This group has played the last two seasons without its superstar Derrick Rose, and despite overachieving in each of the past two campaigns, glaring inadequacies have come to light.
Most conspicuously of these shortcomings was the inability to score. The Bulls were the worst team in the league at putting points on the board in 2013-14. Their record could’ve been different had it not been for head coach Tom Thibodeau’s smothering defensive system.
Another chink in their armor was the lack of depth at the power forward and center positions. Their two best reserves at those spots were the same person, Taj Gibson. If this club is going to contend again, it has to strengthen itself up front.
The draft is just one of many avenues Chicago can pursue to edify the team’s most inept qualities, and this year’s class is abounding with players who fit the mold. The question that remains is: Whom should the Bulls choose?
A player’s stock can rise and fall numerous times between the initial scouting process and draft day. The Bulls can play it safe and pick the best available player. They could go with the big name that fell into their laps. They could also select a foreign athlete who could play a role in the not-too-distant future.
Chicago has more than one turn in the first round with pick Nos. 16 and 19, so any of these options are in play. It’s very likely someone who is high on the club's list and shores up a team deficiency could be had.
Confronting the scoring problem
Of course, this is not a revelation, but the degree to which it was an issue never seemed to register until recently. One only has to look to Chicago’s first-round ouster at the hands of the Washington Wizards to see how its incompetence cost the team dearly. Thibodeau’s group averaged a paltry 90 points per game and shot 42.2 percent from the field for the series.
In the first three contests of that showdown, the Bulls held the lead going into the fourth quarter. Games 1 and 2 saw those leads erased by Wizards rallies for which there was no answer.
Even when the defense was clicking, Chicago could not muster enough offense to take advantage. In the match that sealed the Bulls' elimination, Washington was held to 75 points. It’s kind of hard to lose when holding an opponent to such a measly output, but answering back with 69 points is a sure way to do it.
While Thibodeau’s defensive scheme is a tough nut to crack, his sans-Rose offensive strategy is not. This draft could provide a solution for those scoring ills. The 2014 class is deep with athletes who have the potential to be a second creator next to Rose.
Players like Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, Duke’s Rodney Hood and Texas Legends’ PJ Hairston (by way of UNC) could be hard to pass up if they are available when Chicago’s number is called. Once the scoring itch is scratched, Bulls general manager Gar Forman can turn his attention to finding a long-term solution at backup center.
Center for the future
Thibodeau’s first year as head coach of the Chicago Bulls, 2010-11, remains his most successful. He guided his team to the overall top playoff seed, a 62-20 record, and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
One of the biggest weapons at his disposal was a potent center/power forward pairing in both the starting and bench units. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer provided a balanced attack on both sides of the ball while Gibson and Omer Asik locked down the paint.
Asik’s play under Thibodeau bloomed, and he switched allegiances in 2012 when he accepted a profitable offer from the Houston Rockets. Since then, Chicago has played stopgap with the backup center position.
The last two primary reserves have been Kurt Thomas and Nazr Mohammed. Both of these guys were drafted before the 22-year-old Tony Snell, the youngest team member, hit puberty.
Mohammed is the most recent second-string center, and while he has been a great teammate, he has not been a meaningful in-game contributor. The former Kentucky Wildcat appeared in 80 games this past season, seeing seven minutes of playing time and chipping in an underwhelming 1.6 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
Granted, Noah had a stellar year, but so much was missing when he was not in the game. With the exception of Gibson sliding into the middle, the Bulls got negligible production when their starting big man rested.
Addressing this need is easier said than done. The crop of centers is not very ample. When looking at prospect rankings like the one from Gary Parrish of CBS.com or David Aldridge of NBA.com, a number of those guys are foreign players.
It may not be that hard of a sell for the Bulls to pick an overseas big, considering that Asik was playing in Turkey when he was chosen. Aggrey Sam of CSNChicago.com thinks the Bulls could draft Clint Capela of Switzerland and let him develop for a few years like Nikola Mirotic.
The 20-year-old has the marks of being a solid paint protector and could help put some defensive bite back into the Bulls’ second unit.
What will the team do?
Forman has already gone on record saying that the team does not draft to fill a need, per ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell. He further explains that trades and free agency are the best way to address whatever the team lacks.
That logic is sound to an extent but can do more harm than good if practiced as an absolute. With the exception of 2013-14, the Bulls have rarely executed trades and have not necessarily been the aces in landing solid free-agent talent.
This is a team whose biggest offseason acquisitions during the Thibodeau era have been Boozer and Mike Dunleavy.
Forman has not thrived in the areas where he has placed a premium. He can change that by using this draft to add players who can contribute where the team is lacking. It could actually take some pressure off after the July moratorium is lifted.
It is imperative that this team takes advantage of the talent that will be available to it. Maybe in years past taking the best player available was the better alternative, but the Bulls' position definitely helps them target a more essential option.
Only the front office knows what its specific intentions are. It has two first-round opportunities, so its chances for getting it right are pretty high.
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