Chicago Bulls 2015-2016 Preseason Wrap Up
There are a lot of questions hovering over the Bulls this season. One of the biggest questions has to do with their new coach Fred Hoiberg & how his leadership will fare compared to last year’s coach Tom Thibodeau. A general cliche that goes along with a coaching change is to go from a demanding guy to a guy who’s player friendly, or vice versa. Thibodeau was a demanding, defense oriented, well prepared basketball junkie, a perfect fit for the Bulls during his 5 years with the team. He took the team & created a defensive foundation that Hoiberg can benefit from. Hoiberg is known for giving his players freedom on offense, something Thibodeau never did. His easy going demeanor will also be a big change for the Bulls, who are accustomed to being led by the disciplined, no-nonsense Thibodeau. Player’s health is another big obstacle Hoiberg is looking to overcome. During Thibodeau’s tenure, he was notorious for running his key players ragged, causing injuries at the end of the season when the players are needed most. The health of Derrick Rose has always been a big question on the minds of Bulls fans over the years. After his 2010-2011 MVP year, he has suffered a concerning injury during each of the following seasons. During media day on Sept 28, coach Hoiberg was optimistic about Rose getting a full season of training unlike the previous years which were spent rehabbing an injury. “He looks terrific. Physically he’s in a good place, mentally he’s in a good place.” Everyone was finally starting to believe that Rose’s injury woes were in the past. Then the following day, at the team’s first practice, on the first play of the scrimmage, Rose caught an elbow to the face which fractured his left orbital bone. Luckily, the timetable for his recovery is only a few weeks & he could be ready for the regular season opener against the Cavaliers on October 27.
On a positive note, the Bulls have a handful of players who were hampered by injuries last season that have fully recovered & are ready to hit the ground running this year. Joakim Noah is coming off an injury plagued season but is fully recovered & already looks “bouncier” than last year according to teammates. Second year lottery pick Doug McDermott who was taken 11th overall in 2014 suffered a knee injury early in the season which kept him sidelined for most of the year. McDermott has recovered & shown promise during the NBA’s Summer League, which puts him in prime position to take over the starting role for Mike Dunleavy while he undergoes back surgery. Taj Gibson had his bad ankle scoped during the offseason & is eyeing an early return, hopefully in time for the opener on Oct 27. Pau Gasol hardly missed any games last year but had minor sinus surgery after their playoff exit. He had chronic sinusitis over the past 2 years which limited his breathing & running at times, but is all cleared up & ready to go.
The emergence of Jimmy Butler over the past few seasons has been a thing of beauty. He was a late draft pick in 2011 & didn’t play much during his first season until Luol Deng, who led the league in minutes, went down with an injury. Butler started in Deng’s place & played all but 17 seconds of that game & continued to play at least 40 minutes in the next 4 games, quickly becoming a staple in the Bulls’ rotation. The following season he played more minutes & was used primarily for his defense. In June, 2014, Butler was named to the NBA All-Defensive second team which began his ascension into stardom. Last year’s season is when Jimmy broke out, his average went up in almost every category on offense, including points, rebounds & assists per game as well as free throw percentage. He’s looking to keep his momentum going into this season, coach Hoiberg has praised Butler in training camp saying, “I knew Jimmy was good, but he’s been awesome. He’s so strong right now, he’s in great shape, probably in the best shape of anybody out here. He’s all over the floor, offensively, defensively. Jimmy was phenomenal. All the hard work he put in this offseason you can tell. He added new elements to his game. He was terrific.”
First round draft pick Bobby Portis has impressed coaches and teammates with his play & attitude during the Summer League & preseason. In his first game he matched up against Karl Anthony Towns, the number 1 overall draft pick this season. He didn’t back down & played a great game, hitting three’s, getting dunks in transition and running the floor. Coach Hoiberg had only good things to say about the rookie, “The kid just flat out gives it to you every time he steps on the floor, so much energy and passion. Anybody who gets the opportunity to play against Bobby Portis is going to have to go 100 percent because that kid is going hard each and every time he takes the court.”
So far, the team is 2-3 in the preseason. The players are starting to adjust to coach Hoiberg’s new system on offense, but their defense still needs a little work. They allowed the Pistons to shoot 54% from the field during their most recent preseason loss. Last year’s Bulls ranked 4th in the league in opponent field goal percentage & only allowed 43.5% for the season. The team can make a splash this year if they can balance their new uptempo offense with some quality defense. This year’s team has a lot of talent, nearly everyone from last year’s squad is intact along with a promising rookie who will fit in well. It’s only a matter of time before they start clicking on both ends of the floor & show the league what they can do with a full, healthy team loaded with talent.