In Tom Thibodeau's first season as the coach of the Chicago Bulls, we saw the complete transformation of a storied franchise.
Not since Michael Jordan's days could you actually discuss the possibility of the Bulls winning the title, but there seemed to be something magical going for that 2010-11 Chicago team. In the wake of The Decision, the league was looking for a new star to prop up as the humble antithesis and Derrick Rose filled that role quite nicely. He won the MVP award in a highly competitive race with several other stars, and the Bulls looked to be on the rise as title contenders.
We all know the turn this story took though. Day 1 of the 2012 playoffs saw the Bulls lose their star player to a torn ACL. He wouldn't play in the 2012-13 season. He'd return for 10 games in the 2013-14 season, but we didn't really see much of the player that was championed. In the two seasons without Rose, the Bulls stripped down the rosters, looked for bargain pieces to fill in holes, and tossed out some of the worst offensive basketball we've seen. Only the Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic have been worse on offense over these two seasons.
Thibodeau is known as a defensive coach, and for justifiable reasons. No matter who has been in the regular rotation over the last four seasons, the Bulls have been the best defense in the NBA twice, the second best once, and their worst defensive effort landed them fifth in the NBA. But the combination of Thibodeau and next level Rose landed the Bulls as one of the better offensive teams in the league, as well.
The year before Thibodeau took over the Chicago sidelines, the Bulls finished 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency. In Thib's first season with the Bulls, they jumped up to the 12th best offense in the NBA. In 2011-12, the Bulls wielded the fifth best offense in the NBA while also throwing out the best defense in the league. A bit part of that was having Rose on the floor, and surrounding Rose with valuable offensive weapons helped tremendously. The 2011-12 team that finished fifth in offense was fourth in the NBA in 3-point accuracy and assist ratio (number of assists over 100 possessions). This team could move the ball and give Rose proper support.
Once Rose went down, the front office skimped a bit on role players to round out the rotation and went fairly barebones about the offensive weapons on the team. Kyle Korver was allowed to leave and relying on Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng as the top options on offense led to a disaster. In 2012-13, the Bulls dropped to 24th in offensive efficiency. Last season, the Bulls were a putrid 28th on offense with Joakim Noah's passing the only thing keeping it from looking like a tanking team. The Bulls knew without Rose on the floor, they had to grind out games and win ugly contests.
With Rose's return looking and sounding like we'll be reminded of the MVP-winning wunderkind from four years ago, the Bulls' decision to make offense heavy transactions this summer have them looking ready to charge through the Eastern Conference like it's Pamplona. The additions of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, and Doug McDermott scream of a rotation desperate for decision-makers on the offensive end.
We know what we get with Gasol. When he's healthy, his passing and scoring out of the post are rarely matched in terms of skill. Throw him out there with a healthy Noah and a healthy Rose, you'll get some spectacular playmaking with the pass and one of those three will be finishing plays as the defense still tries to figure out where they should be positioned next. He takes Carlos Boozer's spot after they amnestied the bearded one, but they haven't lost anything in terms of having an effective decision-maker out of the post.
The additions of Mirotic and McDermott show a craving for scoring from all over the floor with young options. Mirotic has been an effective scorer in Europe for the past couple seasons. He can stretch the floor a bit at 6'10" and he's good at spot-up shooting, posting up, and getting out in transition. He's also a pretty smart player when it comes to moving without the ball and finding ways to slip into the empty zones of the defense. McDermott is one of the more pure shooters we've seen, even when coupled with a high volume of shooting. He's also a lot more athletic than he's given credit for and can move without the ball quite nicely.
You can even add in the likely second year improvements of Tony Snell on the wing (who was sporting an improved jumper in summer league) and a bounce back shooting year from Jimmy Butler. Assuming health, which we still need Rose to prove as the new normal, the Bulls go from having one of the least watchable offenses in the league last season to something that could be potentially devastating for the rest of the league.
With a healthy Rose on the floor, the Bulls sport a minimum of six decision-makers on the offensive end with Noah (passing), Gasol (passing and scoring), McDermott (shooting), Mirotic (shooting and scoring), Dunleavy (shooting), and Rose (scoring and passing). With Thibodeau's defensive coaching along with Noah, Butler, and Taj Gibson, they'll still have the defensive intensity they need to remain of the top teams at stopping opposing offenses.
It has been a rough couple of years for the Bulls due to injuries, but with the moves they've made this offseason and a hopefully fully recovered Derrick Rose, it looks like we'll see another great Thibodeau transformation once again.