Let’s just face the facts… injuries change everything. One key injury to one key player can shift the entire landscape of the league and put another team in a better position to win. I firmly believe that before the timely Derrick Rose injury in the first round last season the Chicago Bulls were an easy pick to be hanging a red 2011-12 banner by Fall. Rose has begun practicing in full contact drills and although they are being cautious with his return date he is definitely ahead of schedule as some insiders suspected he would not see any of the floor at all this season.
Just as Rose’s injury threw a seismic wave into the league’s power dynamics, his return will have the same impact. The rest of the Eastern Conference should be very afraid. I personally don’t see any team in the East right now capable of beating the Bulls four times in a playoff series with or without home court advantage.
Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer- This is a sound, consistent and dominant front line. These guys do their job on both ends of the floor, especially Noah who is really proving himself to be the East’s most elite big man and maybe the most consistent among the rest of the league as well. Boozer gets a mouthful of criticism for his big fat contract but the guy has true identity on the floor, doesn’t try to steal the show, and knows his role very well. Offensively he’s not a man of many tricks but he can still hurt you in a big way. These two are an ugly couple of front-line bangers definitely worthy of rings. I don’t see any front line in the East that will match up with these two at all unless Andrew Bynum can come back from the dead and clone himself into a healthy athlete again.
Rose’s former explosiveness may take some time to return to it’s fullest potential, but I see him right now getting in at least 15-25 regular season games before the post season. Chicago is holding their own among the weak east giving guys like Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson big minutes and big opportunities, and both have done an admirable job filling in an enormous hole left without Rose in the line up for an extended period of time. The fact of the matter is, if Rose comes back with even 75% of that explosiveness, he makes an already above average team better. A lot better.
The Bulls’ depth is there with 5 players averaging more than 10 ppg. and 3 averaging more than 5 off the bench, and solid defense and rebounding numbers throughout the line up. The East has been in limbo, but expect the squad from Chi-town to make a big push in the later part of the season.