The Chicago Bulls were coming off a great year going into last season. They had finished number one in the eastern conference beating out the Heat, only to lose to them in the conference finals, and Derrick Rose was reigning MVP. This year is very different: they are coming off a first round exit that was caused by their star player (Rose) tearing his ACL, and they lost significant role players in the offseason including C.J. Watson, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver.
The Bulls have been much better than the Knicks for the past several seasons, but how will they match up this year?
Point Guard: Kirk Hinrich/Derrick Rose (after return from injury) vs. Raymond Felton
If we are going to base this match up on the Bulls’ point guard situation after Rose returns from injury than this is a no brainer, but we can’t make it that easy. Derrick Rose had his ACL surgery in May of 2012, and that surgery takes about 8-12 months to heal from (The Bulls have noted that Rose will not return until 100% healed); that would mean that the earliest Rose will return is January. Assuming that the best case scenario works out he will have missed almost 3 whole months of the season.
If we take another look at this match up while excluding Rose then it is a much closer call. Kirk Hinrich is a solid point guard on most teams, but he is much older than Felton (31 opposed to 28) and has had less success as a starting point guard. Felton’s poor previous season aside, he has played well alongside Amar’e, and is committed to a bounce back this coming year.
Edge: Bulls. Even though Rose may miss a large amount of time this season, we are still talking about possibly the best point guard in the league. If he plays from January through April then the Bulls won’t have too much to worry about.
Shooting Guard: Rip Hamilton vs. J.R Smith/Iman Shumpert (after return from injury)
Hamilton, a three-time all-star, is a shell of his former self. He can still score effectively on occasion, but last season showed how poor his durability is. He played in 28 out of 66 games last season with the Bulls. He is 34 years old, and in the twilight of his career.
J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are the exact opposite of Hamilton. They are both young: 27 and 22 respectively. J.R. is known for being an offensive spark plug, but last year showed that he can attack the passing lanes extremely well. Iman Shumpert made a name for himself early on last season as a defensive juggernaut who could guard the perimeter like few others can do. Sadly, Shumpert tore his ACL in May as well, but his best case scenario is a December return.
Edge: Knicks. Although J.R. has been inconsistent, last year he showed his defensive skills were underrated, and he could have a very big year this year with the larger role.
Small Forward: Luol Deng vs. Carmelo Anthony
Luol Deng is a good player, especially defensively, but this is not a fair comparison.
Carmelo Anthony is one the most versatile scorers in the NBA, and after his unbelievable Olympic outing this summer we should expect nothing but the best ‘Melo there is. He seems committed and focused to win a championship, and I think that this season will be one of his most memorable.
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer vs. Amar’e Stoudemire
This is by far the toughest call out of all the positions. They both have major pros and cons. Carlos Boozer has never been as good of an athlete or player as STAT during his career. He has been a top 10 power forward for years, and he has a very impressive post game. Defensively he leaves a little to be desired, but so does Stoudemire.
Amar’e is the superior athlete and has a wider range of skills including a superior jumpshot, better ball handling, and he is a better shot blocker. However, STAT has been one of the most injury prone players of the decade. He is coming off a poor season, but has worked hard over the offseason with Hakeem Olajuwon to come back better than ever.
Edge: Knicks. With all of Amar’e's faults he is still the superior player between he and Boozer.
Center: Joakim Noah vs. Tyson Chandler
These are two defensive minded centers, but they have different approaches to how they play. Joakim Noah is a high energy, high toughness player who is going to make it tough for the opponents every chance he gets. Tyson Chandler, on the other hand, is more of a strategic defensive player who is going to effect every shot that is near the basket using purely his defensive awareness and skill level.
They are both excellent rebounders, although Noah is slightly better. Tyson has the advantage in shot blocking and in field goal percentage.
Edge: Tie. Both of these centers serve as the defensive anchors of their teams, and their stats are too similar to choose a front runner.
Bench: Nate Robinson, Marco Bellinelli, Taj Gibson, Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Marquis Teague vs. Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, and Steve Novak.
*I chose to exclude Kirk Hinrich and J.R. Smith because they both will most likely start during some games during the season.
The Bulls bench consists of shooters in Bellinelli, Radmanovic, and Robinson. They have a defensive enforcer in Nazr Mohammed. A sixth man in Taj Gibson, and a decent prospect in Marquis Teague. They are not a particularly strong bench, but they have good depth at each position in case of injury.
The Knicks have better shooters in Novak and Kidd, better enforcers in Camby and Thomas, and a defensive stopper in Brewer. Overall, the Knicks have very few holes on their bench, excluding a back up power forward which they are rumored to be shopping for.
Edge: Knicks. They have far better talent sitting on their bench than the Bulls do.
Summary: The Knicks are poised to have the better season this year, in my opinion. It would be a different story if Rose was healthy going into the season, but The Bulls would be lucky to get the fifth seed this season. The Knicks are being projected by some to be in the top 4 in the conference, and I see that as a realistic possibility. This may be one of few seasons where Derrick Rose is on the Bulls that the Knicks have the chance to be the better team. They better take advantage of the opportunity.