For a couple members of the Chicago Bulls, 2014-15 should prove to be much better than last season.
We witnessed Joakim Noah turn the corner recently, going from an energetic role player to an MVP candidate a season ago. The reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year has helped the Bulls stay relevant despite playing without the injured Derrick Rose.
And fellow big man Taj Gibson made quite a leap this past year, improving his post game and adding a consistent mid-range jumper to his arsenal. He would wind up finishing a close second to Jamal Crawford in Sixth Man of the Year voting.
Which Bulls players are expected to make a big jump in 2014-15? Well, you certainly can’t place Nikola Mirotic or Doug McDermott in the conversation, as this will be the first NBA season for both of those sweet-shooting forwards.
Let’s look at two guys who will shine with the retooled Chicago ballclub.
When Tony Snell was drafted in 2013 (20th overall), many fans and pundits didn’t believe he'd play much as a rookie.
Giving a lot of minutes to first-year players isn’t something Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is known for. Fellow former first-round picks Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague (now with the Brooklyn Nets) both logged roughly eight minutes a night as rookies.
"That’s what the rookies on our team do—make sure they have lotion for the veteran players," Teague said during last year's summer league, via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Snell would actually play 16 minutes per game, though, averaging 4.5 points while shooting 38.4 percent overall and 32 percent from downtown.
The New Mexico product was rather inconsistent during his debut season with the Bulls. Occasionally, he looked like a future All-Star. At other times, he didn’t look so hot.
He scored a career-high 20 points vs. the Denver Nuggets and 18 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But on the other hand, he had several forgettable nights, like his six-point, 2-of-10 shooting effort in a loss to the Miami Heat.
Bleacher Report’s Kelly Scaletta wrote that Snell needed to have a strong showing during this year’s summer league:
It’s critical for him to be effective in the Summer League games. He’ll have a year as a pro under his belt, and that should help. By shining in the summer, he should gain confidence. Confidence will mean less doubt, which will mean he’s less hesitant with the ball.
Fortunately, Snell would have an impressive summer league, averaging 20 points while shooting 46.6 percent overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc.
Sure, it’s just summer league ball and not the NBA Finals vs. the San Antonio Spurs. But it looks like he’s primed for a solid sophomore season in the Windy City.
"I got a lot stronger and faster, so that's a good sign," Snell said, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "I've been working hard all summer."
Possessing more confidence and an improved jumper, the California native will emerge as a solid bench contributor in 2014-15, backing up starting shooting guard Butler.
With superb passing teammates like Noah, Pau Gasol and Rose, he should receive plenty of scoring opportunities, whether it’s open shots from deep or backdoor cuts.
Butler had a breakout second season, and there’s no reason why Snell can’t follow suit.
The photo above basically sums up Rose’s career for the last two years. Chicago fans are tired of seeing their franchise point guard sitting on the bench in a suit rather than wearing a Bulls uniform and breaking defenders’ ankles on the court.
Sadly, Rose has become one of the league’s most injury-prone players. He missed the entire 2012-13 campaign after suffering an ACL injury during the 2012 playoffs. And he played just 10 games last season due to tearing his right meniscus on Nov. 22.
Attempting to make the Team USA roster, Rose is healthy these days and apparently looking like his old self.
"He looks, to me, as good as when we had him in the world championship in '10, when he was at full strength coming (into) an MVP year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of Rose, per ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell.
Check out this D-Rose slam during the USA Basketball Showcase:
Yeah, that definitely doesn’t look like a guy who had back-to-back season-ending knee injuries.
During his brief time on the court last season, Rose averaged just 15.9 points per game and shot 35.4 percent from the field. He obviously showed rust after missing what seemed like a million games.
However, the three-time All-Star will bounce back and put together a remarkable campaign. And while he has struggled to stay healthy in the past, this will be the year that he’ll finally shake off the injury bug.
Rose was truly at his best in 2010-11, scoring 25 a night and taking home the MVP trophy. Will he return to MVP form? Anything is possible.
By participating in the FIBA World Cup this summer (he’ll more than likely make the Team USA roster), Rose should be in excellent shape heading into training camp with the Bulls, which means a lot.
Expect him to average at least 22 points and regain his status as an elite point guard.
All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com.