Playoff Contention: Chicago Bulls
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
Injured Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are supposed to return to the Chicago Bulls' playoff lineup this weekend, but who knows when--or if--the indefinitely injured Derrick Rose will be back, though it's looking less and less likely he'll return for the 2013 NBA Playoffs.
Consequently, who knows when or if the Bulls will become NBA championship contenders once again.
For all intents and purposes, Coach Tom Thibodeau will not be directing a contender until the 2013-14 season.
Even with the hopeful returns of Noah, Gibson and Rose, it's going to be months until any of these men are 100 percent.
Noah has plantar fasciitis, which takes an offseason of rest to recover. Gibson's left knee is reportedly better, but he will need a bulky brace that will hinder him, just to get on the court. And Rose himself has admitted that he will not return until he is 100 percent mentally ready his left knee allows him to do the simple moves he is used to making--like dunking off his left foot, for instance.
Even if 2010-11 NBA MVP Rose returns, the Bulls would likely have to get through a murderers' row of opponents--the Pacers, Knicks and then the Heat--just to reach the 2013 NBA Finals.
So even though Chicago maintained the NBA's league-best record in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (62-20 and 50-16), it's a longshot at best that it can truly contend in the 2013 NBA Playoffs.
In 2012-13, the Bulls have only maintained a .538 winning percentage--a .219 drop from their last two seasons--and have acquired that mark against subpar competition in the weakened Eastern Conference (the Bulls SRS rating is -0.15).
Boozer and Deng are giving typical Boozer-and-Deng performances. Jimmy Butler has emerged as one of the league's most improved players and a likely Bulls starting shooting guard for years to come, while point guards Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich have done a capable job of holding down the fort.
Chicago ranks 24th in offensive efficiency this year, and has seen its defensive standing drop from first to eighth in the past season, although you can be assured that will improve when defensive stalwarts Noah, Deng, Butler and Gibson all take the floor for the playoffs.
Noah is the anchor of this team, so any go-to lineups start first with him. Mix in young defensive standouts Butler and Gibson and it's not surprising Chicago's best defensive units begin with this trio that has logged 365 minutes together for a +17.1 net rating per 100 possessions. Put Deng with that group and you still have a +12.1 net-rating unit in 169 minutes together for a 90.6 defensive rating. In that same scenario in limited time (54 minutes), Hinrich has played especially well with that core, with the quintet posting a +35.3 net rating, while Nate Robinson definitely has not done as well with them (-13.3 net rating in 79 minutes together). That said, Robinson has played well with that core when you sub out Gibson for Boozer, with the Robinson-Butler-Deng-Boozer-Noah group posting a +9.1 net rating in 49 minutes together. All of these lineups are more productive than any of Chicago's six most-popular units, which is topped off by the most popular squadron of Hinrich, Richard Hamilton, Deng, Boozer and Noah, who have a +4.1 net rating in 429 minutes.
THE 5,000 MINUTE RULE
The 5,000 Minute Rule says most championship teams have five-plus players together for at least 5,000 minutes before they win a championship, and the Bulls have six in The 5G Club--one who came back to the franchise this season (Hinrich, who has 20,425 minutes with the Bulls) and one who is indefinitely out (Rose, 11,485). The other four are Deng (23,666 minutes with the Bulls), Noah (12,404), Gibson (7213) and Boozer (7014).
LORD OF THE RINGS
The Bulls have two players who have championship rings: Richard Hamilton, who was a starter on the Detroit Pistons' 2004 NBA championship season, and Nazr Mohammed, who was a starter on the San Antonio Spurs' 2005 NBA championship squad.
Hollinger Playoff Odds say Chicago has a 0.9 percent chance to reach the 2013 NBA Finals and 0.1 percent shot to win the NBA championship; Basketball-Reference says the Bulls have a 2 percent shot to reach the 2013 NBA Finals and 0.1 percent chance to win the title.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
C JOAKIM NOAH: 64 games, 37.5 mpg, 12.2 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 18.3 PER, +1.8 Net, +5.4 On/Off
C Nazr Mohammed: 61 games, 11.0 mpg, 2.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 10.4 PER, -2.3 Net, -2.4 On/Off
PF CARLOS BOOZER: 77 games, 32.2 mpg, 16.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 17.0 PER, -3.8 Net, -9.7 On/Off
PF Taj Gibson: 63 games, 22.5 mpg, 7.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 14.6 PER, +5.2 Net, +8.6 On/Off
PF Vladmir Radmanovic: 25 games, 5.8 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 6.3 PER, -11.7 Net, -11.9 On/Off
PF Malcolm Thomas: 11 games, 5.0 mpg, 1.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 12.7 PER, -0.3 Net, -0.3 On/Off
SF LUOL DENG: 73 games, 39.0 mpg, 16.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 15.0 PER, -1.0 Net, -3.0 On/Off
SF Marco Bellineli: 71 games, 26.0 mpg, 9.6 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 10.3 PER, -1.5 Net, -2.4 On/Off
SG JIMMY BUTLER: 80 games, 25.7 mpg, 8.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 15.4 PER, +1.4 Net, +3.5 On/Off
SG Richard Hamilton: 48 games, 22.2 mpg, 10.1ppg, 2.4 rpg, 10.9 PER, -1.7 Net, -2.0 On/Off
SG Daequan Cook: 47 games, 9.3 mpg, 2.9 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 6.0 PER, -5.7 Net, -5.5 On/Off
PG NATE ROBINSON: 80 games, 25.4 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 4.3 apg, 17.7 PER, +0.2 Net, +1.0 On/Off
PG Kirk Hinrich: 58 games, 29.4 mpg, 7.4 ppg, 5.2 apg, 10.3 PER, +1.6 Net, +3.4 On/Off
PG Marquis Teague: 48 games, 8.2 mpg, 2.1 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 6.0 PER, -2.7 Net, -2.4 On/Off
PG Derrick Rose (injured): 0 games
2011-12 GONE BULLS (.758)
SG Ronnie Brewer: 66 games, 24.8 mpg, 6.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 12.3 PER, +8.3 Net, -2.0 On/Off
PG C.J. Watson: 49 games, 23.7 mpg, 9.7 ppg, 4.1 apg, 13.3 PER, +15.1 Net, +9.8 On/Off
SG Kyle Korver: 65 games, 22.6 mpg, 8.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 13.6 PER, +10.2 Net, +1.7 On/Off
C Omer Asik: 66 games, 14.7 mpg, 3.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 13.4 PER, +9.1 Net, -0.2 On/Off
PG John Lucas: 49 games, 14.8 mpg, 7.5 ppg, 2.2 apg, 16.3 PER, +17.7 Net, +10.8 On/Off
PF Brian Scalabrine*: 28 games, 4.4 mpg, 1.1 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 13.5 PER, +9.1 Net, -0.2 On/Off
PG Mike James*: 11 games, 10.9 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 13.7 PER, +28.6 Net, +20.5 On/Off
* Bulls that did not play in 2012 NBA Playoffs; returning players in boldface