“Eat Your Words”: 2015-16 Chicago Bulls Season Preview

BFFs or not, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose have the Bulls in title contention. (Getty Images)
BFFs or not, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose have the Bulls in title contention. (Getty Images)

Last season: 50-32, 2nd, Central Division (3rd, Eastern Conference), Lost 4-2 to CLE in Semifinals

Notable Acquisitions: Coach Fred Hoiberg

Draft Picks: F Bobby Portis (Arkansas, 22nd overall)

Notable Losses: Coach Tom Thibodeau


#DogTags:

Top DOGs: Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol

Star UnderDOGs: Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson

Salty DOG: Kirk Hinrich


Burning Question: How will Joakim Noah set the tone coming off the bench?

JoJo

If you haven’t already heard, 2-time All-Star and former DPOY Joakim Noah is coming off the pine to start the year.

As a reserve, Noah will have freedom to make plays and display his trademark energy and hustle for shorter periods of time. As an added bonus, he already has an excellent relationship with Taj Gibson (teammate since 2009), who is versatile enough to defend stretch fours.

We all know how everything turned out for the Warriors after Andre Iguodala accepted a Sixth Man role. Chicago is shooting for similar success.


Storyline:

The Chicago Bulls thought they finally achieved the unachievable: start the season 100% healthy. Then, it was promptly announced that Mike Dunleavy had been experiencing some back discomfort over the summer and would need surgery, knocking him out for at least 8-10 weeks.

Media Day came and the Bulls were still optimistic about their season because their oft-injured star point guard, Derrick Rose, was ready to go.

Rose made some comments that may have rubbed some the wrong way but he was still there, full smiles, and lamenting about how it was the first offseason in a long time that he was strictly training and not rehabbing. Then, on the very first day of practice, Rose caught an inadvertent elbow to they eye and required surgery…again.

The saving grace is, this time, it had nothing to do with his lower extremities. However, it was still a major blow to the overall psyche of the team. Rose will be back soon enough, but there will still be yet another adjustment period in terms of Fred Hoiberg’s new offense and how he fits into it.

Rose will also need to share the spotlight with emerging superstar Jimmy Butler (led team in scoring at 20.1 points/game last season), who is looking more and more comfortable as a leader and playmaker these days. Butler and Rose don’t have great on-court chemistry yet, so it’s no wonder why they are “feuding” every other week.

The truth is, Rose is afforded the luxury of settling back into his role as a Top DOG, while Jimmy captains the ship in the meantime.

Bulls (Rex Arbogast:AP)
Fred Holberg’s creativity will be essential all season. (Rex Arbogast/AP)

Joakim Noah, on the other hand, is trying to work his way back to form after an abysmal performance last season. He’ll likely start the year coming off the bench, allowing Pau Gasol (2015 All-Star; avg. 18.5 ppg, 11.8 rpg in ’14-’15) to start at center with another big sliding into the 4 spot.

While these talks are predicated off the fact that Noah and Gasol don’t really complement each other, it could also do wonders for Noah’s heath, since the Bulls mainly need him at 100% once the playoffs hit.

Look for sophomore Nikola Mirotic to take a leap in responsibility this season, as he’s sure to see a lot more minutes and may even be afforded that starting spot. The Bulls are in an interesting situation because the Ben Gordon-era Bulls had a logjam at the guard position but this version of the team has a logjam in the frontcourt.

The luxury of having five quality big men (Gasol, Noah, Gibson, Mirotic, and rookie Bobby Portis) on a roster will hopefully serve the Bulls well, as health is the Achilles Heel in Chicago.

Every Bulls prediction always holds the same disclaimer: if healthy

Unfortunately, the face of the franchise has been the unhealthiest of them all. The “Derrick Rose effect” gives Chicago a puncher’s chance of reaching the NBA Finals. Does Chicago have enough depth and star power to finally trump “you-know-who” in a seven-game series? Definitely.

Will they be healthy and cohesive enough to give themselves a shot? We’ll see.


Projected Starting 5:


Depth Chart:

PG: Rose-Brooks

SG: Butler-Hinrich-Moore

SF: Snell-McDermott-Dunleavy Jr. (injured)

PF: Mirotic-Gibson-Portis

C: Gasol-Noah-Bairstow

-Keep an eye out for E’Twaun Moore; the 5th year guard is making a push to steal minutes from Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich in the backcourt

-How will Fred Holberg manage Jimmy Butler’s minutes? (led NBA at 38.7 mpg in 2014-15); Snell will see upwards of 30 minutes/night without Dunleavy but can Doug McDermott, Hinrich and Moore maintain consistency?

-A very deep team up front, Coach Hoiberg is floating with the possibility of huge lineups; Mirotic, Gasol and Noah all started together in a recent preseason game v. Detroit, producing disastrous results; creating the optimal combination of assets will make or break Chicago


X-Factors:

Niko & Doug (Gary Dineen:Getty Images)

Nikola Mirotic & Doug McDermott

Niko & Doug were actually seen by many as X-Factors heading into last season. Though Mirotic got loose late in the season (Rookie of the Month in March), Doug McD had an extremely short leash. Tom Thibodeau tightened a shock collar around his sharpshooter and did not give him a chance to make an impact.

Coach Hoiberg’s offense places a premium on moving without the ball and outside shooting, two areas Niko & Doug are growing accustomed to. Without Mike Dunleavy Jr. (back) for a portion of the season, Chicago’s sophomore forwards will need to hold it down.

McD is still a bit foul-prone on defense but will be a prime benefactor of Noah’s playmaking in the second unit.


B. Portis Time:

Bobby Portis

Though he slid all the way to number 22 in the draft, Bobby Portis looks like one of the most NBA-ready rooks. The bandwagon is filling up quick, so secure your seat before the regular season tips off.

Portis is averaging over 12 points and 10 boards in the preseason and adds a new dynamic (escape dribble pull-ups, pick & pop threes, tenacious rebounding) to Chicago’s stacked front court.

Portis plays with a chip on his shoulder 24/7 and is another versatile big to throw at elite front lines in the East.


Chicago’s Best Case Scenario: Coach Hoiberg does his best Steve Kerr impression, Chicago gets past Cleveland and captures championship number 7.

D. Rose

Chicago’s Worst Case Scenario: Internal dysfunction highlighted by devastating injuries, D. Rose, Pau, Noah and Gibson are placed on the trading block, the Bulls barely sneak into the playoffs and are bounced out without a whisper.


Season Prediction:

2nd, Central Division (2nd, Eastern Conference), Will Lose in Conference Finals

“I still have goals. Seeing those doubters out there, it’s gonna be funny seeing them eat their words.” – Derrick Rose

#DOFGAME #DOG

-Darryl F.

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