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Nader Here Nor There: Derrick Rose is here to save the Bulls… in 2013

Derrick Rose is making his long-awaited return, and he’s here to save the Bulls. Kamil Krzaczynski//AP Images

Finally he’s back. After a long-awaited return, Derrick Rose is here to save the Bulls.

That was 2013. Fast forward.

Finally he’s back. After a long-awaited return, Derrick Rose is here to save the Bulls.

Oh wait, that was 2014. Fast forward.

Finally he’s back. After a long-awaited return, Derrick Rose is here to save the Bulls.

Now that Rose is back on the court next to Jimmy Butler (who actually missed Wednesday’s game with an injury), Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and company, the Bulls are primed for a deep playoff run. I truly do believe that. The difference this time? Rose doesn’t have to (and probably doesn’t have the ability to) be the Bulls’ savior.

In the past, Rose’s presence on the court has been seen as the end-all be-all for the Bulls. This season feels different.

Does anybody remember the very beginning of this season when Rose was in a groove, Butler was playing like a young star, Gasol and Noah were dominating the paint and the Bench Mob 2.0 was more impressive than its predecessor? It’s hard to remember, I know. But it happened.

Murmurs spread through Chicago that these Bulls looked like the most impressive team the city has seen since a guy named Michael played at the Madhouse on Madison. Since then, they’ve played like a mediocre playoff contender rather than a potential championship team.

Injuries to Rose, Butler and Taj Gibson hurt, but they weren’t the only problems the Bulls experienced. They couldn’t score without Rose and Butler, but a Tom Thibodeau-coached team has never been able to score efficiently. The big surprise was the team’s defense. For the first time, a Thibodeau Bulls team was soft on defense.

During the 2013-14 season, the Bulls allowed an average of only 91.8 points per game, which ranked first in the NBA. The year before they let in 92.9 points per game, and the year before that they suffocated teams by allowing a league-leading ridiculous 88.2 points per game.

This season? They’re in the middle of the pack defensively, letting in 98.2 points per game.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t have what it takes to make a deep run, though. Even with the defense surrendering more than six extra points per game this season than it did last year, the Bulls have a plus-2.8 point per game differential, meaning they’re outscoring opponents by almost three points per game.

That mark is better than it’s been in the past three years with the exception of the 2010-11 season, in which their defense was one of the best NBA defenses in recent memory (no team had allowed less than 89 points per game since Memphis did it during the 2005-06 season).

All the Bulls need to do to have a successful April, May and, if they’re lucky, June, is to play the type of efficient, team basketball they were playing at the start of the season. They don’t need anybody to play hero-ball like they did when a group of average players surrounded their superstar Rose for the first five years of his career.

This time, they have consistent scoring off the bench with Aaron Brooks, potential Rookie of the Year Nikola Mirotic, veteran Kirk Hinrich and Gibson. They have Butler, who has shone this season as a potential Most Improved Player candidate. Gasol and Noah are still dominating the paint, and Mike Dunleavy has been able to spread the floor with his three-point shooting. They have everything it takes to win a championship, including Thibodeau’s defense, which you know will ramp up come playoff time.

Oh, and one more thing. After a long-awaited return, Derrick Rose is here to save the Bulls.

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