Assessing Each Chicago Bulls Player's Actual Performance vs. Expectations
Chicago Bulls fans must curb their enthusiasm when it comes to the expectations of their team.
If you have taken the time to assess each player’s performance, you are not alone. I will look into the play of each Bull to see which player has met, exceeded or has failed to make the expectations fans have placed on them.
A couple of Bulls’ players, Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton, have come to close to meeting the goals that were set for them. As for the others, how has your favorite Bull performed thus far? It is time to find out.
When the Bulls signed Vladimir Radmanović to a one-year deal, his role was not defined immediately. He was the Bulls' first signing of the offseason and the Bulls, with as many as five roster spots, needed bodies. The expectations changed once the Bulls filled out their roster with Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed.
What Radmanović can do is stretch an opposing team’s defense with his three-point shooting.
This season so far he has only played extended minutes in one game (nine minutes versus the Los Angeles Clippers) this season. Radmanović has scored five points in four games. Even with the lowest of expectations, Radmanović’s performance has been underwhelming.
After losing Ömer Aşik to the Houston Rockets, the Bulls needed a center to backup Joakim Noah. Enter Nazr Mohammed, a rugged defender on the wrong side of 30.
The Bulls expect Mohammed to provide steady play in the frontcourt. Never a big scorer during his career, Mohammed can occasionally make an open jumper. His performance has been met with some uneven results.
Mohammed has played in every game but his appearances were limited. He has struggled from the field (1-14 shooting) while tallying up a total of 62 minutes.
That is not what Bulls fans had in mind when they signed Mohammed to a one-year deal.
Bulls’ head coach Tom Thibodeau does not play rookies very often. Therefore, the expectations for Marquis Teague are minute. Teague is to practice hard and learn the NBA game on the practice floor and during film sessions.
He has had little playing time in his rookie season, but he has played well during the limited action.
Teague has shown that he can run a team. He is adept at penetrating to the basket and creating opportunities for himself and his Bulls’ teammates.
The Marco Belinelli signing was not done to make us forget about the departed Kyle Korver; he was signed to ease the scoring load.
Belinelli was a scorer for the New Orleans Hornets over the past two seasons, averaging 10.4 and 11.8 PPG in that span. For the Bulls, Belinelli has seen a steep drop in his production. His 5.9 PPG are the lowest since his rookie year, but his minutes have also dropped.
Clocking in less than 17 minutes a game, Belinelli is used to playing starters' minutes, not the reserve minutes he has been getting.
This has played a primary role in how he has played.
When the Bulls allowed Ronnie Brewer to leave via free agency, they believed that Jimmy Butler would fill in nicely. The second-year swingman has improved as the season has progressed.
The defensive footwork by Butler has evolved in his second season. He was hesitant in moving feet last year, relying more on his length while guarding opponents. Now Butler uses his feet to gain an advantage on defense. Taking different angles and forcing his man into the shot-blockers in the low post.
Butler’s performance has been good. Perhaps he has been better than expected.
Nate Robinson was supposed to be a spark plug coming off the bench. He has been everything the Bulls could ever imagine and more.
There was little doubt that Robinson could score. He is fifth on the Bulls in scoring with 12 PPG and he has effectively run the Bulls’ offense while backing up Kirk Hinrich. Several local radio and television shows have even sparked the debate on whether Robinson should start instead of Hinrich (via CSNChicago.com, video courtesy of Chicago Tribune Live).
Robinson has outplayed Hinrich in the early part of the season. He has also outperformed his expectations.
If you are a fan of Taj Gibson’s game then your expectations of him is the solid defense that he provides to go along with his rebounding. Some fans expect more. They expect Gibson to pick up his scoring and improve his free-throw shooting. Assessing his performance depends on which side of the spectrum you rest on.
If you expected Gibson to be the player he has been throughout his career, you are satisfied. Gibson’s statistics of 6.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG and 1.9 BPG, except for rebounding, are close to his career averages of 7.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG and 1.3 BPG. It is easy to say that Gibson is having a typical season according to his standards. If you were expecting more from him, the disappointment is understandable.
Gibson has not shown enough improvement in any offensive category. For him it is not about scoring as much as it is about his floor spacing and getting in positions for offensive rebounds.
It is difficult to consider Kirk Hinrich a disappointment thus far. It is about the expectations that are in place for him. He is replacing an injured Derrick Rose, not an easy feat for any player. Hinrich is in an impossible situation.
He has played terrible in the early part of the season. Hinrich is shooting under 30 percent from the field and averaging less than five points a game (4.9 PPG is ranked 50th out of NBA point guards). Those numbers are not what anyone expects from a starting point guard.
Those numbers are not what anyone ever expected from Hinrich.
Last season, Richard Hamilton was supposed to be the shooting guard that would have put the Bulls over the top in the NBA Eastern Conference. A rash of injuries and a compressed 66-game season rendered him ineffective. When Hamilton was healthy, he played well, just not often in the fourth quarter.
Hamilton was a regular contributor on the bench in the closing quarter, as Coach Thibodeau opted to play the defensive-minded Brewer to finish games.
The Bulls expected Hamilton to stay healthy and add some scoring this season. He has delivered in both categories, but he has spent a few fourth quarters glued to the bench.
As far as expectations go, Joakim Noah has exceeded them all. Noah is making his case to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA All-Star game.
The Bulls needed a player to step up to the challenge while Rose is on the mend. Noah has done that. It is clear that Noah worked on his offense during the offseason.
The footwork he has displayed in the post looks polished. His spin-move is a potent addition and his drive to the lane appears fluid. Nobody expected Noah to be able to get his offense going at any time during a game.
Noah has also played the best defense of his career, averaging two blocks per game.
Luol Deng has been the Bulls' best player this season. This season has arguably been Deng’s best as a pro so far.
Deng, much like Noah, is playing like a NBA All-Star. After making the NBA All-Star team last season, Deng’s encore performance has included leading the Bulls in scoring with 18.1 PPG and being third on the team in rebounding (7.2 RPG).
Deng also has defended the opposing team’s best perimeter player.
He has had some struggles this season. Deng has been a victim of a couple of bad shooting nights. His last horrible game was the 101-80 loss (via ESPN.com, courtesy of the Associated Press) to the Los Angeles Clippers, when he shot 5-16 from the field.
Many Bulls fans expected Carlos Boozer to take a backseat on the bench while Gibson starts at power forward. Fans have seen the beauty of Boozer’s game and the ugliness to it. All in a one-week span.
Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boozer did not make a field goal and was held to two points. Conversely, against the Clippers just a week later, he scored 22 points and had 12 rebounds.
The Carlos Boozer we have seen is perhaps the version fans will continue to see. It is the version that will have a string of terrible games only to follow up those performances with a few double-doubles in succession.
The Bulls as a Team
Bulls fans have had mixed feelings about the expectations of the team. It is hard to gauge where the Bulls are as a team. One thing is certain.
The Bulls as currently constructed, cannot be considered contenders. They are not among the potential lottery teams of the NBA either. What the Bulls are is a team stuck in the middle, NBA purgatory.
They are not good enough to win a NBA Championship, not this season even if Rose returns. The road to the Finals would have to go through the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets or the New York Knicks. Each team is playing better basketball than the Bulls, getting past any of these teams will not be easy.
The Bulls are not bad enough to have a chance at improving through the NBA Draft Lottery. A risky proposition because Coach Thibodeau does not play rookies often and the draft is a crapshoot. For every Damian Lillard (Portland Trailblazers’ rookie), there is a Royce White (Houston Rockets). Teams never know what kind of player rookies may turn out to be.
If the Bulls have any success this season, i.e. advancing to the second round of the NBA Playoffs, The Bulls will have exceeded expectations. Are the Bulls back at square one?