Just like the commercials show, when Derrick Rose crumbled in the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers, the city of Chicago went silent. Watching their superstar hit the floor and grimace in pain from a torn ACL sent chills through the fans hearts and the whole city took a collective gasp. With the news gauging his return from February to even possibly missing the entire season, Chicago fans can only hope that their team will have the tools and the talent to keep them contending in the Eastern Conference.
Through the first five games of the season, the Chicago Bulls are 3-2 having only lost to the New Orleans Hornets and Oklahoma City Thunder. But the teams they beaten have not been impressive and the margin of victory hasn’t been either. For some, these early games might be a sign of the struggles the team will face for the entire season. But for others, its too early to tell. So how is this team going to win without their superstar?
Chicago led the league last year averaging 46.7 rebound per game and also was ranked first in scoring defense which means that their defense is not a problem. Coach Tom Thibodeau has stressed defense and his players have lived up to his expectations. With the addition of Kirk Hinrich, they fill the void left by Rose with another solid defender capable of locking down ball-handlers and shooting guards alike. So if defense isn’t the problem, then it must be the offense right? Wrong. While losing Rose means that their most effective scorer is gone, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the roster is incapable of playing, in fact with Rose’s absence, it forces the rest of the team to step-up and do more. With Rose’s absence throughout the season, the Bulls went 18-9 (not including playoffs), which shows that this team CAN win without Rose.
So what was their formula for success in those 27 games? It was a combination of two things; the first being that the team transitioned from a full court defense where they would pressure the ball when the opponent would inbound the ball, to a half-court defense. This allowed the players to save a little energy and still be effective on defense. The second and more important factor was how they spread the offense. With Rose out, they set up plays for the guys down low, for the wing shooters, they ran screens and people off the screens, they ran catch-and-shoot plays and post-up plays. They spread the offense out and distributed the ball which forced the opponents to play their man honestly as opposed to waiting for Rose to drive the lane.
So then what happened in the playoffs? They got beat four-games to one by the eighth-seeded 76ers? The problem was that they shied away from what was working. Instead of spreading the offense and distributing the ball, then-point guards CJ Watson and John Lucas tried to imitate Rose by driving the lane which led to turnovers, bad shots or shot-clock violations. They tried to win the games by themselves instead of letting the entire team work together to win and that led to their early exit in the first-round.
Rose is on the mend, but until he is back the Bulls need to keep in mind how they won without him last year and imitate it. They lost some key players and got some key players but if they don’t spread the ball around it won’t make a difference. If the team understands that they cannot be Rose and cannot duplicate his style of play, they will come to terms and find other ways to win. If they can do that, they will continue to be successful this season until his return.