By Kenn Ruby
RotoWire Staff Writer
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Bulls were a popular pick to go far in the postseason last year, but things didn't go according to plan. Not only did the Bulls go through two coaches (Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan), but they also dropped from 49 wins in 2006-2007 to just 33 in the last campaign. A midseason trade of Ben Wallace
and Joe Smith
for a few solid pieces from Cleveland helped a little, but overall, it was a season to forget. There was a silver lining in their failed efforts, however: they lucked into the top pick in the draft.
It was only natural that the Bulls used that pick on a point guard. After all, former point guards are running the team now. Both Vice President John Paxson and new head coach Vinny Del Negro are raving about their lottery pick, Derrick Rose
, who could be the player to lead the Bulls back to their glory days.
Rose will lead one of the younger teams in the league. A potential starting lineup of Rose, Kirk Hinrich
, Luol Deng
, Tyrus Thomas
, and Joakim Noah
has an average age of 23, and could be together for a long time.
Of course, their ongoing problem with Ben Gordon
could cast a cloud over this group. Gordon once again led the Bulls in scoring last year, but wants more money than the team is willing to offer, and threatening to bolt to Europe. If Gordon takes the qualifying offer and stays with the Bulls for one last season, we can't imagine he'd do so happily, making for a potentially volatile situation for his rookie coach.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
It's nice to have young talent, but the starting lineup – regardless of Gordon's status – is still unsettled heading into training camp. While it looks like Rose and Hinrich will start in the backcourt, rookie starting point guards are rare. The Bulls could decide that Rose is not ready for the rigors of starting in the NBA right away, opting to move Hinrich to the point and give the two to the veteran Larry Hughes
. There are only so many guard minutes to go around, however, so if Gordon sticks around, someone is going to feel the squeeze.
The frontcourt is similarly crowded. While Noah will start in the middle, and the small forward position is clearly Deng's, there are three strong contenders for the starting power forward job: Thomas, Drew Gooden
, and Andres Nocioni
ooden performed admirably last season, and may have the edge early on, but Thomas is the future at the four. If Thomas comes into training camp committed, he could steal the job from Gooden. Nocioni should receive steady minutes, and could step in at either forward position if necessary.
With the nine-man rotation above, along with backup center Aaron Gray
and shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha
, the Bulls have some nice depth, but they appear to have at least one guard too many, so a training camp move could be in the works.
No, he's not Dennis Rodman
, but Noah is a good rebounder, good defender, poor shooter, and a little odd. While he's not as extreme in any of those categories as the former Bulls star, Noah is still just 23 and developing his offensive game. After Ben Wallace
was traded last season, Noah took over as the starting center. The Bulls love his energy and defense, and he already seems to be better than Wallace offensively. If he continues to grow this year, he could get a lot of double-doubles and second-chance points.
Gray, a 2007 second-round draft pick by Chicago, also moved up the depth chart when Wallace was dealt. While his offensive skills are behind Noah's, he did show what he was capable of in the regular-season finale: 19 points and 22 rebounds in 35 minutes. He'll possibly be a regular part of the rotation this year as the backup center, but the Bulls will frequently employ a small lineup, so his minutes won't be plentiful.
Thanks in no small part to an Achilles injury, Deng's numbers were down across the board last season. Although 17.0 ppg and 6.2 rpg were nothing to sneeze at, most prognosticators were expecting a big breakout from him in his fourth season. Deng signed a big contract in the offseason, and at 23, the breakout could still be coming. It certainly helps that he has a new and exciting point guard running the team – Deng should be able to fly a bit more under the radar with the addition of Rose.
When Gooden was reunited with his ex-Jayhawk teammate Hinrich last February, he was seen as almost an afterthought. True, Gooden has carved out a nice career as a third-tier big man, but power forwards who have never averaged 15 ppg or 10 rpg in a season and can't block shots aren't exactly in high demand. In 18 games as a Bull, however, Gooden posted some of the best numbers of his career, shooting to the top of the depth chart. With everyone healthy in Chicago this season, he might have a harder time getting minutes this time around. However, until anyone says otherwise, he'll start at the four.
Thomas has the talent to be an elite player, but he is notoriously difficult to deal with and doesn't always play his hardest. Consequently, he was benched at times last year. Thomas is still just 22, so there is reason to be optimistic that an attitude adjustment could still be coming. Unfortunately his bigger problem is that he'll have to fit into a crowded and talented frontcourt in Chicago this season. His ability to play both forward positions will help him find minutes.
After an injury-plagued 2006-07, Nocioni played all 82 games last season. His fantasy owners were happy with his career-high 126 three pointers, but had to be mystified by his sudden drop in rebounds to a career-low 4.2 per game. Nocioni didn't appear to get along with departed coach Jim Boylan, even once yelling at him during a game, and grew very frustrated that his minutes were dwindling as the season wore on. Nocioni will have a harder time finding minutes with Gooden on board for a full season and Noah and Thomas continuing to grow. He's a strong candidate to be traded eventually.
Rose is eager to start his Chicago Bulls career. While he wanted to be the No. 1 overall pick, what he wanted even more was to head back to his hometown, and the Bulls were happy to comply with both requests. Rose will struggle some this year, as rookie point guards are wont to do, but he'll fortunately have a good mentor in Kirk Hinrich
, who will no doubt give Rose a good ribbing for losing the NCAA championship to his alma mater. Rose is capable of helping in a lot of categories this season, and is a good rebounder for his size.
The drafting of Rose probably signaled the death knell for Gordon, who at press time doesn't look like he wants to sign with the Bulls. G
ordon, a restricted free agent, has led Chicago in scoring in each of the last three seasons, but doesn't do appear to like coming off the bench. There have been rumblings that he'll play overseas this season, but expect the disgruntled guard to eventually stay in Chicago and look to play elsewhere next offseason. G
ordon's a nice scorer and could be playing for a contract this year, but he's only going to help in a few fantasy categories – particularly points, 3-pointers and free-throw percentage.
Like many of the Bulls, Hinrich was a disappointment last season. He averaged career lows in nearly every category, and with Rose now on board, he may have lost his starting job as well. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as Hinrich may get more minutes at the two this year if Gordon leaves the team. Hinrich is a strong defender, and shooting guard is his natural position, so time spent playing the two should only help his production.
Hughes has been one of the more frustrating fantasy players for years. After years of good-but-not-spectacular play, he put it all together in 2004-2005, averaging 22.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.7 apg, and nearly three steals a night. Unfortunately, he's been declining ever since, and it looks like his future is as a role player. He'll back up the talented troika of guards, but if Gordon sticks around, Hughes will have a hard time getting minutes.
Sefolosha has been a nice addition to the Bulls the last two seasons, but he was severely limited by a sore groin and the mid-season acquisition of Hughes last year. Sefolosha can play the two or the three, and fill up the box score on occasion, but minutes will be tough to come by when the Bulls are at full strength.
Noah got off on the wrong foot last season. First he missed the summer with a shoulder injury. Then an ankle injury kept him out for part of training camp and the first weeks of the season. Finally, Noah's outspokenness rubbed some Bulls the wrong way, so he wasn't making too many friends. All along though, Noah kept improving, and by the end of the season he was starting, putting up a few double-doubles, and blocking shots. After the All-Star break he averaged 8.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.4 bpg, and 1.3 spg. He also showed considerable improvement in his shooting, which, to be kind, was not pretty to watch. Now that he'll be starting all season, his minutes will increase, so expect an increase in production as well.
We all know Gordon can put the ball in the hoop, but he's clearly unhappy to be coming off the bench in Chicago and may be headed elsewhere. The thing is, his role in Chicago is probably ideal for a player with his skill set. He's not really a point guard, but he's too small to play the two with any regularity. He's perfect as a sixth man when he can exploit the second units of his opponents. If he's not with the Bulls in 2008-09, he may catch on as a starter somewhere where he will be the one getting exploited. Even worse, he could opt to play overseas, so fantasy owners with early drafts might get a big fat zero out of him. There's always the possibility that he will stay in Chicago and have a big year playing for a contract, but disgruntled players generally don't have the big years they hope for.
Article first appeared on 9/28/08