By JOSHUA CHAPMAN
Note: Joshua Chapman is a 16-year-old aspiring journalist who loves sports, especially the Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Eagles. He will be a junior at Lindblom Math and Science Academy on Chicago’s South Side. He is also the sports editor of Lindblom’s newspaper, The Talon. He met Indy Sports Legends editor Cliff Brunt at the Diversity Sports Media Institute, a week-long program run by the IU National Sports Journalism Center and the McCormick Foundation designed to expose talented minority high school students to sports journalism. Chapman was one of 19 students from the Chicago and Indianapolis areas who attended.
CHICAGO — The Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls have a longstanding rivalry, from Michael Jordan vs. Reggie Miller to Paul George vs. Derrick Rose. Last year, the Pacers cakewalked to a division title and took the defending (and eventual) champion Miami Heat down to the wire in a Game 7 loss. For that, I and most other Bulls fans commend the Pacers and their fans for a great season. But Pacers fans should be at the very least be concerned about their team’s hope of winning another division title for several reasons.
The Emergence of Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler can really ball, as the rest of the NBA found out last year. He seemingly came out of nowhere and impressed with tough defense as well as continuingly improving offense. He became a better 3-point shooter as the year went on and he used his athleticism to his advantage, collecting easy rebounds and turning them into highlight-reel dunks. His defense is also easily NBA All-Defense worthy already, and he’s only 23.
Here are some highlights, courtesy of YouTube user Black9ne:
This year will be the first year that he’ll be guaranteed a starting spot, as he came off the bench for the most part of last year. Even if he doesn’t improve anymore, he’ll provide an excellent backcourt mate for Derrick Rose, providing a solid three point shooter to kick out to and the fast-break mate Rose has been missing since he came to Chicago. But Jimmy Butler is not one to just sit around and not improve during the offseason. His ceiling hovers around a 20 point, eight rebound and five assists type of player. If the Bulls get that player, they’ll effectively get a second star next to Derrick Rose. Butler and Rose should also make a terrorizing defensive backcourt, combining quick hands with elite side-to-side athleticism. In short, Butler is going to continue to improve and be a shining star for the Chicago Bulls.
The Danny Granger Factor
Like it or not, the Pacers are going to have to learn to play with Danny Granger again. They made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals without him. There’s the question of whether to stick him in the starting lineup or to have him come off the bench as a 6th man. Both are tricky propositions. If he’s immediately put back into the lineup, it could stifle the growth of guard Lance Stephenson. If he comes off the bench, it could be seen as a slap in the face to the player that carried the Pacers into the Paul George/Roy Hibbert era. Obviously, this is a careful situation that Coach Frank Vogel has to deal with. The Pacers will get themselves together, but how long will it take before that happens? Few teams can afford to start slow, and the last time I checked, the Indiana Pacers aren’t named the Miami Heat. But even if the Pacers instantly gel together, there could be one thing standing between them and a division championship.
The Return of Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose is coming back with a vengeance. I honestly feel bad for any team or anybody that stands in his way. If Rose returns to the MVP level he was at in 2011, the rest of the NBA should be on notice. But Rose won’t simply return to MVP level. Rose has added 10-15 pounds of muscle, meaning that he’ll be able to absorb punishment better when he drives to the lane. He’s also been working diligently to improve not only his mid-range jump shot, but his 3-point shot. His jumper was semi-automatic to begin with. If Rose’s release is quicker and/or his shot is automatic, he will undoubtedly become the most unguardable point guard in the game. Rose’s return will make Jimmy Butler better, return point guard Kirk Hinrich to the bench (which is more natural for him at this stage as well as make him a combo guard) and overall give the Bulls the offense and star power that they sorely lacked.
In case you forgot how awesome Rose was, here are some highlights, courtesy of YouTube user BullsMontage:
The Bulls and Pacers are extremely close, being almost even in every category. The two teams play the same style of basketball game: hard-nosed, tough, physical basketball. It should be very fun and intriguing to see them play out the season and whoever comes out on top will have earned it.