I am a die-hard Bulls fan. I was born and raised in the Chicagoland area and lived to watch the Jordan Era Bulls. It was easy being a fan during that time, simply because winning was synonymous with being a Bull. But in the last decade we’ve come across tougher times. When everything seemed to be working in our favor (Derrick Rose 2010 MVP season- only to lose to Lebron and the “Big 3” in the Eastern Conference Finals) we had still struggled to leave the playoffs. It seems that every year, Lebron is waiting for us, and he does a damn good job of dashing our hopes. So when the front office disgracefully let Tom Thibodeau go, to be replaced by Fred Hoidberg, we thought he should have been the “next level” of coaching. He should have taken a strong lineup with potential championship caliber players deep into the playoffs. The front office practically made zero changes to our lineup, further displaying their faith in Hoidberg’s ability to win. We all know that wasn’t the case and the Bulls have since missed the playoffs (watch out for those Timberwolves, though).
So now we’re faced with the complete overhaul of our 2016-17 lineup, and a restored faith in Hoidberg’s ability to win with all these changes. Right? Maybe.
Let’s look at our big boys in the post: Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio, and (disappointingly) Paul Zisper. The energy that Taj offers on and off the floor is intangible. He fights for the boards, has instant offense and really make the defense work. Robin and Cristiano do a great job of closing out on the boards and can score when the offense allows it; they’re very much system players that need to fill in a role on a set offense. Let’s look at the career numbers:
(8 years) Lopez: PPG- 8.5 REB- 5.4 BLK- 1.2
(7 years) Gibson: PPG- 9.2 REB- 6.3 BLK- 1.3
(1 year- 31 games) Felicio: PPG- 3.4 REB- 3.3 BLK- .4
(Zisper drafted from Europe in 2016)
One of the biggest conversation pieces last year about the Bulls was “how do you fit Noah, Gibson and Gasol effectively?” It’s no secret that Gibson could start on 10 other teams in the league. Well this season it is clear: not only will the Bulls be leaning on Gibson more frequently, his size and effort are going to play a clearly important role in this offense. Lopez will most likely start, but Gibson brings those intangibles off the bench and that’s exactly what they’ll need. He could also see himself starting over Mirotic down the season.
The Bulls also have a string of Forwards (I included Gibson in the conversation as being centers since he’s defended that position most often) that can prove to be their weakness throughout the season. It’s no secret that Tony Snell hasn’t panned out to be the player that he was promised to be while Nikola Mirotic is also faltering as his NBA tenure develops. Mirotic’s pump fake is advertised from miles away, and he fouls on break away points like he’s still in Spain. His transition defense is embarrassing and his court vision is mediocre.
The only two forwards I believe deserve the most playing time are Doug McDermott and Bobby Portis. McDermott’s effort is endless and he takes minutes off of Butler’s shoulders. He can drive the lane effectively and create his own shot off the dribble. He is also explosive along the baseline and causes defenses to breathe with his movement. Not only that, but his defense is reminiscent of Thibs’ undying passion on that end of the court. Portis especially gives the defense a hard time with his range that is practically endless in the realm of big men. He is energetic, driven, and still trying to solidify his position in this league, and has a lot to offer.
Jimmy Butler isn’t excited about playing the forward again, and he is far more productive when he plays the guard position. The year he won “Most Improved Player” award, he was playing the 2 alongside Rose. Playing the 2 earned him the major contract. But I would stake my reputation on this: Butler will play the 3, and he will still be extremely successful. Why? Because Rajon Rondo is a magician with assists and has insane court vision. He is a “shoot second” guard, and the spotlight has effectively been taken off of him, and onto Butler. The prospective thought that Rondo has said in three separate interviews (paraphrasing) “this is not my team, it is Butler’s” could be a sign that his unending ego might have taken a break. Wade has also shared those sentiments. However, are you really going to bench Wade or Rondo so that Butler can start at the 2? I doubt it. Their egos aren’t that tame.
(5 years) Butler: PPG: 13.6 REB: 4.5 BLK: .5 FG%: .445
(3 years) Snell: PPG- 5.3 REB- 2.3 BLK- .2 FG%- .396
(2 years) McDermott: PPG- 7.5 REB- 2.0 BLK- .1 FG%- .445
(2 years) Mirotic: PPG- 10.9 REB- 5.2 BLK- .7 FG%- .406
(1 year- 62 games) Portis: PPG- 7 REB- 5.4 BLK- .4
Now, let’s get to the headlining off season free agency signings. I jumped with joy and relief when the front office finally unloaded Derrick Rose, aka the Glass Man, and made some serious shake ups to the Bulls lineup. The disapproval of the front office had reached such a climax, that a group of fans had started a petition to have them fired. So when they signed Rondo and Wade, it was clear they were ready to start working in the right direction. Drafting Denzel Valentine didn’t hurt their approval ratings, either. However, Isaiah Canaan, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jerian Grant are 3 extremely large deficits at the guard position. Canaan, averaging 22 games per season for his first three seasons, put a production value at the free throw line of about .773 and his FG percentage at .379. When he played a full season in his 4th year in Philadelphia, he respectively shot .833 from the line and .360 from the field. Unless Hoidberg can find some way to unlock a hidden potential in him, he won’t be more productive off the bench. I have nothing good to say about Dinwiddie or Jerian Grant. In my opinion, Grant has only been able to see minutes in this league due to his time in New York, where their desperation for a guard was abysmal. All three of these back up guards have been picked up from three under performing teams, with under performing offenses. They don’t impress me, not in the least bit. Honestly, I hope they prove me wrong, I really do, but the numbers don’t lie and such are my expectations. So, now we’re left with the beacon of hope for the bench: Denzel Valentine. I can’t say enough about him: his poise on the court, his aggression, his command of an offense, his explosive driving ability; all things that this team desperately needs coming off the bench behind three all-star (two championship) caliber guards. Hoidberg doesn’t loath rookies like Thibs did, and that can be hopeful for Washington. But don’t expect to see strong production out of him until the season begins to approach the all-star break, or if injuries begin to poke their nasty head out. Speaking of injuries, it’s important to point out that Valentine has had a couple of lingering knee injuries…but being hopeful, those will most likely be in his past and not a part of his future.
What can I say about Wade and Rondo that hasn’t already been said? Wade practically carried the Heat into the playoffs, along with Whiteside, and he was the driving force behind their years of success. He proved in Miami that all he needs is a driven coaching staff and a strong big man, and the rest can be left to him. People will call into question his age, but I don’t believe that will be a factor for another two seasons. They’re about to get high production from him with a strong energy and emphasis for returning to his home team. This is where Wade has always wanted to play and he’s not going to slow down and squander a life-long dream of playing on the Bulls because he’s “tired.” I’m not subscribing to that belief. Rondo has had some issues in the locker room in the past, but he’s a proven winner. He drastically improved the record of the Kings last season and worked well alongside Cousins (for whatever that’s worth). Last season we saw the Rondo of old with his production value, and he tied his all-time high in assists at 11.7. That’s exactly what this lineup needs: a guard who can effectively assist. He barely missed 10 games last year, too, so we can look forward to (finally) a reliable 1 guard.
(13 years) Wade: PPG: 23.7 AST: 5.8 FG%: .488
(10 years) Rondo: PPG: 11.0 AST: 8.7 FG%: .468
(2 years) Dinwiddie: PPG: 4.4 AST: 2.7 FG%: .314
(1 year) Grant: PPG: 5.6 AST: 2.3 FG%: .394
(Drafted 2016) Valentine
All in all: the Bulls have a bright future ahead of them this season. They may not have the most talented lineup, but this is undeniable: they are by far the toughest in the East. The Bulls have some serious bangers, and like always, their only real threat in the East is Lebron’s reigning championship super team. I predict that the Bulls will finish in the top 6 of the East, unless Hoidberg finds a clever way to destroy any and all potential that this front office has (finally) set up. The Bulls will prove to be one of the more entertaining teams to watch this season. I predict their record will be 48-34 finishing top six in the Eastern Conference.
All stats and numbers were provided by ESPN.com, all opinions are original and are intellectual property of the author.