"Watch your head! I gotta fist-bump Bulls fans" (Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE)
This is part of an SBNation-wide effort for the blogs of playoff teams to provide a re-set going into the postseason. You can check out how the Bulls first-round opponent feels at Liberty Ballers, it's gloriously depressing.
Team Record: 50-16
How would you describe The Bulls in the regular season?
It was a discouraging season that still had the Bulls exceeding expectations. The injuries to Derrick Rose, Rip Hamilton, and Luol Deng all season would never suggest that the Bulls would wind up with a nearly identical winning percentage to last season. It shows how deep they are and how hard they play, being able to prove coach Tom Thibodeau's mantra of 'having more than enough to win' nearly every night. There were also signs of improvement from last season, notably the strides that the Noah-Boozer frontcourt has made playing together all season.
What are the Bulls strengths? Are there any areas that concern you?
The defense speaks for itself, it's fantastic and goes two-units deep. And the Bulls are also terrors on the offensive glass, the best in the league. Maybe it comes from a lot of practice, because their weakness is an inability to get consistently easy points. There are stretches of games where the Bulls offense merely looks like a way to get another offensive rebound. But when everyone's been healthy this season, the Bulls have looked to be a top-5 offense as well, with Rip Hamilton giving them far more of a threat than what they had at SG last season. We've yet to see if that is still an attainable level of play.
What is your likely playoff rotation? Who is likely to see their minutes increase? Who might fall out of the rotation completely?
This is an interesting issue for Thibodeau, and a good problem to have. With the starting lineup back intact, the Bulls regularly go 10-deep. Conventional wisdom says that doesn't happen in the playoffs, but the Bulls don't go to the bench out of necessity, they provide matchup issues for opponents. This is perhaps best exhibited when Taj Gibson closes out games at PF, a superior defender to Carlos Boozer and a likely starter on a lot of teams.
The playoffs would normally be when Derrick Rose would see his minutes increase (at the expense of CJ Watson) but that's still an unknown due to his health. You'll likely see Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik's minutes decrease, the latter especially if the opponent has no true center, but neither by much. I think the Bulls will deploy their rotations fairly similarly to how they did so during the season.
Who is most likely to step up their level of play? Do you have a potential "breakout" performer this postseason?
The Bulls have a lot of guys playing at a high level, so it's hard to see anyone getting that much better. I'll instead hope that it's Rose who steps up to his normal level of play. For nearly 6 weeks now he has simply not been healthy, whether it was first due to a groin injury or later to his ankle and foot. He's been deferring more than normal, and being more of a floor general than the guy who can get the Bulls a shot at the rim whenever needed. It's been efficient but unspectacular, and the Bulls ultimately need him to be special. There's a similar concern for Luol Deng, maybe moreso because his injury won't be healing: sometimes he plays well through the pain, but oftentimes he's relegated to a stand-still jumpshooter.
Also look to see if Kyle Korver can keep up his currently-fantastic shooting. Korver's seemingly wrestled away the 'closing' SG role, but was a disappointment in the playoffs last year. When he's not hitting 3-pointers, his defense keeps him off the court, so staying hot is imperative.
How far can you realistically see the Bulls advancing in the playoffs?
Even with Rose working his way back into form, if they don't make the Eastern Conference Finals it'll be a severe disappointment. A rematch with the Miami Heat seems inevitable, and while I wouldn't make the Bulls favorites I do think it's closer to a toss-up than before. Miami hasn't solved their own issues, whereas if Rose is healthy teh Bulls look to be more formidable than last season.