FanPost

Potential Playoff Preview: Chicago Bulls

Now that the Nets are officially in the playoffs, now seems like a decent time to take a look at one of the teams they might meet in the First Round. The first team under the microscope? The Chicago Bulls.

This season

The big story this season with relation to the Bulls has been injuries to their key contributors. All-Star Luol Deng's been dealing with a wrist that needs surgery at some point (though he refused in the summer, which infuriates me) and a hamstring injury. All Star and noted Mobb Deep fan Joakim Noah is dealing with plantar fasciitis. Taj Gibson missed some time due to an MCL sprain. Kirk Hinrich's most recent injury was a sore right foot. And finally, we're all waiting for Derrick Rose to return from the knee injury that destroyed Chicago's Championship aspirations last season. With all of those injuries, and especially with Rose not playing this season, you would think Chicago would struggle to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference, right?

As a matter of fact, they've been pretty solid all things considered. With the absence of Rose and the dissolution of the Bench Mob, expectations weren't that high. Writing in the Chicago Bulls section of the Hardwood Paroxysm season preview extravaganza, Sean Highkin wrapped up his section with this:

If Rose is back for the playoffs, they could be a threat. But who’s to say where he’ll be physically when he does return? It’s hard not to see this as a lost year in the development of a would-be juggernaut.

Moving a little closer to home, over at SB Nation's BlogaBull, head honcho your friendly BullsBlogger had this to say about the Bulls this year:

Though the Bulls made some decisions based on money that lowered the potential of their roster, they certainly didn't go the other way and 'tank' in the wake of Rose's injury. I don't think they'd be very good at it anyway, given the amount of returning talent and the way coach Thibodeau has proven he can get the absolute best out of his roster. (And that suits me just fine, because tanking sucks.)

So while the Bulls will undoubtedly struggle with Rose out, they need to be in a position to where when he returns they can still get a playoff spot. And preferably a high-enough seed to avoid the Miami Heat. Because beyond them (and heck, they can have a catastrophic injury in round one too!), with a healthy Derrick Rose the Bulls are just as valid of a threat as the other next-tier teams in the conference. That puncher's chance in the playoffs probably won't work out, and it's more important to make sure Rose doesn't over-exert himself in trying to achieve it, but it's something to shoot for this season.

What have the Bulls done this year? Let's take a look see:

Metric

Chicago Bulls

League Average

Offensive Efficiency

103.3 105.9

Defensive Efficiency

103 105.9

Pace

89.2 91.9

Offensive Rebounding Rate

29.7 26.6

Turnover Rate

13.5 13.7

Free Throw Rate

19.9 20.4

Effective Field Goal Percentage

46.8 49.6

Opponent Effective Field Goal Percentage

47.7 49.6

Record

42-35 -----

As was expected, the Bulls offense has taken a step back due to the absence of the former MVP Rose. Their offensive efficiency is down almost five points from last year, going from 107.4 points per 100 possessions (5th best in the league) to 103.2 points per 100 (currently 22nd in the league). Unsurprisingly, the loss of Rose (& Kyle Korver) has negatively impacted their shooting, as the team effective field goal percentage has slipped from a respectable 49% in '11-'12 to a bottom five 46.75 this season. The big drop off has been in their three point shooting, as they've been worse off from downtown. But on the surprising side, they've been getting to the line more

Stepping up in Rose's absence have been Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler. Never known for his efficient shooting on the court or use of sense off the court, KryptoNate has amassed a highly respectable 53.9 True Shooting percentage along with close to five assists/two turnovers a game in a slow-paced offense that doesn't feature any high usage stars or sharpshooters from deep. As for Butler, the former Golden Eagle has developed into an solid contributor. After playing only 8.5 minutes a game last year, Butler's been averaging close to 25 minutes a night this year, and lately, he has been playing heavy minutes (as Thibodeau is prone to do) as a result of Chicago's backcourt injury woes. He's a solid finisher at the rim, converting on 64% of his baskets in the restricted area. His shooting has improved in all areas, as he's connecting on 32 percent of his three point attempts, hitting on 81.7 percent of his free throws, and is shooting a highly respectable 39 percent on his jumpers from 15-19 feet. Combine those gains with some steady defense and it looks as if the Bulls have a player that can complement Rose in the coming years.

This year vs. the Nets

December 15 and recap (Chicago)

February 1 and recap (Chicago)

March 2 and recap (Chicago edition)

April 4 and recap (Chicago version)

Key Players to Watch

Provided he's close to 100 percent, I'll nominate Joakim Noah. He's had a wonderful season, amassing a solid 53.5 True Shooting percentage and 4 assists a night. When he has been on the court, he's been very durable, averaging 37.5 minutes a night. So far against the Nets, he's been able to make an impact. He's shot 56 percent overall, and most importantly, has shot 73% when Brook Lopez has been in the game.

The other guy to watch is Carlos Boozer. While Boozer is not the player he was once was in Utah (hence why, in addition to the $ he was making, a lot of people, myself included, didn' want Nets management to look into acquiring him), the Nets employ mostly terrible power forwards. And unsurprisingly, he's carved them up to the tune of 53 percent from the field and some key plays late in games. Facing off against Reggie Evans & Andray Blatche should provide Boozer with plenty of good scoring opportunities.

Net Chances of Winning a Series

I'd say it's 50-50. While the Nets have more name recognition, the Bulls have proven to be a very challenging opponent for the Nets this year. They're very physical and have had Brooklyn's number so far. Barring a spectacular collapse, the Nets should have the home court advantage for this matchup. The Bulls have been weaker on the road, but that's not unusual. Health figures to be a key factor, as there has been debate as to whether Noah should come back before the postseason. I doubt it happens, but if Derrick Rose manages to come back for the playoffs, the odds lean in Chicago's favor.

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