With the offseason continuing and the NBA lockout in full effect, now is the perfect time to evaluate how the Chicago Bulls roster currently looks and what potential changes we may see. Last season, the Bulls received another consistent showing from Joakim Noah when he was healthy and were thrilled by the performance and development of rookie Omer Asik. Throughout the season and during the offseason there have been trade rumors circulating that the Bulls might make a move for a star shooting guard or center to add one more offensive weapon to Derrick Rose's arsenal but the question remains whether they would be willing to deal one of their big men in return.
Continuing from where I left off in my previous review of Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and the Power Forward Situation, this week we will be looking at Noah, Asik and the situation at center.
Anyone who regularly follows the Bulls knows what Joakim Noah now means to the team. If the Bulls are a car, he is the gas. If they are a body, he is their soul. Rose drives the team, and Noah provides the momentum.
Whether through cheering from the sideline, gathering rebounds, blocking shots or denying an opposing big man the ball, Noah gives 100 percent every night, and you never question whether he has held back anything at the end of a game. Over the past two season, Noah has gone from being the awkward cheerleader who a lot of fans questioned would ever become a legitimate center in the NBA to the player that every Bulls fan loves, and every fan of their opponents loves to hate.
Although he is not known as an offensive threat, Noah has developed enough skills as a center to average decent numbers. Last season he averaged 11.7 PPG and 2.2 APG in 32.8 MPG while shooting a .525 FG% and a .739 FT%.
Noah's offense primarily consisted of using his athleticism to tip in shots and throw down dunks, but we did see a few more attempts last season utilizing his newly developed hook shot. Noah's jump shot, nicknamed "The Tornado" because of its side-winding spin, was seldom used as a jumper but was often seen at the free throw line where it was surprisingly efficient.
Defense and rebounding is where Noah has earned his money. Last season Noah averaged 1.5 BPG, 1.0 SPG and 10.4 RPG throughout the regular season. During the postseason, Noah stepped up his defensive output to 2.1 BPG and 1.0 SPG while only dropping off a little bit on rebounding to 10.2 RPG. Noah may never develop enough to be considered a great offensive player, but he has shown the dedication, athleticism, energy and skill to become a defensive player who could be ranked among the NBA greats like Mutombo and Olajuwon.
Noah is one of three Bulls to play in the EuroBasket tournament this summer. Along with Asik (Turkey) and Deng (Great Britain), Noah played to represent France in international play with an opportunity to secure a spot in the 2012 London Olympics. Noah's play was questionable at times, but he still rebounded at a high level and any questions of his recent ankle injury were put to rest by his hustle. Additionally, he showed that he has been working on getting into peak physical condition and on developing his post game and hook shot.
Scheduled to make $60 million over the next five season, Noah is the third highest paid player on the roster. Noah's name has been linked in unfounded trade rumors for players like Dwight Howard and Monta Ellis this offseason, but it is unlikely they trade him for multiple reasons.
With Noah the Bulls know what they have—a player who will play as hard as he can for every minute of every game he is in. The Bulls have focused so much on chemistry lately, it would be an uncharacteristic move if they were to trade someone who is liked by all of his teammates and is a good locker room presence. Most importantly, Noah has an excellent working relationship with Rose, and when you have a great player who works well with an all-star, you don't break up that type of dynamic even to add a second potential all-star.
Omer Asik Tough
When the Bulls added Omer Asik to their roster for the 2010-2011 season, they added two things that were lacking—height and defense. The 7'0" center who had spent his last five years in the Turkish League (where he was a two-time all-star) had developed a reputation as a defensive shot blocker and rebounder. What was unknown was if he could produce offensively and whether his lanky frame could hold up in the physical rigors of the NBA.
From the start, it was obvious that defense would not be an issue for Asik. Despite his thin build, Omer proved to be quite adept at blocking shots and pulling down rebounds. Over the course of the season, Asik averaged 0.7 BPG, 0.2 SPG and 3.8 RPG in 12.1 MPG.
These numbers may not appear impressive but averaged across 48 minutes, that would be 2.8 BPG, 0.8 SPG, and 14.8 RPG which are phenomenal numbers for a rookie. As Joakim Noah's backup, Omer's minutes were limited, but he may see more minutes now with a season under his belt. More minutes for Asik may even help Noah who has struggled with injuries over the course of his career.
Offensively, Asik has room to improve—especially in the realm of free throw shooting. Last season, Asik averaged 2.8 PPG and 0.4 APG while shooting a .553 FG% and a .503 FT%. To be a successful NBA center, Asik will need to improve his free throw shooting and will need to develop some post moves with his back to the basket. The one bright spot in Asik's offense was that he averaged 1.4 offensive rebounds per game, and a lot of those rebounds turned into impressive put-back dunks.
Asik was able to play in all 82 regular season games last season but ended the postseason a game early with a fractured fibula in his left foot. In addition to the fibula injury, Asik has also dealt with a broken collar bone and a torn ACL during his recent basketball career. Due to his history of injuries, there are some who question whether he will be a healthy enough player to truly be effective in the NBA.
Asik also participated in the EuroBasket tournament this summer, and although Turkey failed to qualify for the Olympics, Asik stood out as a defensive powerhouse. Asik failed to show any significant improvement on offense, but he pulled down his fair share of rebounds and blocked plenty of shots. Asik's game didn't seem to have changed since the Eastern Conference finals, but he did look to be in good shape which is important after suffering the injury to his fibula.
Asik was associated with trade rumors throughout last season and continues to be included in rumors over the course of the offseason—he is probably the most likely member of the Bulls' frontcourt to be traded this season.
Asik showed a lot of improvement last season and was excellent defensively, even against smaller and quicker players. Additionally, Asik was instantly liked by fans and commentators due to his humility and hard work; Asik received a couple of notable nicknames from Stacey King who referred to him as "The Turkish Hammer" and "Asik and Destroy." The Bulls' management seemed impressed by his hard work and improvement, but that may not be enough for them to not trade him.
Asik is a liability from the free throw line and may not show enough potential offensively to be retained by the Bulls. Additionally, his history of injuries may make the Bulls' management desire to trade him before he has a serious injury that decreases his value. For now, with a salary of just over $4 million in the next two years, Asik is a great deal for the defensive ability he possesses.
Kurt Thomas, the Chicago Bulls veteran, is listed as a center for the Bulls and is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. At 6'9", 230 lbs and 39 years of age, Thomas' game and frame more closely resemble that of a power forward and as such he was reviewed in my previous review of the Chicago Bulls Power Forward Situation.
Gray, Gordon, and Noah
Although it is unlikely that the Bulls go out and sign an all-star (or even just a star) center, they may be in need of a backup in the event that they trade Omer Asik or fail to resign Kurt Thomas. This year's free agency lacks any good cheap options at the center position, but there may be a couple options if the Bulls are in a pinch.
Kyrylo Fesenko has played four years for the Utah Jazz and is an unrestricted free agent this year. Last year he averaged 2 PPG and 2 RPG in 8.6 MPG for the Jazz. Fesenko is 7'1" and 280 lbs, and plays like a traditional center. By signing with the Bulls, Fesenko would be able to resume his role of being mistaken for a tall Kyle Korver.
Aaron Gray, an ex-Bull, played for the New Orleans Hornets last year after being traded to them by the Bulls in 2009. Last year Gray averaged 3.1 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 13 MPG. Gray is 7'0" and 270 lbs and plays like a traditional center. Gray was traded due to his lack of development and his inability to run the floor but showed a little improvement last year, and his familiarity with Chicago may make him an attractive cheap option if the Bulls need a backup.
In the end, with Noah as the main center for the Bulls, their outlook is pretty good. Whether they keep Asik or trade and replace him, the backup position is just that—someone who will give Noah a breather for a few minutes every game who will be expected to contribute defensively while not presenting too great of a liability on offense. In my opinion, Asik is one of the best people to fit the backup role for the Bulls, but if they need to trade him for a better shooting guard, arrangements could be made to find a suitable replacement.
Many have proposed that the Bulls should put together a package of players to trade for Dwight Howard. The assumption is that if you put two superstars together, it is inevitable that the Bulls will win multiple championships—similar to what the Miami Heat were trying to accomplish when they signed Lebron, Wade and Bosh. But superstars do not always win championships, and sometimes chemistry and solid role players can be a more potent combination. A move for a superstar undermines the stars Chicago already has, stunts the growth of young talent and would probably mess with team chemistry.
Instead of dismantling their team, the Bulls need to either develop their offense to best utilize the abilities of their current shooting guards or sign a shooting guard who would better compliment Rose and the offense that Thibodeau wants the Bulls to run.
The Bulls do not need to go sign a big-name center, but they do need to figure out a successful plan for the shooting guard position, and that may require a trade. Unfortunately, Asik is the most valuable trade asset and may need to be offered in any trade that would allow the Bulls to acquire a suitable shooting guard. If the Bulls do trade Asik, they will lose a valuable defensive player and a key backup. The Bulls would need to call on all their big men and probably sign a serviceable replacement in order to make up for Asik.
But regardless of whether the Bulls trade Asik or not, they have one of the most defensively potent frontcourts in the NBA which will be invaluable to them as they seek to overcome the Miami Heat and reach the NBA Finals.