Grading Each Position Going into Chicago Bulls' 2014 Training Camp
Chicago spent the offseason bolstering its team all around. After a failed attempt to lure over superstar forward Carmelo Anthony, the Bulls went a slightly different route, building a complete team rather than trying to form their version of a Big Three.
Carlos Boozer was amnestied back in July, and in his place, Chicago signed All-Star forward Pau Gasol, who could give the offense a much-needed boost. There's also the return of Derrick Rose, whose athleticism looks as good as ever, if not better.
The Bulls also did a lot to address their three-point shooting issues, using the draft and their own international talent to majorly enhance this area of their offense. Tacking on the expected improvement and development of the returning players, Chicago has a true shot at competing for the Eastern Conference crown as well as a shot at the Larry O'Brien trophy.
As the Bulls gear up for training camp, let's break down the five different positions, starting with point guard and sliding up from there.
Starter: Derrick Rose
Bench: Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks, E'Twaun Moore
The Bulls are taking no chances if Rose goes down again. They stacked the point guard position by bringing back longtime Bull Kirk Hinrich and signed scoring guard Aaron Brooks and former Orlando Magic point guard E'Twaun Moore.
But the hopes are that Rose will remain healthy, and if he does, the Bulls are adding a top-three-caliber point guard with nonpareil speed and athleticism. There's no denying his shot looked bad during international play, but his rhythm and timing should come back as he continues to practice within the team’s scheme.
One of his biggest weapons, though, is just his on-court presence. He commands double-teams, something the Bulls haven't really had the past two seasons. With the new personnel around him, three-point opportunities could be high, and the Bulls made certain to get guys that could knock those down.
As for the bench, we know what to expect from Kirk Hinrich. His effort on defense and his ability to run the offense is big for the Bulls, as Rose has been working on his off-ball game, as Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver noted in late July.
It's unknown if Aaron Brooks will crack the rotation, but he's someone who could provide a big spark off the bench a la Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin the last two seasons.
Chicago's front office addressed a very important issue, and it did so successfully, adding solid depth behind its star signal-caller.
Starter: Jimmy Butler
Bench: Tony Snell
This is perhaps the Bulls' best defensive position. Jimmy Butler is coming off a season that earned him All-Defense Second Team honors. Also, his ability to guard both 2s and 3s is crucial when Chicago faces the likes of Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Sophomore guard Tony Snell also has a lot of defensive upside. He has great length, and he's shown it in his ability to break up passing lanes and get the Bulls some easy transition baskets (something Butler is also excellent at).
Snell's offense is coming into its own as well. He came into the league as a three-point shooter, but he showed flashes last season that he could be much more, attacking the paint and converting at an above-average rate, per NBA.com.
The former Lobo continued to expand on his skills during the Las Vegas Summer League, showcasing his outside shot as well as his ability to finish around the rim. He finished the summer circuit averaging 20 points per game, fifth in the tournament.
Snell gives the shooting guard spot some decent offense, but that’s where Butler could struggle.
The Marquette product had an abysmal year, shooting under 30 percent from downtown and just shy of 40 percent overall. Rose’s presence could improve Butler's offense, as he’s likely to get more open looks with Rose drawing a lot of attention, but that remains to be seen. It will also help that he won't be a second or third option this time around.
There's certainly hope given his history, most notably his hot streak at the tail end of the 2012-13 season that saw him shooting 48 percent from behind the arc over the last two months of the regular season.
Overall, Chicago's 2-guard spot still isn't ideal, as it lacks a true scorer, but it's strong defensively and can get by with average offense.
Starter: Mike Dunleavy
Bench: Doug McDermott
This is where the Bulls' three-point shooting gets real good.
Mike Dunleavy has been a sharpshooter his entire career, shooting 37 percent from downtown since he came into the league. He's gotten better over time, too, as the last couple of seasons have produced two of his best four performances from three-point territory.
However, Dunleavy is limited to just that. He's not quick enough to drive by anybody unless he has a very clear mismatch or is given a lane by the defender.
That's where Bulls rookie Doug McDermott comes in. He was one of the nation's top scorers during his time at Creighton, mainly due to his ability to shoot the three at an incredibly high rate (46 percent throughout his career). It's exactly what Chicago needed to add this offseason.
McDermott can score in other ways as well, which is what makes him a big weapon. At 6'8", 220 pounds, the 22-year-old can post up and has shown he can knock down the fadeaway over defenders. He's also very crafty when attacking the basket and is solid at finishing around the rim.
Both Dunleavy and McDermott are also great players off the ball, coming off screens and pulling up from mid-range or from behind the arc with a high success rate. This is their bread and butter and could be a major weapon in the Bulls offense.
It will be tough for McDermott at first, though, as he probably won't get the looks he was accustomed to at Creighton. NBA defenders are much bigger and faster than those at the collegiate level, so McDermott could struggle throughout the first couple of months of the season as he adjusts to the pace and speed of the game.
Defensively, both players are question marks, but McDermott is still young and can be molded into a good defender by Tom Thibodeau—not that McDermott really has a choice. Still, it's something that will take time, and we could see McDermott be somewhat limited at first if he's unable to quickly grasp Thibodeau's scheme.
McDermott will ultimately take the starting job, whether it's later this year or next. However, his inexperience along with Dunleavy's age make this the Bulls’ weakest position, especially on the defensive end.
Projected Starter: Pau Gasol
Bench: Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Cameron Bairstow
Chicago's most improved position is in the frontcourt, starting with the newly acquired Gasol.
The four-time All-Star brings a new aspect to the Bulls offense, something they haven't had before. Carlos Boozer, while a great back-to-the-basket player, played outside of the paint a lot more last season. Over half of his shots came from 10 feet or farther from the rim, and more than a quarter of those attempts were outside 16 feet.
Gasol, on the other hand, had close to a 60-40 split between attempts closer to the rim and those out in mid-range, which is a decrease over previous seasons but still a better reflection of how a post-up player's shot chart should look.
Those inside looks should increase this year, though. Rose is great at driving and dishing out to his nearby bigs, and Joakim Noah's knack for passing from the top of the key should make for some great high-low action. And speaking of ball movement, it's an additional layer Gasol adds to the offense, given him and Noah are two of the league's best passers at their positions.
Gasol isn't a great defender, although he should be an upgrade over Boozer since he can guard centers. Regardless, that's where the bench comes in.
Taj Gibson has become one of the better two-way 4s in the league, and people took notice, as he came very close to beating out Jamal Crawford for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, per NBA.com.
Not only does Gibson provide top-level defense, but Chicago doesn't miss a step due to his improved offense. The 29-year-old displayed a smooth jumper last season along with a series of post moves that often made defenders look silly.
The most exciting addition, though, may be Nikola Mirotic, a Bulls draftee from 2011. Last year, Mirotic shot a combined 40 percent from downtown across his Euroleague and ACB League action, per DraftExpress.com. He'll be the first stretch big the Bulls have had since Brad Miller.
What makes the former Real Madrid star so exciting is his offensive versatility. He's great in the post and can take defenders off the dribble as well. There are questions about his defense and how well he'll be able to guard quicker and bigger NBA bigs, but it's something that he'll have to adjust to. With Thibodeau behind him, it should definitely smooth things over.
The power forward spot has the most new faces, and they could all make an impact this year if the minutes are there. Gasol and Gibson will lead the charge with Mirotic likely getting eased in to start the season. Second-round pick Cameron Bairstow figures to be the odd man out, but there could be a future for him later on down the road if he sticks around.
Starter: Joakim Noah
Bench: Nazr Mohammed
Noah is coming off a career year, and he’ll be looking to build on that, as he now has more weapons around him to create for and who can get him better looks.
It starts and ends with defense for Noah, and he was rewarded with Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. Noah finished ninth in total blocks, and among the top 10, he finished with the fourth-best opponent field-goal percentage near the rim, per NBA.com.
But it's not just the rim protection, it's his ability to play the pick-and-roll and the way he welcomes the challenge of taking on a player like LeBron from the three-point line. Noah is the perfect anchor to this outstanding Bulls defense.
On the other end of the floor, the two-time All-Star exceeded expectations, averaging career highs in points and assists. Not enough can be said about how well he distributed the ball or the manner in which he did it.
However, this is still Chicago's thinnest position on paper. The Bulls announced veteran Nazr Mohammed would return for another year, per the Chicago Sun-Times. But he's more likely to play the mentor role than actually step on the court.
The Bulls will use Gasol and—to an extent—Gibson to make up for the lack of a backup center. It makes sense that they would since Mirotic has to get some minutes as well. Still, with no true, serviceable backup for Noah, the Bulls could have some problems if the injury bug bites them early and severely.
Note: Stats gathered from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.