Derrick Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season recovering from an ACL tear suffered in the 2012 playoffs, but that was just the beginning of Chicago's injury woes.
One of the more troubling ones was Joakim Noah's. He missed 16 games, 12 of them due to a recurring plantar fasciitis issue. While he did ultimately return for the postseason, he essentially played on one foot, constantly grimacing and hobbling as he ran down the court.
Luol Deng's absence was also felt.
He only missed seven regular-season games but missed the last seven playoff games due to a complication with a spinal tap procedure.
So, can the Bulls' key players stay healthy for a majority of the season?
Looking at some trends in the team's past and throughout the rest of the league could help figure that matter out.
The following table is comprised of all 30 NBA teams and the total number of missed games over the last three years. I took the top five players with the most minutes per game on each team for the last three seasons and totaled their missed games.
If a player was a regular or projected starter who missed a significant amount of time but fell outside of the top five, he was also included (i.e. Rose for the Bulls or Andrew Bogut for the Golden State Warriors). Those teams will be marked with an asterisk.
|Cleveland Cavaliers||113||106 *||101||106.6|
|Golden State Warriors||42||63||62*||55.6|
|Los Angeles Clippers||80||69||82*||77|
|Los Angeles Lakers||28*||19||82||43|
|New Orleans Pelicans||37||161*||69||89|
|New York Knicks||46||41||143*||76.6|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||11||5||9||8.3|
|Portland Trail Blazers||50*||37||32||39.6|
|San Antonio Spurs||19||70*||56||48.3|
Note: In 2011-12, Memphis had two players with the same minutes per game average, so both were included.
Now, grabbing just the top five or six rotation guys does leave out a couple of other 20-plus minute players from each team.
However, by looking at it this way, we are considering the players who have the biggest impact; typically, the longer a player is on the court, the more they can change the outcome of a game.
What we get from this table is that over the last three years, teams have had their key players miss an average of 60 games per season. The Bulls are atop this list with an average of 122 missed games over those three years.
However, those numbers could be a little bloated. Rip Hamilton—who missed 70 games over a two-year span—is no longer on the team; both he and Rose inflate the Bulls' injury numbers.
Taking them out of the equation decreases the Bulls' three-year average to 71 missed games, only 10 above the league norm.
Seventy-one missed games seem like a lot to spread out between six or seven guys, though, especially when only two or three are injury-prone.
There's no reason to believe they'll be missing too many games. For the sake of this argument, let’s give them a combined five missed games.
Let's give Noah and Hinrich 15 and 11 missed games, respectively. Based on their previous injuries, that’s not very far off from what could happen.
That would leave 45 to be spread out between Deng, Rose and Taj Gibson. They could be spread out evenly at 15 per player, but Gibson's injury last year was his first serious one, and he's expected to be fully recovered.
Deng has had some nagging injuries, but he plays through a lot of them and has missed only 19 regular season games in the last two years. Giving Deng nine missed games (an average of his two previous years) seems like a fair prediction.
That leaves 31 games for Rose, and unless there’s another big injury, that seems unlikely given his past. Even adding an extra player, say, Mike Dunleavy, would still seem like too many.
So, why is it that Chicago has been so hurt the past few years? Can it be sheer bad luck?
It seems to point that way.
Many like to blame the Bulls' injury-plagued teams on the minutes played, but other than Noah—whose best cure for his plantar fasciitis is to rest—there's no real relation between minutes played and injuries.
Rose, Gibson and a few other role players could miss a few games as the 2013-14 season runs its course, but none should be too serious (again, based on their history).
If the league average for missed games over the last three years is 60 games, it’s safe to say the Bulls could be below that line.
Noah and Hinrich could both miss time, but other than that, only the regular bumps and bruises should be expected.
The 2013-14 season is the year for the Bulls to finally make a title run, and it all rests on remaining healthy; the odds seem to be in their favor.
If history—and a little luck—is on their side as well, it could be Chicago’s year.
Note: All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.