Pippen believes 50 wins within Bulls' reach

Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen talks about Derrick Rose’s rise to stardom, the addition of Carlos Boozer and why Tom Thibodeau was the right choice as the team’s new coach in his latest column.

Derrick Rose
"The thing that I love about Derrick is that he has high expectations for himself," writes Pippen of Rose. "From time to time, he talks about being the MVP of the league eventually. That says a lot for him as a young player and it shows that he’s never going to be satisfied or complacent."

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By Scottie Pippen | 10.28.2010 | @scottiepippen

Scottie Pippen at Bulls.com

Also see: Scottie Pippen's 2010-11 NBA picks and predictions

The Bulls are going to do something they haven’t done in over a decade this season—win 50 games. At least that’s my prediction as the season gets underway.

Obviously, Carlos Boozer being out puts them behind the eight-ball a little bit as the season starts. But that just means that some heroics from Derrick Rose might be necessary on some nights. The Bulls, with Coach Tom Thibodeau at the helm, are built with a lot of speed. If they can play the game at their pace, it will be a huge advantage for him. The first month of the season isn’t going to be easy and they’re going to struggle, especially with the West Coast road trip. That swing has always been tough, let alone for a team that is young and hasn’t achieved a high level of chemistry yet. The nucleus, though—Derrick, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng—all know each other and have that familiarity.

Having watched the Bulls in the preseason, I’m convinced they’ll be able to put together some nice streaks throughout this year, especially once Boozer is back. They play with a high level of energy, and defensively, they’ve all made an effort to be better. That’s a tribute to Coach Thibodeau and his staff. They play hard, they take care of the basketball, and they play together.

As we look forward to Saturday’s home opener against Detroit, here are a few of my thoughts on some of the key players and new faces for the Bulls this season.

Rose on the rise to join NBA’s elite

In the same way that expectations for the team have been raised, they’ve also been escalated for Derrick Rose. Just 22 years old, Derrick had such a great season last year and achieved All-Star status at a very young age. He followed that up by playing a prominent role with the USA Men’s National team that won gold at the World Championships. Along with that experience, the higher expectations probably have helped propel his development as a player.

Scottie Pippen
"The international play allows you to play with other great players in the league, and for Derrick that included a lot of other young stars who are also on the rise," writes Pippen, who won two Olympic gold medals.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

The thing that I love about Derrick, though, is that he has high expectations for himself. From time to time, he talks about being the MVP of the league eventually. That says a lot for him as a young player and it shows that he’s never going to be satisfied or complacent. It also speaks of confidence, which is something you need on a nightly basis.

Derrick is going to be a great leader for this team. The international play allows you to play with other great players in the league, and for Derrick that included a lot of other young stars who are also on the rise. It helps you understand what it takes to lead and win. You get a feel for their work habits and what they are doing. It motivates you to become better because you push each other. Derrick’s experience with USA Basketball also allowed him to learn from other coaches. Coach K is just one of several great coaches who run the program. From him to Nate McMillan, they are all there for a reason and they often provide new perspectives to their players.

For someone like Derrick, basketball is his life. He works at it all year and rarely takes a break. When you think back to last preseason, he had an ankle injury that slowed him down. My guess is this summer he was even more focused because of that. He knows how important it is to be healthy and take care of his body. The more work you put into that, the more you get out of it and the more likely you are to be healthy throughout a long season.

I think you’ll see a more vocal Derrick on the floor this season because of it, which is something that he has lacked a little bit—if you can say he lacks much of anything. But the communication between your teammates is so important.

Once he’s back, Boozer’s impact will be felt

Getting Boozer back, which will hopefully happen in a month or so, will be a tremendous boost for the team. He’s a proven All-Star and his presence will be felt instantly. Anytime you can achieve penetration through passing, it makes the game easy. When you’ve got a guy you can throw the ball to inside, you can forget the dribble penetration and pick-and-roll to a degree because there is nothing easier than making a direct pass to the post. That is something that Carlos brings to the table and that’s why his return will make them better immediately. It will affect how teams defend the ball and open up a lot of possibilities for the Bulls.

We all saw a spectacle this summer with free agency that was unprecedented. And while some fans might think that the Bulls missed out on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, I don’t see it that way at all. In terms of the power forwards who were out there, I feel Boozer was the best one. When you consider his production and what he’s been able to do throughout his career on winning teams, there’s no doubt about it. Plus, when you look at some of the other additions who were teammates of Boozer’s on the Jazz—Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer—that creates some instant chemistry. They are three players who are very familiar with each other. You can put them on the floor together and count on them to be productive.

Carlos has a very high basketball IQ and he’s one of those guys who makes his teammates better. He’s always been a willing passer who plays with a team mentality, so I expect him to be a great fit. He and Derrick will make for a very formidable 1-2 punch on the offensive end of the floor. Granted, it will take some time to build that necessary chemistry and get on the same page. Ideally, that would have happened in the preseason. But Carlos has still been around and watched every practice. He’s got great fundamentals. He’s learning, too, and seeing firsthand how Derrick plays. That being said, there’s nothing like being out on the court with your teammates.

Noah sets the tone

Joakim Noah
"Joakim contributes in so many ways to this team," says Pippen of Noah. "Forget about his numbers; he's a face of the organization and he has a presence about him. He's a winner."

Joakim Noah is a favorite of mine and he will play another huge part in where the team ends up this season. He always has a significant impact on how this team performs night in and night out. He always brings that energy and a great defensive effort. He sets an example for how the Bulls should rebound the ball and compete. While Derrick does a lot, especially offensively, Joakim sets the tone in this sense with his presence and it’s always felt. It may not always be from a scoring standpoint, but he adds an intimidating factor that the team didn’t have before.

Noah is a great communicator when it comes to defending. It provides a comfort zone for your players on the perimeter when you have a big guy who is talking and giving you that sense of confidence. It’s a great feeling.

Joakim contributes in so many ways to this team. Forget about his numbers; he’s a face of the organization and he has a presence about him. He’s a winner. He won two national championships in college at Florida, coming back to school when he could have gone pro for the second one. He’s the epitome of what competitiveness should be all about in the NBA. He’s got that drive, something that this organization has strived to acquire for a long time. Once you get a piece like that, especially with his size, it’s hard to let him go.

Thibodeau—the right hire for the Bulls

Having had the chance to watch several practices and the preseason, I think it’s safe to say that Coach Thibodeau was the right hire for his team. The players have responded to him and they seem to enjoy the system that he’s implemented. It has been embraced and you can’t always guarantee that will happen. He has a great basketball mind and couldn’t be any more dedicated to his job. You hear the stories about the extreme amount of hours he works and that’s a testament to how badly he wants to succeed. That’s the kind of guy you want to coach your team. Coach Thibodeau is well prepared, which usually means his team will be well prepared.

Even though this is his first head coaching job, you can’t underestimate the role that assistant coaches play in the NBA. They play very integral roles behind the scenes. When you look at the success Jeff Van Gundy had with the Knicks, Tom was there. We all saw the job he did for Doc Rivers and the Celtics, too. His résumé speaks for itself. Now, he’s here in Chicago and setting his own example.

The one thing that comes to mind having watched him coach at practice is that Coach Thibodeau is a great teacher. It was the first thing I noticed when I saw him at work. He loves spending time in the gym, working on the floor with players whether it is early afternoon or late at night. I get the feeling he’s a perfectionist and he wants his players to ‘get it’ so badly. At the same time, I think he’s also a great motivator. He has the team believing in what he’s preaching, and that’s the first step. As long as they believe in themselves and what they’re doing on the basketball court, they can measure up to anyone in the NBA. With guys like Derrick and Joakim—players who also believe and want to win more than anything—it makes his job much easier. With the players leading and buying in to Coach Thibodeau’s system, the rest will certainly follow.

Early thoughts on the postseason

In terms of goals, winning the Central Division is definitely something the Bulls should set out to accomplish. It’s a very long season that has already seen an injury to the one of the team’s stars. And the first month won’t likely be kind to the Bulls. But as long as they take it one game at a time and keep fighting, good things will happen for this team. While no one wants to start slow, the hope is always that you’re playing your best basketball at the end of the year, not necessarily the beginning.

Aside from any regular season win predictions, the bigger question is whether or not this team will advance beyond the second round of the playoffs. I certainly think the Bulls are capable of doing that, but a key will be in finishing in the top four and securing some home court advantage. There are a lot of tough teams in the Eastern Conference which will challenge the Bulls on a regular basis. It’s not just Boston, Miami and Orlando, either. You’ve got teams like Atlanta and Milwaukee who will be right there as well as Chicago, jockeying for position among the fourth through sixth or seventh seeds.