Without Noah, Rose and Boozer’s Bulls keep winning
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First Carlos Boozer, now Joakim Noah. If you had heard at the beginning of the year the Bulls would be without these two players for portions of the season, you would have figured they might be in some trouble, right?
So far, that hasn’t been the case at all for Derrick Rose and the Bulls, who have won 16 of out their last 20 games and are approaching a double digit game lead in the Central Division.
Obviously, it’s tough for a team to play without two of their top three players for an extended period. But despite losing Boozer, a two-time All-Star and reliable power forward, and Noah, the team’s best rebounder and emotional leader, for significant amounts of time this season, the Bulls continue to weather the storm and step up in spite of who might be sidelined.
In Noah’s case, he had been playing at an All-Star level prior to injuring his right thumb. With his game, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Noah’s contributions for his team go far beyond just statistics—his presence means so much and he plays with a style that is very much his own. Being without those things hasn’t been easy to overcome.
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Noah was averaging a career high 14 points per game before the injury, but he brings so much more to the table than scoring. When the Bulls have him out on the floor, their mindset is stronger because of his presence. The fact that he does have some nice scoring games is almost an afterthought when you see all the rebounds he brings in and the defense he provides. He’s their anchor on the defensive end of the court, communicating and helping his teammates out. In a way, he reminds me a little of how Dennis Rodman played. Occasionally, he’ll get into the heads of his opponents and he brings it every single night. You just can’t replace or replicate the level of emotion that Noah provides on such a consistent basis.
What is impressive to me is that even though Joakim is out, he still makes an impact because the team sees how emotionally involved he is in the game. He’s on the bench cheering and continues to communicate with his teammates, almost as an extension of the coaching staff. Watch the next game and you can’t miss it. He high fives his teammates coming into timeouts and congratulating them after a nice play or big run. You don’t see a lot of players at his level who do that.
Fortunately, Boozer has been as good as advertized and stepped up with Noah’s absence, along with the veteran Kurt Thomas. The team has been forced to take on a different look without Noah and they’ve evolved a little differently over these last few weeks, but it’s been great. And the results are there.
For the first few months of the season, we saw a lot of Derrick Rose either penetrating to the basket from 25 feet out, shooting jumpers, or driving and putting up a teardrop. Having Boozer in the mix at the four gives the team a little more stability. In the past, when the team was struggling and really needed to get a bucket or go to the line, it was on Derrick to make that happen. But now, Carlos provides that other option that the Bulls have needed for awhile—someone who you could throw the ball into and force your opponent to come double team him or allow him to make a play. It’s very valuable to have someone like that, especially when you pair him with Derrick and his style of play. This is a team that when they’re having success, it’s usually off of their transition, which often begins with their defense and ends with easy baskets.
Enter Boozer, who provides the Bulls with the ability to penetrate through passing, and it takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the offense. The abilities he has to score on the inside go a long way. Once Joakim gets back, Carlos will likely be even better off because he demands a double team. If Carlos and Derrick have the pick-and-roll going and you factor in Joakim, who really understands the game and how to get himself in the right position on the floor, the final stretch of the regular season should be very fruitful for the Bulls.
The Bulls’ bench has also given them a big boost. They were instrumental in closing out a victory against the Raptors last week. Kurt Thomas has been extremely solid filling in at center and Omer Asik seems to get better every game. Thomas has proven to be that reliable veteran who is always ready. He won’t make many mistakes and he’s got a high basketball IQ. Not only does he understand the game, but he also accepts his role. When he wasn’t playing at the beginning of the year, he didn’t complain. He waited for his number to be called, and once it was, he stepped up and has produced. As for Asik, I expect him to be a starter in the league eventually. He has become a major problem for opponents, as he’s got good speed for his size, he’s very agile, and has a knack for the basketball. He understands his position, plays defense and draws charges.
Taj Gibson has been playing good basketball as well. He ran into a few bumps over the last few weeks with his injuries, but he’s another player this team can count on. Going back to the Toronto game on Jan. 4, he came off the bench to score 16 points and grab 14 rebounds, his sixth double-double on this season. He was a starter when Boozer was hurt and now he’s back in a reserve role, showing he can make adjustments and do what he’s asked to do.
"Derrick continues to be the special player that we’ve all seen develop over these past few seasons," writes Pippen of Rose. "He’s emerged and continues to take his game to another level. "
(Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)
In looking at the other players who came from Utah over the summer, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver have both been great additions. Brewer is starting to shoot the ball pretty well, even better than I expected. I think we all realize that at the Bulls’ shooting guard position, the team could use a little more production, especially offensively. That’s where Ronnie has provided a nice spark off the bench, as well as Korver. His shooting has helped get the team back into some games in which they’ve trailed and he can put points on the board in a hurry when he’s connecting from the outside.
At the end of the day, though, it’s Derrick Rose who is leading this team to win after win. Derrick continues to be the special player that we’ve all seen develop over these past few seasons. He’s emerged and continues to take his game to another level. I’ve said it before, but I think a lot of it goes back to his international play this summer as part of the USA Basketball program. It built his confidence up and helped him come to the realization that he’s basically unstoppable. Normally, it doesn’t happen as early as it has with Derrick. To be enjoying the success he’s having at such a young age is very fun from a fan’s perspective—and former player, for that matter—to watch.
The only thing that I can see is that Derrick needs to do more is find a way to get to the foul line more often, which in part, is out of his control. But over the last few games, we’ve seen dramatic improvement in that area.
He made 10 free throws at Philadelphia on Jan. 7, a career-best 15 free throws versus Boston on Jan. 8, and went a perfect nine-for-nine in Chicago’s win over Detroit on Jan. 10. Rose was 34-of-38 (89.5 percent) from the line in those three games.
Derrick may not get the superstar calls like Kobe and LeBron get just yet, but it will happen over time. And if it has happened by the time this postseason arrives, it could be huge for the team, as Rose being able to get to the line will help in close games.
People like to point out that the Bulls’ run over the last few weeks have been against weaker opponents and that they’re winning ugly. But I don’t see it as a big deal. For one, they’re not playing at full strength and they’re still getting victories. They’re doing what it takes to win and that’s not always a thing of beauty. In the big picture though, this team is going to get better and play better. It will just take some time and the return of Noah, which will really put them on the right track.
In the meantime, the Bulls have to keep doing one thing they’ve really excelled at this season—protecting their home court. Home cooking is always good when you can take advantage of it, and the Bulls are 17-3 at the United Center this season, the best home record in the Eastern Conference and second to only San Antonio (20-2) for the NBA’s best. They’ve outscored opponents by an average of 101.3 to 90.8 points per game at home and you have to be proud of the way this team has played in Chicago.