Predicting Chicago Bulls' Biggest Surprises and Breakout Players in 2014-15
The Chicago Bulls have a few new names this upcoming season as well as some returning players who are primed to stand out.
Chicago's biggest addition for the 2014-15 campaign wasn't a draft pick or free-agent signing, though. It's the return of Derrick Rose, who has basically missed the last two years with two knee injuries. His improvement over the course of his rehab has NBA and Bulls fans buzzing about his comeback.
The Bulls also have a crop of young guys that could make an impact sooner rather than later. Three-point shooting has been an issue for Chicago over the last few years, and that issue was definitely addressed during the last couple offseasons.
Then comes Chicago's deep frontcourt, where there are two All-Stars and a leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. The new additions will additions will add a dimension to the offense, while current guys' development will be key in overall team improvement.
The Bulls have a deep team, and every player will have a key role this season. These are the five who will stick out above the rest of the roster in 2014-15.
The Creighton product is in a unique position, as his skill set could force Tom Thibodeau to give him a decent amount of playing time, something seldom seen with rookies since Thibodeau became the head coach.
The small forward spot isn’t the strongest for the Bulls, currently starting an aging Mike Dunleavy. Doug McDermott is basically a younger and quicker version of the former Duke star. He's able to score coming off screens just like the Dunleavy is, and his post-up game is pretty solid. He's also shown a knack for attacking the basket when given the right matchup.
McDermott is coming off an illustrious college career in which he was the nation's leading scorer during his last two years at Creighton, shooting 47 percent from downtown across those two seasons. He also won the Wooden Award his senior year after posting per-game averages of 26.7 points on 53 percent shooting along with seven rebounds.
As far as how he'll fit in with the team, Rose has vouched for his skills, per Bulls.com writer Sam Smith:
He rarely messes up. He never pushes the issue, I would say. He never tries things he can't do. He knows exactly what type of play he wants. For me, I need him because you can’t leave him. He has a lot of confidence in his shot, and he works on his shot every day. When I was playing with him while we were back in Chicago, I had to tell him whenever he’s open, I’m passing him the ball and he better shoot or I’m going to yell at him every time. If you can shoot, you can fit in.
Rose praising McDermott's game is big for the rookie. Chances are he's going to be put in a position to make an immediate impact, and this should only raise his confidence. McDermott won't score 20 every night, but somewhere between 10-12 points per night could be in sight.
With one year under his belt, Tony Snell should be in for a big season as the primary backup at the 2-guard spot.
One of the big points of emphasis for Chicago's offseason was to add shooting, which is why they were sold on McDermott and brought over Nikola Mirotic from Spain. Well, Snell is one of the current guys on the team who fills that shooter role, and with Rose back to help open up shots for perimeter guys, the New Mexico product better be ready to catch and shoot.
Snell had a very mediocre year from downtown in 2013-14, connecting on just 32 percent of his three-point attempts. Raising that percentage closer to 40 shouldn't be too far-fetched given Rose will be able to get him open looks, but that's just one aspect of his game he has to improve.
The sophomore guard also has to attack the basket more often, and he's shown he can get in the lane. Last season, Snell shot 49 percent inside the paint, per NBA.com. He has bulked up over the summer, adding about 10 pounds of muscle, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, which should only help him as he draws contact around the rim.
Snell is the No. 1 backup behind Jimmy Butler, and with his confidence high after a successful summer league showing, the second-year guard could be in for a breakout season.
Taj Gibson's breakout season may have been 2013-14, but there's no reason to believe he won't exceed expectations once again. There's no official word on whether the five-year vet will start or come off the bench, but what we do know is he's in for a key role in 2014-15.
While speaking on The Kap & Haugh Show (h/t CSN Chicago), Thibodeau said he wasn't sure on who would start and finish, but that Joakim Noah, Gasol and Gibson would each have important roles. Gibson’s ability to play both ends of the floor is huge for the team. He was always a great defender, and now his offense matches, as he added a reliable mid-range jumper and a pair of effective, go-to post moves.
It will be hard to place Gibson over Gasol given the versatility the latter possesses offensively, but there's definitely a case to be made for Gibson. In eight games as a starter last season, he averaged 19.3 points and nearly 10 boards.
There’s still room for improvement, though. The numbers look good, but he did average 42 minutes in those games.
Gibson has also never shot 50 percent or higher in a single season, something nearly essential for a power forward that works close to the basket like he does. He could benefit from adding a few extra post moves and perhaps stretching his range out to about 20 feet to help Chicago unclog the paint. This past year, he shot a career-high 39.7 percent on shots 16 feet and farther, his best output since his rookie campaign.
Despite his unclear role—at this point—there's no doubt that Gibson, last year's Sixth Man of the Year runner-up, will have an effect on any given game's outcome. Look for him to make another drastic improvement this year, beginning with his efficiency.
The Spaniard may be in the twilight of his career, but as a second or third option, Gasol could shine brightly.
Pau Gasol struggled the last three years in Los Angeles because Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni weren't using him the right way.
From the 2008-09 season up to 2010-11, 70.1 percent of Gasol's shots came from 10 feet or closer to the rim. The following three seasons, however, only 56.6 percent of his attempts came from that same area. Gasol took many more mid-range jumpers the last three years, particularly from 16 feet and farther, as they accounted for nearly a quarter of his attempts.
With the Bulls, though, Gasol can return to playing inside since Noah will likely be the one working from the top of the paint. Gasol, a four-time All-Star, could be the back-to-the-basket scorer the Bulls have wanted—and needed—over the last few years.
What makes Gasol such a great low-post option is his passing ability. Gasol was second in the league in assist percentage for the 2013-14 campaign among PF/Cs. The player in first place? His new teammate, Noah.
If Chicago keeps Gasol close to the basket, look for him to put up similar numbers as last season: 17 points and close to 10 rebounds. No regression here.
It's almost as if Rose has to restart his career considering how long it has been since he played a full season. Luckily for the Bulls, he's just now entering his prime, and if he stays healthy, Rose could return at an MVP level.
During his time with Team USA, Rose has shown flashes that he’s just as quick and explosive as he was prior to his knee injuries. There has also been buzz about his off-ball work, and there's still that improved jump shot we didn't get to see much of last year.
Rose will, however, have to shake off some of the rust he's shown during the group stages. He's struggled mightily with his shot and has been very passive in numerous situations. It can be attributed to him being the No. 3 or 4 option, but as one of the leaders of the team, he should look to be more aggressive.
If Rose can remedy these issues and add those extra nuances to his game, we could see him return to MVP form.
Rose isn't exactly a candidate to have a breakout season, though, seeing as how he already has an MVP award under his belt. But he's definitely someone that could surprise fans by coming back better than ever. The odds look to be in his favor.
This is easily the most talented supporting cast he's had, and while that could temper his scoring, it could vastly improve his efficiency. Like Gibson, Rose has never shot 50 percent throughout a single season. If he does indeed spend more time off the ball, having players set him up could make his efficiency skyrocket.
Rose has top-level agility and quickness, giving him an edge when making cuts. With two elite passing bigs in Gasol and Noah, there's a good chance Rose will excel in this role.
It's also that same skill set that separates him from the crop of guards in the league. His explosiveness and ability to score near the rim are among the best in the NBA, with Russell Westbrook being the only comparable player.
The main thing for Rose is health, but Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski believes the concern for injury is in the past now, per ESPN's Marc Stein.
"I asked him today, and he said, 'I feel great.' He did everything. He's full go. I think there's a part of him that's like: 'Quit asking me how I feel. I'm good.' So I'm not going to ask him anymore."
A healthy Rose could wreak havoc on opposing defenses, and that's starting to look like a possible scenario.