Over the past 18 months, the Chicago Bulls and their championship aspirations have seemingly rested on the healthy return of 2010-11 NBA MVP Derrick Rose and with good reason. Rose, 25, is the kind of one-in-a-generation talent that indeed is the type of player that any team vying for a run at the NBA championship needs within its fold. That said, while the return of Rose will dominate headlines for the foreseeable future, the less touched on issue of team depth and skill-specific role players is one that seems to have been lost in the shuffle.
In the 2011 playoffs, although Rose saw his numbers spike to 27.1 PPG, his field goal percentage falling to 39.6 percent in combination with a less developed three-point shot showed that balance was needed as the defenses aligned to essentially let anyone else beat them. Although Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer did a lot of the heavy lifting, it was the energy of CJ Watson, floor spacing of Kyle Korver, tenacity of Ronnie Brewer and interior presence of Taj Gibson and Omer Asik that were vital for success. Last season, Marco Bellinelli and Nate Robinson brought that secondary spark that resulted in another admirable Bulls playoff run. At the end of the day, you don’t have The Doors without Jim Morrison but without the guys behind Morrison, the same is true. This season, the critical role of Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore will not be placed solely on Noah, Deng and co. but instead also on Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls’ lone experienced role player sitting on the bench.
Dunleavy, 33, has been a player that’s been surrounded with a lot of debate during his eleven seasons in the NBA. Selected third overall in the 2002 NBA draft, Dunleavy never met the promise that was associated with a 6-foot-9 sharpshooting, crafty small forward. Nonetheless, he has been consistently productive in the NBA, averaging 11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc during his eleven years in the league. Entering his first season with the Bulls, the expectation is that Dunleavy will be heavily leaned on to not only compensate for the offense that was lost with the subtractions of Bellinelli and Robinson but also to be one of very few Bulls that will be looked upon to space the floor. Ideally, the ACL injury that robbed Rose of all of last season led to a dedication to the long-range portion of his game such as was the case with Amare Stoudemire when faced with the potential of lost athleticism following his first micro-fracture surgery with the Phoenix Suns. In a perfect world, Rose, along with Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich, are able to provide enough consistent floor spacing to not put pressure on anyone else for the task. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and enough question marks exist with the trio that a reliable shooter off of the bench will be vital to any success the Chicago Bulls are to have this upcoming season.
It is often the unsung heroes that are a huge factor in the success of a team and the Bulls are no different in this regard. Whether it was terrific post defense of Asik off of the bench keeping point totals down with the scoring of Deng, Boozer and Rose resting on the bench two seasons ago or the clutch shooting of Bellinelli the following year, it was these contributions that were a big part to the Bulls’ success. The 2013-14 Bulls are a team that has plenty of notable talent grazing its roster as the consistently featured parts such as Noah, Deng and Boozer will be joined by a healthy Rose and an up and coming young guard in Butler. Although it may always be the case that this talent is what gets you in the conversation for the big game, without the support from the loyal foot soldiers asked to lift their share of the weight, it is impossible to go further. In the case of the Bulls, Dunleavy is the foot soldier closest to the front lines. While many factors throughout the league as well as within the team will dictate how the season plays out for the Bulls, Dunleavy is a factor that must not be ignored and one that will be vital towards any hopes of run at an NBA championship.