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Bulls look solid under Hoiberg -- but much depends on Rose

POSTED: Oct 13, 2015 11:11 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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There is a growing sense that the championship window, or at least the current crew's status as serious contenders, is closing. That puts even more pressure on newcomer coach Fred Hoiberg, who takes over a team that won 50 games last season and is in win-now-or-else mode. So many things have to break right, but there is talent and depth if injuries don't (again) derail the Bulls.

ICYMI

From the dog-(yawn)-bites-man department, point guard Derrick Rose got hurt early in the first workout of training camp, taking an errant elbow in the face that fractured his left orbital bone. He was due to miss at least two weeks and return with a mask -- which might be advisable given the hits his popularity have taken over offseason sexual-assault litigation, his litany of injuries and awkward comments about 2017 free agency from a guy due to be paid $41 million over the next two seasons. ... Veteran forward Mike Dunleavy had back surgery four days before camp opened and might not see action until the season's second half. ... Center Pau Gasol had a summer to remember, leading Spain to the FIBA EuroBasket championship while averaging 25.6 points and 8.8 rebounds, but that had some Bulls fans wondering if he got enough rest and might burn out for Chicago late this season. ... Doug McDermott was a Summer League All-Star -- but then second-year guys are supposed to thrive in Vegas.

THREE POINTS

1. Chicago has had an all-NBA center each of the past two seasons -- but it's been two different guys. Pau Gasol was a second-teamer last season and Joakim Noah was first-team all-NBA in 2014. The key to getting the best out of both of them at the same time? Probably Noah staying healthy, after a 2014-15 in which his surgically attended knee never was quite right. Playing in tandem with Gasol, Noah needs to guard more power forwards and "stretch" players, so his old mobility is a must.

2. It might not have been a feud, as some reports characterized it, but Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler didn't mesh fully when they were on the court together (thanks to injuries, just 45 games and sixth-most minutes of any Bulls tandem). Butler blossomed into an All-Star largely in Rose's various absences, so the trick now is blending two alpha dogs. They combined for 43.9 ppg, 10.4 rebounds and 9.7 assists in 12 playoff games, so that's a foundation on which to build.

3. Hoiberg, touted for the freedom and fun he's going to bring to the Bulls offensively, got rave reviews as soon as camp started. After five seasons of grinding at both ends under Tom Thibodeau, it's understandable they'd welcome some unshackling. The trick will be enjoying themselves on offense without losing the defensive identity or habits that served so well. The Bulls ranked 10th in offensive rating (104.75), 11th defensively (101.5) in 2014-15.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Derrick Rose has been dealt a series of bad breaks, no doubt, in the injuries that have limited him to just 100 appearances in 312 games since he won his 2011 Most Valuable Player award. He was tentative and rusty in the 51 games he cobbled around another knee surgery last season. Rose's PER dipped to 15.9 and his true-shooting was down to 49.3 percent due partly to an overreliance on a shaky 3-point shot (a career-high 32.5 percent of his attempts came from the arc, but his accuracy was just 28 percent). He needs to find his penetrate-and-dish strength of yore, while avoiding ill-advised comments and off-court conduct, to earn back fans' trust and All-Star consideration.

STARTING FIVE

Derrick Rose | 17.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.9 apg
More penetrating, less 3-point shooting, fewer minutes in the trainers' room, please.

Jimmy Butler | 20.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.3 apg
A Top 10 guy in both offensive and defensive win shares; arguably Bulls' leader now.

Joakim Noah | 7.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.7 apg
Nagging knee trouble hurt his mobility, aggressiveness and offensive confidence.

Pau Gasol | 18.5 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.7 apg
Resurgent in 2014-15 as NBA's double-double leader (54) and All-Star starter at age 34.

Doug McDermott | 3.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 0.2 apg
No. 11 pick in 2014, possible fill-in for Mike Dunleavy, had slow learning curve, knee injury.

KEY RESERVES

Nikola Mirotic | 10.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.2 apg
Thrived with heavier use in March (20.8 ppg), then drooped. Needs to boost 3-point accuracy.

Taj Gibson | 10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.1 apg
Valuable defensive closer limited by injuries, roster depth.

Aaron Brooks | 11.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.2 apg
Back as Rose understudy (with Kirk Hinrich, E'Twaun Moore), his impact waned in playoffs.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Chicago has been eliminated by LeBron James' teams four times in the past six years. There's little to suggest the Bulls, regardless of postseason seeding, will alter that next spring. So a year of mostly healthy players and 50-55 victories would be considered a success.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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