STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Chicago had another solid season in 2011-12, going 50-16 in the lockout shortened campaign, and entered the playoffs as a strong candidate to meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. All those hopes came to a crashing and abrupt end, when, with a bit over a minute left in a Game 1 win over Philadelphia, Derrick Rose tore his left ACL on what looked to be a routine jump-stop. The Bulls' season and playoff hopes were over as Chicago bowed out in the opening round in six games to the 76ers.
Chicago blazed through the season, opening the year 7-1 and did not lose four games in any month until April, when they went 8-5. The team was mainly carried by Rose, when he was healthy, as only two other players averaged 15 points, but Chicago won games by grinding teams down defensively and then capitalizing on chances created by their defense. In addition, the "Bench Mob," which has been completely revamped, with Korver, Brewer, Asik, and Watson all gone, outplayed their opponents on most nights, giving the Bulls a drastic advantage. The combination of a solid defense, phenomenal bench, MVP-candidate and coach Tom Thibodeau was enough for Chicago to win the Central Division and be a possible Eastern Conference champion. However, as mentioned above, all that went out the window when Rose was injured.
The Bulls are best known for their defense, which is not surprising as that is Thibodeau's bread-and-butter. Chicago finished first in points against and OPP 3PFG%, second in OPP FG % and defensive rebounds, while finishing third in blocks. Offensively, despite Rose's big year and 15-plus points by Deng and Boozer, the team finished just 19th in points and in the middle of the pack in FG% and threes made. With Rose out possibly to February, Chicago will need Boozer to be dominant offensively, Deng not have a setback with his wrist, and a bounce-back campaign by Richard Hamilton. Kirk Hinrich and Marco Belinelli should help, and look for Taj Gibson to take another step forward. As of now, Chicago looks to be a 45-win team, dependent on when Rose returns to action.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The Bulls are seemingly set at three positions, with Deng at the three, Boozer at the four and Noah at center. Hinrich should start at point while Rose is out, and Hamilton will get another chance at the two. Look for Nate Robinson to see lots of time at both guard spots and Hinrich to also play the two when Rose returns. Marco Belinelli should provide long-range shooting off the bench at guard.
Gibson, who has been invaluable since he was selected at 26 in the 2010 draft, backs up Boozer and could see sizable action, like he did the past two years, if Boozer suffers his usual myriad of injuries. Nazr Mohammed is a major step down from Omir Asik, so Gibson could also see time at center along with Kyrylo Fesenko. If Deng's wrist sidelines him, look for Jimmy Butler, who will get more time this year, to play the three.
Joakim Noah: For the third consecutive season, Noah put together steady double-double production for the Bulls. The 27-year-old center finished the 2011-12 campaign with averages of 10.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks while playing 30 minutes per game. He was healthy for the regular season - appearing in 64 of 66 games - but suffered an ankle injury during the Bulls' first-round loss to the Sixers in the playoffs. The injury forced Noah to miss the final three games of the series and also put him on the shelf for the Summer Olympics, where he was supposed to play for France. The extra time off this summer is expected to allow Noah to make a full recovery before the start of the 2012-13 season. Once the season gets underway, Noah is expected to play the same energy role that we've seen from him in years past, but he may be asked to assume a slightly bigger offensive load, as Rose (knee) is hurt and Boozer is on the decline.
Nazr Mohammed: Signed to replace Omar Asik, he'll be a decent backup to Joakim Noah in the Windy City but has limited upside.
Luol Deng: Deng once again showed in 2011-12 why he is one of the best fantasy bargains at the small forward position. He averaged 15-plus points per game for the fifth time in the past six years, and his 6.5 rebounds per game placed once again in the top-10 at the position. Deng averaged 16.7 points per game in the 24 regular season games that Rose missed last season, which was actually slightly less than the 17.4 points he averaged with Rose in 2010-11. With Rose expected to miss a good chunk of the 2012-13 season, the numbers don't suggest that Deng's numbers will be heavily impacted. In the past two seasons Deng has started to utilize the three-point shot more, and last season he averaged a career-high 1.5 threes per game on 36.7 percent shooting from deep.
Carlos Boozer: The Bulls bought into Boozer on the wrong side of his career arc. Once a double-double machine in Utah, and thought to be part of Chicago's "big three," Boozer has experienced drop offs in each of his first two seasons with the Bulls. He averaged 15 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, which aren't bad numbers, but not worth an average annual salary of $15 million. On the bright side, Boozer played and started all 66 games in the lockout-shortened season. Not many players can make that claim in a season when a day-to-day injury meant missing four games. While the trend on Boozer is heading downward, circumstances point to a bigger scoring role in 2012-13. Rose will miss approximately half the season and without him, we expect more offense to run through Boozer in the low post, where he still maintains an arsenal of moves. And he can be effective out to mid range. Deng is electing to not have surgery on the torn ligament in his wrist, but that doesn't mean the wrist won't become an issue at some point. If another core piece of the Bulls' offense is forced to miss time, Boozer could have strong stretches where the Bulls are forced to put a lot of the offensive load on his shoulders this season.
Taj Gibson: For the first time in his three-year career, Gibson didn't start a game, getting into 63 of the Bulls' 66 games in 2011-12. He averaged 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in a career-low 20.4 minutes per game, but that lack of playing time was more circumstantial than performance-based. In fact, Gibson was a candidate for sixth man of the year throughout the season, averaging 13.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. On top of that, his elite perimeter defense - especially when defending against the pick-and-roll - is one of the Bulls' most valuable assets With Boozer locked into a lucrative long-term deal, he won't be going anywhere, but his injury-prone ways should open up the occasional start for Gibson.
Jimmy Butler: Butler, selected 30th by the Bulls in last year's draft, saw minimal action as a rookie. He had a big Summer League campaign and is projected to take the departed Ronnie Brewer's defensive spark plug role off the bench this season. Look for him to see a major spike in playing time this year.
Vladimir Radmanovic: Could give the Bulls some three-point shooting off the bench,
Derrick Rose: Rose finished up an injury-plagued 2011-12 season, during which he missed 27 games with a variety of ailments, the worst way possible--being carried off the court with a torn ACL. The injury--suffered in the closing seconds of the Bulls' playoff opener--is expected to take 10-12 months to fully heal. As such, the 2011 NBA MVP probably isn't worth a roster spot in most single-season fantasy NBA formats coming out of the draft. If your league host allows for a injury spot on the roster, it could be worth stashing him, but for any sites that do not allow you to place a player in an injury slot and pick up a replacement, the lack of production from a roster spot for the first two-to-five months of the season would be too much of a risk to take at draft time in most formats.
Kirk Hinrich: Hinrich, who signed a two-year, $6 million deal with Chicago this offseason, should fill in as the Bulls' starting point guard as long as Rose (knee) is out, and once Rose returns, he should navigate between backing up both guard positions. He spent his first seven years with the Bulls, averaging 10.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 three-pointers, and 1.1 assists in 34 minutes during his last season with the club in 2009-10. Hinrich could have decent value as a late round flier for the first few months of the season, but if Rose is able to come back at some point next season, Hinrich will have his role reduced significantly
Richard Hamilton: Hamilton's 2011-12 season was plagued by injuries, as he only played in 28 games all season. He posted his lowest points per game, averaging just 11.6 ppg, total since his rookie season when he averaged 9.0 points per game in Washington. His minutes per game total (24.9) were also the lowest total since his rookie season. His overall percentages were actually pretty good, shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 37 percent from three. Hamilton still has one more year left on his deal and after that a $5 million team option for the 2013-14 season, which likely will be declined.
Nate Robinson: Robinson provides Chicago scoring off the bench, albeit with out-of-control play at time. Robinson should back up Kirk Hinrich at point guard to begin the season while Derrick Rose recovers from ACL surgery while also seeing some time at the two-spot.
Marco Belinelli: Belinelli, who played with New Orleans last year and averaged 11.8 ppg, gives the Bulls a decent shooter off the bench, replacing Kyle Korver in the role. He could become a relevant fantasy option for three-pointers and more playing time if Richard Hamilton gets hurt - something that has happened regularly in recent years.
Marquis Teague: Teague, drafted 29th overall by the Bulls this year, was the starting point guard for Kentucky's national championship team this past season. He struggled shooting from the perimeter and probably took a few too many shots, but has quick feet and could turn into a quality energy guy.
Marco Belinelli: His ability to shoot from the outside could allow him to take over from Hamilton if he struggles again.
Richard Hamilton: Has missed 101 games the past three seasons and could be on the pine even more despite the absence of Derrick Rose.