What the Chicago Bulls Can Look Forward to Next Year
It has been a tough year for the Chicago Bulls, as several injuries have kept them from reaching their full potential. However, their performance leaves them with a lot to be excited about for next season.
Many of the Bulls starters have elevated their play in Derrick Rose's absence:
The emergence of sophomore forward Jimmy Butler has been a big surprise. His performance and potential to be even better could garner him a starting role in 2013.
The former league MVP, Rose, is expected to start next year, which could mean a championship run for the Bulls.
It hasn't been the best year for Chicago, but the future is certainly looking bright.
Jimmy Butler's Continued Improvement
As a starter, Butler has averaged 14 points and seven rebounds per game (2.3 offensive boards).
His ceiling is incredibly high. He's extremely athletic, has great speed and, over the course of the season, has shown a very solid jumper.
He's shooting almost 46 percent for the season, which isn't great, but as his jump shot improves, his chances to attack the rim will increase. He's shown that he can finish inside, and as he gets stronger, he'll only get better.
If Butler can become a scoring threat, putting him next to Rose could be deadly, as he will have many opportunities when Rose draws in extra defenders.
The more confidence Butler gets, the better he's going to be. Tom Thibodeau will continue to develop him, and once his offense is consistent, he could become one of the better guards in the league.
If the Bulls decline Rip Hamilton's option to return for a third season, Butler could fill in and be the shooting guard they've been looking for.
Consistent 2-Guard Play
The Bulls signed Hamilton to a three-year deal in 2011 to put a guard next to Rose who could score consistently. Unfortunately, he has missed 68 games since joining the team and has averaged just under 11 points per game in two years.
It would be a surprise if the Bulls picked up his third-year option, so if they don't, Marco Belinelli could be in line to get re-signed and become the Bulls starter.
In 27 games as a starter, Belinelli has averaged 13.6 points and shot 40.4 percent from downtown. His biggest strength, however, is his ability to create off the dribble, something the Bulls haven't had from the shooting guard spot in a few years.
Putting someone who can create offense next to Rose would take pressure off him and also allow for some versatility on offense.
Even if the Bulls don't re-sign Belinelli, they still have a solid option in Butler, who—along with Deng—would make up one of the toughest defensive duos.
One thing is for sure, though, Bulls fans will be happy to finally see some consistent and solid play from their shooting guard.
New Rookie Prospect
The Bulls have a knack for bringing in good talent through the draft like Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah.
Marquis Teague is still in development, but he has shown flashes, and the potential to be a solid player is there.
Rookies don't generally play their debut season under Thibodeau, but if Butler is any indication of the way Thibs and the rest of the staff can develop a player, it's probably for the best.
Whether the Bulls draft a guard or center, you can bet that he'll have a moment or two where he shows why the Bulls selected him.
If the Bulls draft a center, there is a possibility he sees some playing time. They struggled with their depth at the center position this season even before Noah was sidelined.
If they decide to go the shooting guard route, there might be a bit of a logjam, but if he's a proven shooter, he could see a few minutes on the floor.
No matter whom the Bulls draft, fans should rest assured that he will be ready to play when his number is called on.
Derrick Rose's Return
While there's still a chance Rose returns this season, as more and more time passes, the less likely it seems. If that's the case, the Bulls' home opener in 2013 will be one of the biggest events in Chicago.
After a full summer of his regular workout routine and team practices, Rose should be ready to go at the start of next season. This makes the Bulls an instant threat to win it all.
It's also believed that Rose's offense has vastly improved.
According to ESPN's Ric Bucher, Rose has improved his three-point shot, can now finish his floater with either hand and developed a step-back jumper with a quicker release than usual.
If Rose's long- and mid-range game have improved, it will only make him more dangerous as he can utilize the pump fake to drive by defenders.
Rose's return will definitely be one of the biggest stories next season.
A Championship Run
Chicago had the best league record the past two years, including an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2011. Going into 2013, the team is expected to be fully intact.
With Rose back in the lineup, Noah playing at a higher level and a solid 2-guard in either Butler or Belinelli (or perhaps a different free-agent acquisition), the Bulls should be right back in the conversation as a legitimate title contender.
They already have an elite defense and are one of the top rebounding teams. With Thibodeau at the helm and the team at full strength, there won't be many teams that will be able to stop them.
They have to remain healthy for a title run, however, so having depth at each position is crucial.
Noah's plantar fasciitis will remain a concern, as it's a very nagging injury. The Bulls must get a serviceable backup center, whether it's re-signing Nazr Mohammed, drafting one or acquiring one during free agency.
There's no denying that when the Bulls are healthy, they are one of the best teams in the NBA.