Key Improvements Chicago Bulls Must Make Before Derrick Rose Returns
Derrick Rose's return draws ever closer. In fact, if the estimates of the first game after the All-Star break hold true, Rose could be making his return two weeks from the writing of this article.
Rose will doubtless answer some of the problems, most notably the Bulls' struggles on offense. Last year the Bulls were 8.2 points better per 48 minutes while Rose was on the court. The year prior they were 11.2 points better.
Certainly the Bulls are a more effective offense with Rose.
That won't solve all the issues the Bulls have though, and if they want to win a title this year, there are a few tweaks they need to make as soon as possible.
Once Rose returns, it's going to be all about getting ready for the postseason, which means that the roster and rotations need to be settled quickly.
With that in mind, here are a few tweaks the Bulls should consider.
Add a Big Man Who Can Be on the Court
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Remember that great play that Nazr Mohammed made for the Chicago Bulls? No? Neither does anyone else who lives on this particular plane of existence.
With Joakim Noah injured, the backup center has notched a whopping total of 7:54. And all of that was in the beginning of the first game. Furthermore, that accounts for half of his playing time in the last nine games.
Tom Thibodeau is all about "next man up," but it's pretty apparent that at this point he has no confidence in Mohammed. There's no point in carrying an emergency big man if you won't even play him in emergencies.
The kicker came against the Pacers, where the 6'7" Jimmy Butler was logging minutes at power forward rather than bringing in Mohammed.
There is speculation by Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald that the Bulls might be able to land not one, but two bigs for Richard Hamilton.
Hamilton makes $5 million this year, but a potential problem is he's owed a partial guarantee for next season, something the Bulls had to add to seal the deal before signing him. Would Denver ask the Bulls to take Movgoz (sic) and Anthony Randolph, who's owed $3.5 million over the next two seasons? Probably. Movgoz (sic) makes $2.79 million, so another player would have to be included.
If this is a possibility, then Gar Foreman and John Paxson should cleverly put Masai Ujiri, GM of the Denver Nuggets, on hold, run around the desk several times, laughing giddily and exchanging high fives before somberly picking up the phone and saying, "we think we can do that."
Then they should fall on the ground weeping and thanking whatever basketball deities they worship for the trade sent form the heavens—or at least the mountains.
This is a perfect trade, and absolutely works via the trade machine. Neither player is logging minutes with the Nuggets, but both are not mere upgrades over Mohammed, they're exponentially better.
They also offer different talents. Mozgov is a poor man's OmerAsik with similar defense, size and shot blocking. He also has the same "hands" and "post moves" that Asik "offered," (and yes, I mean all that in a bad way, which is why I've got the quotes there).
The real steal of this trade might be Randolph. He has the same kind of skills and athleticism that Noah has. He could be a true replacement in the Bulls system. He does't know it, but he's just been waiting his whole life for Tom Thibodeau to coach him into the star he could be.
The idea of getting both for what is essentially chump-change is positively endorphin inducing.
Play Daequan Cook
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Q. Why are the Chicago Bulls the most hospitable team in the NBA?
A. Because they're the only team that has both a Cook and a Butler on it!
If the Bulls are going to jettison Richard Hamilton, then they are going to need to replace him as the starting shooting guard.
The impulse from many fans is going to be that Jimmy Butler or Marco Belinelli would be the best to move up into the starting spot. Let's make a bit of a case for Daequan Cook though.
Remember when Bulls lamented that the Chicago Bulls problem was that they didn't have a shooting guard who could both shoot and guard?
Enter Cook. On defense he's Keith Bogans. On offense he's Kyle Korver. He's a career .363 three-point shooter, and he is a terrific catch-and-shoot player.
Jimmy Butler has been amazing, but if the Bulls start him, that means he's not going to have as many minutes to spell Luol Deng. Belinelli is a better ball handler but he's not as good of a defender. And while he's a good shooter, he's not a catch-and-shoot player like Cook is. He's a little too hesitant at times to take the shot. He seems better pulling up and shooting.
When Rose comes back the Bulls will need a starting shooting guard who will take the kick out of Rose's drive and knock it down without hesitation, the way that Korver used to do it.
The Bulls knock down 8.5 three-pointers per 48 minutes while Cook is on the court this year compared to just 4.5 when he's not. Cook would stretch the court and make the Bulls far more effective.
Additionally there's the fact that Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, and Taj Gibson have already developed tremendous chemistry. Throw the aforementioned Anthony Randolph into that mix, and you have a second unit that can shred on both ends of the court.
Cook, athletically, doesn't blend as well with that group.
The beauty of the way the Bulls would be composed is that Thibodeau would be able to mix and match.
The diversity of Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler gives him the freedom to play many different lineups. How they "finish" doesn't need to reflect how they start. Nor does it mean that the starters get more minutes.
The best bet is that Cook starts and that Butler and Robinson take more minutes off the bench to avoid overworking Derrick Rose and Deng.
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All that time and energy Bulls fans have been spending on making sure that Derrick Rose doesn't rush back needs to now be directed at Joakim Noah and his plantar fasciitis.
The last thing the Bulls need is for Noah to go out as soon as Rose returns.
The most imperative thing the Bulls can do is get and stay healthy. They don't just need to be healthy for the postseason, they need to be healthy before the postseason.
Rose needs to re-establish his rhythm and chemistry with his teammates, and with Noah's upgraded offensive game, Rose is going to need to establish that as much with him as anyone.
There are other issues. Marco Belinelli turned his ankle but finished the game against the Pacers. It remains to be see whether he will be fine for the next game. Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng both have had hamstring injuries.
While they are at the absolute worst part of their schedule to be struggling with frontcourt issues, the Bulls need to be pragmatic about the long-term. Two wins in February aren't worth two missing players in May.
This is also another reason they need to make a trade for another big (or if Denver is willing, two).
If the Bulls get Rose back while possessing a healthy and deep frontcourt and a bench that can fillet any opposition on both ends of the court, they would not only be a title contender, they could very well be title favorites.