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Chicago Bulls Preview 2011: Chicago Bulls Preview 2011

Jan Levine

Jan Levine

Levine covers baseball, basketball and hockey for RotoWire. In addition to his column writing, he's the master of the MLB and NHL cheatsheets. In his spare time, he roots for the Mets.

CHICAGO BULLS PREVIEW 2011

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Chicago entered 2010-11 as contenders for the Central Division crown and a dark horse to come out of the East. They had to incorporate new coach Tom Thibodeau and power forward Carlos Boozer into the mix. Sitting at just 9-6 after November, the Bulls, carried mainly by MVP Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, went on a tear to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference, never losing more than three games in any of the last five months of the season. Included in that 53-14 stretch were win streaks of seven, eight and nine games. In the playoffs, Chicago defeated Indiana 4-1 in the first round and took out Atlanta 4-2 in the semifinals. The Bulls lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals 4-2, low-lighted by a flat out collapse in Game 6, where they below a 12-point lead with 3:12 to go and a seven-point bulge in the last 1:46 to lose by three.

The Bulls are best known for their defense, which is not surprising as that is Thibodeau’s bread-and-butter. They finished second in points against, third in defensive rebounds, first in opponents’ field goal percentage and three-point percentage, while finishing fourth in blocks. Offensively, despite Rose’s breakthrough year and a solid season by Deng, the team finished just 19th in points. For Chicago to take that next step, they’ll need a rebound year from Boozer and for Richard Hamilton to be the true starting shooting guard they’ve lacked. The team rode out Keith Bogans last season. While Bogans performed well, he remains more of a backup than a starter in the NBA. In addition, the Bulls will also try and get in on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, with only Rose untouchable.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The Bulls have their starting five set with Rose starting at point guard, Deng at the three, Boozer at the four, Noah at center and Hamilton at shooting guard. Hamilton will will be backed up by Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer; Korver for threes and Brewer for all-around play. In addition, Korver may see time at the three as draft pick Jimmy Butler is unlikely to get much action. C.J. Watson will see time at both guard spots but will mainly back up Rose.

Gibson will backup Boozer and could see sizable action, like he did last year, if Boozer suffers his usual myriad of injuries. Omer Asik played well when used last year and should be fully recovered from the fractured left fibula he suffered in Game 4 against Miami. With Kurt Thomas now in Portland, look for Asik to see more time.

Rose should play about 35-40 minutes on a given night with Watson playing about nine minutes as his backup and another four to five minutes backing up the shooting guard spot. Hamilton should play about 30-34 minutes. Deng could get a little rest this season compared to the 39 minutes he averaged last season. Expect him to play about 35-40 minutes. The presence of Hamilton as another consistent presence on the wing should allow Brewer and Korver to spell Deng more this season. Korver and Brewer should get a few less minutes, probably averaging between 15-20 mpg each. Boozer and Noah may play a little more since they’re coming into the season healthy. Look for them to get about 32-34 mpg. Gibson should play about 20-22 mpg, and Asik should get about 10-14 mpg. The rest of the guys will pick up random spot action as the primary rotation players fall into foul trouble or get injured.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS

Center

Joakim Noah: Prior to a thumb injury in mid-December, Noah was on pace for a career season. The 26-year-old center posted averages of 14.0 points, 11.7 rebounds 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks through the first 24 games. After returning from a two-month absence, Noah’s numbers dropped to 9.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.4 blocks. Injuries are a concern with Noah going forward, as he has missed 52 out of 164 games over the past two seasons. None of his previous injuries appear to have potential for a lingering impact, but his propensity to get nicked up needs to be taken into account when targeting the Bulls big man. When healthy, Noah has proven to be a quality double-double option in fantasy that can be selected in the middle rounds of your draft.

Omer Asik: Asik averaged 2.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 12.1 minutes and played well when Chicago was shorthanded. He will backup Joakim Noah this year and could see more time with Thomas no longer in the Windy City.

Forward

Luol Deng: Deng has played under the radar for most of his career, but he started to come out of the shadows under Thibodeau last season. Although the Bulls will continue to run their offense through Rose and Boozer, Deng’s growth from beyond the arc – he averaged 1.4 three-pointers per game last season – provided a new weapon to his arsenal. With another offseason to work on the skill, more growth in that area is likely in store. While it seems like he’s been around forever, Deng is still just 26 years old, and in the midst of his peak seasons. While his rebounds slightly regressed last season, Deng improved his assist numbers slightly. He’s become a more important part of the offense, returning to the cutting/slashing style he used in Chicago’s old offense.

Carlos Boozer: On the surface, Boozer’s first season with the Bulls looked fairly similar to his six-year stint with the Jazz, but there were signs of regression as the year wore on, especially in the playoffs. He finished the season with averages of 17.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 assists and 0.3 blocks while shooting 51.0 percent from the floor and 70.1 percent from the line – all in line with his career numbers. His production took a dip in the postseason, though, as Boozer averaged just 12.6 points per game. The 30-year-old veteran often looked athletically inferior to his competition, as his game is now purely below the rim. And while his move from Utah to Chicago meant Boozer would still be paired with one the league’s best point guards, it became apparent throughout the season his rapport with Rose wasn’t as smooth as the chemistry he shared with Deron Williams. Injuries were also a concern for Boozer again. He missed 22 games with toe and ankle ailments, but neither injury to be a long-term issue. Despite some of the obvious flaws in his game, Boozer remains a solid source of scoring and rebounding when healthy. While we aren’t overly excited about Boozer this season, he’s been dropping in drafts to the point that he’s a great value in the early part of the second half of standard drafts. Boozer didn’t get healthy and dominant with the Jazz until his third season with the club. He’s blamed the bulk of his struggles last season on his injuries. If he’s not just selling a line, we could see the better half of Boozer in his second season with the Bulls.

Taj Gibson: After a promising rookie season, Gibson was pushed to bench duties with the arrival of Boozer. As a result, Gibson’s numbers were down across the board, and he finished with averages of 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 22 minutes per game. Boozer’s injury-prone ways should open up the occasional start for Gibson. Given his role as a bench player, Gibson’s immediate value is somewhat limited, but his value would skyrocket should Boozer go down with an injury.

Jimmy Butler: Butler, selected 30th by the Bulls in this year’s draft, averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals at Marquette last year. He played both forward positions in college, but his slight frame (6-8, 215) means he'll probably spend most of his time at the three in the NBA. He should spend most of this year on the bench, but an injury could clear the way for him to get some playing time.

Guard

Derrick Rose: Rose is the reigning NBA MVP. He carried the Bulls to the NBA’s best overall record and posted stellar averages of 25.0 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.5 percent from the field and making a massive leap in three-pointers made (128 last season, as compared with just 16 made threes in 2009-10). The addition of an outside shot mad Rose a much more valuable commodity than in his first two seasons, when he was really just a points/assists player. It seems fair to expect continued improvement from Rose in all phases of the game. When the 2011-12 season tips off, he’ll be just 23 years old. That said, it’s also worth noting that a large part of his MVP candidacy was based on the fact that he carried the Bulls through extended periods when Boozer and Noah were unavailable. During the playoffs, Miami was able to neutralize Chicago’s attack by putting LeBron James on Rose; none of the other Bulls were able to step up and make key plays. Rose’s assists should go up slightly this season due to improved synchronicity with Boozer and the addition of a real starting shooting guard in Richard Hamilton. Hamilton is known for being a great catch-and-shoot guy coming off screens, and the Bulls have some very capable bigs down low to set great screens for the elusive guard.

Richard Hamilton: Hamilton negotiated a buyout of his contract with the Pistons to earn his freedom and immediately signed with the Bulls. Already a champion with the 2004 Pistons, Hamilton is precisely the kind of steadying veteran shooting guard the Bulls have coveted to play alongside Rose. Though he’s more well known for his mid-range shooting, Hamilton has quietly developed a great three-point shot. With Rose commanding so much attention from opposing teams and Boozer, Noah and Gibson setting devastating screens, Hamilton should find himself open a lot this season. There’s a strong possibility the 33-year-old guard could be the Bulls’ second or this leading scorer this season behind Rose. Don’t let him pass you by in the later rounds of your draft if you’re in need of scoring, modest three-pointers, and solid assists.

Ronnie Brewer: Brewer was projected to open the 2010-11 season as the Bulls’ starter at shooting guard, but Bogans supplanted him before the season. Brewer still played 22 minutes nightly, but could see a decrease in minutes this year with Hamilton joining Chicago. In addition, his expiring contract could be used as trade chip.

Kyle Korver: Korver had a very up-and-down season, his first in Chicago. He’s a good source of three-pointers, but he’s unlikely to get enough minutes to be of use in standard leagues. Target him if you’re playing in deeper leagues and need threes.

C.J. Watson: Watson will once again backup both guard spots but see most of his action at the point. He showed he is a better scorer than passer, so expect to see some big games mixed amongst ones where he provides minimal production.

Keith Bogans: With the signing of Richard Hamilton during training camp, the Bulls decided to release Bogans. He should latch onto another team and serve in a limited bench role.

Sleeper

Richard Hamilton: Hamilton earned a bad rap due to the Pistons’ struggles last season, but he thrives in disciplined, winning environments like the one Thibodeau has built with the Bulls. If he plays over 30 minutes this season, Hamilton should be a great value pick in the later rounds of drafts. He can post quality points and good assists numbers with moderate three-pointers.

Bust

Carlos Boozer: Boozer’s talent for collecting injuries makes him the riskiest pick on the Bulls. Unless he drops significantly in leagues, we’re hesitant to spend too high of a pick on him.