The Bulls believe they can win without Derrick Rose, the 2011 MVP point guard who tore his left ACL last April and is out until at least midseason. And why shouldn't they? At least during the regular season. Chicago was 18--9 without Rose, relying on its defense and relentless rebounding. Combo guard Kirk Hinrich—who was recruited by Rose in the off-season—stabilizes the backcourt while Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli will get more opportunities in a balanced offensive attack.
The player who has to produce more is power forward Carlos Boozer, 30, who averaged 15.0 points in 2011--12, the fewest since his rookie season. At his best, Boozer is an elite pick-and-pop player with a feathery perimeter jump shot. At his worst, he is unreliable against top competition: He scored 10.3 points per game against the Heat and the Pacers last season—his lowest output against Eastern Conference opponents—and shot just 42.2% in Chicago's first-round loss to the 76ers.
COACH: Tom Thibodeau (3rd season with Bulls)
2011--12 RECORD: 50--16 (1st in Central)
OFFENSE: 96.3 ppg (18th)
DEFENSE: 88.2 ppg (1st)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 23.3 ppg (17th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
, it's hard for them to change their style. If he can't run around screens and beat people off the dribble, retirement is coming.... They basically swapped Kyle Korver for Marco Belinelli, and that makes no basketball sense. Belinelli is a good shooter, but he was playing on a bad team. There was no pressure. Korver's experience is more valuable. He has proved himself as a three-point threat.
Boozer steps up until Rose returns, then the former MVP rallies the Bulls to the conference title.
A recovering Rose is in and out of the lineup, disrupting chemistry and leading to a second straight first-round exit.
League-leading rebounds per game for the Bulls, who also ranked first in scoring defense. The last team to finish No. 1 in both categories was the world champion Celtics of 1964--65, with Bill Russell.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (NOAH)
BULLISH FORECAST Noah, who just missed out on a third straight season of averaging a double double, gives Chicago a steeliness it will need until Rose returns to the lineup.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (BOOZER)
JOHN BIEVER (HAMILTON)