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1. What's been the key in the Bulls victories so far this season? What problems have been exposed in losses?
With Derrick Rose out of the lineup, the Bulls are at their best when they keep the ball moving on offense, defend like hell and crash the backboards with reckless abandon. With no real shot creators on offense outside of the hit-or-miss Nate Robinson, ball movement is paramount, and there are times when the Bulls do execute very well. Kirk Hinrich can't shoot for crap, but he does a relatively good job of keeping the ball moving and finding the open man. Richard Hamilton still works screens like a champ. Luol Deng spots up well off the ball and is a good cutter. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah are both able and willing passers, which helps open up things for the rest of the offense. The defense and rebounding haven't been as good as the last few years, but there are times when the Bulls are still dynamite in those areas.
As for the problems, a lack of clutch scoring and depth has really hurt the Bulls. Both of those issues were at the forefront of a horrific loss on Monday to the Bucks, a game the Bulls led by 27 late in the third quarter. The lack of a secondary shot creator outside of Rose just kills the team in crunch time. When the defense tightens up, the Bulls' offense often stagnates and easy shots become hard to come by. Nearly every possession is a chore, and much of the Bulls' fourth quarter offense has turned into Robinson or somebody else (take your pick) throwing up wild shots.
The depth issues also cropped up big time in the Bucks loss. I'll go into this more in a second, but Tom Thibodeau really doesn't trust his bench right now, leading to huge minutes for his starters, especially Deng and Noah. That in turn leads to tired starters and even worse fourth quarter offense.
One other major issue is the lack of three-point shooting. The Bulls are dead last in the NBA in three-point makes and attempts, while they are second-to-last in three-point percentage.
2. Luog Deng is basically a cyborg, playing 41 minutes per game, yet he's playing as good as ever. How has he been able to be such a consistent player for so long?
Deng really is a fascinating player. He's been a solid contributor on the Bulls for a long time and is extremely important to what Tom Thibodeau wants to do, as evidenced by the borderline crazy workload (Deng played 47 minutes on Monday in a game that didn't go to overtime). Deng keeps himself in great shape, and he does a lot of things well. He's one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and can guard multiple positions. On offense, he boasts a pretty solid outside shot and works very well without the ball. He can't do much shot creation for himself, but there are sporadic instances where he either goes in the post or takes the ball hard to the basket.
But despite how seemingly important Deng is, many Bulls fans would have no problem trading him for younger and cheaper talent. And that's simply because Deng isn't a prolific enough scorer with the contract he has. The Bulls currently have a lot of money tied up in a core of Rose/Deng/Boozer/Noah/Gibson, which leaves them pretty hamstrung in their ability to acquire a second offensive "star" to play with Rose. A trade of Deng may be one of the only ways to achieve that goal.
3. Last year the bench for the Bulls was the best in the league, in my opinion. Can you tell us how it's changed and what the impact has been on the team's performance?
The destruction of the Bulls' "Bench Mob" was a huge topic of conversation over the summer, and so far, most of our fears about how the new bench would play have come to fruition...and then some. Basically, nearly the entire bench was overhauled in order to trim payroll as much as possible. The options for C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer were not picked up. Kyle Korver was traded for an exception that probably won't get used. The Bulls declined to match the Houston Rockets' three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet on center Omer Asik, mainly because of a poison pill third year.
In the place of these guys, the Bulls signed Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic. Robinson has provided plenty of excitement as well as plenty of awful, while the other guys have been mostly non-factors. In fact, as of last game, Belinelli, Mohammed and Radmanovic were pretty much out of the rotation.
The two guys that remained from last year's bench, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, have been a mixed bag. Gibson, who signed a four-year extension before the season, has been extremely disappointing. His offense has regressed while he hasn't seemed as comfortable on the defensive end without Asik at his side. Meanwhile, Butler is a nice energy player who's a plus defender, but his offense leaves a lot to be desired.
Thibodeau used to be able to count on his bench to either extend leads or make comebacks. There were times last season when nearly the entire bench would be on the floor in crunch time. He simply can't rely on that anymore. The poor play of the new bench has Thibodeau searching for some answers, which has certainly affected the Bulls in a negative way so far this season.
4. Derrick Rose is still recovering from ACL surgery. What's the current time table for his return and is there any sense within the organization that this may be a bit of a "lost" season?
By all accounts, Rose's rehab is going swimmingly and is on schedule. Bulls management hasn't really put a timetable on Rose's return, but there has been speculation that he'll be ready to go by the All-Star Break and perhaps sooner.
As for the "lost season" bit, Bulls management would never come out and say that, and Thibodeau would certainly never admit to something like that. However, take one look at what the Bulls did this offseason and I think it's pretty obvious what management felt about this year. With Rose out for the majority of the season, the organization didn't feel it was worth going deep into the luxury tax to keep around some of those bench players because a title was a long shot. Many feel that if Rose never got hurt, the "Bench Mob" would have stayed mostly intact. I tend to think that way as well, although I do have to add that Jerry Reinsdorf has NEVER paid the luxury tax despite huge profits every season (he's in line to this year, but that could still change). So maybe the bench would have been blown up anyway. We'll never know.
5. What are the goals for the Bulls this year?
The Bulls will hope to just hover around .500 before Rose comes back, with the idea that he can help propel them to a deep playoff run. As mentioned, a championship is likely out of the question, as there are just too many question marks even with a healthy Rose. However, in this Eastern Conference, I don't think it would be all that far-fetched for the Bulls to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. It would take a lot of things to go right and I don't necessarily believe that will happen, but I'd say it's a somewhat realistic goal. Of course, there's just as good a chance that this thing goes down the tubes and the Bulls end up trading Hamilton and a pick just to get under the luxury tax. Ugh.
Can we just kidnap O.J. Mayo from you guys? That would make me feel much better.