The Bulls' "Gestalt" Vibe
Early in this strike-shortened NBA season, the Chicago Bulls currently own the league's best record at 12-2. That's an 86% winning percentage which is really kinda crazy...the best regular season record of all time is owned by the 1995-96 Bulls who went 72-10 (87.8%). They've outscored opponents by 10.3 points per game...3 points more than when they posted the best regular season record last season at 62-10.
How are the Bulls doing it? The "usual suspects" of reasons for an extraordinarily quick start to a season just don't fly.
The home court advantage is huge in the NBA. Lots of home games? Well no, in fact the Bulls have played 9 of their 14 games on the road...no team has had to play more games away from home.
Easy schedule? Not hardly. The Bulls spoiled the home openers for the LA Lakers and the LA Clippers who are a combined 15-8 and have beaten the Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics...all projected playoff teams.
An absence of injuries to key players? Nope. The team's key offseason acquisition, shooting guard Richard "Rip" Hamilton and backup point guard C.J. Watson have each missed 9 games and counting. The team's lone superstar Derrick Rose also missed a game due to a toe injury.
So it must be that most of their players are having fast starts. Sorry, but statistically that doesn't work at all. When measured by Player Efficiency Rating (PER), the best available statistic to measure individual performance, this Bulls team is having a decidedly off season. Point Guard Derrick Rose is putting up similar numbers that helped win him the league MVP award last season, but all of the other starters are down:
Rip Hamilton is down from 15.8 PER last season to 13.1 this season.
Luol Deng is down from 15.5 PER to last season to 14.0 this season.
Carlos Boozer is down from 18.8 PER last season to 17.9 this season.
Joakim Noah is down from 18.8 PER last season to 13.9 this season.
The Gestalt (and Defense) Factor
Even if you didn't study psychology, you probably remember this much about gestalt...sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This is truly the only reasonable way to explain the Bulls' early season success. Despite a greatly-compressed training camp and preseason, the Bulls have meshed quickly and hit the ground running...as a team.
A lot of credit should go to last season's Coach-of-the-Year, Tom Thibodeau. "Thibs" installed his defensive system last season and with a season under their belts, the team is executing it to near perfection. The Bulls have given up only 83.8 points per game this season...the best in the league by more than 3 1/2 points. Bulls' opponents have a shooting percentage of 41.3% versus a league average of 44.2%.
Rebounding is another reason for the Bulls early season dominance. Their 46.6 rebounds per game is far and away the league's best.
To this point in the season, the Bulls are clearly the best team in the NBA. As many expected, the second best team is the Oklahoma City Thunder at 11-2 (7 home games). The next best are both "surprise teams"...the Philadelphia 76ers and the Indiana Pacers, both 9-3, both thought by the experts to be "bubble teams" come playoff time.The "superteam" Miami Heat is 8-4. The defending champion Dallas Mavericks, after a slow start, are 8-5.
Despite the fact that the Bulls had the league's best regular season record last season, only Derrick Rose was selected for the All Star Game. This figures to be the case again this season. Other than Rose, no one on the Bulls has put up any "All Star worthy" (read: scoring) numbers. In fact, it's not even close. This is because defense doesn't matter much when it comes to All Star selection. I mean, the Bulls second leading scorer (behind Rose) is Deng at a completely pedestrian 14.9 points per game. Who cares that Deng is possibly the best small forward defender in the league?
Other than Rose, the Bulls completely lack "star power." I guess they'll just have to settle for being the best damn team in the NBA.