A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Understanding the scale of the Bulls’ success

with 6 comments

Image via awesomestories.com

I want to take a moment to hammer something in that I don’t think people have quite grasped. That being: What the Bulls have accomplished in the last 4+ months is absolutely staggering.

First let me give some credit to our commenter lpb who made me really start thinking about this. He responded my first post analyzing how elite teams (top 8 in the league) were doing against each other before the all-star break noting that while the Bulls overall record was nothing terribly noteworthy, the team was undefeated against the other elites since Carlos Boozer joined the starting lineup (on Dec. 4th). It was a good point then, but I wanted to see them keep it up (and figured they probably couldn’t). Guess what? The Bulls have completed the last of their regular season games against the other elites, having gone 12 & 0, undefeated against the elites in the over 4 months of play since that date.

In the time span, their overall record has been 51 & 12. That’s a 66 win pace with their average margin of victory in that time has been 9.14 points per game. If that last number doesn’t mean anything to you, just know that there has only been one team in the post-Jordan era to have an average margin of victory north of 9 points per game (the ’08 Celtics).

Now, I do understand that people are bound to have concerns over cherry picking here. When you see December 4th, you’re bound to think that was an opportunistic choice (and it is I suppose), so before I compare the Bulls to the other contenders, let’s move the cutoff to something that feels less arbitrary: the new year. Here are the records for the top 8 teams in the league in the 2011 calendar year:







As you can see, the gap between the Chicago Bulls and the next closest contender, is bigger than than gap between all of the rest of the teams. Granted, the Lakers probably look noticeably better if they had really given their all all the way to the finish, but I think it’s pretty safe to say, the Bulls are looking incredibly good even if we go by a different, arguably less biased date.

Now, 39 & 10 means they’ve been playing on a 65 win pace since January 1st. That and the 8.57 margin are hopefully impressive enough that everyone is in agreement that the Bulls have been lapping the field no matter how you look at it. That said, both metrics are worse than the previous set (Dec. 4) of numbers, so it is worth asking: Is there anything that’s happened the last 4 months that could have dragged the team down a bit? And of course there is. The team lost Joakim Noah to injury. Probably the team’s 2nd best player, and they were without him for almost half the season. So how did that go for them? Here’s the record with and without Noah since Boozer’s start:




So it sure looks like the team got significantly worse without Noah, we just didn’t notice because they were playing so stunningly well with him, that even with the major drop off the Bulls were easily the best team in the league. With all of the conversation going around Derrick Rose‘s MVP candidacy and Tom Thibodeau‘s Coach of the Year candidacy, and the role of Luol Deng and the other key contributors, let’s just pause a minute and appreciate something a team has done together that’s truly remarkable.

Last, while recognizing all these points, I still wouldn’t put the Bulls as the title favorites above the Lakers so I completely understand if someone wants to say “Show me what you can do in the playoffs” before signing off on the Bulls or any other new contender. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking of the Bulls as just the team that happened to emerge on top of the East this season. The Bulls are where they are because once they got their groove going about a month into the year, even injuries couldn’t fully bring them back to Earth.

Written by Matt Johnson

April 12, 2011 at 6:57 am

6 Responses

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  1. If I’m rooting for anybody in the East, it’s the Bulls. They’re a lovable juggernaut and as a Spurs fan I’m conditioned to enjoy elite defense.

    With that said, I hope they stay humble and don’t think of this regular season as anything special. Anything short of the Finals would be a disappointment for this group now. If they do fall short, they need to be paying attention to what they can do better so they don’t end up the Mavericks of the East.


    April 12, 2011 at 8:41 am

    • Agreed. Like every team that hasn’t yet proved it in the post-season, they best not come in feeling entitled.

      Matt Johnson

      April 13, 2011 at 12:22 am

  2. Last season, there was a team that entered its critical point of the season on a 28-3 stretch, with a MOV of 14.1 in that stretch. (!) That team then lost 3 in a row to the Boston Celtics and bowed out in 6.

    That’s not to diminish Chicago’s stretch and those ridiculous numbers with Noah, but just to keep some perspective about hot stretches from unproven playoff teams. I think matchups matter a lot this year, so this tournament will be VERY interesting… *evil laugh of excitement*


    April 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    • What the Celtics and Lakers did in last year’s post-season should be on everyone’s mind.

      That said, part of why I find this so noteworthy is that it takes place over too much time to reasonably be called a streak.

      We’re talking about the last 80% of the season here, after getting a new coach & system in place. Even without the injuries, I’d think it’d be perfectly reasonable to toss out the first month of the season when evaluating the current team when we see such a clear contrast.

      Matt Johnson

      April 13, 2011 at 12:21 am

  3. It’ll be really interesting to see how the regular season dominance translates (or not). I can’t back Chicago to go all the way at this point, but I think they should view making the ECF as being a “good” run.


    April 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm

  4. I just completely don’t believe the Bulls, and I can’t fully understand why. They were obviously a strong team this season (as your post does a good job of pointing out), they have the likely MVP leading them, they have two very strong starting big men with complementary skill sets, a wing that has long done very well in the impact stats, a deep bench that dominates defensively on an order that I don’t think is even appreciated, and they’re running a proven, successful scheme put in place by the likely coach of the year. On paper, they sound terrific.

    And yet.

    If someone put a gun to my head and made me pick today, I would say that they are unlikely to get by the Magic in the second round. And if they get past Orlando, I would be utterly shocked if they beat whoever comes out of the Celtics/Heat blood bath. I just don’t believe in them. They feel much like Orlando has felt the last couple of years to me…like a team that is very good and can produce elite results in the regular season or in certain match-ups, but when the big dogs focus on them in the playoffs…I don’t think they have another gear. Sort of like the Nuggets, I think they were operating at closer to max capacity than many of the other elite.

    Either way, I’m avidly looking forward to the playoffs to (among other reasons) see how this plays out.


    April 15, 2011 at 9:04 pm

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