Bulls Off and Running

Derrick Rose, once a hometown hero, has become one of the most lambasted athletes in Chicago sports history.
Keith Allison
Derrick Rose, once a hometown hero, has become one of the most lambasted athletes in Chicago sports history.

The grind of an 82-game NBA season is in full effect for the Chicago Bulls. This season the team’s stars have been exceptionally healthy and are getting prepared to attack full speed ahead towards the ultimate team goal in mind, winning a championship.

With a very good overall record at this point in the season (25-11), head coach, Tom Thibodeau continues to consistently preach defense and intensity on the defensive end of the court. Even with their defensive mindset, the Bulls have been able to improve dramatically on the offensive end, which was an area they struggled in the past couple of seasons. They are averaging 102.8 points per game, ninth best in the NBA.

The Bulls averaged just over 93 points per game (30th overall) last season, however, only gave up just under 92 points per game, the lowest of any team.

This lack of offensive firepower was largely due to player injury and the vacancy of supporting cast members to take on a bit of the load. The Bulls of yesteryear have been able to play team basketball and compete at a high level game after game but there has been significant improvement by a couple key players this season.

The addition of power forward Pau Gasol has been a breath of fresh air for the team, fans, organization and critics. He’s replacing the much-maligned Carlos Boozer, so he didn’t have to do much to be loved but his play so far this season has been superb and he is on track to start in February’s All-Star game for the first time since 2011.

During the offseason, the Bulls were able to acquire Gasol in free agency after playing six seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers. In the first 36 games of the season, Gasol has averaged (18.1) points, (11.1) rebounds and (2.3) blocks per game. It looks as if he has found the fountain of youth in his game and has gone back in time to re-introduce the Gasol everyone became accustomed to seeing. In some cases, a change in scenery can significantly improve the overall state of a player and this definitely seems to be the case for Gasol.

As we’ve seen in years past with the Bulls, just one All-Star caliber player is not enough.

The emergence of shooting guard Jimmy Butler has really taken the Bulls to a whole different level. Butler has been given the opportunity to showcase his skills and has exceeded all expectations this season. Leading the league in minutes (39.8 per game), Butler is averaging career highs in points (21.7), rebounds (6.3) and assists (3.2) per game.

Why is Jimmy Butler playing at such a high level? It’s simple, confidence.

Tom Thibodeau has confidence in his play and ability and Butler possesses the confidence in himself to perform. He also often credits his teammates for instilling confidence in him everyday. Butler and former MVP Derrick Rose make up one of the best backcourts in the league and with the presence of Gasol and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah in the post; the Bulls are serious championship contenders.

Over the past 6-8 months, there have been barrages of predictions from former coaches, players, writers and broadcasters about which two teams will meet in the NBA Finals and who will actually win. A number of teams have made significant improvements to compete, which increases the level of competition. LeBron James returning home to the Cleveland Cavaliers had everyone talking over the summer. That acquisition, plus the improvement of many other teams had those analysts offering a number of scenarios.

A Bulls versus Spurs Finals matchup is very realistic and would be one to remember. Both teams play “the right way” and focus on team play more than individual accolades.  Both conferences are top heavy, but the Bulls seem to be the favorites from the East thus far. One thing is certain about the Bulls team: they are hungry and prepared to make that push towards greatness.

*All stats as of Jan. 9