Pau Gasol (#16), Joakim Noah (#13), Rose (#1) of being a point center, funneling passes to teammates in an attempt to confuse defenses and create open looks. While Noah was very good in that role, it wasn’t an ideal solution to Chicago’s problems. The reality was that nobody in Chicago’s lineup—not Kirk Hinrich, not Butler—was able to command doubleteams or at least threaten to punish opponents for not doing so. Clearly the plan was to have a healthy Rose drawing defenses in and creating open looks for his teammates. With Rose first ineffective and then injured again, Chicago had to turn to a plan B. That plan featured an offense that Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images often used up the shot clock but didn’t create very many good opportunities. With that in mind, the Bulls have added a few players who could make the offense more effective. The biggest name among them is Gasol, who still retains serious low-post skills to go along with a functional midrange jump shot. Gasol is the kind of player who can bring Chicago’s offense to life, although he isn’t necessarily the best fit as a go-to scorer at this point in his career. Chicago also brought over Nikola Mirotic, known as the best player in Europe last season, and traded their two first-round draft picks for Creighton’s McDermott, a terrific college shooter and scorer who will help give Chicago’s offense spacing if his skills can carry over to the NBA level. The biggest X-factor in all of this is Rose, the catalyst for Chicago’s offensive success before missing two years due to injuries. The odds are against Rose being the same MVP player he was before, but if he can defy the odds, the pieces are in place for the Bulls to have a genuinely good offense. On the flip side, if Rose is done as a shot creator, then Chicago will likely have an improved but still below-average NBA offense in the 2014-15 season. Outlook A few things are basically certain about the Bulls. One is that they’ll once again be an outstanding defensive team under Thibodeau. Another is that they’ll be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. No matter what happens, the Bulls have the talent and depth to end up with either the No. 1 or 2 seed along with the Cleveland Cavaliers. What isn’t certain is just how much upside Chicago has. That greatly depends on how well Rose is able to recover from multiple knee injuries and surgeries. If Rose can become something close to the MVP he was in the past, Chicago will be the best team in the Eastern Conference. However, it’s more likely that Rose will be a lesser version of what he once was, and if that happens, the most likely outcome for the Bulls is a deep playoff run that falls short of a championship. SPOTLIGHT: Derrick Rose The past two seasons have been something of a nightmare for the 2011 NBA MVP. It started with a torn ACL suffered late in the 2011-12 NBA season. While injuries of that nature are always scary, athletes are usually able to come back from them on time and still perform at a high level. That was not the case with Rose. While athletes usually return within nine to 12 months after ACL surgery, Rose was still on the sidelines after more than a year out of action. Clearly lacking confidence in his knee, Rose decided not to play at all during the 2012-13 season, and even had his toughness questioned in the process. When Rose returned in the 2013-14 season, it was obvious that something was off. Rose simply was not performing well, and when he went down with a torn meniscus, it was equally upsetting and unsurprising. Before these injuries, Rose was an explosive player with a unique ability to drive to the basket and create open looks for his teammates. Without Rose in the lineup, Chicago’s ability to create such open looks diminished badly. With Rose returning this season, he has a lot of questions to answer. Can he stay on the court? Can he produce the same way he used to? How far Chicago goes in the playoffs will likely depend on how well Rose plays, but the most important thing for Rose is to simply play within his current abilities, whatever those happen to be in his post-injury world.
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