Bulls looking better than last season’s team
BY NEIL HAYES email@example.com February 23, 2012 10:30PM
Rip Hamilton has missed 23 games with injuries, but he figures to give the Bulls a lift when he returns. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Where the Bulls ranked in the NBA through Wednesday. Last season’s rankings in parenthesis.
Assists per game: 1st (9th)
Rebounds per game: 2nd (2nd)
Offensive rebounds/game: 2nd (7th)
Assists to turnover ratio: 2nd (13th)
Points allowed: 3rd (2nd)
Turnovers per game: 4th (17th)
Opponents rebounds/game: 5th (1st)
Blocks per game: 5th (5th)
Field goal percentage: 6th (13th)
Three-point field goal pct.: 6th (13th)
Opponents field goal pct: 7th (1st)
Updated: March 25, 2012 8:19AM
The most efficient way to answer the question of whether this season’s Bulls are better than last season’s team is to give every player a complete diagnostic. That way, we could compare the data from this year to last and determine which was superior.
It’s not that simple, of course. A myriad of factors make any comparison inexact. If there’s one thing we’ve learned through the first half of the season, it’s that these Bulls have the potential to be better than the team that led the league in regular season wins and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
“We’d like to think so,” Luol Deng said. “We’re more comfortable with our roles. Last year, we were a new group playing together. Coming into this year everyone knows what’s expected. We know what the system is like and what coach is like in practice and all that stuff helps you prepare for what’s ahead.”
What’s ahead is all that really matters. We can’t judge these Bulls until they meet the Heat in the postseason. Compounding the issue is Rip Hamilton. The team’s biggest offseason acquisition has missed 23 games with injuries.
Injuries to Derrick Rose, Deng, Taj Gibson and C.J. Watson further muddy the issue.
“We’re finding ways to win,” Derrick Rose said. “Last year it was new to everyone. This year, we’re more comfortable with how [coach Tom Thibodeau] wants us to play. He just wants us to go hard and play together all the time with a lot of energy. This year, we do that a majority of the time.”
Rose beat himself up after watching film of the Heat series from last season. He saw open teammates he should’ve passed to and plays he should’ve made when the defense collapsed on him.
He believes he has vastly improved his basketball IQ as a result. He’s in better shape than he was last year, or at least he was before missing five games with back spasms. He has also extended his three-point shooting range.
Initiating the offense for the Great Britain’s national team has made Deng a better ball-handler. He shot 32 three-pointers two years ago and 115 last year after coach Tom Thibodeau arrived. He made his long-range shooting a priority during the offseason because he knew he would launching even more shots this season.
“I started shooting threes last year and knowing this summer I was coming back I spent a lot of time working on it,” he said. “Last year, I did a good job of shooting them. It’s something I added to my game and I want to keep on getting better at it.”
The biggest improvement should come when Hamilton returns after the All-Star break.
The veteran not only gives the Bulls another much-needed backcourt scoring threat, but he consistently makes the right play, whether it’s finding the open man or shooting himself.
The Bulls already lead the league in assists. With Hamilton making the kind of plays that makes the game easier for everybody, they have a chance to epitomize team, which is what they must do to bring down the Heat.
“I like the way we are playing offensively in terms of unselfishness,” Thibodeau said. “The ball is moving freely. Overall we are making quick decisions. You can always get better. But the unselfishness is very good.”
There there are intangible factors, such as how making a deep playoff run last season will help the second time around. Hamilton has won an NBA title and could lend perspective, which should help.
Then, too, Miami players have been together for a season and are equally determined after losing to the Mavericks in the Finals.
“That experienced helped us but last year was last year and this year is this year,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a new and different challenge. There are some things in your favor in terms of it’s a group that has been together and has gone through something. But it’s also the challenge of people understanding who you are and what you do.”