Sep 27, 2011, 6:03 PM EDT
The Bulls were one of the NBA”s best success stories last season. Nobody saw them as serious contenders coming into the year, but first-year head coach and defensive guru turned the Bulls into the league’s best defensive team, the Bulls’ bench mob made them perhaps the deepest team in the league, and Derrick Rose became the youngest MVP award winner in the history of the league. The Bulls finished with the NBA’s best regular-season record, and while they only managed to take one game off of the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, they clearly gave LeBron, Wade and co. all they could handle.
Now the Bulls have to make the leap from title contender to champion, which is even tougher than the leap from good team to title contender. Here are some ways they could do it:
1. Add some versatility to the offense
This was a point that came up over and over again when the Bulls had trouble scoring during the playoffs, but the Bulls were never a great offensive team at any point last season. The Bulls finished 12th in offensive efficiency during the regular season, and were 8th out of the 16 playoff teams in post-season offensive efficiency. The Bulls’ plan was to grind teams down with their defense and depth, keep games close, and let Derrick Rose take over late in games. It worked until it didn’t — when Rose got locked down in the fourth quarter by LeBron James a few times in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls had no answers, and their fourth-quarter performances ultimately cost them the series.
Rose has room for improvement as an offensive player, especially from the perimeter. Early in the year, Rose’s improved jump shot was a big storyline, but eventually Rose’s jumper went back to being a weakness — Rose shot a career-low 38% on long twos last season, and while he made huge leaps as a three-point shooter, he still only made less than a third of his shots from beyond the arc. In the postseason, his jumper completely abandoned him, and he shot just 39.6% from the field and 24.8% from deep in the playoffs.
The Bulls and Rose need to find ways to generate offense when Rose isn’t able to get into the paint and convert at will if they want to win a championship in the next few years.
2. Plan for the postseason
Derrick Rose took home the MVP trophy, but Chicago’s group of defensive minded super-subs like C.J. Watson, Omer Asik, and even Kurt Thomas were just as important to Chicago’s regular-season success as Rose was.
However, when the rotations tightened for the playoffs, Chicago’s depth stopped being the asset it was in the regular season, and Watson, Asik, and Thomas barely saw the floor. From the day the season starts, whenever that might be, the Bulls have to start planning for teams like the Celtics and the Heat instead of trying to figure out a post-season rotation on the fly — playoff basketball is very different from regular-season basketball because of how much more important individual matchups become and how many more minutes the best players play, and the Bulls have to keep that in mind all season long.
3. Don’t forget what made you a contender
The Bulls had the best record in the regular season because they played a tougher, more swarming brand of defense than any other team in the league, outworked their opponents, and generally broke whatever team they played on a given night. They played like a team with something to prove all year long. If they rest on the laurels of their success last season, they could lose what made them so good — the fact that they played every game like a Game 7. If the Bulls stay hungry, they should be able to capture one of the top two spots in the East again. If they can then find new sources of offense and settle on a true playoff rotation, they could easily bring the NBA Finals trophy back to Chicago.