Timberwolves Season Series Preview: Chicago Bulls

Nov 7, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) shoots over Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) during the second half at the United Center. Minnesota defeated Chicago 102-93 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) shoots over Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) during the second half at the United Center. Minnesota defeated Chicago 102-93 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

This is Part 20 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.

Tale of the tape: The Timberwolves took both games against the Bulls last year.

The game in Chicago during the early stages of the season  required an overtime and ended in a 102-93 victory by the Wolves. In February, Minnesota repeated their success at Target Center by winning another close game, 112-105.

They will certainly hope for the same outcome in the series this season, especially having in mind that new coach Tom Thibodeau was fired from the Bulls after the 2014-15 season. He certainly won’t lack motivation — and neither will the players. Thibodeau’s return to Chicago should be an entertaining event to watch.

What’s New?

After missing the playoffs for the first time in the last eight years, some changes had to happen. However, it’s still too hard to say whether they will actually improve Chicago’s record moving forward.

Key Losses

Pau Gasol

Gasol is one of the best international players ever to step on the floor in the NBA. Probably the only major accolade he didn’t (and probably won’t) manage to win in his basketball career is an Olympic gold medal.

Gasol caused the most trouble of any Bulls player for the Wolves in each of last season’s encounters with the Bulls, and is without a doubt the biggest loss for Chicago — especially since they didn’t find a decent replacement. The San Antonio Spurs, however, should be over the moon with their new big man; Tim Duncan may have retired, but Gasol in his place is an absolutely perfect fit.

Derrick Rose

The former MVP wasn’t nearly as productive a player as he had been before the injury issues. However, he still was a valuable player for the team.

Will his departure hurt the Bulls? Overall, probably not much and nowhere near as much as Gasol’s. Rose’s scoring ability isn’t exceptional anymore and he has never been the best distributor. With Rajon Rondo taking his place, though, Chicago’s assist numbers should improve.

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Joakim Noah

A rapid decline in Noah’s efficiency, particularly on offense, was one of the reasons why the Bulls finished last season in the bottom-eight in offensive rating.

While still a great defensive center, Noah just failed to deliver on the other end of the floor. And even though Bulls had plenty offensive weapons last season, having a player who’s not a threat on offense gives too many advantages to the opponent. On the other hand, with him gone Bulls will have to figure out how to effectively rearrange their defense.

Key Additions

Dwyane Wade

It will be strange seeing ‘The Flash’ donning a uniform other than that of the Miami Heat. Although one of the league’s biggest superstars would still be a major piece on any NBA team, his hometown Bulls were probably the best option for him.

In terms of Wade’s weaknesses, many fans and analysts like to stress his inconsistent outside shot. But his shooting from beyond the arc in last year’s playoffs should be enough to show that he’s more than capable of making three-pointers at a high percentage.

As for Wade’s role on the team, I still see him as one of the leaders on and off the court by bringing a winner’s mentality to the team. His experience and work ethic will be a perfect example for all the young players on the team, and particularly for rookie Denzel Valentine, who seems to be one of the most promising prospects on the 2016 Draft.

Rajon Rondo

One of the NBA’s best passers has struggled with his shooting for the major part of his career. However, Rondo’s court vision and ability to find open teammates will be a crucial weapon for the Bulls’ offense this year.

If Rajon can make even below-average players appear great, imagine what can he do playing with guys like Wade and Butler. Well, you don’t even have to imagine – just remember his days with the Celtics. If only the Bulls had a reliable sniper off the bench and a more balanced front court, they would be considered among the front-runners in the Eastern Conference.

Robin Lopez

The former Knick will be a yet another valuable player on Chicago’s offense. With Butler, Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Rondo’s vision, the Bulls are destined to become a much better offensive team.

Denzel Valentine

One of the stars of the summer league certainly appears to have the clutch gene. And that’s an extremely important quality on its own. He also seems to be one of the few rookies from the 2016 Draft who is ready to make a significant impact on his first year. If he really plays well and remains consistent, the Bulls’ back court will be truly scary this year.

Related Story: Timberwolves Season Series: Raptors

What’s The Same?

Jimmy Butler 

The one-time Most Improved Player has become the new face of Bulls. His effort on both ends of the floor is almost unmatched, and if there’s one person on the team that head coach Fred Hoiberg can trust, it’s Butler. And even with the likes of Wade and Rondo coming to the team, Jimmy will remain their number-one option on offense. And on defense, well, Butler’s abilities have remained unquestioned since his rookie season.

Keys To Victory

Big men. Lopez and Mirotic may not seem like a weak front court, and it probably isn’t if you only look at their offensive skills. Mirotic is great at the power forward spot because of his ability to efficiently spread the floor with his three-point shooting skills. Last season, he made nearly 40 percent of his shots from distance.

However, neither he, nor Lopez can be described as decent defensive players. Mirotic sometimes gives an impression as if it was his choice, he would only want to play on offense, and that’s the weakness that Wolves have to exploit.

Karl-Anthony Towns. Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins will probably have a hard time attacking against Butler, so the team will need to look to it’s other offensive leaders, namely Karl-Anthony Towns.

He has already showed that he likes playing against Lopez, going 6.2 points over his season average against Lopez’s Knicks a year ago. On the other hand, Towns will also have to do a significantly better job on defense, as with this Bulls team Timberwolves can’t afford Lopez going for 26 points and 16 rebounds, as he did last year when he was still playing for the Knicks.

The coach. Tom Thibodeau coached Bulls for multiple seasons, so it would be logical to think he knows a lot about the team and its players. However, with the exception of Butler, the Chicago’s team has changed so much over the last year-plus that Thibodeau’s knowledge won’t be a major advantage. That said, his coaching may just be the difference.

Fred Hoiberg seemed to be struggling last year with a team that just had to make the playoffs with all those resources. He was selected to become the new head coach with hopes that he’d improve the team’s offense. However, Bulls were well below the league average in that department.

Thibodeau now has lots of offensive talent on his Timberwolves and is an expert on defense. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of Butler better than anyone else. He will most certainly have a great plan for the two games, and I’m pretty sure he will win the coaching battle.


Unless one of the Bulls’ stars has a great individual game and they somehow manage to lock-down all the major Wolves’ weapons, realistically, Minnesota should be the favorite in this match-up. And if a team is to win this series by a 2-0 margin, it will most likely be the Timberwolves, and for the second consecutive season, no less.

Next: Timberwolves Season Series: Pistons

The first of the two games will take place on December 13th at the United Centre in Chicago.