Rose looking like MVP; Bulls await Boozer's return
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For the Chicago Bulls, it’s good to be home following their recent seven-game road trip. But it’s even better to have won four of seven games on the road with the return of Carlos Boozer right around the corner.
With Boozer now cleared to practice and having joined the team for his first full session this week, the momentum from successful trip and the positive energy surrounding the team should only continue. As I watched practice on Monday, you could see the players and coaches were excited to have a two-time All-Star back on the floor. You could tell Carlos was excited, too. Best of all, his legs looked fresh and his shot was falling. I’m sure he’s very ready to get out there and do what he came here to do.
"Adding Boozer to the mix essentially gives [the Bulls] another dynamic in that they can get the ball to him in the post to take a shot, pass to someone slashing the lane, or find the open man on the outside," writes Pippen.
Having Carlos back will provide the team with a lot more stability, while adding to its depth. Where his presence will really be felt is on the offensive end. He has always been a very solid, reliable scorer on the inside. A lot of the Bulls’ scoring opportunities this season have come from penetration or hitting jump shots. Adding Boozer to the mix essentially gives them another dynamic in that they can get the ball to him in the post to take a shot, pass to someone slashing the lane, or find the open man on the outside. He’s a bona fide scorer and he will take a lot of pressure off his teammates, especially with Derrick Rose working from the perimeter and sharing the burden of being a scorer in addition to a point guard.
As for Rose, I felt that he would take another step forward this season. What I didn’t realize is how dramatic it would be and how quickly it would happen. While it is important to remember the Bulls have only played 15 games and the season is just one month old, I see Derrick as probably the top candidate for NBA MVP honors the way he is playing. From a team standpoint, the Bulls’ record of 9-6 might not be as good as Kobe Bryant’s Lakers (13-4) or Dwight Howard’s Magic (12-4), but Rose’s individual play speaks for itself. What he’s done for a team that has been without Boozer—one of its players who they’ll be counting on to be part of the core—has been remarkable.
The way Rose has carried his team to a couple wins is the embodiment of MVP. On the long road trip, Rose averaged 30.5 points, 6.5 assists and 5.7 rebounds in the six games he played. To do that anywhere is impressive, but to do it on the road when you are factoring in tough opponents and back-to-back games is pretty amazing. And it all goes back to the very beginning of the season, when on media day, Rose said he aspired to be the MVP. Saying it is one thing, but to go out and show that you have the tools, talent and drive to be considered as a candidate in that discussion speaks volumes about this 22-year old.
I have been asked if Derrick reminds me of anyone in particular. The player who comes to mind for me is another Chicago native, Isiah Thomas. Rose plays with a different style than Thomas did, but they both have a tremendous ability to lead and singlehandedly carry a team offensively. That’s not something you traditionally see at the point guard position, although the league has a handful of very good ones right now. But what makes Derrick so unique is that he’s not just a scorer; he’s also a willing passer, averaging over eight assists per game this season. That kind of mentality is what makes him a great person and a player who teammates will like all the more. Even though he has shown he’s capable of scoring 30 points on any given night, I don’t think anyone has ever looked at him as a selfish player. Derrick has managed to do it all—run the offense with the ball in his hands, score and get his teammates involved.
As Team Ambassador for the Bulls, Pippen has been a regular at home games this season.
I have to be honest—I was surprised at how well the Bulls did on the road trip. The team set out on a seven-game swing knowing without Boozer, they’d be undermanned to an extent. They hadn’t been together all that long under a new coach with new players to have a strong bond in place. Plus, history was not on their side, as the Bulls’ struggles on that trip have been well documented. But they stepped up collectively, played well, and came home with an above .500 mark for the first time since we did it during the 1997-98 season. In some ways, I’ve always felt the November road trip is good for teams because it allows a team to go out and work on the chemistry you so often need early in a season. If you can face adversity together and come out on top, that can go a long way, especially for a younger group like this one.
Besides Rose’s stellar play and Boozer’s imminent return, there are a lot of other things going right for the Bulls. You have to give Joakim Noah a lot of credit. As much as Rose does for his team, Noah is right there too. Granted, he doesn’t score as much, but he rebounds with the best of them and communicates on the defensive end of the floor. He does a lot of things that don’t always show up in the stat sheet, but his presence is almost unmatched. The contributions of Luol Deng, who has been very steady and is averaging a career high in points, and Taj Gibson, who really stepped up as a starter in Boozer’s absence, are other reasons for getting off to a good start. Coach Thibodeau has also done a great job in his first few months as a head coach. His efforts have paid off in that the Bulls have been very solid defensively and prepared night in and night out.
The Bulls should be looked at as a contender in the Eastern Conference. They seem to be well ahead of the field in the Central Division, even without Boozer. But there are some very talented teams in the East. No one is going to write Miami off, even though they’ve struggled with a record of 9-8 thus far. Boston is probably the cream of the crop in the East to this point and Orlando has looked strong too. But if the Bulls continue their ascent and Boozer fits in as well as we hope, there isn’t a team among the Magic, Heat or Hawks that Chicago cannot bypass.
We will get a little better feel for how the Bulls measure up against two of those teams, the Magic and the Celtics, this week. The way the Bulls have played right now, though, it’s the perfect time to take on some of the NBA’s best. But it’s also important to take it one game at a time. Just because the Bulls went 4-3 on their road trip doesn’t mean everything will automatically fall into place. Right now, it’s time to get back to work and focus on winning at the United Center, where they play ten times in December and eleven times in January. Whether it’s a contending team or not, they have to come out prepared and ready to play some of their best basketball. There is a lot of talent in the league and if you don’t do that, it shows.