NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #8 Chicago Bulls

Rose is back again and the Bulls had a great offseason. Can they finally cash in on their championship potential or will it all fall apart again?

This NBA offseason has been very eventful, and the preseason is now in full swing. To help hoops junkies with the transition from the lull of summer back to competitive basketball, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 8th-ranked Chicago Bulls!

After an offseason that saw them miss out on Carmelo Anthony, the Bulls were still able to improve a ton this offseason. A remade bench, and at least a ten-man rotation will surely shoot them up the Eastern Conference standings. We here at numberFire have the Bulls as the third-best team in the East this season, but if Derrick Rose can come back and have an elite season, the sky may be the limit for this all-of-a-sudden deep Bulls team. Rose has looked good this preseason except for his jump shot. However, with all of the newfound offense in the Windy City, Rose may not even have to be back at MVP form for the Bulls to win close to 50 games.

numberFire Metrics

Projected Record: 47-35
Eastern Conference Rank: 3rd
NBA Rank: 8th
nERD: 57.7
Playoff Chances: 85.61%
Championship Chances: 6.30%

Last season, Chicago finished with 48 wins, and this season we have them at the very least matching that. Their division may be one of the toughest in the Eastern Conference, and with Cleveland on the schedule four times this season, the Bulls are going to have their work cut out for them.

However with Rose returning, this club is now a two-way team. Last season Chicago’s defensive metrics graded out well. They were the second-best team in the Defensive Rating (DRtg) last season behind only the Pacers, and with the injury and free agent losses Indiana is dealing with, the Bulls might jump to number-one this season.

Conversely, their Offensive Rating (ORtg) was quite the opposite last year. Chicago ranked dead last in points per game, and only Orlando and Philadelphia had worse ORtg than the Bulls. But, with the player movement and crucial additions, the Bulls are bound to improve those numbers this season, and it’s not just because of Rose's return.

Player Movement

Notable Additions
Doug McDermott (via draft)
Pau Gasol (via free agency)
Nikola Mirotic (via 2011 Draft)
Aaron Brooks (via free agency)
E’Twaun Moore (via free agency)

Notable Losses
D.J. Augustin (free agency)
Carlos Boozer (amnesty)
Jimmer Fredette (free agency)

The Bulls are obviously improving with the addition of Gasol and letting go of Boozer. Last season Boozer set career lows in PER, Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), ORtg, and Win Shares (WS). He wasn’t playing at all in the second and fourth quarters, and his age and salary were both reasons he was chopped this offseason.

Although Gasol hasn't been the same as he once was lately either, injuries and Mike D’Antoni’s system might have been more to blame for his struggles than anything. Plus, with the addition of Gasol, Joakim Noah is going to be free to play the high post and have a credible low-post scorer, giving Noah the chance to load up the assists. Those two are going to combine for a fierce big man duo, and while there is no clear indication of how their minutes will intertwine, the Bulls, most likely, are going to start the game with both of them on the floor.

The loss of Augustin would hurt more if it wasn't for the re-signing of Kirk Hinrich and the signing of Brooks. Those two, along with Rose make up a steady point guard arsenal. All three of them are capable of finding the newly-formed shooting gallery the Bulls have amassed, and after playing well in back to back preseason games, McDermott might be finding a role on this team as a rookie.

While they may not be as talented as Cleveland 1 through 5, they may be more talented 1 through 10, and as we saw this past postseason, the depth of the Spurs was crucial in their title chase. According to our metrics the Bulls only have a 6.30% chance of a title. With the way they are built, though, they are the Eastern Conference equivalent of the Spurs in 2014-2015.

Three Burning Questions

What kind of season will Derrick Rose have?
If Rose can come back and have an MVP season, the Bulls might be undervalued in our rankings. In reality, even if Rose is just 80% of his MVP-self, the Bulls are going to be in the Eastern Conference Finals. A lot has been made about Rose’s jump shot after his bad shooting performance in the World Cup.

Through four preseason games this October, Rose has shot just under 40% from the floor and 33% from three-point range. However one thing he has been doing effectively is getting to the free throw line. Rose is 17-for-20 from the line through four preseason games, and if he can keep that up, defenders will have to give him more space and respect his driving ability, leaving him more open from outside. Our metrics project Rose to have around 20 points per game this season, which is exactly what the Bulls need.

Is this the new age bench mob?
The Bulls ran an eight-man rotation for much of last season, and while it was fantasy gold for certain players, this season is going to be much different. When Rose was the MVP, the Bulls were one of the deeper Eastern Conference teams. This season they not only have a stacked starting lineup but also their bench is as deep as it’s been in the last three seasons.

While the small forward job is still up in the air, McDermott and Mike Dunleavy will probably split minutes at that position either way. Hinrich and Brooks will back up Rose, and Taj Gibson and Mirotic will round out the frontcourt.

The old bench mob might have been better on defense, but this unit is almost as capable of scoring as the first unit is. Mirotic, McDermott and Brooks are three of the team’s best shooters, and Gibson has become a capable scorer on his own in the post. There is also a possibility of Gasol playing some with the bench. However Thibodeau plays the minutes, depth is going to be Chicago’s best friend, but don’t expect too much from a fantasy perspective because it will likely be very matchup based.

How will Gasol and Noah work together?
These two big men might represent the best passing frontcourt in a long time (Noah led the league in assist percentage among big men last season and Gasol was fifth), but the pairing is not without concern. Gasol’s health is a short-term problem, but in the long term, the amount of minutes Gasol plays might be in the air still. Noah is going to get 35 minutes per game regardless. But these aren't the only two frontcourt options in Chicago.

Gibson should play at least 30 minutes per game this season, and the rookie Mirotic. Gasol is projected to be around the 32 minute per game mark. If Thibodeau plays it smart, Gasol won’t be on the floor for a ton of minutes early in the season. This could limit his fantasy value and really help a guy like Gibson. Once again, it goes back to the theme of the Bulls having plenty of options.

Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch

SG Jimmy Butler (Yahoo O-Rank: 69)
Jimmy Butler is going to win you money this season. It’s as simple as that. The fourth-year pro set record numbers last season, and he might be set to do it again. In his last three preseason games, Butler has averaged 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals per game, all while shooting a ridiculous 74% from the floor and 89% from the free throw line. If you think Rose's being back is going to slow down Butler, think again. Rose’s presence is going to open up everything for Butler. While he likely won’t help you too much in threes, his percentages are going to be stellar this season, and he’ll chip in with points, boards and possibly lead the league in steals, making Butler a mid-round mega-value in your upcoming fantasy draft.

SF Doug McDermott (Yahoo O-Rank: 198)
Before you ignore this section entirely while screaming about Thibodeau's penchant for not playing rookies, take a moment to think about what the Bulls desperately need. Dougie McBuckets is going to supply a ton of three pointers for this team, and with Dunleavy experiencing some slight knee pain, McDermott has gotten the call to start at small forward over the last two preseason games. In a rotation that runs ten deep, McDermott isn’t going to win your league for you. However, he is going to provide a cheap source for three pointers in this Bulls offense. Plus, his upside is through the roof, because his shooting ability almost forces Thibodeau to ignore that he is a rookie.

His defense has been better than expected in the preseason, and with Dunleavy entering the final year of his contract, it makes him expendable if McDermott shows well. Chicago also still has little-known, Tony Snell. But Snell may see most of his minutes at shooting guard behind Butler. If Dunleavy sticks, Snell might be squeezed out even more. Look at McDermott late in your drafts for three pointers.