With the Chicago Bulls starting their preseason tonight, all eyes will be on superstar Derrick Rose in hopes that he can lead the team to a promised land filled with Larry O’Brien trophies and fancy rings.
Fans placing all their hopes on Rose is nothing new to the 26 year-old. As long as he’s in a Bulls uniform and healthy, Chicago fans are going to expect him to have the Bulls competing for a championship year in and year out.
This year, however, Rose will have some offensive help in the form of 34 year-old Spanish forward and two-time NBA champion, Pau Gasol.
Gasol is no stranger to championship-level play, and that’s something the Bulls knew when they brought him in. There’s also no question that Gasol is a good fit for a Bulls team that needed, once again, to make a big splash in large pool of quality free agent candidates.
What the Bulls hope, and what only time will tell, is that Gasol doesn’t become a free agency consolation prize like a certain someone whose name rhymes with loser.
At this point, we haven’t even seen Gasol step on a court in a Bulls uniform. But what’s terribly evident even now is that Gasol is just as important of a piece to the Bulls—if not more—than having a healthy Derrick Rose.
Rose being the main source of the Bulls’ offense is as obvious as Tom Thibodeau saying “we have more than enough to win.” However, Rose’s role as the main offensive facilitator has been the source of many problems and losses as well.
Taking out the fact that he’s missed almost all of the last two seasons, when Rose was healthy, the criticism was that Rose’s teammates relied a bit TOO much on his scoring abilities. Yes, this led to some memorable game winners but many other times, this led to Rose running unsuccessful isolations at the end of games.
Clearly, the Bulls need help on offense; this criticism is nothing new. Players like Joakim Noah or Jimmy Butler aren’t reliable enough on the offensive end to run the offense through at crucial points. Taj Gibson’s offensive game has seen improvement, especially from his 10-foot baseline jumpers. However, he too is inconsistent and shouldn’t be relied on for offense.
Now, with the addition of Gasol, the Bulls have someone who they can rely on in crucial moments offensively other than Rose. Gasol’s average of 17 points per game, an efficiency rating hovering around 20 and a career field goal percentage of about 51 percent are indications of how effective he can be with the ball in his hands.
If many of you are having déjà vu from four years ago, that’s because many of these thoughts were the same that were thrown around when Carlos Boozer joined the Bulls back in 2010. His offensive numbers are similar to Gasol’s, and it was precisely his ability to at least somewhat create shots for himself that intrigued the Bulls into signing him.
Why, then, should Bulls fans feel any better about the Gasol signing, when many think Gasol will turn into a Boozer 2.0?
The answer, I believe, lies in height.
At 6 foot 9 inches, power forward Boozer is the same height as former teammate and small forward Luol Deng and only about 35 pounds heavier. Boozer, unlike Deng, had to go against PFs that were two, three, or four inches taller than him and much more skilled in the post. Put height and post skill together, and it’s no wonder Boozer got killed so much by taller players at his position. I’ve always said Boozer was a power forward in a small forward’s body.
With seven-footer Gasol essentially taking Boozer’s spot on the team, the height differential won’t be a factor anymore and neither will post skill. Gasol most likely will find himself playing center at times, which will add a whole new dimension to the Bulls’ rotation.
Joakim Noah will be very happy.
Having averaged 35 minutes per game last season (42 minutes in the playoffs), Noah will now be allowed more leeway to rest during games. As hard of a worker that Nazr Muhammoud is, he’s just not an effective backup center for Noah; Thibodeau clearly wasn’t comfortable playing him excess minutes.
Front-court depth has been a nagging issue since the departure of defensive juggernaut Omer Asik.
Gasol can now provide Thibs with some sanity as he slides into playing the center position. Having a Gasol-Gibson front court is no walk in the park for opposing teams. The great part about this combination is that Thibs maintains the same level of defensive intensity even without Noah when he has a rise in offensive potential in Gasol.
A backup center who has the ability to score 17 or 18 points a game is new concept for the Bulls; one that Thibodeau will gladly work with.
I haven’t even mentioned Gasol’s keen passing ability.
The Bulls potentially have two of the best passing big men in the league which they’ll use to their fullest advantage to spread the court for Rose. Gasol averaged 3.4 assists per game last year and had a passer rating of 3.3, which is above average for big men.
With Gasol being a crucial addition, the biggest question for the Bulls this year other than ‘can Rose saty healthy?’ is ‘can Gasol stay healthy?’
His history of injury is well documented. However, if Thibodeau plays his cards right with his rotation, neither Gasol, Noah, Gibson, Mirotic, nor Muhammad should receive excessive minutes during the regular season. Fewer minutes should equal less chance of injury for Gasol or Noah, who both have struggled with injuries in the past.
As the beginning of the season approaches, there’s a lot of potential on this Bulls team that looks magnificent on paper. If they can stay healthy, their potential is at least an Eastern Conference Finals appearance this year. That “if” is the biggest roadblock between them and a ring, and only time will reveal if that roadblock turns into spike strips.
So while all eyes will be on Derrick Rose as the season commences, a healthy Gasol will start to turn heads as he shows Bulls fans that missing out on Carmelo Anthony this offseason may not have been so bad after all.
Follow Ben on Twitter @benwittenstein and listen to him on “The Round Table” Thursdays from 6-7 pm