Chicago Bulls: 5 Positions Where Team Must Improve
Chicago had the best record in the league in back-to-back seasons, but the team did not have enough to get past the Miami Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals or the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah out due to injuries for much of the series against Philly, the Bulls offense went stagnant and became the team's Achilles' heel. Defense, tenacity and effort were not enough for Chicago to overcome its lack of elite scoring talent.
And that means that it's time for some upgrades.
Here are five positions on Chicago's roster that the squad must improve heading into the 2012-13 season.
5. Backup Small Forward
2011-12 Backup SF: Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Jimmy Butler
Brewer and Korver both play more like shooting guards than small forwards, and the rookie Butler was clearly the last option of the group to fill the backup small forward role, averaging just 8.5 minutes per game in 42 contests.
With Rip Hamilton playing in just 28 games, Brewer and Korver had their hands full filling the void at the shooting guard position. Luol Deng played a team-high 39.4 minutes per game, mostly at small forward. He also spent some time at power forward in smaller lineups.
The Bulls cannot afford to keep playing Deng that many minutes each night, especially now that he will be coming off wrist surgery. Chicago needs a legitimate backup small forward who could contribute about 15-20 minutes per game. There's a good chance that the team will not be able to keep both Brewer and Korver due to salary cap restrictions, according to ESPN.
Butler appears to be ready to take on that role. He was impressive in the limited action he saw in 2011-12, and he should improve heading into his second year with a full preseason of preparation.
Chicago also may elect to go the route of free agency. Here are a few small forward options who would fit well with the Bulls.
Butler, however, is the least expensive choice.
4. Fifth Big Man
2011-12 Big Men: Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Brian Scalabrine
The four-man rotation at power forward and center is set for the next few years, assuming the Bulls can reach an agreement to extend Gibson's and Asik's contracts. That duo forms arguably the most formidable defensive pairing off the bench in the NBA.
Scalabrine mostly played in garbage minutes, and it's time that the Bulls utilize that wasted roster spot with another veteran big man who could actually contribute if one of the aforementioned post players misses significant time with injuries.
Noah has a history of injuries, and another center would give Chicago more depth in the frontcourt. In the 2010-11 campaign, which was Asik's rookie season, the Bulls had Kurt Thomas to fill in at the starting center spot, and he did a tremendous job.
While Asik is ready to handle the starting role in Noah's absence, Gibson cannot be the Bulls' lone big man off the bench. They need a Thomas-like center to handle minutes patrolling the paint.
Think about it this way. Big men to NBA teams are like pitchers to MLB squads; you can never have too many solid options.
Some potential free agents who Chicago could obtain for a low price include Jason Collins from the Atlanta Hawks, Joel Przybilla from the Portland Trail Blazers and Jamaal Magloire from the Toronto Raptors (via ESPN).
3. Backup Point Guard
2011-12 Backup PG: C.J. Watson, John Lucas III, Mike James
Watson performed like one of the top backup point guards in the NBA with Derrick Rose healthy, and he filled in nicely during the regular season as the starting floor leader with Rose injured.
The playoffs, however, were a different story. Watson's scoring average dipped by more than two points per game, even though he played significantly more minutes in Rose's absence in Games 2-6 (via Basketball-Reference). It may be one of the reasons why the Bulls are likely to let Watson become a free agent this offseason (via NBA.com).
In addition to Watson, Lucas proved to be instant offense as the third-string point guard. However, when he wasn't making shots, he struggled to run the offense and failed at facilitating for his teammates.
With Rose expected to miss most of next season, the Bulls must add at least one point guard to fill the starting and backup roles if they do not re-sign Watson. Lucas may have done enough to earn the No. 2 job heading into the 2012-13 season.
Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com has the Bulls selecting former Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor with the 29th pick in his latest mock draft. Taylor could serve as a backup while learning the ropes of the NBA, and he has the talent and athleticism to even handle the starting role if he develops faster than expected.
2. Starting Point Guard
2011-12 Starting PG: Derrick Rose (39 starts), C.J. Watson (25 starts), John Lucas III (2 starts)
Do the Bulls have enough cap room to sign an above-average, veteran point guard—maybe Andre Miller, Jason Kidd or Chauncey Billups—to take Rose's spot for the majority of next season?
This scenario would only be possible if the Bulls let go of Watson, Ronnie Brewer and maybe even Kyle Korver. With the team missing two All-Stars in Rose and Luol Deng for a large bulk of the season, Chicago's depth once again becomes important.
Let's see how good the Bulls scouts are. The best route would be to sign a relatively young, overlooked point guard who could snag the starting job until Rose gets back. Then Lucas and James could handle the second- and third-string duties.
This may as well be a continuation of the previous slide. Of the three players mentioned, Jonny Flynn could be just what the Bulls are looking for.
Flynn was the sixth overall pick in 2009, and so far in his three-year career he has not met the lofty expectations that his high selection suggests. He had a solid rookie campaign averaging 13.5 points and 4.4 assists per contest with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In 2010, he had hip surgery and has not been the same player since (via Pro Basketball Talk).
Perhaps in his fourth season, and third since the surgery, Flynn has learned how to cope with his hip injury. He could develop into a decent starter and then remain a solid backup once Rose returns to the floor.
1. Starting Shooting Guard
2011-12 Starting SG: Richard Hamilton (28 starts), Ronnie Brewer (43 starts - includes starts at SF), Kyle Korver (7 starts - also includes starts at SF)
The Bulls thought they were upgrading at shooting guard by signing Rip Hamilton to replace Keith Bogans, and many thought that Hamilton could be the final piece to Chicago's championship puzzle.
Hamilton averaged 11.6 points per contest in an injury-shortened season, which was the lowest total since his rookie season. In the first round of the NBA Playoffs, the 13-year NBA veteran was no match for an athletic Philadelphia 76ers squad after Derrick Rose tore his ACL.
For the second consecutive playoffs, the Bulls were doomed by a lack of offense. The offense struggled because Chicago did not have another player outside of Rose to break down the defense and find his own shot, get to the free-throw line and create opportunities for the other players on the floor.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, the team does not have the money to spend to obtain a premier shooting guard for the 2012-13 season. Chicago will likely begin its quest for a title with Hamilton starting in that spot, and hopefully more preseason preparation will help the 34-year-old NBA champion.
However, the Bulls may have the chance to select John Jenkins from Vanderbilt or Doron Lamb from Kentucky in the first round of the NBA Draft. Both of these players are skilled shooters and could immediately make an impact on offense off the bench.
When Rose comes back from his ACL injury, this may be the most important position to address moving forward for Chicago. The team prides itself on depth and defense, but another elite scorer alongside the former MVP could propel the Bulls to the next level in the NBA playoffs.