#13 The Chicago Bulls

O.K. let’s start this off by saying this could go in two VERY different directions. I’ve never really liked the Bulls but I can definitely respect their defense and the same-soul different-bodies romance between Joakim Noah and coach Tom Thibodeau. All that being said, the Bulls last year were basically unwatchable and if Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol are too injured and too old, respectively, to stay on the court, this team drops down into dismal 20s in League Pass potential.

But if Rose is healthy? Like finally, finishes a season, healthy? This team could take on a whole different look. Rose is the only player along with Kevin Durant to steal MVP honors away from Lebron James over this last half-decade of dominance and the last time the Bulls had a full season of Rose they ended up facing James in the Eastern Conference Finals. The beautiful thing about Rose is that the Bulls retain their identity with and without him. Either way they will be a gritty, defensive-minded team that is one of the toughest in the league. The only difference is that with him, they have a top 10 PG who can contribute some scoring and dribble penetration to help relieve their walking-corpse offense.

I’m excited to see how Gasol fits into this whole scheme too. Joakim Noah proved himself as the top dog last season and a do it all big man who can pass and dribble with the best of them. Having Gasol’s shooting touch and size to complement him will be a nightmare frontcourt to defend and should give the Bulls’ outside shooters some open looks. I’m not sold yet on how much Doug McDermott or the mystery man Nikola Mirotic will contribute but these guys are going to get a ton of open 3s.

The one guy I’m sad to see go is DJ Augustin, who was a godsend for this team last year. During a stretch of sub-80 scoring games, it seriously looked like the Bulls were headed for the lottery until they picked up this guy on a 10 day contract and let him go crazy, shooting 3s and darting into the paint. I understand that his value arose out of necessity but it seems like a gamble to send him packing and rely on Rose’s knees to carry this team to the postseason.

Which is exactly what should happen. Even without Rose, the Bulls have shown the tenacity and grind-it-out mentality to make the playoffs a possibility. And with him, the Bulls are looking like the main competition the new look Cavs will have in reaching the Finals. I don’t really think of these guys as a championship team, but its very possible these guys can take advantage of Cleveland’s growing pains and catapult themselves into a slugfest for the Larry O’Brien trophy.

X-Factor= Derrick Rose

C’mon!! Who else was I gonna pick here. If you tracked FIBA at all over the summer (I know you didn’t watch the games, but maybe you read a few news updates) you would have heard Rose had a very up-and-down experience. His health was obviously the most important factor, but there were extremely encouraging reports that Rose looked like the best guard on the entire roster. And then the competition started and it looked like he couldn’t hit a single shot. Bulls fans really don’t need him to be too much of a shooter- just use his insane athleticism to attack the basket and hit open teammates, but it certainly seems as if he is still an enigma heading into his 6th year.

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