The Bulls got their tenth win of the season last night against Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks. But using 25 games to reach that number has to be considered a disappointment.
What follows is a list of things we've learned this year, both good and bad, plus a breakdown of what we need, and hope to accomplish this season and in the summer.
Let's start off with the most important player on the Bulls roster so far. Aaron Gray has not seen a lot of minutes, but his worth to this te... I'm kidding. But gold coins to you if you kept on reading anyway. Derrick Rose. Numero uno. In jersey number, position and importance. What has the 21-year old shown this season?
For one thing, he's shown a new aggresiveness. Granted, this aggresiveness is only some ten games old. But combined with an early ankle injury and general poor offensive execution from his teammates, there's still reason to expect Derrick to become a better player. What Rose has yet to do is get to the free throw line consistently. According to Derrick himself, he worked on drawing contact and get attention from the officials over the summer. It hasn't paid off yet, and a skeptic will say he's never going to be a high-volume free throw shooter. His attempts are up by just 0.5 a game per36 minutes. If Rose can effectively draw just one more shooting foul a game, he'll up his free throw attempts to over five. That is unfortunately a lot easier said than done.
The great thing about Derrick Rose is that he has less weapons around him this year, and he still has tried taking control. Meaning he hasn't shied away from the pressure, and he's still attacking despite seing entire defenses collaps on him. With no shooters and no big man to play alongside him, Derrick is trying his best to be a one-man wrecking crew. Just imagine if he gets Bosh and a big time shooter next to him...
I know, right?
The 'Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons and Jannero Pargo will be good enough to replace Ben Gordon' argument is officially dead and have gone straight to the depths of hell. Most Bulls fans knew that going into this season, and even if Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls hadn't come out and actually said it, it would still have been pointed out. Because those three have played horrid basketball this season.
If I told you that after 25 games, Joakim Noah would score just 3.3 points less than Salmons, I'd have been burned like a witch in the 16th century. Yet, this is exactly the case. Not to mention Noah is actually playing less minutes than Salmons. If we adjust to per36, the difference in just 2.6.
But I'll try to look at this in a positive and optimistic manner and say that Salmons has the talent and touch to improve on offense as the year progress. It does look more and more like last season was a fluke, but that doesn't mean Salmons is locked in to shoot sub 40% from the field. I reckon by game 50, he'll have increased his efficiency and scoring a tad.
However.. Given the current situation, how does the average Bulls fan feel about Salmons and his financial situation? The 30-year old had a player option for next season. If he accepts that $5.8 million option, the Bulls won't have the money to offer a max contract. Do you trade the fish or do you keep him and hope he plays better, only to leave in the summer?
My vote: February is a beautiful month to make changes. Moving Salmons for an expiring would cement the financial flexibility Chicago is hoping for, which should make fans feel more at ease.
Moving on to Kirk Hinrich... Oh boy, do I even have to? We've all seen the clanks, the bricks, the turnovers, the overdribbling and the large contract. Hinrich is the old female labradoodle of the Bulls, who has never given puppies despite several breeding attempts. Now, the years are creeping up and you won't see improved production anytime soon.
In fairness, Kirk's defense is, and always have been, solid. Not all-defense solid, though he made the second team back in 2007, but solid as in he-will-never-hurt-you kind of solid. He chases around players well and does something only few defenders does in the NBA. He plays defense right at the hip. He angles himself up at the offensive players hip, and forces that player into a specific direction.
But for as much hip shaking Kirk does, he's still not close to being worth his contract. Offensively, Kirk has a true shooting percentage of .429% - In other words, he's one of the most inefficienct guards in the NBA.
His fate: I'm splitting that up in two. What I'd like to see, and what I think I'll see. I'd like to see Kirk traded, but I think he'll hang around until his contract ends. Poor play and everything. The Bulls won't get rid of their labradoodle since they really, really love it. They just put up with the occasional yellow stain on the carpet.
The Bulls got a decent player in Taj Gibson. Since moving to the bench seven games ago, Gibson has averaged 11.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 26.1 minutes. Excluding the blocks, those are better numbers than Tyrus Thomas posted all of last year.
Which brings me to another point..
Tyrus Thomas missing 21 games hurt. The Bulls missed a shot-blocker who could come from the weakside and help out. Instead, they started the much slower, much older, and non shot-blocker Brad Miller. Many were on the Miller/Noah wagon in the summer, myself included, but Miller looks old and uncomfortable.
But even if they missed him, the Bulls are still shopping Tyrus this season. Chicago engaged in talks with the Knicks for Al Harrington, and Thomas is a prime candidate to be moved in february.
Luol Deng seems to be back. That's a good thing. What's kind of bad is that he doesn't look like a long-term small forward next to Rose. That is unless he starts increasing the volume of his three-point attempts. Deng has hit 11 shots from behind the arc, on 46% accuracy. As a matter of fact, over his last three seasons, Deng has shot 41% from behind the three-point line (27-for-66). If Luol can stop taking the worst shot in basketball (22-footer right inside the three-point line), and get his three-point shooting to a point where he's nailing it a reliable 35% clip or better, it'll open up a lot of offensive options for himself and Derrick Rose.
If not, then it might be a good idea to see how he'll do at power forward. Deng's a good rebounder, and has the length and defensive mechanics to play the position.
Last, but not least, Joakim Noah has stepped up this year. Noah is a candidate for the Most Improved Player award, as he's averaging 12 rebounds, 10 points and close to 2 blocks a night. Noah is one of the best passing big men in the league, and has played with an energy and a fire that only leaders do. If there's any criticism to Noah's game, it's that he needs to improve his offensive post moves.
So as you can see, there are plenty of good things, and plenty of bad things.
The biggest problems right now are a lack of a dominating big man and outside shooting. The Bulls struggle on the defensive glass, and getting a big man who can rebound on both ends alongside Noah, would help tremendously. The Bulls will try to secure one at the deadline, but wait for summer to arrive if they strike out.
The 2010 draft class is deep, talented and very versatile. You have an excellent combination of guards, forwards and big men, so the Bulls will have a tough time not finding talent when they pick. Best case scenario is a shooter in the draft, and Chris Bosh in early july. Worst case is Joe Johnson for the max and a defensive-minded rookie.
Regardless, it's going to be an interesting few months from here on out.