After a successful free-agency period, the Chicago Bulls are boasting a roster that goes 10 deep. Unfortunately for rookie Cameron Bairstow, that could leave him in purgatory.
Bairstow came in with a reputation for tough, physical play, effort and hustle. It seemed like the perfect fit for Chicago, and the front office seemed to think so as well by selecting the Australian native with the 49th overall pick.
In fact, the Bulls were sold on Bairstow way before the draft. Bulls assistant general manager Randy Brown said the front office had a chance to trade its second-round selection, but turned down every offer because it had its eyes on Bairstow, per Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal.
The only problem—and it's a big one—is that there's no room for him in the rotation. Chicago's frontcourt is stacked with talent, from Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah to Euro star Nikola Mirotic.
Bairstow probably won't be able to steal minutes from anyone, but it's not entirely far-fetched that he'll get spot minutes. Before we get into that, though, let's take a brief look at Bairstow's career.
New Mexico Lobos
Bairstow's first three seasons at New Mexico were pretty much a nonfactor, averaging 5.4 points per game over that span.
However, as a senior, the Aussie exploded onto the scene, more than doubling his previous season's scoring average, putting up 20.4 points per game. He was incredibly efficient in doing so as well, posting a 61 percent true shooting rate.
The biggest improvement in Bairstow's game was his mid-range jumper. During the 2011-12 season, he shot an abysmal 30 percent on two-point jump shots, per hoop-math.com. The following season, there was marginal improvement as he converted 33 percent on similar plays.
During his senior campaign, Bairstow's shot was drastically better, as he knocked down 43 percent of his jump shots inside the arc. He was also dominant in the paint, converting 69 percent of his attempts near the rim.
Bairstow displayed an array of post moves as well, from fadeaways to up-and-unders to being able to just bully his way inside and hit a short hook shot.
The New Mexico star ended his collegiate career on a very high note, but with a loaded draft class, there was no chance he'd crack the first round. Still, Bairstow has the physique and skills to be a solid role player in a few years, and he showed more flashes during the NBA's Summer League in Las Vegas.
Summer League Performance
Bairstow had a solid five-game stretch during summer league play, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds while playing 26 minutes per contest.
The 23-year-old's best game came against the Philadelphia 76ers, in which he scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds. The standout stats, though, were his 13 trips to the free-throw line and his lone three-point make.
Bairstow won't be a spot-up shooter by any stretch, but it's good to see that can extend his range farther out than 16 or 18 feet if needed.
Adrian Griffin said this AM that Bairstow has added intensity and physical play to practices.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) July 13, 2014
Bulls general manager Gar Forman added some praise to the New Mexico product's style of play when the Bulls announced his signing, highlighting his combination of size, energy and physicality as the reason they were high on him. He went on to say he'd "only get better with time," per Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
Can Bairstow Crack the Rotation?
The fastest way for Bairstow to get playing time this season is a frontcourt injury, but losing a starter and playing a rookie could be a risk. There is a chance, though, that the versatility of the Bulls' roster can work in the Aussie's favor.
Mirotic can score in a variety of ways; his ability to shoot the ball from deep as well as attack the rim off the bounce could see him getting some time at the 3, if his foot speed allows him to defend that position.
This could open up a lane for Bairstow to get some spot minutes at the 4 or 5. Assistant GM Brown said the following about Bairstow, per Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal:
[He's a] physical guy. Doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He's going to put himself in position to be on our team next year because he's a worker. He's very low maintenance. We like guys who appreciate the opportunity to wear a Bulls uniform and he's one of those guys.
"Physical" has been the key word when describing the young forward. It's perhaps the most important word when referring to someone on Thibodeau's roster, too. If a player embraces that tough, hard-nosed style of play, chances are he's going to stick around.
Bairstow has incredible size, measuring in at nearly 6'10" and 252 pounds at the NBA Combine. This helps him especially down low, where he can bang bodies with just about anybody and use his quickness to try to beat them as he makes his move. Same goes for the other end of the court.
This is the biggest difference between him and last year's second-round pick Erik Murphy. The Florida prospect was primarily a three-point shooter, but his defense and athleticism were a huge question mark coming in. This was likely the reason he disappeared while on the bench and was ultimately waived, despite the Bulls needing some frontcourt depth.
Can Cameron Bairstow crack the rotation over the next three years?
Bairstow can give Chicago great effort on defense, and he's going to crash the boards and make hustle plays, all important aspects of Thibodeau's team. The fact that he has a solid offensive foundation only helps his case as a rotation player, whether it's in a very limited role this season or in a year or two when the rest of the Bulls' bigs will be over 30 years old.
The good news for Bairstow is that the Bulls have committed to him for a couple of years. On July 21, the rookie signed a three-year deal, the second season being partially guaranteed and the final containing no guaranteed money.
It's hard to see Bairstow playing this year. Not only is he a rookie—Thibodeau's history with rooks' playing time has been well-noted—but there are just too many players ahead of him. If this were the 2013-14 season, there may have been a distant opportunity for Bairstow given his abilities as a two-way big.
His future with the Bulls isn't exactly bleak, however. It may not be this upcoming campaign or even the following one, but there is a chance he can make an impact provided the Bulls don't trade or waive him.
Pau Gasol's deal is for two years with a player option for a third, and I assume he will exercise that option since it's worth $7.7 million. But he'll be 37 by then and likely playing considerably fewer minutes. This is where Bairstow could come in and spell Gasol for 10 or 15 minutes.
If Bairstow is patient and concentrates on improving his game, he could make some noise leading up to the 2016-17 season.
Don't expect to see much of the former Lobos star just yet. He is a work in progress, and he has to adjust to the NBA level. If his reputation as a hard worker is true, though, there's no reason why he won't pick the game up rather quickly.
One thing you can count on is hearing Chicago's coaches rave about how physical he is.