Boston Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, who had been touted as a defensive expert in NBA circles. Furthermore, the team moved on from swingman John Salmons, forward Tyrus Thomas, and guard Kirk Hinrich.

The Bulls brought in the likes of three-point specialist Kyle Korver from Utah, guard Ronnie Brewer from Memphis, and guard Keith Bogans from San Antonio to fill out their roster. However, easily their biggest move was the signing for star power forward Carlos Boozer from the Utah Jazz. The previous year for the Jazz, Boozer averaged 19.5 points-per-game, 11.2 rebounds-per-game while shooting a career-high 56.2% from the field. The Bulls believed that Boozer, coupled with the developing play of center Joakim Noah, would provide a powerful inside force that would be hard to match for any team in the NBA.

Small problem with that plan: both players have missed significant periods of play due to injury. Boozer has appeared in only 40 of 58 games this season, while Noah has seen action in only 28 of 58. And until recently, Noah and Boozer had an even harder time of appearing in the same game together.

So, how did the Bulls reached the 41 win mark this early in the season if their big men have been battling injuries all year? Easy answer.

Derrick Rose. The third-year point guard has stepped up his play ten-fold this season and is at the head of class in the Most Valuable Player discussion this season (which we covered extensively earlier this week). He’s averaging career-bests in points (24.8 per game), assists (8.1 per game), free-throw percentage (84.2%) and three-point shooting (34.7%). He’s been locked in on beast mode all season, and has carried this Bulls squad to the third best record in the East.

Now that the Bulls are playing at full health, they have a starting five that’s awfully hard to contend with in the East. Noah and Boozer are both averaging over nine rebounds a game (11.9 and 9.7, respectively), helping lead the Bulls to second in the NBA in rebounding. The team is also playing inspired defense with Thibodeau at the helm, holding opponents to 92.2 points-per-game, the second-best mark in the league. Loul Deng is playing some of the strongest basketball of his career, averaging 17.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game at the small forward position. The Bulls bench, led by Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson, has been strong all season long, providing ample help in key moments in the game and when a play falls to an injury.

The Bulls have reestablished themselves as an Eastern Conference power for the first time since the fall of the Jordan Era in the 90s. The have the right players under contract for this run to last for a while as well (Rose and Noah, both drafted by the Bulls, can sign max-contracts regardless of the team’s salary cap situation). But, the question remains: how far can this team go this season?

They match up well with everyone in the East. They’ve played the Heat extremely well this season, but have struggled against the likes of the Celtics and the Knicks, pre-Melo. This team has youth on its side, though. And, they have a hungry core looking to make a splash in the East that has otherwise overlooked them with all the talk of Miami’s Big Three, the aging stars in Boston and the budding bro-mance in New York between Amar’e and Melo. The Bulls have the guns to run the table in the Eastern Conference and make the Finals.

One thing is for sure: no team in the Eastern Conference wants to be lined up and stuck with the thorns of Rose’s Bulls.

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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