One Area Where Every Chicago Bulls Player Must Improve Before Next Season
Each player on the team can improve a deficiency in his game that could help the Bulls get closer to a title in 2013. Shooting percentage, defense and energy are a just a few of the areas in which specific players need to improve for that to happen. The deficiencies in these players’ games are varied to say the least.
No player is exempt from this topic. Even Derrick Rose, the league MVP just a little over a year ago, has at least one area in which he could improve significantly. The same goes for Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and even newcomer Kirk Hinrich. These players are talented veterans, but no player ever truly becomes complete. Luckily for fans, that does not stop the best ones from trying.
I will go through the Bulls’ main contributors and detail a specific area in the game of each that needs to be improved. Following that will be an analysis of why that area is important and how it would help the team.
Sadly, the area that Nazr Mohammed most needs to improve in is one that is beyond his control. The 34-year-old center has seen a lot of action in the NBA and is well past his prime. However, he does have contributions he can make in spite of this issue.
He is a solid locker room presence for every team that signs him. He also is still talented, with a solid jump hook and decent defensive abilities. He has the size necessary to play the position asked of him, and he should be able to back up Joakim Noah without many problems.
However, if Noah should be injured or get into foul trouble, the Bulls could find themselves in a world of hurt. Mohammed is not the type of player who is able to play for more than 15 minutes or so per game. Anything more than that may be beyond his capabilities at this point in his career. Barring such a situation, Mohammed should be a great player to have for Chicago’s second unit.
Free Throw Shooting
Taj Gibson is a big part of why this Chicago Bulls team is one of the best in the NBA. Despite coming off the bench and having just three years of experience, Gibson has become a difference-maker. The energy and toughness he brings off the bench are critical as far as depth goes. However, there is a part of his game that he could improve if he wants to get more floor time.
That area is at the free-throw line. For his career, Gibson has shot just 64.8 percent from the free-throw line. While some may let a big man get away with that, Gibson should improve it, as it is clearly the biggest deficiency in his game. Last season, he shot a career-low 62 percent from the charity stripe.
He is a versatile player who can help out on both ends of the floor, and his enthusiasm can really power this team through stretches. However, his free throws must get better if he is to continue to play a bigger role for his team.
Kirk Hinrich is a very good veteran guard. He has the size and skills to play the point or shooting guard, and he is good at understanding his role on a team. That is what the Chicago Bulls need right now, but he must improve in one area. Hinrich’s defense has never been anything to write home about, and now he is about to lead one of the best defensive teams in the NBA.
He is not bad on defense per se, but Hinrich is definitely a step down from the quickness and athleticism that Derrick Rose has. He will need to rely on his experience and awareness in order to be in top shape defensively. Those are his biggest advantages over opponents, and he must use them as best he can.
If Hinrich can improve his defense and keep the rest of his game where it is, the Bulls should have no problem being among the top teams in the Eastern Conference, even without Rose. However, if he is not able to defend he will weaken the Bulls by giving their opponents a position to exploit that they had not been able to before.
The Chicago Bulls brought in Richard Hamilton a year ago to be the wing player who could give Derrick Rose the support he needed offensively. Thanks largely to injuries, Hamilton was never really able to settle into that role. However, he must do that this season, and a large part of that equation is his energy on the court.
First off, let me give Hamilton a pass for last season. Not only was he coming off an abysmal last few years in Detroit, but he also missed over half the year with injuries. Coming from a toxic situation into an injury-plagued one is tough, even for a player of Hamilton’s experience. It makes sense that he would be a bit behind the curve in terms of finding his mojo.
However, there were times when I watched Bulls games and did not even notice the guy on the court. He did not have a bad year statistically, averaging 11 points per game on 45 percent shooting. When you see those numbers, he seemed to do what the Bulls needed him to. However, his lack of energy on the court was alarming.
I think he will correct that this season, especially since he is a year removed from all of last year’s problems. If he does, he will make a much bigger difference for the Bulls, which is exactly what they want from him.
Joakim Noah is a fantastic young center, primarily because of his prowess on the defensive end of the floor. He is the foundation for the Bulls defense, which was the best in the NBA last season. However, his offensive abilities could use some work.
While specialization is clearly a big component of most teams’ strategies these days in the NBA, most players should try to improve as much as they can in all areas of the game. Noah is a great defender, but he could be more than that. He is not the worst offensive center in the league. However, he struggles to create on his own in the post, and improving in that area would make him a much better all-around basketball player.
The Bulls are a team that can struggle offensively without Rose on the court. A Joakim Noah who can score in the post makes everyone on the court better. Noah has the ability to do it, but he will need the shots in order to do so. If he gets enough shots and works on this particular facet enough, he could be a top three center in the NBA.
Carlos Boozer has become the most maligned player on this team over the past couple of seasons. The biggest reason for that is the massive contract that the Bulls gave him during the 2010 offseason. That contract was for $75 million over five seasons. While I would agree he has not lived up to that type of money, he has still been good.
Last season, he averaged 15 points and 8.5 boards while shooting over 53 percent from the field. That is what the Bulls need from him. He can put the ball in the basket almost as well as any power forward out there. What he must work on, though, is his defense.
Boozer is a bit undersized for his position, and he can be a liability defensively. While that usually is not a problem since he shares the frontcourt with defensive monster Joakim Noah, it will be an issue against teams with multiple players that can score in the post like the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets. Those teams will be able to exploit Boozer in the post, causing problems for the Bulls.
He cannot help his own physical limitations, such as his size and his lack of leaping ability. However, Boozer must do everything he can to be a better defender in the low post. Improving his technique and strength are a couple of ways he could accomplish that.
The leader of the Chicago Bulls is Derrick Rose. That much is unquestionable, but they will be without him for a large chunk of the season. I am sure that he will lead from the bench as much as he can, but that on-the-court leadership will be missed if someone does not step up and fill in. Kirk Hinrich is a very capable veteran point guard who has experience with this team, but he will not be able to fill the leadership role vacated by Rose.
The man to fill that role must be Luol Deng. The 27-year-old small forward is distinguishing himself as star in his own right, and it is time for him to step up and lead this team in Rose’s absence. Deng was an All-Star last season, but the truth is that he can be even better than he was then. His stats were down last season for the most part, and Rose’s absence gives him the opportunity to prove that his All-Star selection last season was not just a fluke.
Deng’s ability to improve in this area may be the biggest reason why or why not the Bulls win a championship in 2013. Even after Rose returns, he still needs more help than he has gotten over the past few years in order to defeat the beasts of the Eastern Conference. Deng will be instrumental in that effort, as a wing player that Rose and the rest of the team can depend on in big moments. That is, only if he makes the effort to improve in that way.
Derrick Rose is obviously one of the best point guards in the game. He can score, pass and is underrated on the defensive end. However, one area he needs to improve in is his shooting percentage.
Shooting percentage is important when it comes to efficiency, and Rose has struggled in this area throughout his career. He is a combo point guard, who is a primary scorer on his team despite his position. Most score-first point guards have struggled with this aspect of their games (e.g. Russell Westbrook, Allen Iverson).
Last season, Rose shot a career-low 43 percent from the field. While that may have been a byproduct of an injury-shortened season, it is still not good enough for the Bulls to win a championship. By taking better, more high-percentage shots, Rose would waste fewer possessions and make the Bulls better offensively. To do that, he must also improve his long-range shooting. Last season, he shot a poor percentage (31 percent) from three-point range. That low percentage allows teams to back off Rose, limiting his ability to get into the paint where he really does damage.
Improving upon these percentages will make Rose a better player by giving him better opportunities to score and getting others in position to score. In turn, that will make the team a much better one on the offensive end.