Running without the Bull: How has Derrick Rose’s injury affected the Chicago Bulls?

  • Andy Flint

When Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL in the first round of the playoffs last year, many thought that it spelled an early demise to the Bulls’ playoff hopes. Although the Sixers ultimately managed to defeat the top-seeded Bulls in six games, Chicago still put up more of a fight without its All-Star point guard than many gave them credit for. Heading into the 2012-13 season, it was a major question as to whether the Bulls could still keep up the same level of production while Rose rehabs his ACL. With a fifth of the season already out of the way, now seems like as good of a time as any to evaluate this year’s Chicago team.

In terms of offensive production, the Bulls have stayed remarkably consistent. While they averaged 96.3 points per game last season, they’re still putting up 93.4 this year. That’s been remarkable for a few reasons. First, Rose averaged more than 20 points per game last year – so the fact that they’ve only seen a three point drop in their scoring output speaks volumes about Tom Thibodeau’s coaching ability. Perhaps more impressive, though, is the fact that Rose was also the team’s assist leader last season with more than eight dimes per game. Thibodeau has managed to coach the players that he has to not only score the ball just as efficiently as they did with Rose, but he’s also made sure that their ball movement hasn’t stagnated.

Looking deeper into the numbers, it becomes evident that the offensive approach of the Bulls hasn’t changed much. Granted, they’re not funneling the offense through Rose and relying on him to isolate and drive, but the pacing is eerily similar. The 2011-12 Bulls shot 42 percent from the field with 82 shot attempts per game. In 2012-13, those numbers are nearly identical. It shows that Thibodeau may have different faces filling in for Rose’s minutes, but the Bulls overall still play at the same pace. Even the scoring distribution has stayed relatively the same, with every player and the newly added Nate Robinson scoring a few more points per game than they did last season. On the whole, though, no one player has had to try and shoulder the load for the entire team.

Offensive production, pacing and defense can’t be the only things taken into consideration, though. Wins are what earn playoff seeds and ultimately earn championships, and unfortunately that’s the one area that these Bulls are struggling. While last year’s team went 50-16 and finished first in the Eastern Conference, this year’s team is barely above .500 at 9-8. They currently hold the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

The inability to close is a highlight of the fact that, as much as Chicago has managed to minimize the effects of Rose’s absence, they still miss him badly. Such has been evident in late game situations. Plays that would normally see Rose isolate and then either draw a foul or hit a clutch layup instead end with a clanking shot by Luol Deng or Rip Hamilton, players who simply can’t match Rose in clutch situations.

That’s basically the story – that the Bulls are very much the same without Rose, but still sorely missing his presence. For Chicago fans, the silver lining is that the team is learning to play without its biggest star and that they are playing very well. Although they’re struggling to put up wins now, they will be an even stronger team when Rose does return – one that knows how to score and play defense without him, but that the luxury of being able to rely on him for 20 points per game and to finish in late-game situations. The Bulls aren’t the same without Rose, but they’ll be much better when he gets back.


Written by: Kip Sal

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