Early Predictions for Chicago Bulls Starting Lineup
The Chicago Bulls have more or less finished building their roster this summer, and there have been some changes that will alter the starting lineup.
Most notably is the change at the power forward position. Coming off his worst season ever, the often-criticized Carlos Boozer was amnestied, and his monster $16.8 million cap hit came off the books.
Taj Gibson was primed to be the heir apparent to the 4-spot. However, Chicago signed two new power forwards this offseason.
The Bulls inked Pau Gasol to a three-year, $22.3 million deal after they struck out on Carmelo Anthony. As a result, it allowed them to not only sign Gasol but bring over Real Madrid star Nikola Mirotic as well, who they drafted back in 2011. Mirotic won't start, but the Gibson-Gasol battle will be the biggest story once training camps begin.
Well, maybe the second-biggest story. It will all be about The Return Part Deux.
Derrick Rose missed most of last season after tearing his meniscus 10 games into the 2013-14 campaign. His performance—and health—will surely determine whether the Bulls are title contenders or if they'll suffer another exit in the early rounds of the playoffs.
The small forward spot is (kind of) up in the air as well. Mike Dunleavy is expected to remain the starter like he was last year following the Luol Deng trade, but Tony Snell could make a case to be the starting 2-guard, which would consequently slide Jimmy Butler to the 3.
That being said, let's take a look at the Bulls' projected starting lineup, beginning with point guard and moving up from there.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose
It seems like an eternity since Rose last played, but the former MVP will be the clear starter for the Bulls.
Rose's health is the biggest question mark. He's suffered knee injuries in back-to-back seasons, but we have to assume his ACL is no longer a problem. And considering a meniscus tear is not as grave an injury, the 25-year-old star guard could come back in a strong way.
There's still a lot of preparation coming for Rose, however. He's been practicing and running drills regularly, but he's yet to see any game action since November of 2013.
His first step should be playing for Team USA in the World Cup this coming fall. Head coach Tom Thibodeau certainly thinks it will be good for him, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
Team USA will be terrific for him. When you go back to his MVP year, he played with Team USA that summer (2010), and that prepared him very well for the season. He hasn't played in a long time, so it's a good opportunity to get that out of the way. It's a different role for him with this team because you're going to have 12 great players. He won't have the burden to play a lot of minutes and score a lot of points. He can just fit in, run the team. The way he ran the team in 2010 was a big part of why they won (gold).
Other players like Kevin Durant have also benefited from the experience of playing with Team USA; whether it’s getting the rust out early or becoming a better overall player due to the level of talent on the squad, it’s worked in the past, and Rose should embrace that opportunity.
Rose is coming into arguably the best team he's had: The roster is even deeper than when Chicago made its Eastern Conference Finals run a few years ago, and Joakim Noah has turned into a star as well.
Assuming he stays healthy, it could be a big year for Rose.
Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler
Butler will be the starting 2-guard for the second consecutive year.
The 24-year-old has quickly become one of the league's premier defenders, earning All-Defensive Second Team honors this past season. With a coach that values defense and effort very highly, Butler is the perfect player for Thibodeau's team.
The one thing Butler does have to improve on is his offense. He struggled mightily during the first half of the season, shooting 38 percent from the floor and an abysmal 27 percent from three-point range. He was dealing with a few nagging injuries, though, forcing him to miss over a dozen games prior to the All-Star break.
His numbers improved some after February, but they weren't that much better. The biggest and most important change, however, was his ability to get to the line.
After All-Star weekend, Butler got to the line an average of 5.5 times per game, nearly one free throw more than prior to the break. It's something he'll have to continue, as the Bulls will need someone else who can create for himself.
But the most important improvement Butler must make is on his jump shot.
He’s not a threat to knock down perimeter looks, which allows defenders to sag off of him and help on the ball-handler. If he can recreate the performance he had at the tail end of the 2012-13 season—where he shot 48 percent over the last months—the Bulls' backcourt will be in good shape with Rose and Butler.
Small Forward: Mike Dunleavy
There's a microscopic chance Doug McDermott gets this spot, so it's between Mike Dunleavy and second-year guard Tony Snell.
With the depth—and youth—Chicago has on the wing, Dunleavy makes sense as a starter.
The Bulls can bring in Snell, a three-point shooter and solid defender, and McDermott, a versatile scorer, as sparks off the bench. They'd also join Gibson, who was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting this past season.
The former Duke star can still score at a good rate. He shot 38 percent from behind the arc last season and also showed that he could attack the rim at times. Dunleavy's size helps create mismatches and helps him as a passer and rebounder against smaller assignments.
It could take McDermott a few weeks to get a nice chunk of minutes, so Snell, Butler and Dunleavy will rotate in and out of the 3. Once the Creighton star settles in—and if he plays well—expect Dunleavy's workload to decrease a little while still retaining his starter role.
Power Forward: Pau Gasol
This will be a tough battle, but Gasol's vast offensive versatility will likely make him the starter.
Thibodeau praised the Spaniard's game during their introductory press conference, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "He's terrific in the low post with his back to the basket. He can face up. He can pass. He's excellent in the pick-and-roll. He's very effective in the elbow area. So there are a lot of different ways we can use him."
Gasol's talent on the pick-and-roll is definitely one of the key aspects of his game. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he scored 57 percent of the time as the roll man. Chicago as a team ranked last in the NBA with a 44-percent conversion rate.
Gasol can also step out and knock down some mid-range shots. During his final season with Los Angeles Lakers, the 13-year vet converted on 45 percent of attempts between 10 and 16 feet from the rim; Carlos Boozer made only 38 percent.
While Gibson has shown that he could start, whether he’s coming off the bench or not doesn’t necessarily mean his usage will decrease. CSN Chicago's Aggrey Sam believes Gibson will still close out games alongside Noah:
Besides, even as a reserve, Gibson has typically finished games for the Bulls as a defensive upgrade to Boozer, a trend that would probably continue with Gasol. Gasol is more of a shot-blocking threat than Boozer but also has serious defensive issues that have become more pronounced as the 34-year-old’s career has progressed.
Thibodeau said later during the Gasol press conference that all three frontcourt players (Noah, Gibson and Gasol) will “have a significant role”. Expect Gibson to get a larger share of minutes at the 4 while Gasol plays both power forward and center.
Center: Joakim Noah
This one is another no-brainer. Noah, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, will start at center after having a career year across the board.
The seven-year vet surpassed expectations last season, taking his game to an entirely new level. He posted four triple-doubles (second in the league) and led a depleted Bulls team to a 48-34 record.
Defensively, there are few centers in the league who can dominate like him. He can take assignments from the perimeter all the way to the paint, defend the post and protect the rim as well as anyone in the Association.
Noah will continue to anchor the defense. And now, with a new frontcourt partner in Gasol—whose back-to-the-basket style complements Noah much better—and a speedy guard in Rose, expect his passing skills to shine once again as he challenges for triple-doubles on a regular basis.
Chicago finally has some solid depth up front, so we may see Noah shed a couple of minutes off and get back down to about 30 to 32 minutes instead of the 35-plus he's played the past two seasons.