The Chicago Bulls as NBA title contenders? We have all heard that before. It could actually be true with a healthy team. Health has been the achilles heel for the Bulls the last three seasons.
Pau Gasol played his first exhibition game. The big man scored six points in his preseason debut. Gasol’s three-pointer in the first quarter of their preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves showed that he is already in midseason form.
Gasol looks like a perfect fit in the Chicago Bulls’ offense that is being overseen by new head coach Fred Hoiberg. In fact, everyone who has played in a preseason game looks good in the offense.
Watching the ball move from player to player, from side to side, is a welcomed sight, as is the more than occasional screen that is set to free up shooters for open shots. This Bulls’ offense is a far cry from the last five seasons under the guiding hand of Tom Thibodeau.
Thibodeau, a very good coach, was more of a defensive task master. If a player did not play defense for Coach Thibodeau, they would not play. Although it is just the preseason, the Bulls have retained some of that defensive tenacity with Fred Hoiberg running the show.
This is primarily because the Chicago Bulls team that Hoiberg inherited is the one Thibodeau coached.
With the exception of forwards Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy, who had offseason ankle and back surgery, the Chicago Bulls are healthier than in recent years. Derrick Rose has been absent with a fractured left orbital bone, but his injury is not arm or knee related. He will resume his basketball duties soon.
Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah has noticeably moved around with an extra bounce in his step. Noah is healthy, one year removed from having his knee scoped. He told ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell that he was happy to finally have a clean bill of health.
“I just feel bouncier, just lighter on my feet… Just waking up in the morning and moving good, that’s a good feeling. Doing a lot of yoga every morning before I come in. Just taking care of myself a little different. This isn’t my first rodeo.”
Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose are the Chicago Bulls’ best players, and Joakim Noah is their most important star. How he feels will determine his effectiveness. Noah is the heart and hustle of the team. As he grabs a rebound, he belts out a rebel yell, which ignites the crowd and his teammates.
In Fred Hoiberg’s free-flowing offense, Joakim Noah will act as a facilitator regularly. That is what he does best. He hopes to be playing alongside Pau Gasol.
The tandem seemed like mismatched parts last season. According to CSN Chicago, Noah and Gasol want to get some regular time together, albeit with Gasol playing fewer minutes this season. Gasol, fresh off of leading his native Spain to a victory in FIBA’s Euro Basketball Championships, likes what he sees from his front-court mate during the first days of training camp.
“He looks fresh. He looks like he’s in really good shape, has worked hard during the summer. Now he does feel and look bouncier. It’s great to see him that way. From what I’ve seen so far, yes. The day and a half I’ve seen him, he looks really good.”
How they look together will directly be tied to health.
If both Noah and Gasol come out laboring through the season, it will be a long one. But, if they continue to stay strong and healthy, this may be the year that the Chicago Bulls can get past the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Last May, a healthy Chicago Bulls squad could have defeated Cleveland. Rose was coming back from a meniscus tear, Gibson had an ankle sprain, Gasol suffered a couple of leg injuries that kept him out a few games, and Noah was never healthy during the season. That was 60 percent of the Chicago Bulls’ top rotational players. If either one of them were healthy, it would have made a huge difference.
This season is no different, as heath will determine how far the Chicago Bulls can go. A healthy Bulls’ team going into the playoffs could thrust them into the NBA Finals.
[Photo by Boris Steubel / Bongarts]