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Starting Line-Up? Rotation? What’s That? The Chicago Bulls 2008-09 Post-Pre-Season Preview

The Chicago Bulls are one of the biggest NBA mysteries as the 2008-09 seasons looms. The only other two teams in the same class, in terms of not being able to project with degree of certainty are the Knicks (how much can a top-flight coach elevate a talented, but seriously mismatched roster) and the Heat (where we find out just how much a healthy Dwayne Wade can carry on his shoulders and whether anyone in the media gets Mike Beasley’s sense of humor).

How much of a mystery are the Bulls? It’s Sunday. Opening tip-off is Tuesday. The only person who knows what the starting line-up is would be newbie coach Vinny Del Negro, and I’m not even sure he’s got that finalized yet. Poor guy’s starting out not just a new job, but an entirely new profession and his roster isn’t healthy enough for him to evaluate it.

How hurt have they been? Probable final cut survivor Michael Ruffin (rumor mill has it he’ll re-sign for a smaller contract before the season opener) never got into a game. He was hurt the whole time. Ben Gordon only played in one game. Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas and Derrick Rose all missed some time due to injury (though Thomas was making token appearances with his dinged ankle and Rose merely had an early exit). Larry Hughes is out for at least two weeks. Poor Vinny was having to play some pretty odd line-ups just to have five bodies on the court. I strongly suspect the rotation is going to be in serious flux for the first two or three weeks of the season.

Who’s going to start? According to the Tribune, Ben Gordon isn’t. Odds are that Deng will start if he isn’t hurt. Odds are that Drew Gooden will start, though there’s some question as to what position he’d start at. You’d like to think Rose is going to start, but you can’t say that with any certainty. Figure that between Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Thabo Sefolosha, two of them will start. Center’s an even bigger question and who the center is will decide who’s starting at power forward.

Yes, it’s an unresolved situation. Perfect for the ‘old “clean slate start.”

What do we actually know about the Bulls?

  • If Gooden is at center and Thomas is at power forward, the interior defense will suffer.
  • Rose looks to have figured out how to score at will against slower opponents.
  • Hughes needs a translator to explain “shot selection” to him.
  • The Bulls are legitimately trying to run more, but have a tendency to stagnate in the half court, just like last year. (This may get better as they get used to the new system or it might be an inherent lack of aggression in the roster. Time will tell.)
  • There’s no end of talk about how much more open, communicative, friendly and player development oriented the new staff is.

That’s really all we know about the new-look Bulls. The two differences from last years would seem to be attitude and Rose. 

Offensively, the keys will revolve around Rose, jumpshooting, and finding a post game. Rose can definitely get to the basket and hit all manner of unexpected shots (he’s got a little Don Nelson streetball in him). While it remains to be seen how much of the scoring load he’ll shoulder, it does look apparent that his driving draws a crowd, leaving people open to catch and shoot. The ability to hit these open shots will go a long way to determining the number of wins. When Rose is not in the game, you could a dynamic closer to last season’s not-so-classic pass the ball around for 20 second and jack something up. Past Gooden and Gray, there’s not a whole lot of post-up ability on this roster. (Don’t get me started on Ruffin.) If you don’t have one of those two on the floor when Rose isn’t in, there needs to be some set plays to attack the basket or “passive ball” will return. 

Ironically, while Hughes has a tendency to show off a lack of range in his jumper, he’s by far the most aggressive player, in terms of attacking the hole, though Rose is showing signs of catching up in this area.

Early indications are, assuming everyone was healthy, the players most likely to have their minutes reduced from last year would be Nocioni and Sefolosha. Perhaps Noah, as well, if Vinny insists on playing Gooden at center.

You’d like to think that a better attitude and some actual player development would push the Bulls a little closer to say, 38-44. Thing is, without even knowing the rotations, you can’t say that with any degree of certainty.

This is a team you want to play against early, before they all get on the same page. Luckily for the Bulls, they start off against a Bucks-team with a similar drastic coaching change. If the last pre-season game is any indication, the Bucks haven’t quite bought into the defensive ways of Scott Skiles and Skiles is still offensively-impaired as a coach, with the better scoring looks coming off Redd and Jefferson freelancing. I’m not saying Skiles was desperate for a pre-season win, but his starters were playing awfully late in the 4th quarter.

So let’s be generous, hope Rose gets things figured out after a month and that the Bulls bounce back in the 36-42 win range with the benefit of better coaching karma. I might have been more generous than that, but odds are it will be a slow start.

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