Michael Walton II writes about the NBA for We Are Regal Radio.
Michael is a student, freelance writer and burgeoning high school basketball scout based in Chicago. He’s previously been published in TrueStar Magazine, the Redeye Chicago and thelyricallab.com.
After getting as good a fix as they could through FIBA International basketball competition, countless leaks of racist banter amongst NBA owners and executives, tidbits about another impending lockout, and a curious beef involving Snoop Dogg and Nick “Swaggy P” Young, hoops purists can rejoice now that we are officially back to the start of meaningful NBA games with another regular season upon us.
And from the viewpoint of this particular Chicago Bulls, fan there is reason to be worried. The San Antonio Spurs have the exact same team defending its title. Damn. The Cleveland Cavaliers restructured the league’s newest Big 3 and look like they will break all kinds of pace and scoring records. Damn. And due in large part to LeBron James taking his talents back to Akron, the league is entering a stage of parity that it hasn’t seen in years. Damn?
In the end, things are actually looking great for the league as a whole, but it seems the more things change the more they stay the same. The Spurs will continue to be overlooked and a LeBron James-led team lacking mental toughness will be favored to win the title.
And once again plenty of questions are flying around about the Bulls’ title window getting closer to shutting with each new thrilling Derrick Rose drive to the rim. In the end, though, Rose’s importance to the Bulls was so underrated in the past that it is now overrated. Plenty of people will be upset with me for that statement, but there are other factors that I think will go a long way in determining the Bulls title chances.
O offense, where art thou?
While Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is well-respected as a coach with a gift for crafting excellent defenses, his ability to craft an effective offense is still a hotly debated topic. Last year the Bulls finished with the worst field goal percentage in the league at 42.3 percent. Rose’s prolonged absence obviously limited the progression of the Bulls offense in recent years under Thibs, but he still managed to patch something together around Joakim Noah’s excellent high-post passing skills.
The offense as led by Noah called for plenty of backdoor cuts, pinch post actions, and splitting action off of the post. But one must wonder if Rose’s return will decrease the number of times we see Noah controlling the ball at the top of the key. While the offense had its nights where it looked pretty, ranking behind the Philadelphia (Tankers) 76ers in field goal percentage is unacceptable.
Coach Thibodeau has gained multiple pieces in the off-season, enough to possibly have a remarkable offense. I think he needs to install plenty of options for the ‘stack’ formation in which the Pau Gasol-Noah combination could be particularly effective when placed on the same side of the court. The potential attention drawn during these high-low plays will open up room for new shooters like rookie Doug McDermott and the long-awaited European signee Nikola Mirotic.
If Thibs can manage to spread the minutes around enough to have plenty of offense-first lineups then the Bulls should have a much better offense than last season.
That ‘new new’ DRose: MVP or MIP?
Perhaps the most watched storyline in the NBA will be whether or not Derrick Rose can return to elite status in the NBA’s superstar hierarchy.
While multiple knee injuries have taken away some explosiveness, Rose has looked great in the preseason after having a pretty awful FIBA World Cup, shooting 25% from the field in the tournament.
If Rose can average over 20 points and 6 assists while leading the Bulls to the number one seed in the East then I think he will be a shoo-in for MVP, but I think Rose could shock many by becoming the first former NBA MVP to win the league’s Most Improved Player Award, he will be a new player this season.
Rose has shown a willingness to push the ball down court off every rebound, and I believe we will also see Thibodeau use Rose in full-court press situations more often after he often harassed opposing guards into submission. With Noah occasionally being the primary play-maker we should also see a spike in Rose’s rebounding production. There is no reason to believe he can’t grab five boards a game.
Rose, and all of America, know that No. 1 is the key to the Bulls title hopes, but I think the idea that he needs to score a bunch of points in order for the Bulls to win is overstated. If Rose can become a lock-down defender and commit to doing the little things that separate great guards from average ones, then the sky’s the limit for the Bulls.
Previewing the Opener
The Bulls open the season against the New York Knicks tonight, and there is reason to believe this game should be a win for Chicago. The Knicks will be dealing with a brand new head coach, a new offensive system, and a ton of new players. It will be interesting to see what elements of the triangle offense coach Derek Fisher will implement in New York.
The triangle offense relies on lots of ball-movement and body movement. The offense is excellent when ran by players who buy into the system, so Carmelo Anthony will almost single-handedly make this offense lethal or ruin it.
If ‘Melo passes the ball often and keeps moving he could easily win the scoring title as he will score from (literally) all over the court, but in tomorrow’s game the Bulls league leading defense from last season will surely cut off many of the first and second options in the triangle and it will be up to coach Fisher to make sure his players know the third and fourth options for plays.
These two teams split the series last year at two games apiece, but unlike last season I see the Bulls winning the first game in Madison Square Garden.
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