By Argie Grigorakos
With a few weeks already into the 2014-2015 NBA season, many teams have slowly developed an identity that will follow them throughout their 82 games season, and possibly the playoffs. All 30 organizations seek a certain way their ball club will be ran during the season, and the most successful teams usually set the tone from day one. Teams that are looking to take the next step may tweak a few things in order to improve on their play from last season, or organizations may make drastic changes to achieve great longevity. Whatever the changes are, fans should be able to quickly recognize the differences from years past.
In the early part of this season’s campaign, the Chicago Bulls have already displayed a few changes that definitely stand out, as the organization looks to strengthen their chances of raising the Larry O’Brien trophy later this June. It has been well documented the last few years how health of the Chicago Bulls has played a huge role in limiting their chances of raising their seventh banner. This has led to the organization taking a more conservative approach when it comes to nursing their injured players. No more will players participate in ballgames suffering from any sort of injury, as it has been established that the medical staff has final say on when an injured player can be cleared to play. It is clear that players will not be the only significant parties deciding when they will return to action when missing days due to an injury, especially nagging ones ( twisted ankles, sprained wrists, etc. ) but the organization and the medical staff will play a major role in the process as well. Early on this season you can see the format being established as clearing players to return to action has gone days, or in some cases weeks. No major injury has happened to anyone on the roster, but the organization is prioritizing playing at 100% for all their players. In years past players have tried to play through a variety of minor injuries which led to them tweaking the injury again and having another setback, or even worse suffering a major impairment. Many would argue that in the shortened lockout season of 2012 all the minor injuries that Derrick Rose suffered may have led to him tearing his ACL later that spring, as his body over compensated and he seemed to return to action before he was 100% healthy. The organization is looking to be more proactive in order to avoid major injuries. Players like Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol have already missed numerous games due to minor nagging injuries. It is obvious the organization is looking to preserve the players for their long term goal of winning a championship. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are even on minute restrictions as both are coming off major knee surgeries, a plan put into place in order to pace them for a gruelling 82 game schedule. The Bulls look to take a page out of the San Antonio Spurs book by resting guys at opportune times, and limiting their minutes as much as they can. No one on the Spurs team last season averaged more than 30 minutes per game which led them to be more fresh in the Finals where they dismantled the Miami Heat in 5 games. The Bulls will not take that much of a drastic approach when managing their players minutes, but creating a certain consciousness about the topic can better assist in sustaining great health for the long term.
When assessing a potential playoff contender, not only is health vital in determining the chances of a certain team, but many would argue that a true championship roster requires 3 scoring threats that can collectively carry a team to the promise land. In the first few games of the 2014-2015 season, it seems that the Chicago Bulls have found their 3 major scorers in newly acquired Pau Gasol, a healthy Derrick Rose and surprisingly a much improved swingman Jimmy Butler. Many NBA observers will argue that when healthy Derrick Rose is a top 3 talent in the league due to his offensive repertoire that includes elite athleticism. Mr. Rose is definitely the Chicago Bulls first option. When it comes to winning a championship, the Chicago Bulls go as far as number 1 can take them. However, other dependable offensive players are required in order to achieve ultimate success, enter Pau Gasol. The Spaniard Center was acquired this past offseason via free agency to be the low post threat Carlos Boozer never was, and he hasn’t disappointed. Averaging 18.6 ppg and 10.6 rpg going into Monday’s action, Gasol has clearly shown that despite his 34 years of age, he can still contribute in a efficient way as he is shooting about 49% from the field. Be it in the post, or the mid-range, Pau has displayed a vast array of offensive weapons that opposing teams will have a difficult time containing. Jimmy Butler has become the third option on the Chicago Bulls, which is ironic as he was the leading scorer going into Monday’s contest against the Utah Jazz. In the previous games Jimmy averaged 20.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.5 apg and shooting an outstanding 50% from the field. Coach Thibs has showcased Jimmy in a variety of ways when running his offense, be it in the post, as a ball handler or slasher which has proven to be greatly beneficial to the Bulls team. The Chicago Bulls have 3 players now that can offensively affect the game in a major way, something they lacked for years when healthy. The idea of having multiple scoring threats bolds well for a team with very high aspirations.
With definite upgrades to the roster, the Chicago Bulls early on have clearly shown that they have made a conscientiousness effort to improve their offensive numbers from last year. In the 2013-2014 season, the Bulls were last in scoring (93.7 ppg), last in field goal percentage (43.2%), and 24th in 3 point shooting (34.8%). These stats were mostly due to the fact that their star player Derrick Rose missed 72 games due to a meniscus tear, but surprisingly those numbers are significantly better this season even though DRose has missed 8 of 13 games to start early on going into Monday’s contest against the Utah Jazz. Coming into this week the Bulls were ranked 15th in scoring (100.2 ppg), 14th in field goal percentage (45.7%), and 8th in 3 point percentage (36.7). Even though it is very early in the season, these figures clearly show an upgrade in the Bulls roster from an offensive standpoint, and the organization’s determination and commitment to improve the teams major weakness going into the season. Bulls fans should be pleased with the early signs, and feel optimistic that this season will differ from recent years past. The current NBA season is still relatively young and it is still too early to make any brash predictions, but it is refreshing to see the Chicago Bulls identify ways they could improve their teams chances, and actually set forth a plan that they feel will give them the best chance to win. It has been 17 years since the Chicago Bulls have won an NBA championship, hopefully these improvements, along with others, will help the current team achieve the ultimate goal to later be celebrated in the city’s Grant Park.