Bulls Regular Season Recap
By Benjy Lipsman in News on Apr 14, 2011 3:00PM
Best record in the NBA. How's that for an impressive season?
No one predicted that for the Chicago Bulls before the season began, especially after the team lost out on luring a top free agent like LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. While many believed that the Bulls roster moves greatly improved the team, most (us included) thought they'd find themselves below the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference standings. Instead, the Bulls blew right past both in the season's final weeks and rode a nine-game winning streak to close out the season while the San Antonio Spurs sputtered down the stretch. Last night, the Bulls defeated the New Jersey Nets to finish 62-20 on the season, One win better than the Spurs, who lost to Phoenix last night. We knew this Bulls team was destined for great things, but we had no idea how soon. Not only did they win, but they were fun as hell to watch.
Derrick Rose was perhaps the biggest factor. The third-year point guard elevated his game and cemented his place among the game's elites. In fact, he's the prospective NBA MVP after averaging 25 points, 7.7 assist and 4.1 rebounds per game. He started for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game and led the Bulls to only the sixth 60-win season in the franchise's history, despite injuries that kept other key players out for extended parts of the season. He seemingly willed the team to victory at times, as the great Michael Jordan used to do. And he has MJ's ability to electrify a crowd, whether via an acrobatic drive to the hoop, his now trademark two-hand power dunk or a clutch three-pointer.
Another key contributor was Luol Deng, who was invisible in Vinny Del Negro's schemes and seemed to have lost confidence. Injuries also derailed his growth. But in Thibodeau's defensive-focused schemes, Deng thrived, finishing as the team's third leading scorer at 17.4 points per game while also playing the best defense night in and night out and grabbing 5.8 boards. He also played all 82 games and played the most minutes of anybody on the team.
Two other big contributors played well when on the court, but missed large chunks of the season to injury. Free agent power forward Carlos Boozer missed the first month of the season with a broken hand, and missed time down the stretch with a sprained ankle. But in 58 games, Boozer averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds. No sooner did Boozer return to the line-up then center Joakim Noah was sidelined with thumb surgury. He also missed games late in the year with an ankle sprain. Noah played in 47 games, and averaged 11.7 points and 10.4 rebounds.
Rounding out the starting five was shooting guard Keith Bogans, who many thought didn't deserve the spot, but Thibs gave the role to because of his defensive toughness. Later games, however, Thibodeau gave playing time to a fleet of guards that made up part of the "bench mod." Shooting guards Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, along with C.J. Watson provided back court relief off the bench. Up front, Taj Gibson filled in admirably in Boozer's early season absence and provided scoring and rebounding off the bench. Kurt Thomas, who saw little action until Noah's injury, made the most of his playing time and helped the Bulls continue to blaze their way through the league. And rookie Omer Asik continued to develop all season. If there's one bright spot to the starters' injuries, it's that the bench is that much more prepared for the playoffs.
Thibodeau finally got his chance to become an NBA head coach, after years as an assistant (Of course, we wanted him hired instead of VDN three years ago). He made the most of it, proving he was more than capable. Thibs tied Paul Westphal for most wins by a rookie head coach. He was known for his defense, and his team has shined in that area. The Bulls finished the year first in defensive field goal percentage, second in fewest points allowed and first in rebounding. He was known for his work ethic, and he instilled that in his players, too. But his offensive schemes have also earned him praise and have found ways to integrate a variety of players into the mix while allowing Rose to take his game to the next level.
The Bulls regular season clearly exceeded all expectations, as nobody thought they stood any shot of overtaking the mighty Heat or veteran Celtics. While winning home court advantage throughout the playoffs (the Bulls were an astounding 36-5 at home this season), now they're expected to take advantage of that. Can this Bulls team follow up this season with at title, or least a trip to the NBA Finals? That quest starts Saturday against the Indiana Pacers.