Ever since the Miami Heat organization pulled off the heist of the century, the media has tried to create possible deterrents to their title hopes.
Heading the list of possible giant killers is the Chicago Bulls—a team that finished eighth in the Eastern Conference seeding and has lost nine players from last year's team.
Like the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls have made serious roster upgrades. However, unlike the Bucks, the Bulls are not a very balanced team and still are in need of a backup center and players to fill the remaining two roster spots needed for a 12-man roster.
The Bulls will also enter the season with a first-year head coach. That is not the case for the Bucks who managed to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference under their current coach, Scott Skiles.
The so-called basketball analysis has somehow elevated a team which vaguely resembles the Utah Jazz to the head of the NBA pecking order.
Last I checked, Deron Williams is better than Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah isn’t an All-Star like Mehmet Okur.
Paul Millsap is a better player than Taj Gibson and Andrei Kirilenko has more impact on games than Luol Deng.
So please explain to me how a team not better than the Utah Jazz of last year is supposed to challenge any top three team in the East?
Call me crazy, but I don’t see them ranking any higher than seventh. Chicago's roster is poorly balanced and two of its top reserves play the same position.
The Chicago Bulls are not a better or deeper club than the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that will challenge for a top three or four seed this season. Here is some proof.
Ersan Ilyasova: 6’9” and 235 lbs, five-year pro
After a two-year hiatus from the NBA, the former second-round pick and NBA D-Leaguer returned to the club that drafted him. Expected to be a fixture on the back of the Bucks' bench before the season began, Ilyasova had Coach Skiles and his teammates taking notice early.
His two years of playing for the European club FC Barcelona helped his game grow and matured his approach.
He improved his previous career numbers in seven different categories, ranging from overall field goal percentage to total points per game. And though he played the seventh most minutes per game on the team, he finished second in rebounds per game and fifth in points per game.
He was the Bucks' third best player in their series versus the Atlanta Hawks this past season.
He posted a 48 FG percentage, 36 three-point percentage, 83 FT percentage, 10 PPG, and eight RPG.
It’s safe to say the Bucks have found themselves a keeper.
Luol Deng: 6’9” and 230 lbs, six-year pro
After a dismal past two seasons in which he battled injuries, Deng bounced back in a major way. He got back to his roots of being a dependable scorer as he upped his points per game average by more than three points per game from the previous season.
Though he missed 12 games due to injuries, the 70 he did play was some of his best basketball in three years. He provided a stabilizing focus for a team flooded with young talent and inexperience. It was none more apparent than in the playoff series versus the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, when Deng averaged 19 points per game.
He will be entering his seventh season in the league and appears ready to attain his old title of top 10 NBA small forward.
Ilyasova is a 23-year-old on the rise in the NBA. His game is as versatile as any young small forward in the NBA not named Kevin Durant, Danny Granger, and Carmelo Anthony.
He excels in the hustle categories and the fact that he can contribute on offense without having his club actually run plays for him.
He trumps Deng in the defense categories like rebounding, steals, and shot blocking. He’s also more aggressive on this end of the floor and like Deng, he doesn’t back down in the presence of marquee names.
His range is also deeper and more consistent than that of Deng.
Deng trumps Ilyasova in scoring period. His low block and mid-range game is nothing at which to wrinkle your nose. The guy has three seasons of averaging 17 points or better and two additional seasons of 14 plus per game.
Deng falls behind Ilyasova in the department of athleticism. The young man is a just better athlete and hasn’t had the injury history that Deng has had.
This matchup is closer than most folks think. People will probably want to concede the edge to Deng because he averaged seven more points in 15 more minutes per game. Just keep in mind that Ilyasova outplayed Deng in three of their four meetings this season.
Deng is probably the better player because of his experience and his aggressiveness on offense, but the margin isn’t as great as you may think.
I personally think it's a matter of personal choice.
Plus, Deng's numbers are going to take a major hit with Boozer being on the roster, as Deng will go from being a second option to being a third option.
Drew Gooden: 6’10” and 255 lbs, eight-year pro
Drew Gooden is coming off a season in which he played for his eighth and ninth teams of his career. And like his soon to be new teammate John Salmons, his story was one of two tales.
With the Dallas Mavericks, he was a reserve that averaged nine points and seven rebounds in fewer than 23 minutes of play, while shooting 47 percent from the floor.
Then he was traded to the Clippers where he became a starter. He averaged 15 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes of play while shooting 49 percent from the floor as a fourth option on the team. That’s crazy good, if you didn’t know.
Now joining Milwaukee, Coach Scott Skiles is the perfect guy to help Gooden finally reach his potential.
And if you didn’t know, Gooden is the former power forward that started for Cleveland when they appeared in their only NBA Finals appearance.
Carlos Boozer: 6’9” and 266 lbs, eight-year pro
Carlos Boozer is coming off another season in which he put up 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. He also regained his status of shooting above 54 percent from the field.
Like Gooden, Boozer is new to his team, having spent his previous six seasons with the Utah Jazz, where he was twice an NBA All-Star.
It’s uncertain to many why he would leave an idle situation, a better coaching staff, and better teammates to join the Bulls. But he may very well live to regret his decision.
He will be featured on the block by the Bulls and play second fiddle only to Derrick Rose.
Without question, Drew Gooden is the better defender. He’s better at rebounding, shot blocking, individual, and team defense. His problem often lies in his conditioning and effort, but that won’t be a problem under Scott Skiles.
Gooden also is versatile on the post and has range that extends up to 22 feet. He adapts at putting the ball on the floor and is a more explosive leaper than Boozer.
He’s an average passer but has an above-average basketball IQ. This actually hurts him because he makes proper reads but usually can’t deliver a good enough pass to calculate on it.
Boozer is without question the more consistent and forceful of the two players. He is a player you can count on to give you something night in and night out.
Boozer is a solid low block scorer and is easily the better jump shooter of the two. He’s also better at getting other bigs in foul trouble, and is great at passing out of the double team and reestablishing his post position.
And he is a darn near perfect player for the pick-and-roll offense. In short, he’s a proven player and no one wants argue that he isn’t the better player. But there is no denying that Gooden is equally as talented, if not more.
This is a case of a proven player versus one with more potential. The edge deserves to go to Boozer, but Gooden isn’t far off.
Andrew Bogut: 7’0” and 260 lbs, five-year pro
With the way Andrew Bogut's name was thrown around last year, one would think he was a 20 and 10 player. But he wasn’t and though his numbers only improved statistically in four different categories (mainly due to him playing more minutes per game), it was his attention to detail on both ends of the floor that made players and coaches marvel at him.
Bogut had always been a confident player, he just was never featured while Michael Redd was running the show.
This past season he received the perfect teammate, a point man that was just as interested in getting him going as he was himself.
Bogut would be considered for the All-Star game and in many folks' eyes, was the most talented offensive center in the league. But unfortunately for him, he’d suffer a season-ending injury in early April and would have to sit out the remainder of the regular season as well as the playoffs.
Joakim Noah: 6’11” and 245 lbs, three-year pro
Joakim Noah had a bit of a breakout season himself; he improved his statistics in six different categories from his previous season (mainly due to him becoming a full-time starter).
He became one of the team leaders and grew his name around the league with his effort and basketball IQ.
He really became a household name after averaging 15 points and 13 rebounds versus the Cleveland Cavaliers in this year's playoffs. People fail to realize that he had a distinct speed advantage over the Cavaliers' centers.
But nevertheless, while he did deserve a lot of credit for his efforts, he is by no means a polished product.
Bogut is without question the better offensive player. He trumps Noah in shooting, low post scoring, passing, and putting the ball on the floor.
Defensively, he’s arguably more fundamentally sound, is a better shot blocker and is the stronger low block defender.
Where Noah has the edge is the things he does that can’t be measured statistically. He demands that his teammates match his effort and heart.
He’s probably better on the boards but not by much and if he could continue to strengthen his body, he’ll probably become the better defender because of his speed and quickness.
It’s really a no lose situation in choosing either player but the fact you can run an offense through Bogut gives his team the edge. Either way, these two will be top five Eastern Conference centers for years to come.
Brandon Jennings: 6’1” and 171 lbs, two-year pro
After missing the playoffs the previous season, the Milwaukee Bucks would end up with the sixth seed in the conference playoff standing. Led behind first-year point man Brandon Jennings, the Bucks would go on to post a record of 46-36. Jennings would take the league by storm early as he was the only rookie to post a 50 point game.
Derrick Rose: 6’3” and 190 lbs, one-year pro
Last season saw Derrick Rose rise to All-Star status. Much was made of his many spectacular plays. He carried his Chicago Bulls to a 41-41 record and a second consecutive trip to the playoffs. His team would finish with the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The two players have similar physical talents. They both have elite quickness and speed. Both are two of the more explosive leaping point men in the game, though Rose is head and shoulders flashier than Jennings.
The difference in the two is the way they prefer to play the game.
Jennings is more of a traditional floor general and is more interested in getting teammates involved before he looks to get himself going. He’s also more conscious on the defensive end. He’s a pest and a threat at picking someone’s pocket at any given moment. His weakness lies in shot selection. He can be prone to “channeling” Allen Iverson at times. He is better than Rose when it comes to shooting the deep shot and making free throws. He’s also ahead of Rose when it comes to being an overall defender as he averaged more steals, rebounded at a higher rate per minute, and led a higher rated defense win percentage. Jennings is also the better ball handler, but only by the slightest of margins.
Rose is more of an attacking point man than he is floor general. He prefers to get his points and allow his teammates to play off of the attention he receives. He relies on his speed and athletic ability to get to the basket and play over the rim, though he’s working on his mid-range game. For a player as gifted as Rose is, he is a piss poor defender more often than not. He has limited range and is a mediocre free-throw shooter. He is a better rebounder and shot blocker than Jennings, though.
The two players are about equal in passing but their court vision is used differently. Jennings uses his ability to get in the lane and set up teammates, while Rose uses his to penetrate and create scoring advantages. Right now, Rose's vision is a little bit ahead of Jennings'.
Oddly enough though, in four games versus each other last season, Jennings and his Bucks were 3-1 versus the Rose-led Bulls.
I won’t get caught up in player politics. I’ll leave the judging of who is better to you the reader. But from my viewing of the two, the fact that Jennings did so much more with so much less requires that he be ranked ahead of Rose.
John Salmons: 6’6” and 207 lbs, eight-year pro
John's story last year was a tale of two seasons. He averaged 13 points while with the Bulls as he struggled to the more aggressive nature of Derrick Rose from year one to year two. But when the year finished, he was averaging 20 points per game in Milwaukee and helped carry the club to the sixth seed in the East, even though the club played 13 games without All-Star center Andrew Bogut.
When he arrived to Milwaukee, it was as if had always been there. The team took off with him as the focal point of the offense; they would go on to win 15 of the first 17 games he played.
John would score 18 plus points in 13 of those games. Heck, he only had four games in which he failed to reach double figures in scoring. Keep in mind he played 30 games with the team.
During the playoffs, he would lead the team in minutes played, assist, and steals. He also finished second in points per game and blocks, while finishing fourth in rebounds.
Ronnie Brewer: 6’7” and 230 lbs, four-year pro
Ronnie Brewer is coming off a very trying season. He was traded from a playoff team in favor of his club wanting to start a rookie. Then he suffered a season-ending injury in only his fifth game with his new club.
His season wasn’t going too well before that anyway. After improving on his statistics in each of his previous two seasons, his numbers took a big hit as he dropped from being a 14 points per game scorer to one that struggled to get to 10.
He will be entering this season eager to prove that he’s still one of the more promising young shooting guards in the league.
John Salmons has emerged as one of the most versatile players in the league, and in many NBA circles folks believe that this year he could very well become a first time All-Star.
He excels at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim; he also has a silky mid-range game and a consistent deep shot. He shoots 38 percent from deep for his career.
His defense is vastly underrated; he’s a gifted passer who displays great court vision and is always a threat to finish a game with four plus assist.
He’s better than Brewer in nearly every aspect of the game, trailing him in only individual defense.
Ronnie Brewer is a prime time defender and built like a tank. He’s also a very efficient offensive player who has improved his game over the past three seasons. He likes to attack the rim because he’s a piss poor jump shooter.
If he starts as predicted, the Bulls offense will suffer because they want have a single long range threat on the floor to spread out defenses.
The edge in who’s the better player is John Salmons—it isn’t even remotely close. We’re talking about comparing a Benz to a Toyota; sure they both work, but one would almost always be picked over the other.
Corey Magette (sf/sg/pf)
Carlos Delfino (sf/sg)
Keyon Dooling (pg/sg)
Mbah a Moute (sf/pf)
Larry Sander (pf) rookie
Jon Brockman (c/pf)
Chris Douglas-Roberts (sg/sf)
Michael Redd (sg)
Tony Gallon (pf/c) rookie
Taj Gibson (pf/c)
Kyle Korver (sg)
James Johnson (pf/sf)
C.J. Watson (pg/sg)
Omer Asik (c) rookie
The Milwaukee Bucks have five former starters on their bench, one of whom is a former NBA All-Star and Olympian [Michael Redd]. They also have another former multiple year 20 plus per game scorer [Corey Magette] also heading their bench.
The bench is also heavily laced with veterans with three or more years in the league. They have a perfect blend of scoring and defense. When looking at this bench, it’s hard to see a flaw.
Another key factor to this bench is Michael Redd and his expiring contract. The Bucks could actually package him and his $17 million per year deal to a team for even more complimentary pieces. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a run at Carmelo Anthony or Danny Granger.
The Chicago Bulls bench is still incomplete, as they only have five players on it. They need serious upgrades at the center and small forward spots. They currently have a young bench; two of the players will be entering their second season and one will be a rookie, should he make the team.
The trouble with the Bulls bench is it lacks balance, and only has one player that commands the attention of a defense [Kyle Korver]. Their two young forwards [Taj Gibson and James Johnson] have tremendous upsides, but they play behind two starters that will command 36 plus minutes per game.
As of now, it’s a no-brainer on which bench is stronger, deeper, and more balanced. The Bucks have better defenders, shooters, passers, rebounders, and so on. You name it, and the Bucks trump the Bulls at it.
The Bulls are the team that everyone is praising. I find this strange when Milwaukee is the team that kept its key players intact while making upgrades in place of the ones they let go.
It's as if no one is applying any logic with why the Bulls are better, but just trying to find a story other than Miami.
Well if that's the case, the Milwaukee Bucks are in need of a little love.
Their foundation was set last year and they did nothing but add pieces this offseason that would better them.
They bring back a coach that does nothing but pump out a playoff team. The Bulls, on the other hand, will be with a first-year guy.
If the Bulls have improved their team drastically, then so too have the Milwaukee Bucks.
They two will be teams to be reckoned with in the Eastern conference.
Mark my words, "the Milwaukee Bucks will be the second biggest story behind the Miami Heat."
They will finish the season no lower than the fifth seed and barring any major injuries, they will finish behind the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. You can quote me on that; 54 wins—you can take that to the bank.
FEAR THE DEER INDEED!!!