3-on-3: Bulls' depth shapes title contender
But even with Rose missing games recently, the Bulls still have been able to forge the league's best record. Does that mean the Bulls should rest Rose even longer to rest the toe as long as possible?
That's just one of the topics our panel tackles in 3-on-3.
1. Fact or Fiction: The Bulls are deeper than last season and in better shape to contend for a title.
Scoop Jackson: Fact. They have become one of -- if not the -- deepest teams in the league almost overnight. Thibodeau's platooning of Taj Gibson and Omer Asik has challenged starters Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah to play better while also strengthening the second unit. And I think if the Mike James pick-up pans out (which is a strong possibility for at least one season), it could make he, CJ Watson and John Lucas III, the best three-headed back-up backcourt that never gives defenses time to rest in a seven-game series. Gar Forman may not have to share GM of the year honors with Pat Riley this year.
Melissa Isaacson: Fiction. I'll go along with deeper and in better shape to contend for a title if you consider the acquisition of Rip Hamilton and the continued outstanding play of the Bulls' bench. But with Derrick Rose's ongoing toe problem, which even he admitted would not be 100 percent for the rest of the season (Carlos Boozer was obviously hindered by turf toe throughout the playoffs last season), Luol Deng's wrist injury and Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah's aches and pains, it's hard to make the sweeping statement that the team is in better shape. Yes, they came into the season with more rest but that doesn't equate to being in better shape. Boozer dropped weight and has looked stronger at times this season, but Noah also worked hard and he has looked lethargic more often than not. Right now the Bulls are arguably the best team in the league. It's just a little far-reaching and unfair to say if they don't make the finals, they fail. Sure, the expectations should be high, but if they play well in a seven-game series against Miami, they will have technically improved over last season.
Marc Silverman: Fiction. There's no arguing that depth gives the Bulls a big advantage over every team in the league in the regular season. Let me repeat. The REGULAR season -- especially this season with games and injuries coming fast and furious. As far as the playoffs are concerned, the Bulls will win it all if A) Derrick Rose plays like the MVP, is healthy, and doesn't wear down like last postseason. B) Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Rip Hamilton play at close to an Alll-Star level. Benches are shortened in the playoffs. And while I value Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, CJ Watson and Omer Asik as much as the next guy -- the Bulls' best players must be playing at a high level in the postseason. Cheers to the "bench mob" but we'll be toasting to an NBA title if the Bulls starters are giving major production come postseason.
2. Fact or Fiction: With the Bulls winning in Derrick's absence, the team should force him to rest longer to heal.
Fiction. In the words of the great Whitney Houston: Hell to da Naw! The Bulls need to bring Derrick back when he feels ready or as close to 100 percent as he can possibly get. Not any later. The Bulls can't get caught up in this stretch of wins and allow themselves a false sense of arrogance to believe that extending Rose's absence is good for the team. There's a microfiber thin line between fact and reality. The Bulls can afford to play a few games without the MVP, they've proven that. The reality? They aren't good enough yet for forced extended stretches without him or to start testing their own fate like that.
Melissa Isaacson: Fact. We all know about Rose's ultra-competitiveness by now. But feeling well for one or two practices should not necessarily signal that it's time for him to return to 40 minutes a game. Early on in his recovery, I wrote that he should sit out at least until Indiana on Wednesday given that they were the next decent opponent on the schedule and I'll stick with that. But the Bulls,Tom Thibodeau -- and Rose -- should continue to be as cautious. At a certain point, sitting out in and of itself may very well adversely affect Rose's play, but that's still a better alternative than rushing him back.
Marc Silverman: Fact. Winning is most important in the postseason. And in order to do that, Derrick Rose must be healthy at that time. I don't care who the opponent is. I don't care if the Bulls are winning or losing in the regular season. The bottom line is if Rose's toe is not healthy -- sit him. I love the work ethic and drive Rose demonstrates. It's natural that he wants to play every game. Just remember the Bulls commercial where Rose is talking and says "I just want to win..." He goes on to discuss how triple/doubles aren't important but winning a title is. Lets add to that. Regular season wins don't matter in this case. Navigating the regular is most important. If it takes a month to get the toe healthy, sit him a month. When healthy, the only team that can beat the Bulls in a seven-game series in the East is Miami. So even if the Bulls fall a few seeds, don't sweat it.
3. Fact or Fiction: After Rose, Luol Deng is the player the Bulls can least afford to lose to injury.
Scoop Jackson: Fact. They better hope -- better yet pray -- that Lu's recent injury won't sideline him for 10-12 games. Because while we (the media) and the fans tend to sleep on Deng, the players and coaching staffs in the league don't. Not anymore. They know that he is quietly the one player outside of Rose who they can least afford to ignore. I've been in a few opponent locker rooms over the last few seasons and the name written on whiteboards the second most often when they play the Bulls is Deng's. And from a Bulls perspective, he's the one player game-in/game-out from whom you know what you are going to get, including Rose. They say defenses win championships, well so does consistency and dependability.
Melissa Isaacson: Fact. Absolutely. Tom Thibodeau regularly refers to Deng as the “glue” of the team, and that's exactly what he is. Deng has the ability to give the Bulls what they need most, more than anyone but Rose. He's a better defender, his rebounding is at a career high, his turnovers are down and he has been solid in the clutch. Because his numbers aren't normally considered All-Star worthy (15.9 points, 7.5 rebounds), he may again miss the cut. But he is invaluable to the Bulls and of All-Star caliber. A serious wrist injury and any extended time off for Deng would be a big loss for the Bulls.
Marc Silverman: Fact. I was not a "Denger" a year ago. His long-time supporters kept yelling at me that he would prove me wrong. And I admit, they were correct. Let's also admit that this is not same Deng as a couple of years ago. Luol's work ethic meshed with Tom Thibodeau's understanding of Deng's strengths has vaulted him to an All-Star level. Deng was a lost player under Vinny Del Negro -- which isn't a surprise knowing how limited Del Negro is as a coach. You know what I'm saying Bill Simmons?! Deng is truly the Bulls "glue guy." He's the best defender on the team. How comfortable do you feel when he's set up for an open "three?" He can run the floor and can rebound well for a small forward. Rose is most important. Deng is second. Thibodeau has trouble sitting Deng for 10 minutes a game. How will he survive without Deng for 48?