Chicago Bulls Season Preview: Derrick Rose and Vinny Del Negro about to get a baptism by fire; .500 season within reason
Today’s Bulls preview comes to us courtesy of Mike Lansu, who was glad to take a break from writing about autopsy reports and four-alarm fires. When not breaking cops and court news, you can find him using his lanky frame on the low box at any number of West Side gyms.
The Bulls are the most difficult team in the NBA to project.
They don’t have anybody who can consistently score and the
other team always has the best player on the floor (Seriously. If you don’t
believe me, pick a team – any team. They have somebody on the team better than
everybody on the Bulls.) The Bulls have a lot of guys who don’t play defense
and have too many guards and not enough big men.
Can a team with a rookie point guard and head coach live up
to last season’s preseason expectations of Eastern Conference contenders? Could
they actually be worse than last year with Rose and Del Negro? Is sneaking into
the playoffs with a record around .500 a good thing for the long-term success
of the franchise?
For the Bulls to return to Eastern Conference contenders
they will need more than Rose and Del Negro to outperform expectations. The Bulls
teams of the mid-2000s that made strides from NBA laughing stocks to contenders
had one thing the 2008-09 squad does not: interior presence.
At center, Ben Wallace and Tyson Chandler played like the
biggest players in The Association. Offensively, the only thing they provided
was a rebounding presence that forced opponents to put an extra body on them,
leading to increased rebounding production from the teams’ forwards. But
defensively, Wallace and Chandler
were feared. Opponents were scared to drive, allowing the Bulls’ other guards to
take chances on the perimeter that led to easy points in transition.
If Del Negro’s preseason rotation is any indication, Drew
15-foot jumpers in the half-court game. Having a big body on the perimeter puts
a lot of pressure on the forwards and guards to get in the paint and rebound.
Joakim Noah and Aaron Gray are better suited to play center.
However, Noah often plays out-of-control and picks up too many fouls to see
major minutes. Gray is one of the slowest players in the league. He makes Will
Perdue look fast.
The Bulls will need production out of the forwards if they
aren’t going to get it at center. Loul Deng is one of the best complementary
players in the league, but doesn’t have a scorer to create shots for him. For
the Bulls to succeed, he will need to create and become that prolific scorer.
He is the best player on the team and needs to step up on the offensive end.
starts at center, Tyrus Thomas must play power forward. The often-erratic
Thomas looked more mature in the preseason, but is still young and probably a
year or two away from being a consistently dominant player. He should put up
monster numbers in some games, but will be a non-factor in others.
Off the bench, Andres Nocioni is the only established
forward coming off the bench. He can play both forward positions, likes to bang
in the paint and has a jumper good all the way out to three-point range. He has
lost a step and his tendency to get into early foul trouble limits his minutes.
SLEEPER: Cedric Simmons could get playing time if Gooden makes a permanent move
to center. The athletic N.C.
State alum is a
more polished but less talented version of Thomas.
When healthy, the Bulls have a bevy of guards that can
score and create. Rose will see significant minutes at the point. Hinrich will
start at the shooting guard and move to point guard when Rose comes out of the
Rose should create for teammates – especially the athletic
Thomas – but a poor jumper will make for inconsistent scoring nights. He also
needs to work on his defense. Hinrich is the safe choice at shooting guard. He
is too small and too slow to dominate offensively, but he won’t turn the ball
over much and will consistently make open jumpers. He is a tough defender who
can guard bigger guards despite giving up a couple inches.
Backup Thabo Sefalosha has looked good in the preseason and
should work his way into Del Negro’s rotation. He is a lockdown defender with a
developing offensive game. He was drafted as a point guard, but that clearly
isn’t going to work in the NBA and coaches need to move him to shooting guard
full time. Gordon will come off the bench, shoot a lot, not play any defense
and complain that he is under paid. Larry Hughes is hurt – but it doesn’t
matter because he won’t play much because he is neither talented nor young.
So how many wins can a team with no center and no consistent
scorer win? More than you think. While they don’t have a consistent 20-plus
point-per-game player, they have lots of guys who could go for 30 any night. As
long as one player has a great game every night they should contend on the
offensive end. And Rose is a smart enough point guard to find the teams go-to
guy early in the game and find ways to get him the ball.
When nobody can score they have virtually no chance because
they are that bad defensively. Hinrich and Deng are the only starters who play
above-average defensive. The bench players just foul – except for Hughes and
Gordon who don’t even bother to do that.
The Bulls should finish around .500 and sneak into the
playoffs, which isn’t necessarily a good thing for the long-term development of
the franchise. Until the Bulls find a consistent scorer they will linger as a