Every Rose Needs Its Thorn: 10 Free Agent Guards the Chicago Bulls Should Target
After making several key free agent signings in the summer of 2010, the Chicago Bulls have taken a huge step forward this year. With the arrival of Carlos Boozer via free agency and the emergence of Derrick Rose as the league’s top point guard, the Bulls have risen to third in the Eastern conference and have played like a legitimate championship competitor.
The Bulls have the second best defense in the NBA, behind only the Boston Celtics, and Chicago’s roster has developed some very strong chemistry. With such a strong and cohesive team, there is only one thing holding the Bulls back.
That is the shooting guard position.
With Michael Jordan long gone, the Bulls are left with Keith Bogans manning the starting two guard spot, and he has failed to deliver on a consistent basis thus far in the season. Despite strong play recently, Bogans is averaging just 3.9 points per game while shooting barely over 40% from the field. Bogans is a solid defender and a decent three point shooter, but he simply can’t contend with the elite shooting guards the Bulls will be facing during the playoffs.
Recently, Bulls fans have been calling for the team to acquire a new shooting guard via trade. However, this is much easier said than done. The Bulls lack the trade assets to trade for any upgrades at the shooting guard position, and vice president John Paxson has stated that management is unwilling to risk botching the team’s chemistry through a late season trade. Thus, it seems very unlikely that the Bulls will be making any trades at the deadline this year.
However, this does not mean that an upgrade at shooting guard will not occur soon. With a variety of quality wing players entering free agency in the summer of 2011, the Bulls will likely be looking to add new players during that period. So without further ado, here are the Chicago Bulls top ten options to upgrade at shooting guard during the free agency period of 2011.
10. Maurice Evans
2010-2011 Statistics: 4.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists in 17.7 minutes
Maurice Evans is essentially an equally skilled but more athletic version of Keith Bogans. Evans is a skilled dunker who uses his athleticism to his advantage on the defensive end. Although a slightly lower percentage three-point shooter, Evans can still make a fair amount of open threes and would be a minor upgrade.
Evans' best season came in 2007-08, when he averaged 9.3 points and 3.1 rebounds, while shooting 39.6 percent from deep, in 23.9 minutes per game.
9. Anthony Parker
2010-2011 Statistics: 8.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists in 29.2 minutes
Anthony Parker, like Evans, would only be a minor upgrade over Bogans. However, Parker is an equally skilled defender and a much better three-point shooter. Parker's has a career 41 percent shooting stroke from long range, while Bogans has shot just 35 percent from deep throughout his career.
Parker has experienced a bit of a down year on the struggling Cavaliers, but would likely experience a resurgence if given the chance to once again play for a contender.
8. J.R. Smith
2010-2011 Statistics: 11.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists in 24.5 minutes
Throughout much of the season, the Chicago Bulls have been connected to J.R. Smith in various trade rumors. However, the Nuggets have been hesitant to open up trade negotiations involving Smith, as he could potentially be a piece in one of the proposed Carmelo Anthony deals. Furthermore, the Bulls lack the trade assets to land the highly skilled Smith in a deal.
Even if the Bulls could land Smith, they might not necessarily want to. Smith is well known for his immaturity and hot-headedness, and has the potential to mess up the chemistry the Bulls roster has built up. However, Smith is an extremely skilled scorer and a deadly three-point marksman, and he will become an unrestricted free-agent this summer.
Although he would be dangerous to Chicago's chemistry this late in the season, signing Smith would be less risky during the offseason, and he would be a very valuable player as the fourth option on offense. Smith fails to exhibit quality effort on defense, but he could provide a valuable scoring threat to the second unit and the Bulls would be wise to look into adding him to the squad.
7. Sasha Vujacic
2010-2011 Statistics: 8.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 21.0 minutes
As much as it pains me to state that Sasha “The Machine” Vujacic could help an NBA team, it cannot be denied that he is having a very strong year. Vujacic has put up very respectable numbers as a member of the New Jersey Nets, and his strengths fit what the Bulls are looking for in a new shooting guard.
Vujacic is a tenacious defender and excellent three-point shooter, and he is one of the NBA’s most annoying players. It would sure be interesting to see a Kobe-Sasha matchup in the finals…
6. DeShawn Stevenson
2010-2011 Statistics: 6.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists in 18.6 minutes
DeShawn Stevenson doesn't do much, but he is very good at what he does. Stevenson is an excellent on-ball defender and a 40 percent shooter from three-point range. Stevenson is a ten-year veteran who can make solid contributions in limited minutes, and would be a fairly significant upgrade over Keith Bogans as Chicago's starting shooting guard.
As an added bonus, he has a tattoo of Abraham Lincoln on his neck, which could serve as a distraction to opposing guards.
5. Jamal Crawford
2010-2011 Statistics: 15.0 points, 1.7 rebounds, 3.4 points in 30.7 minutes
A season after winning the NBA Sixth-Man of the Year Award, Jamal Crawford’s contract is running out and he will enter the free agent market come June. The Chicago Bulls would be wise to pursue him.
Crawford would provide a great scoring touch from the shooting guard position and would take some of the pressure off of Derrick Rose on the offensive end. What’s more, Crawford would likely lead a strong bench unit already sporting C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik.
Although not a fantastic defender, Crawford could worry about scoring and leave the defending to another Bulls shooting guard, Ronnie Brewer.
4. Mickael Pietrus
2010-2011 Statistics: 6.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists in 20.6 minutes
Mickael Pietrus is another player whose combination of three-point shooting ability and defensive tenacity make him a good fit for the Bulls. Pietrus' current stats are not particularly impressive, but he has proved to be a very valuable wing player during his time with the Orlando Magic. Pietrus has come up big in the playoffs during the last two seasons, and before the mid-season deal that shipped him to Phoenix he was a core piece of Orlando's rotation.
Pietrus' best season came in 2006-07 with Golden State, when he averaged 11.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in 26.9 minutes per game. Pietrus has the option to opt out of his contract after this season, and if signed by the Bulls, Pietrus would likely join Derrick Rose in the Bulls' starting backcourt. Pietrus is capable of contributing at a high level in any number of minutes, and would be a significant upgrade over Keith Bogans.
3. Jared Dudley
2010-2011 Statistics: 9.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists in 24.3 minutes
Jared Dudley of the Phoenix Suns is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Despite possessing below average athleticism, Dudley has worked hard to earn himself a place in the league, and his work has paid off. Dudley is an integral part of the Suns rotation whose contributions from the shooting guard position outweigh those of big name Vince Carter.
Dudley is an outstanding defender and three-point shooter, and his desire and effort mask his athletic limitations. Dudley fits perfectly into Chicago's needs at shooting guard, and signing him would be nothing but a positive for the Bulls. Dudley is quite a character and his humor can lighten up any locker room.
Dudley will be a restricted free-agent this summer and may be difficult to pry away from Phoenix, but if the Bulls managed to acquire him he would undoubtedly be worth every penny.
2. Kelenna Azubuike
2010-2011 Statistics: N/A
Kelenna Azubuike has not played in an NBA game since tearing his patella tendon on November 14, 2009, during the same game in which then rookie Brandon Jennings lit up the Warriors for 55 points. While driving to the basket, Azubuike fell and injured himself, bringing a very promising season to an early end.
During the 2008-09 season, Azubuike played in 71 games and averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting an impressive 44.8 percent on three-pointers. Azubuike proved himself to be a very reliable shooting threat, and was a lockdown defender on an otherwise defensively challenged Warriors team.
Prior to the beginning of the 2010-11 season, Azubuike was traded to the New York Knicks as a part of the David Lee sign-and-trade deal, but he is currently nothing more than an expiring contract due to his injury. Azubuike recently returned to practice with the Knicks, but is still a ways away from returning to action.
Barring another injury, Azubuike will be ready to play again by the beginning of next season. Azubuike combination of shooting ability and explosiveness make him an excellent scorer, and his strength and tenacity allow him to defend opposing wings very effectively. Assuming his recovery continues to go well, Azubuike should be one of the Bulls’ top choices in the free agency market.
1. Arron Afflalo
2010-2011 Statistics: 12.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists in 35.1 minutes
"Arron Afflalo is an ASSASSIN!"
These were the words of sports announcer Kevin Harlan following Arron Afflalo's game winning buzzer beater against the Mavericks on February 10. And while he's not a guy who regularly knocks down clutch jumpers with time winding down, it can't be denied that Afflalo has developed into a quality player.
Afflalo, who starts at shooting guard for the Denver Nuggets, is experiencing a career year which was highlighted by his aforementioned game winning jumper. Although he won't be heading to the all-star game any time soon, Afflalo has proved that he can compete with the top shooting guards in the NBA. Numerous times throughout this article, I have mentioned the importance of shooting ability and defense for any player who wants to start at shooting guard for Tom Thibodeau's Bulls.
And Afflalo just so happens to excel in those two areas more than any other player on this list.
Afflalo's shooting percentages are excellent and he is seventeenth in the NBA with regards to three-pointers made during the season with 92. Afflalo shoots 50 percent from the field, 44 percent from deep and 86 percent from the line. In addition, he has had a lot of practice guarding the league's elite shooting guards, a major asset in match ups against teams like the Lakers, Heat or Spurs.
Afflalo becomes a restricted free agent this summer, and would likely require a fairly high price to pry from the Nuggets. However, the fourth year man out of UCLA is the Bulls' best option among shooting guards on the free agent market, and he could be the last piece the Bulls need to win a championship.