- Bradford Doolittle
Let's consider Team A. It's 17-8 on the season, a winning percentage that translates to about 56 wins over the course of a full season. That's a good team, one well within the range of a championship contender, at least insofar as regular-season win-loss record carries over to the postseason.
Team A is solid on offense, with an efficiency of 108.8 which would rank seventh in the league. It plays at a slow pace and isn't a great shooting unit, but it takes excellent care of the ball and pounds the offensive glass. It's not quite the prototypical offense for a title contender, but it's close.
Team A is definitely a championship-level unit on the defensive end. Its 100.5 defensive efficiency is just a hair behind the Philadelphia 76ers atop the rankings. It plays smothering perimeter defense without fouling, seals the defensive glass and disrupts passing lanes. Team A's defense would be quite an obstacle for any team that faces it in the playoffs. It has beaten some good teams lately too, like the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics.
Team B is even better. It's 30-7, which is a 66-win squad in a typical NBA regular season. It's not quite as good as Team A on the defensive end, with an efficiency of 101.5, but it's still plenty good -- third in the league, in fact. On offense, it's a juggernaut, averaging 111.4 points per 100 possessions, a mark that only Oklahoma City and San Antonio have surpassed. Overall, Team B has outscored opponents by 10 points per 100 possessions; Team A is at 8.3.
These are two awfully good teams, but whereas Team A might be a borderline title contender, Team B is a title contender. Time to lift our painfully extended attempt at clever subterfuge: Team A is the Chicago Bulls sans Derrick Rose; Team B is the Bulls with the reigning MVP, if not quite at full strength.
Bradford Doolittle writes that the Bulls are close to a title-caliber team even without Derrick Rose, and they're truly elite with him in the lineup. The challenge for Tom Thibodeau is now to be able to blend those two teams together in the playoffs.