The Bulls exist as a team for two types of comparisons now: What the Bulls are against a team with Derrick Rose, and what the Bulls are to an opponent without the injured superstar. Rose is going to be sidelined for at least another nine to twelve months as he recovers from ACL surgery. With no definitive time-table on his return, we can only look at the Bulls in the latter of those two types of comparisons, and look at the prospects the Bulls have against the Celtics without the injured MVP.
First off, the backup Kirk Hinrich, who was signed this offseason, will now be the full-time starter. Rookie Marquis Teague is not third string, but a true back up now. That’s not the best point guard scenario to feature a fringe starter/journeyman and a rookie at the toughest position in basketball for young players to thrive at.
Add all this to the fact that the Bulls have an aged shooting guard, an oft-injured and overpaid small forward, a grossly underachieving former 20-10 machine at power forward, and one of the worst offensive centers in the league, and the odds are pretty heavily stacked against the Bulls in most potential first round match ups.
Let’s look at a position-by-position breakdown:
Rajon Rondo / Keyon Dooling / Dionte Christmas vs. Kirk Hinrich / Marquis Teague
Teague hails from the same alma mater as Rondo, though neither graduated. Teague is also the younger brother of Hawks point guard Jeff Teague.
Kentucky products have thrived in the NBA over the last two decades, and Teague could be the next guard to shine for the Blue and White in the NBA. That said, he backs up an above average defender with middling offensive skills against the quickest point guard in the league.
Rondo plays so many minutes as to make Dooling and Christmas largely irrelevant, and for all Hinrich is as a defender, there’s not much he can do with Rondo. Rondo is too quick for Hinrich, and he’s going to give Hinrich a lot of problems off the dribble.
Teague will find himself picking up silly fouls on Rondo. This one just has disaster written all over it…for the Bulls.
Avery Bradley / Courtney Lee / Jason Terry vs. Richard Hamilton / Marco Belinelli / Nate Robinson
The Bulls have pretty good depth at two-guard, or they do until you consider how stacked the Celtics are. As I have repeatedly said in my other team match ups, it’s hard to counteract what the Celtics bring to the table with Bradley, Lee, and Terry. The trio really covers all bases: Bradley and Lee are elite defenders, and all three can shoot the ball very well, especially JET, who is known to be an assassin off the bench and won the Sixth Man of the Year in 2006-07.
When it’s all said and done, it may be said that Bulls two-guard Rip Hamilton had the best career of these players mentioned at shooting guard for their respective clubs, but he’s not at that point in his career anymore, and his defense has deteriorated along with the rest of his game; he’s going to have a lot of trouble with all of the C’s shooting guards defensively.
Belinelli is a lights out shooter and Nate Rob can provide a nice scoring spark off the bench, but it’s a huge stretch to think that the Celtics are going to falter with a trio like they trot out at the off guard position…Players will stay fresh, and Terry will likely close games out in the fourth quarter. I’m only conjecturing that based upon is experience. That experience, mixed with the youth of Lee and Bradley, should prove lethal for the Bulls.
Paul Pierce / Jeff Green / Kris Joseph vs. Luol Deng / Jimmy Butler
The Bulls are lucky to have a defender like Deng. Deng is one of the few small forwards in the league capable of providing good defense against perimeter scorers like Pierce. Pierce will test all on the perimeter, forcing shots up and drawing fouls, but Deng has been sound on defense in the past against guys like Pierce.
Deng is capable of matching Pierce in minutes, making Jimmy Butler a little bit irrelevant. Jeff Green will see a lot of time to matchup against Deng, as Green’s perimeter defense is superior to Pierce’s. Still, Deng will put up his usual 15 to 18 points per game, while mitigating the impact of Pierce. Even with the defense of Deng, it’s hard to imagine Pierce allowing the Bulls to rattle him when the game is on the line.
Brandon Bass / Jared Sullinger / Chris Wilcox vs. Carlos Boozer / Taj Gibson / Vlad Radmanovic
If Vlad Rad still wore No. 72 and played for the retro Sonics, I would be all over this matchup like a video game fiend who has an itchy trigger finger. But Vlad Rad is not that player anymore, and shooting threes is boring when you’re down by 20. I’m digressing, yes, yes, I am.
The showdown here between Bass and Boozer makes up for in importance what it lacks in sizzle. Bass is a better athlete and can play great defense on most power forwards, and Boozer just isn’t the player he once was. He’s become more reliant on fade away jumpers and makes less moves that bear towards the basket. He’s become passive. He doesn’t board as hard. Bass has the energy and athleticism to take full advantage of that and bully Boozer, and I think he will.
It will be up to Taj Gibson to counteract Boozer’s laziness and do the job on Bass. But after Bass is done wrecking Boozer and Gibson begins to tire, what are the Bulls going to do with Jared Sullinger? Sullinger will obliterate a tired Gibson and embarrass a goofy Radmanovic.
There was a time when I would have automatically given the edge to Boozer against just about every power forward in the league, but those days are gone. Bass is a better player now.
Kevin Garnett / Fab Melo / Jason Collins vs. Joakim Noah / Nazr Mohammed
It’s hard to go against KG even when he is playing out of position. I mentioned that Noah is one of the worst offensive centers in the league, and that is going to make it even easier for Garnett to leak out defensively and truly wreck havoc on the baselines, force turnovers, get weak side blocks, and basically shut down the Bulls. For every person that says Garnett’s old, there’s ten others that realize it doesn’t matter. He’s tireless, ageless, and is going to eat Joakim Noah for lunch.
Fab Melo isn’t that fab yet, and Collins never has been, but Mohammed isn’t exactly the kind of back up that can come in and take advantage of that. Mohammed can score sometimes, but even in the second unit, he won’t see many looks with Marco Belinelli jacking up jumpers and Marquis Teague penetrating looking for his own shot first.
But who needs to worry about the backups? We’ll only be seeing them so much because this series is going to be a total blowout.
Doc Rivers vs. Tom Thibodeau
Coaching would matter if these teams were evenly matched; it would. But they’re not, so it doesn’t. There’s nothing Thibs can do to counteract Rivers’ squad, and to think that any coach could out coach Rivers with such an inferior roster is pretty absurd. Rivers will just do what he does, trot out a much better lineup, not give them too much slack, and trust the big shots in the hands of his veterans.
The Bulls aren’t much of a team without Rose — plain and simple. They don’t have many guys capable of creating their own offense, and are basically at this point a bunch of role players without the player that plays the main role.
Boozer at one point was an alpha dog, but now is best suited to be even a third or fourth option. The problem is, is that he is now the number one option for the Bulls. Delusional fans will claim it is Deng, but Deng is no more capable of creating his own shot than Boozer is. Boozer is also not afraid to take bad ones, whereas Deng is a little more reluctant to get trigger happy. For better or worse, Boozer will be the primary bread winner (or loser) on offense.
That just doesn’t bode well against a team that took the defending champion Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, taking LeBron James’ cast further than any other team in the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
That Boston team many said only reached the ECF because of the injury to Rose, so it’s ironic that in a series like this, they could only further prove how poor the Bulls are without their MVP point guard. The fact remains, that even with Rose, the Bulls would have immense trouble with KG and crew.
Prediction: Celtics Sweep 4-0