Friday, November 2, 2012

Bulls Opening Win a Sign of Things to Come?

Flash back to April 28th, 2012. Bulls fans held their collective breath as Derrick Rose lay writhing on the ground holding his knee. Everyone feared the worst, hoped for the best, and probably figured somewhere in between. I mean, this was Derrick Rose after all. We've seen him crash hard in the lane only to be toppled over. His grimacing, slowly rising routine was one that had become familiar with Bulls fans. After news trickled in that Rose had torn his ACL, we watched as the Bulls tried to grind out a slow, defensive-minded series battle against a young upstart Philly team.

Flash back to this season. After an offseason of underwhelming acquisitions, at least to some, the thought of going through most of this season without Derrick Rose was more than some Bulls fans could bear. I had conversations with several friends myself, with each one more skeptical than the next. The Bulls quickly became an afterthought in the East as the dog and pony show down on South Beach rose to unprecedented levels of douchebaggery. And yet, here we are, with a brand new season finally underway, with a typical Bulls victory now in the bag. 

Noah can help hold the team together
While watching the Bulls victory in their first game of the season against Sacramento, it kept occurring to me that the Bulls were winning games in much the same fashion they always had - by playing smart, physical, tough, and max effort basketball for 48 minutes. The scoring margin might be slightly smaller without D Rose, but the Bulls hadn't led the league in wins over the past two seasons because they had Derrick Rose; they did so because of a style of basketball instilled in the team from Tom Thibodeau. Now, I don't mean to say that Derrick Rose isn't the heart and soul of the team, because he most certainly is in many different ways. My point instead is that the Bulls are a competitive team with or without Rose, and that Rose only takes it over the top. He's a true superstar in the sense that he can take a good team and make it great. 

I keep rambling on about this for one reason: the Bulls will be good this year. They're going to win games like they did against Sacramento because of teamwork, hustle, effort, rebounding, coaching, and defense. They're going to win games because of plays where Joakim Noah tears down the court and swats a shot into the third row. Or plays where Noah channels his inner point guard and lumbers down the court for a huge dunk. The Bulls will win games because of smothering defense from Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich, or a huge spark off the bench from Taj Gibson (who deserves every penny of his new contract extension) or Nate Robinson.

Now, this style of play gets exposed in the playoffs when every team plays hard and teams have an entire series to scheme against the other team. That's where talent and scoring, plus a system, help overcome those odds, and it's why Derrick Rose is so special (and also why they need to add another scoring guard to help him out). But in the regular season, the Bulls can win consistently game to game because everyone on the team has bought into the same particular scheme. This is Tom Thibodeau's program, and every player that comes in gives it rave reviews.

It'll be particularly important when the Bulls struggle to score. Against Sacramento, the Bulls got scoring from Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton, and Noah, who had a monster game himself. But no one expects Noah to put up 23 points every game, and at this point, it's hard to even imagine Rip putting up 19 points per game as well. So, as Bulls fans, we need to get used to a slower, half court style offense to couple with our typical stifling defense and rebounding.

With Thibs, the Bulls always have a shot
I guess what I'm getting at is that we shouldn't give up. This is still going to be an entertaining team to watch, with or without our resident favorite player. I miss D Rose just as much as the next person. I still go through times when I lose 2 hours of my day watching Derrick Rose videos (and why not? Just watch this and tell me it doesn't lead you off on a tangent), and he does things that no one else can replicate. But we can't sit back and think that a team with this strong of character is going to give up on a season because Rose is hurt. And if they're not going to give up, how could we?

I fully expect Noah to be the leader of this team until Rose gets back. If Boozer and Rip can continue to score consistently, even if it is not at the levels of the first game against Sacramento, the Bulls should be alright. We'll have a new Bench Mob as soon as those guys get used to playing together. If they have to grind out some games, they have to grind out some games. Sacramento is a talented team with scorers like Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Aaron Brooks, and Marcus Thornton, and the Bulls still held them to 87 points.

So above all, have faith. There is no replacing a Derrick Rose. But there is the possibility of holding the table until he gets back. After all, we still have Thibs, Noah, Deng, Boozer, Gibson, Hinrich, Rip, and our defense, rebounding, leadership, and toughness. Those players and traits should provide some much-needed consistency until D Rose gets back. And until that time, try to sit back, relax, realize the sky isn't falling, and enjoy the simple fact that the Bulls are finally back.