The 2012-13 season is half-over, which gives the Bulls 101 staff a chance to muse about this year's Chicago Bulls and whether they've lived up to expectations.
We’re halfway into the season and the Bulls are 25-16. To be perfectly blunt, I never expected the Bulls to have this record at this point in the season. If you go all the way back to my preseason predictions, you’ll see that I had the Bulls only fighting for the seven or eight spot in the East. At this point, they’re still in contention for the number 1 spot only 3 games back of the Miami Heat for the top spot.
It’s even more of a shocker when you consider how much of an offensive drop-off the Bulls have experienced compared to last season given how haphazardly this roster was put together. According to Basketball Reference, last year Chicago was ranked 18th in the league for points scored per game and had the 5th best offensive rating. Currently, the Bulls are 25th in the league in points per game and have the 20th ranked offensive rating. While the points per game drop-off isn’t that bad (last year Chicago was 18th ranked with 96.3 points per game compared to this year’s 93.6) the efficiency of the offense has dropped greatly. Keep in mind that the difference is marginally affected by the presence of Derrick Rose as he only played 60% of games last year. We’ll see how much better the Bulls can do before Rose comes back and how much more they’ll excel once Rose becomes acclimated again. I can’t say I’m still entirely too hopeful for the postseason, but I’m more optimistic than I was at the beginning of the season.
When I consider the success of this team I look at one person as the catalyst for all Chicago has been able to do: Joakim Noah. Picking up where he left off last year, Noah has provided seemingly unlimited energy with all of his screaming on the bench, hustle on the floor on every play, and, of course, his finger guns. The energy Noah provides visibly affects this team in a huge way. For any of you who doubt that, I ask you review the Knicks/Bulls game when he got ejected. More importantly, Noah has stepped up his game to an All-Star level. Noah’s numbers across the board are up with the exception of field goal percentage and player efficiency (not surprising given his minutes per game have gone up significantly with Omer Asik’s departure). In fact, Noah is currently the league’s leading passing big man and has established himself as one of the best (fourth best assist to turnover ratio). My only complaint about Noah at this point is that he’s not starting over Kevin Garnett at the All-Star game, but I think that’s a complaint we can all live with.
The 2012-13 Chicago Bulls have, thus far, exceeded my expectations. Their 25-16 record at the exact midpoint of the season puts them on pace for a 50-32 season, which is higher than I thought (I had them pegged for 42-46 wins), so to say anything different would be an outright lie.
I'm on record as complaining vociferously about the way the offseason went down, and I honestly thought that the destruction of the bench would be the Bulls' undoing. I pegged them for 44 wins before the season and a six-seed in the East, which they're currently ahead of, at least in part because they've gotten production from places I didn't totally expect. Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson have helped steady the bench even when the other guys haven't played well, and Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng have all exceeded my expectations without Derrick Rose around. They're currently percentage points ahead of the Indiana Pacers for the Central Division lead, which is partly because Indiana has lost any and all ability to score with Danny Granger out, but also because they've been as good as they have. This team may not be much fun to watch, but they get it done, somehow.
Going forward, I'm hopeful but wary. I'm of course looking forward to #TheReturn of Derrick Rose, but it's hard to say if he'll really be anything like himself, at least early on, and I live in constant fear of him being brought back too soon and getting hurt again. It's not rational, but there you are. If, IF, Rose comes back at something approximating full strength, it's theoretically possible for the Bulls to become a dark horse in the playoffs. But god only knows whether that will happen.
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