The 2014-15 Chicago Bulls

From left: Forward Pau Gasol, guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah will be counted on to lead the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls to the promised land.  Charles Rex Arbogast -- AP Photo

From left: Forward Pau Gasol, guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah will be counted on to lead the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls to the promised land.  Charles Rex Arbogast — AP Photo

Tomorrow night, the Chicago Bulls will begin their 2014-15 campaign against the New York Knicks. All eyes will initially be on every move of point guard Derrick Rose, who is looking to play his first full, healthy season since his 2010-11 MVP year. When he crashes to the floor, makes a cut, takes a bump, or simply glances at one of his knees, there will be looks of worry on the faces of many fans of both the Bulls and NBA. After the feelings of unease subside, we will be able to see a Bulls team that arguably did more to improve its roster than any other NBA team this offseason except the Cleveland Cavaliers, who signed all-everything LeBron James in free agency and traded away players and picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves for forward Kevin Love.

After the Bulls were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by an upstart Washington Wizards squad while playing without Rose and Luol Deng (traded to the Cavs), it was clearer than ever that the Bulls were going to need to add players with offensive firepower. Defensively, the Bulls were and are are the league’s best, but when it was time for a bucket and Rose was unavailable, the Bulls were practically lost as all hell. During this past offseason, it was assumed that forward Carmelo Anthony would sign with the Bulls as a free agent, giving them the scoring punch they desperately needed. “Melo” decided to re-sign with the Knicks (thank God), and the Bulls turned their attention elsewhere.

AdditionsPau Gasol, Aaron Brooks, Doug McDermott, Cameron Baristow, Nikola Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore (statistics are from 13-14 season)

C/PF Pau Gasol (17.4 PPG, 9.7 TRB, 3.4 APG, 1.5 BLK, .480 FG%,.286 3P%, .736 FT%, 102 ORtg, 108 DRtg, .522 TS%, .482 eFG%). The 34 year-old Spaniard signed with the Bulls this offseason after six and a half mostly successful seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. A key part of two Lakers’ title teams, Gasol’s addition to the Bulls gives them a legitimate 7-footer who can score inside and out, as well as pass the ball proficiently from the low or high post. Gasol represents a significant upgrade over the departed Carlos Boozer, so expect fans to cheer for him just because of that fact.

PG Aaron Brooks (9 PPG, 1.9 TRB, 3.2 APG, .7 STL, .401 FG%, .387 3P%, .874 FT%, 105 ORtg, 110 DRtg, .518 TS%, .484 eFG%). Brooks, a former first-round pick of the Houston Rockets, spent 13-14 as a member of both the Rockets and Denver Nuggets, the latter of which he was traded to for forward Jordan Hamilton. The 6′, 160-lb point guard has played most of his career as a backup and will fill that very role for the Bulls. Brooks will have problems on the defensive end, but if he can offensively provide close to what he did for the Nuggets (11.9 PPG, 5.2 APG in 29 minutes per game), the signing will have been a very good one.

G/F Doug McDermott (For Creighton: 26.7 PPG, 7 TRB, 1.6 APG, .2 STL, .526 FG%, .449 3P%, .864 FT%, 127.4 ORtg, 106 DRtg, .644 TS%, .603 eFG%) Even though those numbers are from McDermott’s senior season at Creighton, they’re still wildly impressive. He won’t come close to matching them in the NBA, but with an added emphasis on the three-point shot over the years, players like McDermott will almost always have a spot on a roster. If he can use his “sneaky athleticism” to score easy buckets, he could become a viable offensive weapon for the Bulls.

Cameron Bairstow (For New Mexico: 20.4 PPG, 7.4 TRB, 1.6 APG, 1.5 BLK, .556 FG%, .333 FG%, .735 FT%, 122.9 ORtg, 99.6 DRtg, .611 TS%, .558 eFG%) It took three years for Bairstow to become a force at the University of New Mexico, and his senior season put him on the college basketball map. Although he is a bit undersized at 6’9″, 240, Bairstow is a very tough scrapper who will likely need to show defensive prowess to crack Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation.

Nikola Mirotic (For Real Madrid: 12.4 PPG, 4.6 TRB, 1.2 APG, 1.1 STL, .508 FG%, .461 3P%, .811 FT%) Mirotic has created a buzz since his draft rights were traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Bulls on the draft night of 2011. Widely regarded as one of the best players outside of the NBA before signing with the Bulls, Mirotic has developed into a legitimate “stretch four,” more than capable of putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket. Mirotic showed some positive flashes this preseason (posted team’s second-highest DRtg at 94.3), but will need to add bulk and become a more competent defender in order to reach “Toni Kukoc status.”

G E’Twaun Moore (6.3 PPG, 1.7 TRB, 1.4 APG, .8 STL, .428 FG%, .354 3P%, .765 FT%, 102 ORtg, 109 DRtg, .513 TS%, .490 eFG%) The Purdue product was signed to give the team guard depth, but hopefully, he won’t be counted on, as that would mean that Rose, Hinrich, and Brooks are out of the mix.

Returning: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell, Nazr Mohammed

Derrick Rose (15.9 PPG, 3.2 TRB, 4.3 APG, .5 STL, .354 FG%, .340 3P%, .844 FT%, 88 ORtg, 105 DRtg, .446 TS%, .402 eFG%) DERRICK ROSE IS BACK!!! Seriously, he is. After tearing the meniscus in his right knee last season, Rose sat out the team’s final 71 games, electing to let the injury heal as close to completely as possible. He returned this summer to play for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, where he backed up Kyrie Irving. The US won gold, but Rose did not shoot the ball even remotely well. However, he did seem to play very much under control, showed the burst that made him the league’s most explosive point guard at one time, and most importantly (to me), was an absolute hound on defense. In addition, he dealt with an incredibly grueling schedule without showing signs of wear and tear. With more offensive weaponry to play with, Rose won’t have to offensively bail the Bulls out nearly as much as he did in 10-11, and he should be a much better player for it.

C/PF Joakim Noah (12.6 PPG, 11.3 TRB, 5.4 APG, 1.5 BPG, 1.2 STL, .475 FG%, .737 FT%, 111 ORtg, 96 DRtg, .531 TS%, .475 eFG%) Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year (and first-time 1st-team All-NBA member) will have a new starting frontcourt mate in Gasol, which should make his life a hell of a lot easier. Noah put up very good numbers (10.4 PPG, 12.8 TRB, 4.6 APG, .536 TS%) against the Wizards in last year’s playoffs, but on the other end, C Nene Hilario had his way with him. With Noah guarding him most, Hilario went for (points/rebounds/assists) 17.8/6.5/3.25 while shooting 55% from the field as the Wizards won the series in five games. Noah likely won’t match his numbers from last year, but expect him to be a better player on both ends of the floor.

PF Taj Gibson (13 PPG, 6.8 TRB, 1.1 APG, 1.4 BPG, .479 FG%, .751 FT%, 102 ORtg, 100 DRtg, .524 TS%, .479 eFG%) Before Gasol signed with the Bulls, it seemed as if Taj would begin the 14-15 season as the team’s starting power forward. Things have changed with the Gasol signing, but Gibson will still be a huge piece to the puzzle. Easily one of the league’s better defenders since he entered the league in 2009, Gibson has also worked to improve his low post and mid-range game. Many of his buckets will come from putbacks and alley-oops, but he is slowly becoming a solid threat from 10-16 feet and his ability to run the floor as a big is unmatched by most.

G/F Mike Dunleavy (11.3 PPG, 4.2 TRB, 2.3 APG, .8 STL, .430 FG%, .380 3P%, .854 FT%, 108 ORtg, 102 DRtg, .549 TS%, .510 eFG%) There are certainly Bulls fans who feel McDermott should be starting over Dunleavy at the 3, and for all we know, Thibs may actually start McD over Mike. I’m guessing it won’t happen though, mainly because Dunleavy, while not a good defender, is much more familiar with what Thibs wants on that end of the floor. And what Thibs wants on defense, he gets, or you ride the pine. Although he isn’t a good defender, Dunleavy is a serviceable one, and he is offensively skilled enough to keep even a good defense honest.

G Kirk Hinrich (9.1 PPG, 2.6 TRB, 3.9 APG, 1.1 STL, .393 FG%, .351 3P%, .768 FT%, 100 ORtg, 102 DRtg, .494 TS%, .461 eFG%) Hinrich isn’t a bad guy. I don’t dislike him. I’m pretty sure he’s well-respected among his family, friends, and peers. But, damn, there wasn’t another backup guard available? Does Hinrich have incriminating photos of Gar Forman or John Paxson? Both? There was a time when Hinrich was an above-average player, but those days are long gone. Let’s just hope that Hinrich gets in the way of opposing ball-handlers and shoots at least 40% from the floor.

G/F Jimmy Butler (13.1 PPG, 4.9 TRB, 2.6 APG, 1.9 STL, .397 FG%, .280 3P%, .769 FT%, 108 ORtg, 100 DRtg, .522 TS%, .446 eFG%) Make no mistake about it: Butler couldn’t hit a shot to save his life during the 13-14 season. With Rose out due to injury, more of the onus to score fell on Butler’s shoulders than should have, and the result was a paltry 39.7% from the floor and sub-30% from deep. Despite his shooting woes, Butler still made the NBA’s All-Defense Second Team and for the second straight postseason, averaged more than 17 points per game. If Butler becomes even a league-average shooter from the floor and three, the Bulls’ offense will be even more potent.

G Tony Snell (4.5 PPG, 1.6 TRB, .9 APG, .384 FG%, .320 3P%, .756 FT%, 97 ORtg, 104 DRtg, .489 TS%, .469 eFG%) Snell had a great summer and must be looking to carry that play over into the regular season, because he shot the ball terribly this preseason. At 16 minutes per game, Snell played more as a rookie than I predicted, and if given the same playing time, could prove to be a very effective scorer. He and McDermott will make the reserves a good offensive unit if they’re knocking down shots and slashing to the basket. Also, Snell has the length and athleticism to be a good defender in the Bulls’ system, provided he realizes that when on the defensive end, one’s focus should be on defense.

C/F Nazr Mohammed (1.6 PPG, 2.2 TRB, .3 APG. .4 BPG, .429 FG%, .533 FT%, 90 ORtg, 97 DRtg, .445 TS%, .429 eFG%) Chicago Public Schools (Kenwood Academy) product Nazr Mohammed returns for his 17th NBA season. At the age of 36, he will be counted on to give Jo, Pau and Taj breathers whenever necessary. Nazr can’t be counted on to do too much, but he is long and an adequate rim defender.

Outlook: Despite the fact that many “pundits” and “experts” are picking the new-look Cavaliers to win the Central Division and Eastern Conference, I firmly believe the Bulls will come away with those titles. While the Cavs look impressive on paper, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love still seem allergic to defense and outside of LeBron, Shawn Marion, and Anderson Varejao, there doesn’t seem to be a player on the roster who is even an okay defender. The Bulls team that reached the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals was one that had only one real offensive threat, and that was Derrick Rose. This Bulls team has Rose, Gasol, McDermott, Mirotic, Brooks, and don’t forget Noah, a big capable of dishing out five assists a night. All of those players are at least fairly capable of creating for themselves, and all of them except McDermott are more than equipped to create for others. Combine the newfound offense with a staunch defensive mentality and I believe we have a Bulls team that could prove itself better than the Cavs when all is said and done. Obviously, the games must be played, but it shouldn’t take long to figure out that when healthy, this Bulls team should be considered one of the favorites to win it all.

Doug McDermott is just so…Bulls

The 2014 NBA Draft took place last week, and it was one of the deeper drafts in recent memory. Armed with the 16th and 19th overall pick, there were a few options for the Bulls. Keep the two picks and add cheap, young pieces for the future. Trade both picks to move up in the draft. Trade both picks in order to acquire a “superstar,” like Kevin Love, or even Carmelo Anthony.

Going into the draft, the Bulls needed a backup point guard, shooting guard or guard who can handle the ball well, along with a backup power forward or center. I had dreamt of the Bulls selecting Michigan State products Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, and it had nothing to do with school allegiance, but fit and more importantly, talent. Harris is a bulldog of a shooting guard who can shoot it from distance as well as defend his ass off. Payne is a prototypical stretch power forward who can step outside and knock down shots as well as maneuver in the low post. Yet, there were growing reports that the Bulls were looking to move up in the draft. ‘That’s fine,’ I thought. Fine, so long as the reports that the Bulls were targeting former Michigan guard Nik Stauskas and former Creighton guard/forward Doug McDermott were false. They weren’t. Of course, they weren’t.

The Bulls traded the 16th and 19th picks to the Denver Nuggets for the 11th pick…who happened to be McDermott. Oy freaking vey, Bulls.

Don’t get me wrong; McDermott was one hell of a college basketball player. Rather, he was one hell of a college basketball scorer. In his senior year and first in the Big East Conference, McDermott finished with this line: 27.7 PPG, .541 FG%, .463 3P%, .864 FT%, 5.8 FTA (career-high), .644 TS%, .603 eFG%, and only a 7.9 TOV% despite a USG% of 36.2. Simply put, a college basketball player shouldn’t be able to score in that manner, and with such proficiency. I don’t care if you’re playing in what is undoubtedly the weakest conference in NCAA history, to post those numbers over an entire season is mind-boggling and worthy of recognition.

However, McDermott played in a watered-down Big East for the 2013-14 season. Gone from the once-powerful conference was Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse, Notre Dame, UConn, and Cincy. And those schools weren’t nearly bottom-feeders, either:

  • Louisville won 31 games and reached the Sweet 16…without Chane Benahan, who was dismissed from the team.
  • Pitt won 26 games and finished a solid fifth in the ACC.
  • Syracuse, a 2013 Final Four team, won 28 games and finished second in the ACC, behind regular season and conference tournament champion, Virginia.
  • Notre Dame, another new member of the ACC, started a very respectable 8-4 but went 7-13 in the games Jerian Grant missed due to suspension.
  • All UConn did was win 32 games and the 2014 NCAA title.
  • Cincinnati played stingy defense all year long as it led them to 27 wins and a share of the American Athletic Conference’s regular-season title.

The Big East was not long ago a conference that could send 7 or 8 teams to the tournament, with ease. A few of those teams would enter as national title favorites, and it wasn’t a surprise when one of them came out on top. The 2013-14 Big East was just…not good. Only three schools, Villanova, Creighton, and Marquette, found themselves in the AP Top 25 all season, and only Villanova and Creighton were ranked over the final two months. Providence made the tournament because they won the conference tournament and Xavier clearly bribed someone to go dancing, because their best win of the season was probably against Cincy, at a neutral site.

When someone tries to argue that because McDermott lit up the Big East, he will do the same in the NBA, I point to the quality of the conference today, and not five years ago, when it was arguably the best and deepest conference in the entire nation. Point out McDermott’s gaudy offensive numbers and I’ll inform you that Creighton’s offense, most likely devised by McDermott’s dad, who is also the head coach, runs through Doug. It’s not so much that “McD” averaged nearly 28 a night while the Creighton’s next-leading scorer, fellow senior Ethan Wragge averaged not even 10.5. McD attempted 17.9 shots a game while the team’s next three leading scorers didn’t attempt that many as a trio. Yes, McDermott is listed as a small forward, but he played the 4 in college. So, I’m not all that impressed by the fact he pulled down 7.5 rebounds per game over his career, because he was not doing it from a guard or primarily wing position on the floor. Watching McDermott go to work in the low post, which he did fairly often, was a pleasure. However, he’ll have to likely scrap his post game now that he’s in the NBA because he will be constantly going against defenders who are longer and more athletic than the competition he faced in college, whether in the Missouri Valley Conference or Big East. McDermott could pattern his game after Ray Allen’s, but he doesn’t have the foot speed or quickness to consistently run away from defenders while trying to maneuver around teammates’ screens.

In addition, McD is a barely average ball-handler, so you really can’t call isolation plays for him at the NBA level. Despite playing over 30 minutes a game as well as posting a USG% over 32 during his college career, he averaged only 1.3 assists per contest. Carmelo Anthony managed to at least average 2.2 APG during his one season at Syracuse, and “Melo” can certainly be a black hole on offense. And while his offensive shortcomings aren’t many, on the defensive end, McD is a flat-out non-factor.

Explain to me how someone can spend so much time on the floor, year in and year out, and not even average half a steal or block per game. If you were to combine his steal and block numbers, he doesn’t even average half a steal and block per game, combined. Monta Ellis is not a great, very good, or even good defender, really. But Ellis can get you two steals per night, and the same goes for a number of other NBA players. This is due to athleticism, mostly, which McD was not exactly blessed with. A team can’t even count on McD to play the passing lane and come away with a steal or, when guarding a smaller player, to swat a shot, or at least alter the course of it.

I’m very aware that Bulls’ head coach Tom Thibodeau is a defensive wizard and with just about any collection of 12 guys, can produce a good defensive unit. But the NBA, to an extent, is still about individual play; a game of one-on-one within a team game. McDermott is 6’7″ and 220 lbs., and will probably mostly play small forward in the NBA. It’s certainly a position of strength, whether you mention LeBron James, Melo, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Rudy Gay, or even Nic Batum and Luol Deng. Yes, Thibs’ defensive scheme calls more for team defense, but there will definitely be times when McD finds himself on the perimeter, all alone, stuck with the task of keeping LeBron or Durant in front of him. I don’t like McD’s chances in that situation. Ever.

Could McDermott wind up becoming a good NBA player? Of course he could. He’s much better than, say, Adam Morrison, another prolific college scorer who beat up on inferior competition over four years. However, the NBA is becoming increasingly athletic and while that doesn’t mean there’s no longer room for those of less-than-stellar athletic ability, it means those guys will essentially be relegated to role player status. This is especially true for guards and wings, and if McD doesn’t find himself at the 3, the only other position he’ll man is the 2.

Best-case scenario: McDermott ends up being a very good reserve; coming off the bench to provide instant offense and take advantage of opponents’ second units. Think a less athletic, less talented Paul Pierce.

Worst-case scenario: McDermott finds it much harder to score in the NBA and his lack of defensive prowess results in him becoming more of a detriment to his team. Think a taller, bigger Jimmer Fredette.

I’m still irked about the McDermott deal. Not only did they give up draft value, but they also took on the contract of Anthony Randolph, who has been a disappointment to this point in his NBA career. While one would think the Bulls set out to save money, they actually lost cap space with the deal. Randolph could be moved, but it would have to be part of a package.

And yet, I wasn’t surprised by this move. Really, I wasn’t. Trading the 16th and 19th pick along with a future first-rounder to move into the top 7 would have been too grand a move for a franchise that, outside of the trade for Dennis Rodman and Elton Brand/Tyson Chandler swap, doesn’t really make bold moves. “Thibs” definitely is fond of more experienced players, as two recent first-round draft picks who spent four years in college, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, are projected to start next season. So again, this move makes sense when considering the preferences of Thibs. When taking into account that the Bulls are still without a backup point guard and that if Carlos Boozer is amnestied, there’s no front court depth behind Gibson and Joakim Noah, this moves makes no sense at all. And if the Bulls don’t go into the 2014-15 season with Melo, LeBron, Love, or European prospect Nikola Mirotic, the move definitely makes no sense and will go down as a big, fat, red F in my grade book.

I don’t blame McDermott for any of this. And while the deal still has not given me any reason to celebrate it, I’m no longer really angered by it. This, because McDermott is just so…Bulls.