Pippen believes Bulls cancontend in the East
We’re only five games in to a very long regular season, but I’m comfortable saying it: the Bulls can be contenders in the Eastern Conference. They’ve got a legitimate chance of being a top four seed in the playoffs the way they are playing right now.
The biggest luxury that this team has is that so many players have been able to step up. Everyone keeps talking about the absence of Ben Gordon, but the Bulls have players who are hungry on offense and looking to make up for his scoring. I like the pecking order Head Coach Vinny Del Negro has established. He uses John Salmons a lot and of course you have a lot of creativity from Derrick Rose. They’ve got a lot of versatility out there on the court, then you look at their bench and guys like Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller can come in and step up with big plays. This is a team that plays well together, and you can’t underscore the importance of that in this league. Not to take anything away from Ben Gordon, but that style of play and how the offense revolved around him when he was in the game became too predictable. Their chemistry seems to be a lot better too at this point in the season.
The Bulls picked up a key win in Cleveland on Thursday night. To me, one word comes to mind: experience. Hinrich and Miller played huge roles off the bench. Salmons got it going a little bit, as well. It just looked like a team that is comfortable playing on the road and that is what you want to see. They were very patient with their offense, rather than just running up and down and pushing it only to take bad shots. Don’t get me wrong, the Bulls are trying to play an up-tempo game, but they did it in the right way against the Cavs. They used their conditioning to their advantage against Cleveland. I’m don’t want to point any fingers, but the Bulls know if they can run at Shaq with pick-and-rolls and wear him down, they are going to have more success on offense. But it’s early in the season for the Cavs too. Their familiarity with Shaq isn’t like it will be later in the season. They don’t have the chemistry built around him yet to utilize his offense. But defensively, at this stage in his career, he can be a little bit of a liability playing a quick team like the Bulls.
As for LeBron, Cleveland has been great for him and I think he’s going to stay home next summer. It doesn’t make sense for a kid who has played there in his hometown more or less for basically his entire life to make a move. He has brought so much attention and notoriety to the state of Ohio, and he’s got everything there. It just makes the most sense for him to stay in Cleveland, and I think that is what he’ll do at the end of the day. You factor in all of his endorsements, and he’s done very well on and off the basketball court. Seeing him as a Cavalier for the rest of his career is how I think he should be remembered.
Let’s get back to the Bulls. Here a few key things that need to happen for them to be successful moving forward:
- Derrick Rose at the point: It’s all about the continued development of this second-year point guard. He has started out a little slower than he’d like due to that ankle injury and keeping him healthy is obviously a huge priority. The loss of him for any extended time would really set their chemistry back. He’s the Bulls’ number one component and their driving force. He brings something to the game that they haven’t had for a long time, and that’s an All-Star caliber point guard. The thing I really like about him is that he plays bigger than his size. You have to respect how fearless he is going into the paint whether it’s driving the lane or crashing the glass. He plays a well-rounded game; he’s no little guy on the floor. He’s a young kid that is going to continue to get better and better and he doesn’t mind doing the dirty work along the way.
- Team is the theme: Aside from keeping the team healthy as possible throughout the season, they need to stick together and stay on the same page. They have come in to this season with a renewed effort on defense and they need to continue to get better. Right now I don’t see this team having many matchup problems, but I do see them creating a few given their lengthy and versatility. Defense is where this team will win and lose games. Rose isn’t that well-known superstar yet, so defense is what they’ll have to fall back on. Eventually he could be after a few years of proving himself across the league and getting to a level where he has the respect from everyone and gets calls, for example. Rose will get to a point where he can make plays late in the game and make the right decisions, but it will take some time.
- Improve the young core: Several of the Bulls top players are still pretty young. They’ve gotten off to a remarkable start. Soon they will have to contend with that long West Coast road trip. This team appears to be ready to go on the road, especially coming off the win in Cleveland. To go in and beat one of the top teams in the East in their building is a major confidence builder. They played very well defensively and won a game that was not very high scoring. They put themselves in a position to win and they held on. That’s how you get better. The young guys like Rose, Noah and Thomas will all benefit from a game like that.
The Bulls are off to an impressive start, there’s no question about it. They’re going to get better, but so will other teams. I expect them to finish over .500, with a chance of winning a handful more games and competing for one of those top four spots in the Eastern Conference.
If they can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for them. And that doesn’t go for just for guys like Rose. They need Brad Miller and his savvy out on the court. Joakim Noah is playing as well as I’ve ever seen him play and he is a big part of what they are doing. He’s very active and got a long body, and he’s out there with a lot of confidence. He makes plays and he’s got a great feel for the game. Noah is an extremely valuable player to have out on the floor and contributes to the team’s chemistry. The East is going to be very competitive this season and it is going to be a fight to get either the third, fourth or fifth seed. But the Bulls are capable and it will be interesting to see what they are made of over these coming months.
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