If I could describe the upcoming season for the Chicago Bulls in one word, that word would be: zeal
[zeel] noun; fervor for a person, cause, or object; eager desire
or endeavor;enthusiastic diligence; ardor.
That zeal, is the elephant in the room that has not only been noticed, but analyzed, scrutinized and is currently being rehabilitated. Derrick Rose's knee. This knee is perhaps the most talked about body part in sports history. Mostly due to the unknown nature of its future, the unknown success of the surgery, or speculation of the limitations it will have on Derrick's career moving forward. However, the unknown not only applies to Rose and his knee, but also to the potential of this Bulls team heading into the season.
Currently, no one knows the true potential of the 2013 Bulls roster - sans Rose. Chicago went into the off-season looking building as if Derrick was still active, shoring up the front court, (Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmonivic), rebuilding the bench (Nate Robinson, Marquise Teague, Marco Bellinelli), while still acquiring a stop-gap for the absence of Derrick Rose (Kirk Hinrich).
The Bulls opened up exhibition last Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies, hosting a 15-man roster. Let's break down the current Bulls roster strength as presently constituted.
Front Court & Swing
- Carlos Boozer: Boozer has been the Bulls' scapegoat for two seasons and it this may be the year his starter role could be for the taking (See: Taj Gibson). Boozer has consistently been the weakest link in the Thibideau defense and hasn't played as aggressive in the post as once anticipated. On the upside, Carlos has provided a consistent scoring option for the Bulls outside of 10ft, shooting 53% from the field while averaging 15ppg last season.
Bottom line on Boozer: If Carlos doesn't get his defense in order, it won't matter how many points he scores in Derrick's absence. Because he will not be a starter by the time Rose returns.
In the past three games, Boozer has averaged 7ppg, 3.3rpg, while playing an average of 20 minutes per game.
- Joakim Noah: In the absence of Rose, this will undoubtedly be Noah's team to lead. Joakim has developed into not only a team leader, but a defensive centerpiece and top offensive rebounder . It should be noted that "Stick Stickity" spent time
during the offseason working with legendary center Kareem Abdul Jabbar, developing a better post game. The Bulls should expect an increased repertoire of post moves and an expanded offensive role from Joakim this season. As they will need it. I also anticipate a career number of offensive rebounds from the center.
- Nazr Mohammed: Nazr Mohammed has spent a legion of successful seasons in the NBA (14), playing for multiple playoff and championship teams. The 35 year old Chicago native will look to add veteran leadership and bring a championship-level attitude to a young, mature Bulls team. One that is just a healthy piece - or two - away from an NBA Finals visit.
In Chicago's three recent exhibition games, Nazr has averaged 9ppg, 9.6rpg and 1.3 blocks per game (including a 13pt, 12reb, 1blk game against Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies). If healthy, expect Nazr to see around 11-17 minutes per game, giving both Noah and Boozer spells.
- Taj Gibson: This could be a huge year for Taj Gibson - both statistically and contractually - as the Bulls look for role players to assume more responsibility this season. And there is no player, on the Bulls, more capable of taking on that responsibility than Gibson. Taj has been knocking on the starter's door for the past two seasons.
Take a look at Taj's production Per 36 minutes over the past three seasons,
Gibson, whose limited offense kept him in a bench role with the infamous, but now broken up, "Bench Mob", has progressed every season and in every facet of his game. Taj's defensive abilities and work ethic are second to none on the Bulls team. With Derrick down, this could be his opportunity to further prove to the Bulls front office and coach Tom Thibideau, that he is not only worth resigning, but also deserves a more expanded role on the team.
- Vladimir Radmonivic: Despite the slow start, Vladimir Radmonivic could be one of the most valuable (cost vs quality) acquisitions the Bulls made during the offseason. Former 12th overall pick of the 2001 Draft, Radmonivic has never fully played up to his draft expectations. Spending 11 seasons in the NBA as a journeyman shooter-for-hire, Radmonivic has a career average of 8.2ppg, 3.9rpg and is a 38% three point shooter.
Although his role will be limited, Vladimir should be useful in spreading the floor out for the Bulls and will be able to give guards such as Nate Robinson, Marquis Teague and Kirk Hinrich opportunities to drive and make high percentage decisions.
- Luol Deng: Luol's expectations this season are about as unknown as Rose's knee. Deng played through the majority of last season with an injured wrist and elected to not undergo surgery in order to represent Great Britain in the London Olympic Games. Luol believes his decision to participate didn't exacerbate, but in fact helped his rhythm heading into training camp. Deng opened up the preseason with an 18pt effort, but was held out of the Bulls game against the T'Wolves due to a sore groin. The benching was more of a precautionary measure, if anything.
There is no doubt that Deng will have to carry the scoring load for Chicago until Derrick returns. However, it will be expected for his shooting percentage to not take a hit as his shot attempts will undoubtedly increase.
- Marco Belinelli: As potential has it, Belinelli is one of the most exciting acquisitions of the Bulls' offseason. In his first five seasons, Marco has been a double digit scorer (14.9) Per 36 minutes and 8.9ppg for career.
*Bellinelli's increase in production since 2007 Draft (1st round, 18th overall)*
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com
"As I See It": Belinelli can be the scoring assistance Chicago has been looking for, if used properly. At 6'5'', 192lbs, Marco has a mix of size, length and speed to be one of the most versatile athletes the Bulls have, plus is 39% 3-pt shooting can fill the void left by Kyle Korver signing with the Atlanta Hawks.
Belinelli must also add another dimension to his game other than scoring, especially on the defensive end, if wants to see consistent playing time under Head Coach Tom Thibideau, who hammers defensive philosophy to his players day in and day out.
- Jimmy Butler: I have been a huge Jimmy Butler supporter since he was drafted to the Bulls last season. Not only his story great, but his work ethic and potential with this team is exponential. Unfortunately fans and teammates didn't get to see much of that last season, as Butler saw limited playing time and didn't get a chance to find a comfort zone.
This season should play out different for the first round draft pick (30th overall). While Rose is out, Butler can use the increased playing time to audition for coach Thibideau, who has expressed early his expectations of the Bulls' bench. If Butler can make the most out of his time on the floor, I would expect him to average around 14-15ppg and between 8-9rpg Per 36 minutes.
- Kyrylo Fesenko: Fesenko is General Manager Gar Forman's answer to losing out on the offer sheet given to fan favorite, Turkish center Omer Asik. The Houston Rockets offered the 7ft center $25.1mil and the Bulls were unwilling to match that offer. They instead chose to sign Kyrylo Fesenko to a non-guaranteed training camp contract. Fesenko essentially embodies every attribute that Asik had: tall, quirky, not afraid of contact, limited offensive skill set. Should the Bulls front court remain healthy, it has the potential to be one of the deepest in the NBA.
I expect to Fesenko to make the 12-man roster purely by default.
Back Court** Guards who cannot make the team unless Nate Robinson is either traded or cut.
- Kirk Hinrich: Chicago's adopted son, Kirk Hinrich, returns as much more mature, seasoned veteran after spending an unflattering seasons in Washington and two miserable seasons in Atlanta. Kirk can get back to a familiar role at the point/2 spot while Rose is out and once he returns Hinrich will assume the 2/point spot. Kirk will be able to maintain stability as far as the team's chemistry is concerned.
And as far as when Rose returns is concerned?
Fans now will have all their questions answered pertaining to how good the Bulls could have been with the pair. One of the best postseason series featured the duo of Hinrich and Rose, during Derrick's rookie season in the 2009-10 Eastern Conference First Round playoff series. It was a seven-game battle that will go down in the teams' rivalry as one of the best ever.
Both Hinrich (12.6ppg, 1.7spg, 13-30 3-pt) and Rose (19.7ppg, 6.4apg, 6.3rpg) played solid together in a series, that at the time, seemed like it was to be a footnote in the story of how that Bulls team would become champions.
That team is long gone, however this team is primed. Now with a more gritty, seasoned Kirk, who could be one of the biggest reasons this Bulls team has any success without Derrick.
- Nate Robinson: Lil' Nate Robinson is by far the biggest 'star quality' acquisition for Chicago this offseason. A two-sport athlete for the University of Washington, excelling in both football and basketball, Nate, at 5'8'', 180lbs embodies the stereotypical point guard attributes. His small frame, quickness and speed have caused problems for teams over his seven year career. Nate has primarily assumed a bench role, however he tends to play 6th man minutes. So far in his career Nate has averaged 11.2ppg, 2.8apg and just under a steal per game (0.9) in 23 minutes played per game.
Nate's ability to change the tempo of the game upon entry will serve as an upgrade to the John Lucas III and C.J. Watson. Last year the two, at times, appeared to hardly ever play in-sync with the team and ran the offensive sporadically at best. Robinson can add stability, professional experience and athleticism that Thibideau can mold into a defensive and offensive headache.
- Marquise Teague: I am most excited about Teague. Hailing from a serious crop of Indiana talent, the younger brother of Atlanta Hawks Jeff Teague, Marquis has all the makings of a very successful NBA point guard. What sweetens the pot for Chicago is Teague is also coming off of a National Championship season at the University of Kentucky. So his confidence should be just as high as the expectations the 6'2'' 29th overall pick by the Bulls will have coming into the season. Unfortunately, so far Teague hasn't showed much of that confidence, in 11 minutes of play Teague has yet to record a bucket (0-7) and has four turnovers.
Albeit a short track record, Head Coach Tom Thibideau hasn't shown much confidence - or patience - in first year players, as far as playing time is concerned. However, given Teague's talents and the Rose 'situation', it would be hard to explain why Marquise shouldn't see plenty of time on the court early on.
- **Marko Jaric: Jaric will bring some Euroleague flavor to Bulls, winning back-to-back Championships in the Italian League (2000, 2001) before being drafted 30th overall by the Clippers. Marko since hasn't been able to translate much of that success to the NBA stage. Like Teague, Jaric has failed to score yet in exhibition for the Bulls (0-1, 12 minutes, 2 steals, one turnover) in two games. It is hard to tell what exactly Jaric can bring to the Bulls outside of solid defense, but that may be all Thibs' needs to see from the 6'7'', 224lbs guard.
- **Andre Emmett: Emmett, is another D-League prospect the Bulls are experimenting with. Averaging 16ppg, 4.9rpg and 2.2apg in the D-League, Chicago will try to get as much as that type of physical scoring production from the 6'5'' guard. So far Andre has 3pts and 3 rebounds in seven minutes of play. If I had to pick right now between Emmett and Jaric, I would take Andre.
- **Ryan Allen: Allen rounds out the NBA legacies the Bulls reached out to during the offseason. Making the training camp roster, Allen is the brother of Memphis Grizzlies star Tony Allen. Not expecting much from Allen, even during exhibition play (1 minute), so his ceiling is by far the highest of all.