The Chicago Bulls are ready for the 2013-14 season. They’ve assembled their best roster since the Michael Jordan era. Where do the current Bulls players rank compared to one another? What can we expect from them individually?
Here, we’ll take a look at the Bulls roster, player by player, and predict their season ahead.
For the top 10 players, their strengths and weaknesses are reviewed, and there are also statistical projections. The players are ranked according to how much value they bring to the team. For each of them, I project points, rebounds, assists and field-goal percentage, and for the perimeter players, I project three-point percentage as well.
The list also includes a slide for the players with nonguaranteed contracts and another for the those with guaranteed contracts who are unlikely to see much court time.
Stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.
The Bulls have 12 guaranteed contracts and need to have one more roster spot to meet the minimum. Currently, three players are on the team, vying for that last spot on the bench, although it’s at least possible that two, or even all three, could remain with the team, as the maximum roster is 15.
Mike James is on his second stint with the Chicago Bulls, previously playing for them in the 2012 season. He averaged 4.8 points and 2.6 assists in 10.9 minutes per game, which is reasonably productive for a fourth-string point guard picked up midseason after coming out of retirement.
It was enough for him to land a job with the Dallas Mavericks last year, where he averaged 6.1 points and 3.1 assists in 45 games.
Over the two-year span, James averaged 12.0 points and 6.1 assists per 36 minutes. He’s a savvy veteran who knows how to run the point and who also knows Tom Thibodeau’s defense. This is his third time playing on a team where Thibodeau was the defensive architect, having previously played under him in Houston back in 2005.
It is believed that the Bulls will only carry 13 roster spots, but there is a chance they could carry 14. They aren’t hard-capped this year so they can, if they choose to. If they do, James will be the player they pick.
Derrick Rose has already missed one preseason game with a sore knee. Kirk Hinrich has a history of injuries. Are the Bulls ready to entrust a potential start to Marquis Teague? Possibly not. There’s a chance they keep James around for insurance. Even if they do start Teague, they’d need him to back up their sophomore.
So, even if James doesn't make the final cut, don't be surprised if he gets a call at some point this season.
Erik Murphy is the Bulls' second-round draft pick from this year’s draft. He’s shown growth during the summer league and the preseason.
He averaged 11.6 points 4.8 boards and 1.2 assists in Las Vegas. He hit on 10 of his 20 three-point shots and achieved .548 from the field overall. He has the potential to be the stretch 4 the Bulls have been looking for.
The problem is, he commits a lot of fouls. In his first summer league game, he fouled out, which is impressive when you consider it takes 10 fouls to do that.
He’s been averaging 21 minutes per game during the preseason, suggesting the possibility that he could see actual playing time. Don’t be surprised if he gets more minutes than his rookie counterpart. Thibodeau has shown less reluctance in playing young, big men than with wings and guards.
That aforementioned counterpart, Tony Snell, was the Bulls' first-round draft pick this year. He is in that long-limbed, defensive-minded-wing mold the Bulls have a liking for. He was noted as a shooter coming in, but he’s been struggling from the field through his first three preseason games, hitting on only two of his 13 shots and none of his five three-point attempts.
This is coming on the heels of hitting just .367 in the summer league as well. Of course, these are very small sample sizes, and there’s plenty of room for growth.
Snell will have his moments, but they’ll come sparsely. He will work on his game and add needed bulk during the season, filling in for spot duty from time to time.
Marquis Teague, after a shaky rookie season, showed growth in the summer league, averaging 18.3 points and 5.8 assists per game with a .500 effective field-goal percentage.
And while such things can only be validated by viewing the games, the eye test shows he’s improved dramatically on defense.
As he gets more playing time, and hopefully some of that will come with the starters, he’ll continue to develop his game. He’s not there yet, but he’s much further along than last year. He’s showing flashes of what he can be, having come into camp in much better shape and with a better mentality than he had in his rookie year.
The best aspect of his game is he has the speed and burst to penetrate and collapse defenses. Of all the point guards on the Bulls roster, he has the most potential to be a poor man’s Derrick Rose.
Teague’s biggest weakness is his lack of experience. He’s not ready to start as a point guard, and considering Rose’s situation and Hinrich’s injury history, he is probably as close to starting a game as any third-string point guard in the league.
Teague’s decision-making and shooting were both horrible as he shot just .381 from the field. That’s a combination of not knowing when to shoot or pass and not being a good shot. While those things were visibly improved in the summer league, there’s a big jump from Vegas to the regular season.
Still, the Bulls are committed to giving him more minutes this year, so look for his stats to climb and his game to develop.
Field-Goal Percentage: .439
Three-Point Percentage: .338
Nazr Mohammed is savvy veteran No. 2. He has been at this game for a long time. As a rookie, back in 1999, the “Millennium Bug” was still being touted as the thing that was going to ruin the world.
When you play that long, you learn a lot of things. Mohammed is not the kind of player who posts up massive box-score numbers, but he sets screens, plays physical and tosses LeBron James around like a rag doll.
He gives the Bulls that physical inside presence on offense. And, as he has learned the system, he’s also become a competent defensive supplement to Joakim Noah.
Remember that time when Mohammed just took over the game? Probably not. To be fair, it was “only” three years ago, when he was with the Charlotte Bobcats, and he had a couple of 20-point, 20-rebound games.
Mohammed’s just old, and you can’t change that. He’s not going to give you anything huge, but he’ll give you something solid when he plays.
There was once a short-yardage back, Leroy Hoard, who told his coach, per the Ohio Cards Blog, “Coach, if you need one yard, I’ll get you three yards. If you need five yards, I’ll get you three yards.” Mohammed is the NBA version of Hoard.
He has very low ceiling, but he has a pretty high floor. You’re going to get pretty much the same thing from him every night.
Field-Goal Percentage: .452
Kirk Hinrich, savvy veteran No. 3 (Gar Forman has a type), will serve as the primary backup point guard, as well as serving frequently as the backup shooting guard. He gets (annoyingly to some) described using the word “grit” almost any time his name is mentioned.
To be fair, Hinrich doesn’t fill up the box score at all, averaging only 7.7 points and 5.2 assists per game last season. However, in the little things he does, there was a measurable difference.
Last year, the Bulls were 3.4 points better than their opponent with Hinrich on the court, and 1.8 points worse with him off it. They were 38-22 when he played and lost 15 of the 22 games he didn’t play.
His tenacious defense doesn’t show up in box scores. His leading the league in "hockey assists" doesn’t show up either. He brings a lot of things to the game when he plays. It’s why he’s better suited to a role off the bench. Those little things can be a huge complement to Rose.
He isn’t anything close to an elite starting point guard, but as a primary backup, there aren’t many better in the NBA.
Hinrich doesn’t give the Bulls what they would hope to have the most in their first point guard off the bench—the ability to consistently create offense for himself. In fact, he only had 70 unassisted field goals all of last season.
Should something happen to Rose, or if he struggles, there’s concern about where the extra offense will come from. The most ideal spot would be from his backup. Hinrich isn’t that player, though.
He can also be streaky from the three-point line. He didn’t hit any threes in 20 of the 60 games he played last year, and he shot below .300 from deep in 26 games.
Playing minutes at the shooting guard with Rose setting him up from deep should help with that. His biggest challenge will be to run the bench efficiently.
Field-Goal Percentage: .403
Three-Point Percentage: .398
Mike Dunleavy is generally cited as the “replacement” for Kyle Korver. That’s not quite accurate. Sure, there is some overlap. They are both three-point assassins, but to be fair, Dunleavy is not nearly the shooter whom Korver is. Korver is one of the best shooters in history. Dunleavy is not.
Dunleavy, on the other hand, is a more complete player. He’s a better passer, rebounder, ball-handler and team-defender than Korver.
Because of that, he can play the 2, 3 or 4, which makes the Bulls a far more versatile team than they were two years ago.
The Bulls might not have the second shot creator, but they have the answer to the traps and hyper-focus on Rose in the offensive versatility they didn’t have before. Dunleavy is a significant part of that. Of their top 10 players, seven can play multiple positions.
While he’s good with team defense, fills his role, tends to be in the right spots at the right times and has a high basketball IQ, he’s not an elite athlete. That can be problematic when it comes to on-the-ball defense, especially if he’s stuck needing to guard elite players like LeBron James.
With the Bulls' defensive strength, offenses might target the weakest point, and that would be Dunleavy if he were on the court with Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng and Noah. While the rest should be able to provide the help on defense which is necessary, he could get exposed.
Field-Goal Percentage: .463
Three-Point Percentage: .421
Carlos Boozer is the best low-post scorer the Bulls have. He has the ability to finish with either hand. When he decides to go to the rim, he is hard to stop. He has an array of post moves he utilizes well. When he’s focused and dialed in, Boozer can beast.
For what it’s worth, he’s led the Bulls in total points the last two seasons. He might not get 20 per game, but he’s averaged 16.2 since becoming a Bull, and his 18.7 per-36 minutes isn’t far off his career average of 18.9.
He’s also one of the better defensive rebounders in the league (fourth all time in career defensive rebound percentage; betcha didn’t know that!), which pairs nicely with his frontcourt partner, Joakim Noah, who is an elite offensive rebounder.
When you hear Bulls fans talk about him, usually it’s about his contract and how he’s not living up to it. While that’s true, don’t be so caught up in what he’s not that you exclude what he is. It’s not all bad with Boozer.
Boozer’s biggest weakness is defense (apart from rebounding), and that gets covered up well in the Bulls scheme, but as his offense falls off, and as Taj Gibson, his backup, improves offensively, the gap between them has narrowed.
Last year, it got to the point where the Bulls were better on offense with Gibson on the court than they were with Boozer.
Per NBA Wow, the Bulls were four points better on offense with Gibson on the court without Boozer than they were with Boozer on the court without Gibson. And it’s not because Gibson played more minutes with Nate Robinson (who was the Bulls' lone shot creator) either. It was because Boozer actually played nearly 200 more minutes with Robinson.
Boozer remains a better scorer, but the fact that the Bulls were a better offensive team with Gibson on the court last year is startling.
Boozer has fallen to the sixth-best player on the team, even if he is the second-highest paid. Look for Gibson to carve into even more of Boozer’s minutes this year.
On the bright side, if Carlos Boozer is your sixth-best player, you’ve got a pretty darn good basketball team.
Field-Goal Percentage: .505
Taj Gibson has quietly become one of the best defensive power forwards in the NBA, and the advanced stats indicate that. His Synergy numbers were among the best of all power forwards, and the Bulls defense was 2.5 points better defensively while he was on the court.
Now the problem with on/off stats is they are so dependent on who you share the court with (and don’t share the court with). Player A can get credit for making Player B better, when it’s actually the other way around.
What’s compelling about Gibson is, with the exception of Ronnie Brewer, over the last two seasons, every single Bulls player was better defensively while Gibson was on the court with them. And even with Brewer, who is an exceptional defender in his own right, the Bulls were only .1 points better every 100 possessions.
Gibson makes everyone better defensively. In his case, the advanced stats aren’t just telling the truth, they’re understating it.
Normally, I would list his offense here, but Gibson has worked hard on his offense this offseason.
It was just the kind of thing players say when they get to camp. That is, until the preseason started. Then Gibson blew up.
Now it’s admittedly only preseason, I don’t miss that. And it’s admittedly only three games, but it’s also real basketball, it’s not NBA2K or something. The shots still have to go in.
In their first three games, Gibson was titanic on offense. He averaged 17 points, 8.7 boards and 2.7 blocks in 30 minutes a game off the bench. He’s not just the Bulls' leading scorer, he led the Bulls in scoring in every game.
And he did that on .733 shooting. That’s worth spelling out—seven-thirty-three! Those 17 points are coming on just 10 field-goal attempts per game. By comparison, Boozer is scoring 9.0 points on 8.7 attempts.
Gibson’s new jump shot is wetter than Lake Michigan. He’s released a new array of post moves. He’s earning points; they aren’t just putbacks and cheap points off transition dunks.
The point being, he might not average 17 points on 70 percent shooting in the regular season, but there is real improvement in his offensive game.
Granted, he does have to show he can continue this into the regular season, but if he does, Gibson will emerge as one of the 10 best power forwards in the NBA.
Look for Gibson to compete for the Most Improved Player Award, the Sixth Man of the Year Award or both. That’s my big, bold prediction for this season. Gibson, at 28, is going to be old-man breakout.
Having said that, to this point, Gibson has never averaged 10 points per game, so if he doesn’t maintain that improvement, his biggest weakness is his scoring, just in case you need to scratch that itch.
Field-Goal Percentage: .553
Since the Bulls inked Thibodeau as their head coach, they have been looking high and low for a shooting guard who can both shoot and guard. That shouldn’t be that complicated, but the number of players with that particular skill set is in decline.
They had some who could shoot, such as Kyle Korver or Marco Belinelli. They had some that could guard, like Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans. They had one, Richard Hamilton, who could do both to a degree, but he couldn’t do either, because he couldn’t stay on the court.
One of the big benefits of last season’s injury debacle was Jimmy Butler getting some heavy playing time and establishing himself as not only one of the best “three and d’” (players who play great perimeter defense and can knock down the three) in the league, he’s also a "three, d’ and free" guy, as in, he gets free throws, too.
Through his three preseason games, he’s been to the stripe 16 times already. Last year, according to Team Rankings, he was 17th in the NBA in free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt. He was second among guards.
Butler is an historic anomaly. His career usage percentage (the percentage of possessions that end with a player, either through shooting the ball or turning it over, using the possession) is just 14.6 percent, yet he gets to the line 3.3 times per 36 minutes over his career. No perimeter player with at least 2,000 minutes has a usage below 15 percent and gets to the stripe more frequently.
Furthermore, only seven players have a usage percentage as low as Butler and score more points. (Interestingly, two of the players ahead of him are former Bulls, Steve Kerr and Norm Van Lier).
That’s not to say that Butler is some kind of historically great player, but more than that, he’s a historically underutilized player. That indicates there’s a lot of untapped offensive potential in him.
He’s never going to be a high-usage player, but he can be a higher-usage player. In fact, last season, he was last on the Bulls in usage.
There’s lots of room for him to grow offensively, and his ability to drain the three, combined with his ability to draw contact off the dribble, indicate that he’s going to take another big step forward offensively this year.
Butler’s biggest weaknesses were things he worked on this summer, his handles and his mid-range jumper. Inside the restricted area, Butler was .657. Outside the three, he was .387, an effective field-goal percentage of 581.
Combined, that’s an effective field-goal percentage of .628 form the most efficient areas of the court.
From between those two ranges, he was pretty awful, though, shooting just .321.
While you don’t want to take a lot of shots from mid-range, you want to be able to when you have to, especially if you’re a shooting guard. That, to a large degree, depends on being able to create shots for yourself off the dribble, so those two things in Butler’s case are connected.
As previously stated, and similar to Gibson, these are things he worked on in the offseason. He’s shown improvement in the preseason, but it is still just preseason.
Field-Goal Percentage: .470
Three-Point Percentage: .395
Luol Deng’s strengths aren’t immediately obvious, but the fact the coaches have elected him to the All-Star Game two years in a row, while the fans ignored him, is an indication there is something the average basketball fan misses about him. If that’s not enough for you, ask Tom Thibodeau what he thinks.
And I can assure you, unless Gregg Popovich or Phil Jackson are reading my articles (and if you are, thank you), you don’t know more than Thibodeau.
Deng is “Glue-All” Deng. If there were an award for the best glue guy in the NBA, he would have won it three years in a row. He didn’t get into the All-Star game for his great stats. He doesn’t have any. But he does all the little things, setting screens, cutting, playing help defense, guarding the best player on the other team—those things add up.
That’s why even the other coaches love him.
About the only thing I haven’t seen him do is pick up a towel and help clean up the sweat off the floor. If he were asked to, though, he wouldn’t hesitate.
Deng’s shooting has fallen off a cliff the last couple of years, and that’s for a combination of reasons. Part of it is he’s never really been an elite shooter in the first place. He has a career field-goal percentage of .460 and a career three-point percentage of .334.
Not surprisingly, the second-best effective field-goal percentage of his career came in 2011, the season Derrick Rose won the MVP.
In 2012, he tore the ligament in his wrist, and that tends to have a negative impact on shooting. Last year, that ligament hadn’t healed, and he broke a thumb. Additionally, he didn’t have Rose setting up shots for him either. This year, all of that has changed. He’s healthy, and Rose is back.
With the acquisition of Mike Dunleavy and the emergence of Jimmy Butler, Deng’s minutes should also decline (finally), as Thibodeau’s scope of people he trusts grows. That should also correlate with a slight bump in his shooting, because fatigue affects shooting, too.
He won’t match his 2011 numbers, but he probably will be better than he has been in the last two seasons.
Field-Goal Percentage: .450
Three-Point Percentage: .345
Bulls fans have been trying to so hard to will themselves a second superstar alongside Rose, they may have missed that Joakim Noah has become one.
Defensively, Noah is in the conversation for the best defensive player in the league. He shared First-Team All-Defense with Tyson Chandler last year and finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting, in spite of having missed 16 games.
Noah is one of the few players who can guard almost anyone in the league. He has the lateral quickness, reflexes and defensive instincts to guard point guards and the size and strength to guard power forwards and centers.
According to Synergy, Noah was the first defender on the play 727 times last year, a ridiculous number of times for a center. That’s nearly 100 times more than DPOY Marc Gasol who played 14 more games.
Noah defended 89 three-point shots. Remember, he’s a center.
And in spite of that, he guarded the post nearly as well as Gasol, too, giving up a 35.5 percent field-goal percentage on post-ups compared to 35.2 percent for Gasol.
Noah could very well win the DPOY award this season.
Apart from that, he’s one of the best passing big men in the game (also sharing that conversation with Gasol). He’s an elite offensive rebounder. He’s the most versatile big man in the NBA.
And on top of all that, he’s the adrenaline of the Chicago Bulls. It’s hard to think of a Bulls' supercharged comeback that he wasn’t pivotal in. The energy comes from Noah. He plays with the kind of heart that makes fans of every other team hate him.
Noah is not an elite scorer. He has a balanced offensive game, but to put it mildly, if Joakim Noah were guarding Joakim Noah in some weird Noah-clone universe (and that would be a very strange world indeed), Noah would shut himself down.
He has the ugliest shot in the history of the known universe, but it’s somewhat effective. He’s been working on his scoring more this summer, and if he can take a similar step up like he did last year, then the Bulls will be a very tough team to beat.
Add Noah to the club of Bulls who worked on what they most needed to work on (was there some kind of pact?), but we’ll need to see it implemented on the court before we count it.
Field-Goal Percentage: .511
Derrick Rose, simply put, is one of the elite offensive creators in the NBA. When he’s healthy, he generates well over 40 points per game, either through his scoring or his passing. It’s that dual threat that makes him so effective.
He penetrates deep into the paint, nimbly darting between defenders, and then throwing up some ridiculously acrobatic shot. Or, if defenses overcommit to stop him, he hits his three-point shooters for wide-open threes. Every one of his three-point shooters has been better with him on the court in the Thibodeau era.
Rose was already an underrated defensive player, but he seems to have stepped it up even more. Perhaps, it’s the extra muscle he put on, but in the preseason action, we’ve seen he’s consistently fought over picks, quickly and effectively, and improvement over his earlier defense.
When Rose was last healthy, the Bulls were in the top five in efficiency. Last year, they were 24th. He’s the kind of player that changes the fortunes of a team. As much as some people want to re-hash the discussiong surounding the MVP from 2011, he won it, and he won it for reasons other than just that the media was mad at LeBron James.
He was only the third player since the merger to score 2,000 points and dish 600 assists (the other two being LeBron James and Michael Jordan). Whether you agree he was the most deserving or not, he was deserving. Part of the fallacy of any MVP debate is that only one player “deserves” it.
With his improved jump shot, and his improved teammates, expect both his field-goal percentage and assist numbers to go up this year, and for Rose to make a case for his second MVP, particularly if the Bulls win more games than the Miami Heat.
Rose has a few weaknesses that can be linked together with one word: brain-fart.
He tends to take some shots prematurely, and those shots rarely go in. He’ll drive the lane, and rather than kick it out when he doesn’t have a shot, he’ll force it up, and it will get blocked. He’ll make a soft, lazy pass that gets picked and converted in transition points.
He does stupid things from time to time.
Sure, about 95 percent of the time, his head is in the game, and he makes the right play, but then, he brain-farts out of nowhere, something stupid happens, and for the next several minutes, the stink just lingers in the air.
Rose needs to learn to focus and keep his head in the game. Stupid plays have cost the Bulls points, and even games in the past. He’s not a stupid player. He’s a smart player who occasionally does stupid things. Still, the stupid things need to stop.
Whatever the basketball IQ equivalent of Beano is, he needs some.
Field-Goal Percentage: .467
Three-Point Percentage: .378