People who think they are going to be contenders didn't watch them last season. I love their two young players, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, but they're inconsistent. The Bulls will be great in two years, but they're not quite ready to challenge at the top. Frankly, they're overrated.
Rose has to improve his shooting, but he has that knack of getting into the paint, and he has a little runner he can finish at the rim. Plus, he can find guys. He's a point guard who can dominate without shooting and when he scores 30. Isiah Thomas was like that -- and his shooting improved over time.
Rose makes good decisions with the ball. Pretty soon Rose will be right up there in that elite group, with Deron Williams, Steve Nash and Chris Paul. This is another huge year for him after a vast improvement last season and successful summer with USA Basketball.
Rose and Rajon Rondo are sort of at the same stage. Right now, I'd take Rondo over Rose, but I have a feeling by the end of the year it will be Rose. Though he's not as long as Rondo, Rose has a better shot and he's the bigger, stronger guy. He's also good in the half-court because he can turn that corner on the pick-and-roll. Now that he has better teammates around him, his skills should take off.
I love how Chicago's put together its team. The Bulls needed a 4 for many years, and now they have Carlos Boozer to pair with the great young point guard. I've always been a Boozer fan. It will be interesting to see how he does with the Pat Riley/Jeff Van Gundy school of defense that will be installed by Tom Thibodeau. Defense was never one of Boozer's priorities in Utah. But he does so many other things at a high level. He rebounds; he scores; you can throw it down to him and he knows what to do with it; and he can step out and make the medium-range jumper. He isn't the tallest guy at his position, but he has those ridiculous Karl Malone-sized shoulders and pretty good feet too. He's going to be great in the pick-and-roll with Rose.
I also think Boozer will complement Noah, who is a bit like Ben Wallace. Noah won't try to block every shot like Wallace used to do, but he will anchor the defense and be dominant at that end of the floor. Put him next to a frontcourt scorer like Boozer, and he'll be able to show his strengths. He's so active on the weak side that he's going to make it hard for teams to help on Boozer. If they do, Noah is going to be cleaning up the glass or finishing the passes he receives from Boozer. Noah is one of those guys who does exactly what every team is begging the center to do: He comes across with his hands up high saying, "Give it to me." Then, defensively, he'll compensate for Boozer's weaknesses.
Luol Deng is a good small forward, but he's overpaid. About four years ago, some people in Chicago said he was the team's best player, but he's their third or fourth option. He's pretty solid at everything: He can make a three -- he hasn't taken many but I expect him to shoot more of them this year -- and he's a great defender. He's very good in transition but not much of a threat in the half-court. What they need is a stronger No. 3 option behind Rose and Boozer, because right now Deng brings more defensively than he does offensively. Assuming they start Ronnie Brewer at the 2, none of the Bulls' starters are going to stretch the defense to the three-point line consistently.
I liked their pickup of Brewer, who does everything well but nothing extraordinary. The problem with having Deng and Brewer as your starters on the wing is that they're so much alike. To become a real threat in the playoffs, they'll need an upgrade at one of those positions.
I expect Kyle Korver to be good for them as a deep shooter off the bench. I thought he'd have more impact in Utah, but this should be a better system for him. Utah likes movement; in Chicago, he can stand in the corner or at the top of the key and just line it up. Korver is not a reliable individual defender, but he's a good team defender, so he'll fit into Thibodeau's system. If they could replace Deng with a stud scorer and keep Brewer at shooting guard with Korver coming off the bench to fill either wing spot, they'd be really good.
Taj Gibson grabs offensive boards, plays hard, draws a charge. He's the type of guy everybody wants on the team, but he has little or no trade value because you aren't going to give up anybody you value to trade for him. He plays his butt off, but he may not get a lot of time this year. Effort alone isn't going to cut it for Thibodeau, which means Gibson is going to have to follow the schemes. Last year, he prospered as a high-effort guy on a team that wasn't really structured at either end, so it's hard to tell. Plus, this year's Bulls are going to rank something like 29th in offensive rebounds because Thibodeau is going to want everyone getting back on defense to prevent fast breaks. That's going to limit one of Gibson's skills.
I like a lot of their guys. Kurt Thomas will be an energy guy who will probably be an assistant coach a year from now. C.J. Watson is a backup point guard who can come in and change the dynamic. The coaches will appreciate Keith Bogans as a defender who can hit threes.
I think you're going to see the Bulls turn into a reincarnation of the old Jeff Van Gundy Knicks, except the Bulls will actually have a point guard. They have a lot of guys who can run and they might talk about running, the way Jeff used to do, but it's going to be hard for Thibodeau to give up that control. I bet they'll be a low-scoring team that turns itself into one of the league's top defensive teams.
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