The Chicago Bulls management had a tricky off-season. They were forced to meet a strict budget while still trying to put together a team that can win a title at the end of the season and covering for the gaping hole left by Derrick Rose at the beginning of the season. Here's a look at the assembled team and the rotations we might see before Rose gets back.
PG: Kirk Hinrich [32 minutes]
SG: Rip Hamilton [20-30 minutes pending camp battle]
SF: Luol Deng [38 minutes]
PF: Carlos Boozer [28 minutes]
C: Joakim Noah [32 minutes]
This lineup has a strong chance to be successful, but it will rely heavily on the health of the perimeter players and the chemistry that it can build in training camp/preseason. Each player has a ton of experience, and outside of Boozer, plays quality team defense. They should excel at moving the ball around to find good looks.
I'd predict this group should have strong success against average to below average defenses. They'll play plenty of defense, and they'll score primarily through ball movement, working for the best shot, and finding holes in the opponents defense.
The one thing the lineup lacks is an alpha dog scorer who can generate a reasonable look when the team offense fails and the shot clock is running out. Carlos Boozer will need to fill that role, but struggles with efficiency when he's not cherry picking easier shots. However, while it might lower his overall numbers, he can likely still hit 35% when fed tough looks which sounds terrible but isn't bad for bailout shots.
Common bench substitutions
PG: Nate Robinson for Kirk Hinrich or Rip Hamilton [16 minutes]
It will be interesting to see how much the Bulls play Robinson, quite a bit will depend on how healthy Kirk is and whether or not Marquis Teague can prove anything in training camp. My expectation is that Robinson plays about 15-16 minutes a night at backup PG. He can play with either Kirk or Rip playing next to him.
With Robinson in the game, the dynamic of the offense changes. The Bulls are likely best using Robinson as a guy who looks for his own shot first and the team shot second while playing with a more pedestrian cast of offensive players. Robinson's not a great creator, but playing in that role against second units he can likely keep the offense going while playing with a less offensively skilled defensive unit.
The results will likely be quite inconsistent with the unit going from very ugly to good depending on whether or not Robinson can knock down threes, a fairly similar result to what happens when the Bulls played John Lucas with a largely defensive group last year.
SG: Marco Belinelli for Rip Hamilton [20-30 minutes depending on camp battle]
When Belinelli enters the game, the Bulls will add a considerable amount of long range shooting over Hamilton. I think Belinelli also stands a good chance of earning the starting position over Hamilton because his skills may fit better with the starting group to space the floor while Hamilton's improved passing might help the second unit more.
The Bulls will also drop off defensively with Belinelli in the game and given that they'll also likely lose something going from Hinrich to Robinson, they may choose to try and keep more of Belinelli's minutes with Kirk which would also help balance out the size between the first and second units.
SF: Jimmy Butler for Luol Deng
Jimmy Butler's probably not going to bring a whole lot of anything Deng doesn't, but the hope is he'll develop into a guy who can bring the same defense while playing aggressive on offense to draw fouls when he has an opening and knock down the open mid range jumper. If manages that it will be a tremendous success, and anything more would be an added bonus.
The team has no real advantage with Butler over Deng and will instead look to simply survive the minutes while he's on the floor. I like pairing him with Nate Robinson on the court, because Robinson's not going to pass the ball so much anyway so the drop off on offense won't be so notable.
PF/C: Taj Gibson for Carlos Boozer/Joakim Noah [26-34 minutes]
I expect the Bulls to fall mostly into a three big man rotation with Nazr Mohammad playing the Kurt Thomas role of occasional big man with DNPs sprinkled in throughout the season. Gibson will likely spend some time playing center against the smaller big fives in the league while still getting most of his time at PF.
It's a coin toss as to whether Gibson or Noah is the best defensive big man on the Bulls, both are outstanding with their quickness, help defense, defensive IQ, and hands. They're two of the best pick and roll defenders in the NBA, both can isolate on a guard for long stretches on a switch, both can block shots.
When the Bulls sub out Noah for Gibson, they gain a bit of shooting while losing a bit of ball handling on size. When they sub him in for Boozer, they'll gain a ton of defense while losing the offensive creation and volume scoring Boozer can provide.
SF/PF: Vladimir Radmanovic
The Bulls will likely use Radmanovic as a stretch four here and there, but they could just stick Luol Deng in that role and get more defense, similar shooting, and better offense overall. For Radman to hit the floor it will require some health issues for the rest of the roster.
PF/C: Nazr Mohammed
Unlike Radmanovic, I expect Mohammed to play without injury problems, but a front court injury would change his role from matchup/foul trouble guy to significant piece. At this point, he's largely a filler guy. He's got size and is a decent fundamental player, but he has no particular strengths to bring to the table over the rest of the roster. He's merely a guy you hope can chew up minutes without getting you killed similar to Kurt Thomas.
PG: Marquis Teague
I thought Teague might come in and make an immediate impact, but those thoughts were dashed pretty quickly at summer league. While Teague still has plenty of potential, we saw just how far away he is from reaching it at summer league. It went beyond lack of basketball skill, but also lack of effort and hustle.
Teague's going to need to need to adjust to the NBA life quickly and work his ass off, or he'll be out of the league quickly. Harsh words, but he's the fourth PG on this team once Rose is healthy, the third while he's not, and he'll need to earn everything he can by practicing hard, because game opportunities won't necessarily be coming around easily for him.
Teague has the potential to bring some quickness, attacking, and penetration to the team off the bench though, all attributes the Bulls will need. If he can prove himself, he'll still likely have a chance to make an impact, but I'm betting it won't be this season unless we have a Kirk Hinrich injury prior to Rose returning.
Health is the key
Without Rose this isn't a group that's going to go out and dominate, and they sure as hell aren't going to play pretty basketball. They lack many of the pieces an elite team needs [no closer, no isolation creator, no bailout shot creator, questionable three point shooting, etc..].
That said, they do have enough defensive pieces and talent at every position to likely fight for a .500 record while Rose is out. If they can do that and get Rose healthy in January then they'll likely still be fighting for a top four seed.
However, health will be critical to this squad. An injury to Hinrich, Deng, or one of the top three big men early in the season could be crippling to the team. Kirk Hinrich in particular has a lot of expectations placed upon him this season, especially for a guy who hasn't necessarily gotten it done at PG in a few seasons.
If this unit can stay healthy until Rose returns, I'm a bit more optimistic about what it can do after giving it more consideration. It's certainly no where near a championship caliber group without Rose, but it doesn't need to be. It just needs to hang around and keep the team in the mix until (hopefully) January/February, and I think it can do that.