I may take a shot at breaking down the Eastern Conference in a future
article, but we're here to talk about the Bulls, how everyone plays and
where they finish. Jump in at the bottom and leave your own Bulls
predictions, go on the record, be mocked like me at the end of the year. Team Record: 45-37
I enjoy being optimistic, and I see the Bulls winning somewhere between 35-50 games. I picked at the high end of that range, hoping things go well. The problem with narrowing this team's range is that it doesn't have dominant players yet. Derrick Rose isn't that guy yet, and no one else is even close.
Why is that a problem? Well on the Lakers if Kobe and Gasol stay healthy, you know the team is going to be great. On the Bulls, there is no single gate keeper who needs to stay healthy to make the season. This team could be hurt considerably by an injury to Rose, Hinrich, Salmons, Deng, Tyrus, Noah, or Miller. Since the loss of any single player for a considerable period of time could really hurt the team, they have significant downside.
If everyone stays healthy, this team wins 42+ games. If everyone stays healthy and Derrick takes a big step forward, this team wins 45+ games. If this team stays healthy and Derrick, Tyrus, and Noah take steps forward then they're a 50+ win team.
So I'm going with 45 wins. A healthy team and solid improvement by it's young players.
Let's run down the starters:
Many have predicted Derrick Rose to step up and become a superstar at some point in his career. Without getting much chance to see him in preseason, it's hard to get much of a feel on how much he may have improved this season which makes this an almost entirely blind prediction.
The following major questions surround Rose:
Will he improve his defense? Yes, I think he'll be considerably better on the defensive end this year. The signs were already there in his rookie season as he improved considerably over the course of the season.
Will he shoot better from the three point line? No, not really. He may raise his percentage a bit, but he'll continue to only shoot wide, wide open shots in low volume. I can see him hitting 30-33% from the three point line, but his attempts will remain at around 1 per game, and it won't be any kind of weapon nor force defenders to stop going under screens.
Will he get to the foul line more? Yes, but not as much as people hope. I see him improving simply because for the amount he drove the lane his free throw attempts per game were absurdly small. He has no where to go but up the way he plays the game. I also know that he worked on drawing contact and finishing in the off-season, so I think he'll attack more aggressively into his defenders. However, I don't expect this to result in the 6+ free throw attempts we'd like to see. More like four attempts a game.
Will his court vision improve? Much like other areas, I expect incremental improvement. I am skeptical of Rose ever becoming a dynamic passing PG who creates tons of easy looks for his teammates. Rose didn't show that as a strength of his game in college and so far it hasn't been in the NBA either. It's something that's far more difficult to improve in non game situations, so his ability to work on it in the off season is more limited than other aspects. He'll steadily improve, and I expect a higher assist percentage, but I don't think we'll be seeing Steve Nash or Chris Paul like passing out of him ever.
The questions surrounding Salmons aren't so much on his improvement, but whether he can just continue to play at the same level he has in the past. The easy answer is to say that Salmons isn't as good as last year, but is better than earlier in his career.
I think instead, we're going to see John Salmons match last year's numbers or possibly improve upon them. For the first time, Salmons is playing on a team that's committed to starting him, playing him big minutes, and relying on him as a major contributor. As long as he's healthy, I don't expect a decline in his numbers.
I plan to write up a full article on Deng shortly, but I don't have high hopes for this season after watching him in preseason. He simply doesn't look explosive nor does he look like he's improved his three point range. My expectations are 14/6 on mediocre efficiency with solid, but not exceptional defense.
He's still a guy worthy of playing decent minutes, but he doesn't look like a guy who's going to come in and make a big impact right now. Hopefully, as the season wears on, he gains more explosiveness in his legs. He really hasn't been going full speed for very long, so he may round into better form around December. If so, he has the potential to be the player we remember, as his movement in the offense is much improved, but he needs to get his explosiveness back.
Tyrus hasn't played that much in preseason, and he's had a mixed bag for results. I think his numbers make him look better than his play has overall, but if he can continue to put up those numbers then he could have a very solid season. Tyrus appears to play outside of the offense quite a bit. Now if he were providing the team with unstoppable scoring and high efficiency offense that would be okay, but he's not.
He does look like he's attacking the basket on a greater percentage of his plays this year so far rather than settling for the jumper, though he's taken plenty of those too. He has plenty of upside to make a big impact this season still, but he's going to need to rn the court harder and stay focused.
Overall, I'm predicting that we see more incremental improvements from Tyrus rather than seeing him bust out. I do think he'll stop shooting as many jumpers and be more of a threat attacking the basket on the offense. Unfortunately, we'll still see him struggle with consistency in effort and focus on the court at all times though. Despite that he'll definitely prove to be the best PF on the team.
Noah looks like he's set to have a monster year. His hustle on both ends of the floor has been outstanding so far. The results of his summer look fantastic so far, and we've seen Del Negro do a better job using him in the offense as well as Noah's passing skills out of the high post have been on display all preseason.
We've seen him finish quite effectively in the post when the Bulls run possessions for him in the low post, he's up and down the floor very fast, and the results of his lifting seem apparent as well. I think the Bulls see an upward spike in all areas for Noah both in totals and per minute stats. I don't like predicting statistics overall, but I'd be surprised if Noah wasn't averaging a double double this season.
So far Kirk has shot the ball well, defended well, and overall acquitted himself quite well in preseason. I expect him to put in another solid season off the bench and flourish in that sixth man role. For all the talk of Gordon being a perfect sixth man, I think Hinrich is a far better fit as a bench guard.
He can come in for either guard position and bring shooting, ball handling, and defense. He's also never really been a clutch performer, so you can run him into the ground a bit in the middle of each half without having to worry about saving him for the end.
I look for Hinrich to have a similar effect on the game as he had last season, which was a very positive one. Playing off guard more minutes than PG will keep his assists low, but I expect good efficiency and solid scoring numbers out of Kirk this season.
Miller could easily be a starter here, in fact, he's clearly the Bulls second best big man, and I wouldn't be upset at all if the Bulls went to a Noah/Miller starting lineup. The problem with starting the pair is they are the only players you want playing center, so if they both have early foul trouble there's more of an issue.
Miller isn't going to bring about Ben Gordon's scoring punch, but he has a similar effect on the whole offense. When Miller comes into the game, the offensive ability in the front court is ramped way up. The picks set are harder, the defense is extended, and he the interior passing is improved from an already high level.
I expect Brad to have another very solid year, and despite his age, I don't expect much of a decline. He's already lost whatever steps he has and plays primarily with his size, shooting, and fundamentals.
Gibson has impressed Bulls fans early in preseason, perhaps not entirely making us all forget about Dejuan Blair, but at the very least quieting the doubters. His jumper is much better than anticipated, and he plays with a great motor.
The only problem for Taj is that minutes might be sparse, especially if Tyrus continues to play as well as he has in preseason. He looks like a quality find in the last 1st though, and someone the Bulls can count on to play solidly in decent minutes if there is an injury situation.
Pargo had a terrible preseason, and he simply looks overmatched in the NBA. His shot selection has been poor as well as his efficiency. As a PG, he's progressed somewhat, but unless there is an injury to Rose or Hinrich, he should play minimally.
Johnson had a great summer league, but he had a terrible preseason. In small flashes he's looked effective off the ball, but most of the time he's too passive and floats around the perimeter not making an impact. The Bulls need to figure out how to play to Johnson's strengths, or Johnson needs to improve off considerably off the ball.
I reported earlier in the season that management felt that Gibson would have a stronger rookie season than Johnson, and after watching preseason, I think we can all see why.
Derrick Byars? may have done enough to make the team. He hasn't yet been waived as I type this, which means he's got a chance to stick. One insider I talked to said feels the Bulls should absolutely keep him as he's come in and outperformed several of their first round draft picks in previous years with what he can do. Feeling that Byars would make an excellent hedge to a possible Deng trade.
Aaron Gray may provide a little help when/if he returns from his stress fracture, but as we've seen with Deng, a stress fracture can be pretty severe. Especially for someone with Gray's size. Even when healthy, will he lose some of his conditioning with all the time off?
Lindsay Hunter needs to stay on the bench. He doesn't look like he can really contribute at all. If the Bulls had known they would get such good play out of Byars, I guarantee Hunter wouldn't have received a contract.
Jerome James isn't going to play at all. I respect the fact the guy said he wants to play for his kids, but if you really wanted to play then you wouldn't have ballooned up to 350 lbs or whatever he weighs these days. He's so far away from having the conditioning to play in the NBA it's ridiculous.