Ranking 7 Chicago Bulls Who Must Step Their Game Up with Derrick Rose Sidelined
Can the Bulls thrive without Rose? A championship is not in reach, but they could still lock in a playoff spot provided some of their roster outperform expectations.
There is no sure timetable for Rose to return, and the 24-year-old star told ESPN's Rachel Nichols he’ll come back only when he is ready.
“When the time comes I just have to be ready and prove to the people here that I am ready to play,” he told Nichols. “Who knows when that time is? If it's all year I might wait the whole year, so what? If I come back at the All-Star (break), so what?”
Without Rose, the Bulls are not title contenders. They are a fairly deep team with an excellent coach and some players who should step up big in Rose’s absence.
Let’s rank the seven Chicago Bulls who need to step up their game this season.
7. Jimmy Butler
As a rookie last year, Jimmy Butler played in 8.5 minutes a contest and scored 2.1 points a game.
Butler needs to show significant improvement this season. In preseason, he scored 5.4 points a contest on 33.3 percent shooting. Those aren’t acceptable figures for Butler or for the Bulls, as the team needs depth and consistency behind starter Luol Deng.
Butler doesn’t need to score in double figures a contest, but in Rose’s absence, the bench needs to offer a reliable scoring punch. Butler needs to be a solid part of that. If he is going to play 20 minutes per contest, Bulls fans should hope for seven points a contest on 43 percent shooting.
To his credit, Butler is a sharp defender and a good rebounder—in preseason, he grabbed 4.3 boards a contest. His rebounding skills will be nice off the bench, but his scoring needs to be far more effective.
If Butler can’t give solid contribution off the bench, the Bulls can survive. They’ll just need to get seriously efficient contributions from Marco Belinelli and Vladimir Radmanovic. It’s not as safe a route to go, but it is survivable—which keeps Butler at No. 7 on the list.
6. Nate Robinson
With Kirk Hinrich set to start, Nate Robinson enters as the backup point for Chicago. Neither Hinrich nor Robinson can reproduce Rose’s scoring, but Robinson needs to deliver some of the offensive firepower that Bulls will lack in Rose’s absence.
Hinrich is the safer starter, but Robinson’s explosive abilities make him an excellent sixth man. Robinson has a career average of 11.2 points per contest despite only starting in 18 percent of his games. Last season in Golden State, he scored 11.2 points in 23.4 minutes a contest.
The issue for Robinson is his efficiency—for his career, he’s shot 42.5 percent from the field. That is an all right number for a bench guard, but if Robinson truly hopes to fit into the Chicago system he needs to increase his shooting percentage this season.
Things looked good for Robinson in the preseason, where he averaged 12.3 points and 4.6 assists, and had a 24 point, 13 assist outing against Milwaukee on October 18. Over the whole preseason though, he did shoot 37.5 percent from the field, which isn’t an acceptable figure.
The Bulls need Robinson to be consistent in both his offense and defense and provide a bench spark in Rose’s absence. They could survive if he doesn’t, but it would hold their offensive abilities back, which puts Robinson square at No. 6 on the list.
5. Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah has never been a serious scoring weapon for the Bulls, and without Rose, that should exactly change. He needs to be prepared for more defensive workload.
By all accounts, Noah is a solid but not amazing defender. According to Synergy Sports, Noah allowed .86 points per defensive possession last year, squarely in average range. 82games.com shows Noah’s defensive efficiency at 1.02, with one being average territory.
Rose’s absence leaves more defensive issues for Noah to worry about. Teammate Carlos Boozer has never been a sharp defender (Synergy Sports shows him giving up .89 points per defensive possession), and now that Boozer will have to carry the offensive load, he may have even less energy for defense.
Meanwhile, the guards who are set to replace Rose aren’t as good defenders as the superstar. Nate Robinson allowed .99 points per defensive possession last year, ranked 423 in the league. Starter Kirk Hinrich allowed a more respectable .87 points per defensive possession, which ranked 257th.
In contrast, Rose allowed .77 points per defensive possession, a stellar 65th in the league. Hinrich nor Robinson are as good defenders as Rose is, which means more guards could get by them and meet up against Noah in the paint defensively.
Noah will have to pick up a much tougher defensive workload with Rose out, and he needs to be ready to meet that challenge.
4. Rip Hamilton
Richard Hamilton had a solid year last season—when he could stay on the floor, that is.
He played in 28 of the 65 games for Chicago, spending the rest of the time hampered by injuries. When he was healthy, he averaged 11.2 points on 45.2 percent shooting and had a solid, if not amazing true shooting percentage of 50 percent.
He was also excellent defensively, and according to Synergy Sports he allowed .81 points per defensive possession, 128th best in the league.
This season, Hamilton needs to keep up those efficient numbers, although he might face enough tougher opponents defensively now that Rose is out. Since neither Hinrich nor Robinson are as sharp defensively as Hamilton has been, so it’ll be interesting to see if Hamilton shifts over to defend the better point guards.
Most importantly, Hamilton needs to stay healthy. He cannot totally control his health, and it isn’t safe to expect the 34-year-old not to miss time over the course of the season—but it doesn’t change the fact that the Bulls need him to remain on the court.
Chicago will need his consistent scoring badly as the roster will be worried about making up for Rose offensively. If Hamilton misses excessive time, they can’t be worrying about trying to cover for him as well.
A healthy season for Hamilton is very important to the Bulls success in 2012-13.
3. Kirk Hinrich
Kirk Hinrich has a lot of pressure on his shoulders this season. The 31-year-old veteran is back in Chicago after a three-year absence and will be starting in Derrick Rose’s point guard spot. After three mediocre seasons, there are legitimate questions as to just how much Hinrich has left in the tank.
Things aren’t so grim for Hinrich, though. On paper, he looks like a good fit for Coach Tom Thibodeau’s system—he is a smart, experienced leader who is a solid scorer and a solid defender. If he can provide consistency at the point, the Bulls will be a playoff team come April.
In 2007-08, his last season as a full time starter (before the Bulls drafted Rose, ironically), Hinrich averaged 13 points and 6.8 assists. Since that season, he’s been delegated to a bench role and spent time in Washington and Atlanta as a backup.
He’s a decent defender if not an exceptional one. According to Synergy Sports, he is ranked 257th in the league as he gave up .87 points per defensive possession for Atlanta last year. In a starting role with a better defensive squad, that number should improve.
If Hinrich can reproduce his 2007-08 numbers, the Bulls will be in excellent shape to lock in a playoff spot. Hinrich doesn’t need to score in bunches (that is for Nos. 1 and 2 on this list to worry about), he needs to run Thibodeau’s offense and play consistent defense.
Hinrich will never replace Rose, but expect more effective season from the veteran than he’s had in the last few years.
2. Luol Deng
Luol Deng has spent the last few years as an exceptionally good role player for the Chicago Bulls. The problem is the Bulls need him to be far more to survive the season.
Deng is an exceptionally good defender; according to Synergy Sports, he allowed .8 points per defensive possession last year, which ranked 108th best in the league. That is impressive for a guy who has to guard LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce multiple times a season.
Offensively, last year wasn’t a good year for Deng despite being named to his first All-Star game. He scored 14 points a game but shot 41.2 percent from the field, the worst in his career.
Now with Rose out, a lot depends on Deng’s ability to not only keep up his defensive prowess, but to also elevate his offensive game.
History is on Deng’s side. In 2006-07 as the Bulls major offensive weapon, Deng averaged 18.1 points on 51.4 percent shooting. In every other season aside from his rookie season, he’s shot over 44.8 percent and in his career he averages 46.5 percent total.
A lot more pressure is on Deng now than in the past, though. The expectations for the team have risen. If he can rise to that challenge offensively and score 17-18 points on 45 percent shooting, the Bulls will be in great shape. Anything less means disappointment for Chicago’s season.
1. Carlos Boozer
When Chicago signed Carlos Boozer two seasons ago, it was with the hope that Boozer could become the legitimate second option Rose desperately needed.
He hasn’t been that second option. He’s averaged 16.1 points per game as a Bull, disappointing considering he averaged 19.2 points in his six seasons with Utah.
Of all of the Bulls players aside from Rose, he has the most potential for a high scoring season. Not only will the Bulls need him get points (thus getting him the ball more), but he'll also have more room to operate.
Derrick Rose is a slashing type point guard, and according to 82games.com, 32 percent of his shots came from close to the basket. When Rose enters the paint, whether to score or to pass, he clogs up the lane and brings defenders with him. That means less room for Boozer whenever he got the ball in those situations.
Boozer will benefit from a more standard half-court style point guard like Hinrich. Hinrich’s shots only came at the rim 17 percent of the time last year. He won't attack the paint like Rose, and the Bulls should slow down the pace with Hinrich at the helm. This means more space and more touches for Boozer.
Boozer has been a true No. 1 type option in the past. If he cannot replicate that this season, Chicago does not have enough firepower to survive Rose’s absence. He is a lock for the most important player for Chicago this season.