The 2011-12 NBA season is underway and going full steam, and with 124 days to play 66 games, things are moving quickly. Some squads pegged as sure-fire, can’t miss teams have started shakily, and some teams no one saw coming erupted early. Everything is moving at a break-neck pace, all while teams are learning to play with each other as the season goes along.
That’s why, as crazy as everything is right now, I’m certain the Chicago Bulls will win the NBA Championship this season. I'll give you four reasons:
1. They are deep.
Be prepared for a lot of basketball nerdom here: I read every team’s box score every day. I see who is on every roster, the minutes each guy is getting, shot attempts, turnovers -- every day everything goes in to the Big Brain on Brett.
I can, unequivocally, say that the Chicago Bulls have the deepest team in the league. How many teams would Taj Gibson start for? 20? What about Omer Asik... 15? Can you name 15 centers better than the Bulls’ backup big man? Ronnie Brewer would start for the Jazz in an instant if he were back in Utah, and if you move CJ Watson to Charlotte, Toronto, New York, Atlanta, or Memphis, he’s your starting point guard. All of these players are on Chicago’s bench and wouldn’t get more than 10 minutes per playoff game for this Bulls team.
2. They are healthy.
Injuries are the biggest obstacle in predictions. Especially freak injuries. You know, like Carlos Boozer breaking his hand last summer or a random ulna collateral ligament tear for Joakim Noah in December of last year.
The Bulls had their full starting lineup in for less than 20 regular season games last season. Let me say this a different way: more than 75% of the Bulls’ games saw Kurt Thomas or Gibson in the starting lineup. How is a professional basketball team supposed to find a rhythm when their best lineup is never on court together? Despite the shortened pre-season, the Bulls are in-shape, healthy and can rely on that depth. Look for the Bulls to go on some kind of crazy 18-2 run in the middle of February to get on top in the East.
Boozer has started 70 or more games a season four times in his nine year career. Check out his per-game stats in those seasons, (via Basketball Reference):
2002-3 (2nd season): 15.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, 34.6 minutes
2006-7 (5th season): 20.9 points, 11.7 rebounds, 34.6 minutes
2007-8 (6th season): 21.1 points, 10.4 reounds, 34.9 minutes
2009-10 (8th season): 19.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 34.3 minutes.
That's solid consistency! And for the heck of it, his playoff career stats (before last season) were 20.3 points per game and 12.5 rebounds. Is it fair to cherry-pick stats from a healthy season? Yes and no - it shows how good the guy can be when he’s healthy, but it only shows one side of the story.
Last season, he adjusted to a new team, new offense, a different style of point guard in Derrick Rose, and he was injured before the preseason started, so he had to learn on the fly. This season, no excuses. All signs point to this season providing, assuming he’s healthy, a better Boozer.
4. No one is picking them.
Talk about little respect for a team that finished last season with the best overall record in the league and featured the league’s MVP. Take a look at ESPN’s “expert” preseason predictions. That’s a lot of Heat. Everyone expects Miami to win the Eastern Conference this season, except for Jon Barry and Zach Harper. Only one writer I could find on any publication, Bill Simmons, expects Chicago to win the title (albeit only if he gets +600 odds).
(Quick aside: Have you seen Dwayne Wade dunk this season? He’s looking... old. All of those years of getting knocked down seven times and getting up eight have taken a visible toll on the guy. Plus, did you know he’s going to be 30 in a couple of weeks? Now I feel old.)
I’m not a huge proponent in the “No One Believes in Us” Theory, but I can’t believe the overwhelming majority of people whose job it is to analyze professional basketball for a living choose not to endorse a great, deep team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals last year and got better (Rip Hamilton) and healthier (Noah and Boozer). They have last season’s 24-year old MVP who is now officially financially secure forever and he improved his shooting!
No one believes in the Bulls this year, it seems. Except for me. And now I’m on the record: The Bulls will win the NBA Championship this season.
Photo credit goes to Keith Allison's Flickr.