There's something about this Chicago Bulls team that looks eerily similar to the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons championship squad. I'm not saying that the Pistons team weren't capable of winning a championship, but there wasn't anybody that expected them to—and for logical reasons as well.
I'm not saying that this Bulls team could ignite a Cinderella-run to the finals and win the championship, but the roster make-up and playstyle is comparable to that of the 2003-04 Pistons.
In the 2003-04 regular season, the Detroit Pistons were ranked second in the league in defensive efficiency and tied for 19th in offensive efficiency (per Hollinger's Team Stats).
For comparison, the Bulls team this year is fifth in defensive efficiency and 24th in offensive efficiency.
Both teams have coaches that preach defense like it's the only end of the floor. Then-head coach Larry Brown was unquestionably the mastermind behind the competitive Pistons team in the mid-2000s, and he is still considered one of the greatest NBA coaches ever.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau, who doesn't possess the accolades and past accomplishments of Brown, is known today as one of the best defensive coaches in the league. He took this Bulls roster, which included a brand new mix of role players from last season, and molded it into a championship-level defensive team.
Roster Full of Stars, but no Superstar
Bear in mind that although Derrick Rose is on the roster, he will not be considered part of the 2012-13 Bulls team in this article.
From top to bottom, both of the 2012-13 Bulls and the 2003-04 Pistons have similar type of players.
The Pistons' starting lineup featured four All-Star or borderline All-Star caliber players, who all have made at least one All-Star appearance in their respective careers. Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton—who ironically is on both rosters, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince combined to form one of the best starting units in the league, but none of them could be considered better than the other.
On the other hand, the Bulls starting lineup features three players—Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah—who are all current or former All-Stars. Like the Pistons, however, these three players have All-Star quality, but they are not superstars.
Similar Skillsets At Each Position
Joakim Noah is pretty much a modern version of Ben Wallace. They both are great, physical defenders at their position, while being subpar offensive players.
Wallace preferred to roam around the paint and contest every shot near the rim in the Tyson Chandler mold, while Noah represents the new breed of versatile, mobile centers who excel at pick-and-roll defense and could hold their own when switched onto perimeter players.
At power forward, both Rasheed Wallace and Carlos Boozer are at the same stages of their career. They are at their primed ages, but aren't playing like their younger selves. They are no longer the star on their respective teams, and are nothing more than great players that fit into the team's system.
Luol Deng is one of the best overall defenders in the game today, and Jayshaun Prince fit into that mold as well when he was with the Pistons. They are both quick enough to guard the perimeter and long enough to bother bigger post-players. Additionally, both are inconsistent scorers but they are both glue guys who do so much for their team when they're on the floor.
At the guard positions, Kirk Hinrich is basically a poor man's Chauncey Billups. Although it's questionable who the better individual defender is, Billups was the undoubted leader of this team and won the NBA Finals MVP with his performance against the Los Angeles Lakers. I can't see Hinrich doing the same for the Bulls, but he still provides a stable, controlled presence at the point guard position that reflects Billups' playstyle with the Pistons.
Can the Bulls Win It All?
It's unlikely that the Bulls could win a championship with their superstar still on the sidelines, but a magical playoff run is not out of the question. They currently hold a 2-1 series edge over the fourth-seeded Brooklyn Nets strictly by playing defense alone.
Until Derrick Rose steps on the floor to play a game this year, then this Bulls team will remain as is.
The league has changed in the nine years since the Pistons dominated the Eastern Conference through relentless defense and mediocre offense. We haven't seen a team win a championship with a 19th-best offense in the regular season for nearly a decade.
The Eastern Conference was incredibly weak back then. Right now, the influx of hyper offensive teams composed of athletic players like the Miami Heat are unstoppable on offense, while also being a great defensive team.
However, all streaks end and maybe the Bulls have what it takes to defend their way to a championship. They are the biggest sleeper in the playoffs, because everyone has already counted out a Rose-less Bulls team before the season even started.
The Bulls are an elite team, and they are as dangerous as any top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. Nobody wants to face them in the playoffs, and they are proving why.
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