Originally posted on KC Sports Ninja  |  Last updated 8/10/14
The NBA’s Eastern Conference has gone through some dramatic changes in the 2014 offseason. For the past four years, the Miami Heat have flat out dominated the East. Although they only captured 2 titles in the ‘LeBron era’, The Heat won the East all four years. The East is now wide open with LeBron’s return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In my opinion, there is only two true contenders in the East: The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls. The Wizards, Hornets and Raptors all have outside shots at winning the East. With or without the Kevin Love trade going through, I still believe the Bulls are the favorite to win the East. Here’s why: The Bulls have a better coach. Tom Thibodeau has a 205-107 coaching record in the NBA. Thibodeau has been an assistant coach in the NBA since 1989 and a head coach since 2010. Thibodeau was the Coach of the Year in 2011 and is portrayed by most as the 2nd best coach in the league behind Gregg Popovich (Spurs). In the past two seasons, the Bulls are a combined 93-71. Derrick Rose played in just 10 of those games. How many coaches could maintain that success without their star player? Not very many. Assuming Derrick Rose is healthy, the Bulls will be tough to beat. They also added Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. As for David Blatt (Cavaliers new coach), nobody really knows. Blatt has 0-0 coaching record in the NBA. Blatt has received many accolades in the Israeli League, including winning the Israeli League Coach of the Year award 4 times. However, will that success transfer to the NBA? Only time will tell. Any team that LeBron James plays on will always be competitive, but when they face off against great teams in the playoffs, coaching will be important. Clearly Thibodeau has the edge so far in the coaching battle, but there are more reasons than just that. The Bulls are better defensively.  The Bulls had the best defense in the league last season, led by defensive anchor Joakim Noah. The Bulls were 1st in opponent points per game (OPPG) with 91.8 PPG and 2nd in opponent field goal percentage with 43%. That will be crucial in stopping the Cavaliers Big 3 (K.Irving, L. James & K. Love [probably]). The Cavaliers were just 16th in OPPG with 101.5 PPG and 12th in opponent field goal percentage with 45.2%. Adding LeBron to the Cavs will help them on the defensive end, but Kevin Love is statistically a below average defender. Kyrie Irving’s defense has been a major question mark and same with Dion Waiters to a certain extent. New SportVU player-tracking data on NBA.com showed that last season opponents shot 57.4 percent when Love was within five feet of attempts near the rim, the league’s 4th-worst rate among players who defended at least five rim attempts per game. Another Cavs player was at the top of this list. Tristan Thompson had the 2nd-worst rate among those players where opponents shot 59.1% against him. Cavs center Anderson Varejao had the 14th-worst rate among those players where opponents shot 54.2% against him. The Cavs will be a pretty good team as far as rebounding is concerned, but their interior defense will be a major problem. The Bulls interior defense proved to be very good according to the SportVU player-tracking data on NBA.com. Taj Gibson finished 10th best in this statistical category with 45.7%. Joakim Noah finished 13th-best with 46.8%. Granted, new Bulls signee Pau Gasol finished 11th-worst with 54.6%. However, Gasol was signed to help improve the Bulls offense plus he will almost always be playing alongside either Gibson or Noah. The Bulls are more experienced.  When I say experienced, I mean playoff experience. Let’s take a look at the total playoff games played by each projected starter for each team. Bulls: Derrick Rose (29), Jimmy Butler (20), Mike Dunleavy (14), Pau Gasol (105), Joakim Noah (48). Cavs: Kyrie Irving (0), Dion Waiters (0), LeBron James (158), Kevin Love (0), Anderson Varejao (71) or Tristan Thompson (0). Clearly, LeBron James has plenty of experience. Outside of himself, nobody else really does. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are going to be the #2 and #3 options for the Cavs, and they haven’t played in many big games and 0 playoff games. The Cavs look great on paper, and I like the Cavs. In a few years, they are going to be dominant. However, I think they need some more playoff experience in order to be favorites. The Miami Heat’s Big 3 won the East in their first year in 2011. The difference was Wade was already a champion and had plenty postseason experience, plus Bosh had made the postseason a few times in Toronto. The Bulls added some very good offensive weapons. I have to use some statistics against the Bulls as well in this article so it is more credible. The Bulls were atrocious on the offensive end last season, finishing last in team PPG with just 93.7 PPG. They also finished last in team FG%, shooting 43% as a team. Yes, these stats are ugly, but things are going to look much different on offense next season. Derrick Rose coming back will already significantly improve the offense. He’s looked very healthy and still quick in the offseason so far. He may not be MVP caliber again, but he doesn’t have to be. The Bulls made other big signings. The Bulls signed point guard Aaron Brooks (11.1 career PPG) and Pau Gasol, a terrific offensive power forward who averaged 17.4 PPG last season and 18.3 PPG over his career. The Bulls also drafted the NCAA’s leading scorer Doug McDermott. McDermott averaged 26.7 PPG on 52.6% shooting last season at Creighton. Obviously, McDermott won’t put up those numbers in the pros, but he is still a terrific shooter and scorer that the Bulls need. A name you might want to get to know is Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic (6-10, 225), was acquired by Chicago on June 24, 2011, as part of a draft-night trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Mirotic was the Spanish League MVP in 2013 and averaged 15.9 PPG last season in just 24.0 minutes per game. Mirotic will be another offensive weapon for the Bulls. The Bulls have made plenty of moves to revamp their poor offense. Having Derrick Rose back and adding Brooks, Gasol, McDermott and Mirotic will be much more dangerous than last year’s main threats of D.J. Augustin, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. Of those three, the Bulls only lost Augustin. The Bulls offense will be much improved. Prediction I think the Bulls will meet the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s hard to tell right now because we don’t know the seeds, but I would predict the Bulls as the #1 seed and the Cavs as #2. I think the Bulls will beat the Cavs in 7 games and advance to the NBA Finals.   Follow me on Twitter @RayFreemanNBA   Filed under: Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, News, Uncategorized Tagged: Bulls, Cavs, Derrick Rose, Doug McDermott, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, NBA, Pau Gasol For More Basketball Visit HoopsHeads
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