The Chicago Bulls are 12-5 and sit atop the Eastern Conference standings.
The hot start is the franchise’s best since the 2011-12 season, where they finished the lockout-shortened season with a 50-16 record, tied for the best in the league with the San Antonio Spurs.
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Everyone knows what happened next. Derrick Rose suffered a devastating knee injury and the Bulls were bounced in six games by the Philadelphia 76ers.
The fact the Bulls moved to the top of the East by beating Rose, former head coach Tom Thibodeau and the New York Knicks felt somewhat fitting, as Chicago fans continuously remind everyone within earshot that the BULLS ARE BACK!
Prior to the game against the Knicks, the Bulls ranked seventh in both offense and defense, while holding the league’s fourth-best net rating, outscoring teams by 5.4 points per 100 possessions.
According to StatMuse, the Bulls just wrapped up a 12-game run in the schedule against above .500 teams, charging through the stretch with an 8-4 record.
The Bulls just went through a hellish schedule of 12 straight .500 teams:
They went 8-4 and are now first in the East. pic.twitter.com/EwxDCl91E0
— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 22, 2021
The current day Chicago defense is pesky, surprisingly so, with many predicting this would be a team mired near the bottom of the league on that end of the floor. Unlike the 2012 squad that was anchored by the defensive brilliance of Joakim Noah, the modern-day version is keyed by the relentless perimeter pairing of Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball.
The offense is as advertised, however, with Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan leading the charge.
DeRozan dropped another 31 points against the Knicks, his sixth 30-point outing in 16 games. He had 11 such performances across 61 games with San Antonio last season.
The 32-year-old is simply scorching teams close to the basket, with his 68 percent finishing at the rim combined with his 57 percent point mark from short midrange territory according to Cleaning the Glass.
For the first time in a long time, the Bulls have a scoring pair that can do equal damage in isolation, giving them multiple avenues of attack late in games.
Both DeRozan and LaVine are generating 1.11 points per isolation possession, which is equal to Kevin Durant and only trailing James Harden (1.14 PPIP) of the 16 players to have at least 45 isolation possessions on the season.
The good news for Bulls fans is that these numbers feel extremely sustainable, with DeRozan generating 1.20 points per isolation possession last season, while LaVine was at 1.14.
The Chicago pair each look destined for All-Star selections this season, and in one of the most unlikely storylines of the season’s early going, it’s quite possible they could be canceling each other out when it comes to the MVP conversation.
DeRozan or LaVine in the MVP conversation? Absolutely wild but equally fair through the first quarter of the campaign.
Behind the star duo, the Bulls are seeing their offensive efficiency improve in the fourth quarter, with their season-long offensive rating of 109.5 bumping up to 113.6 in the final period, good for fourth-best in the league.
We should also mention the fact that the recent run has also come with starting big men Nikola Vucevic (health and safety protocol) and Patrick Williams (wrist surgery) out of the lineup.
In a wide-open conference with some of the expected contenders off to a slow start, the Bulls have a legitimate chance to secure home-court advantage to begin the playoffs.
It’s hard not to be impressed with the Bulls thus far, and it all starts with DeRozan and LaVine.