Gimme the Hot Sauce! Chicago’s Finest Brew! C.J. WWWWWAAAATSONNN-UHHH! How many times over the past two NBA seasons have you enjoyed hearing these Stacey Kingism’s and screaming them from your couch on an almost nightly basis? It always put a smile on my face when us Bulls fans would come together and celebrate the greatness that was, not a first unit, but a second unit in The Bench Mob. The Bulls had, without question, the best and deepest bench in the league over the last two years, and it always made us feel great that we had an advantage over every single team because of it. Yahoo’s Steve Merritt described The Mob perfectly:
…a group of guys that gelled with the Bulls’ existing core to develop a chemistry and camaraderie seldom seen in professional sports. The Bench Mob, in a word, was special, and Bulls fans quickly fell in love with their reserves. I mean, seriously, how many NBA second units have their own website and t-shirts (in addition to a cool nickname)?
But as of last night, The Bench Mob is officially no more. As predicted, once the Bulls declined to pick up C.J. Watson’s (he just signed a deal with Brooklyn Saturday night) and Ronnie Brewer’s team options, Kyle Korver was traded. The Hot Sauce will be taking his talents down south to Atlanta, who was in desperate need of any kind of shooting after Joe Johnson was traded to Brooklyn, in exchange for a trade exception and cash considerations. Some Bulls fans are upset, some are content and others are indifferent. Regardless of what people feel, though, these were moves that most of us should have seen coming and ultimately needed to be made.
The Bulls already have found replacements for Watson (and Lucas) in Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague, and Ronnie Brewer in Jimmy Butler. All signs point to the acquisition of former Milwaukee great and U.S. Olympian Michael Redd to replace Korver’s sharpshooting with that of his own (although he’s very washed up now because of injuries), but that’s all just speculation. Nevertheless, it makes me sad to see such a tight-knit group of guys broken up before ever winning a title. Had Derrick Rose been healthy, things would probably be different right now. The 2011-12 season unfortunately didn’t work out the way we thought it would, but we have to live with that and move on. That’s just sports.
Now that the Bulls are off the hook from Korver’s $500,000 on his $5 million non-guaranteed contract, they have the money to match Houston’s offer for Omer Asik and bring him back to Chicago. Do I think they’ll do that? Sources say yes, so I’d have to think so as well. Do I think they should? Well, you already know how I feel about that. And the answer is no. We’ll see what happens in the coming days.
Although we enjoyed watching The Bench Mob mesh together and had the utmost confidence in their ability to hold, and even extend, leads most of the time, the Watson/Brewer/Korver trio certainly had flaws that cannot be understated. Between Watson’s poor shot selection, Brewer’s inability to make a jump shot, and Korver’s incredible inconsistency and lack of defense, there were times when I’d watch these guys play, and I just wanted to physically hurt somebody. Of course, I’m too big of a bitch to have ever done such a thing, but you get where I’m coming from.
By the end of this past season, it was pretty freakin’ obvious that Thibodeau and Bulls nation had basically had it with them. Watson sucked beyond belief in that six-game series when it mattered most, Brewer managed to get benched in Game 3 of the playoffs and ended up averaging a whopping 1.3 points against Philly, and Korver combined for a grand total of zero points in three out of the six playoff games. The way their seasons ended, it was nearly impossible for me to think that bringing any of them back would be the right move. If we couldn’t trust them then to help right the ship without Derrick Rose, how can we trust them until February 2013 and possibly beyond?
There’s no doubt that we’ll miss the positive things that C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver brought to the table. Their hearts and desires to win games, not just for their team, but for the city of Chicago, were what made them such great assets, teammates and people. It’s extremely difficult to find one or two starters, let alone three bench players, on an NBA team who care as much about winning as they do, and that’s what makes me so upset to see them go.
Whether or not the Bulls are selling out for next season by breaking up one of league’s greatest benches of all time, I’m not sure, but these were moves that most people, including myself, feel were necessary. As fans, all we can do is move on and believe that guys like Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler can take over their roles and flourish in them. Until next season tips off, though, let’s all fondly remember the founding fathers of The Bench Mob and all of the great things they did for this organization. Their competitiveness and unique chemistry will be sorely missed.
Two years ago, Bulls fans, including myself, were devastated when our beloved Kirk Hinrich was traded on draft night to the Washington Wizards. It was a way for the Bulls to clear up some cap space and go all-in on free agency by splurging on Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh. I never thought for a second that Lebron was taking his talents to the Windy City (I actually thought he would stay in Cleveland, but that’s besides the point). Wade maybe. He grew up in Chicago, so there was a realistic chance of him coming here. But when the Bulls struck out on all three of them, Carlos Boozer ended up being our consolation prize, and it was disappointing to say the least.
The Bulls gave up a seven-year veteran in Hinrich, a guy who did everything that was ever asked of him, for next to nothing. By trading a player of Hinrich’s class, the front office showed that loyalty hadn’t meant as much as we’d thought. Of course, we all got over it, and the Bulls ended up with the best record in the NBA the next season, but there wasn’t a game that went by where I didn’t miss Kirk Hinrich. His leadership and his defense were his two best qualities, and the Bulls lacked both during the 2011 Eastern Conference finals and 2012 playoffs.
Sure enough, as of yesterday morning, Captain Kirk is coming back to Chicago on the mini-midlevel exception and will sign a two-year, (just over) $6 million deal when the free agent moratorium ends on Wednesday. The most surprising part? He passed up a better offer from Milwaukee to come back and play for the team that low-balled him with a trade just two years ago. Hinrich probably didn’t forget, but he certainly forgave. Clearly, he wants to win as badly as anyone and feels he can help keep this team afloat without its best player. That, in itself, should make us feel pretty good.
No, Hinrich won’t be the difference maker in winning a championship this season and beyond, but he does solve the Bulls’ need for a combo guard and will man the point while Rose is out until January or February. Every one is entitled to their opinion on C.J. Watson (he was told by the Bulls yesterday that his team option will not be picked up) and whether or not Hinrich is an upgrade but, although he hasn’t been the same player in two seasons since that trade, I’d like to think that a comeback to Chicago will be exactly what Hinrich needs to get back to his old self.
By now, we can all agree that Watson is a soft-spoken floor general who plays mediocre defense at best and proved he cannot run the Bulls’ offense without the luxury of having Derrick Rose take off some pressure; Hinrich is the opposite. He started at point guard for this organization for over five seasons and already has a large majority of fan support in Chicago. He can defend multiple positions very well, has a high basketball IQ and was widely considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA during his time as a Bull. The injuries have piled up – there’s no doubt about that. However, Hinrich is only 31 years old, so if he can manage to stay healthy, he’s still got a good amount left in the tank. He’s not the answer by any means, but he does bring some aspects of his game to the table that Watson does not.
When Rip Hamilton’s deal expires after this season, Hinrich could start at shooting guard next season, making him even more valuable to the Bulls backcourt. The two-year deal comes with minimal risk, so it can’t hurt. Plus, according to Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, because Hinrich is signing for the mini-midlevel exception, “the Bulls can exceed both the luxury tax threshold projected to be $70.3 million and a hard cap of $74.3 million set for teams who use the full midlevel exception.” In other words, the Bulls may end up matching Houston’s offer for Omer Asik after all, putting them into luxury tax territory and forcing them to pursue minimum-salary free agents to fill up the roster. But, that’s another story for another day.
As excited as I am about seeing Hinrich back in the white, red and black, the Bulls still have a few more important decisions and potential roster changes to make. It’s unfortunate that we can’t bring in any legitimate game-changers, but with such little flexibility in the salary cap, signing Kirk Hinrich was a move that many felt needed to be made. We’ll see how creative the front office wants to get in the coming weeks, but I’m not counting on anything major. In the meantime, let’s welcome back our former Captain and his new-look goggles to his old stomping grounds with open arms.
Marquis Teague: Welcome to Chicago. I’m still not totally sure how I feel about this pick (I definitely like it for short-term purposes), but I am sure about this: the Bulls didn’t even think twice about it. They worked out around a dozen different players leading up to the draft, and not one of them was named Marquis Teague. Clearly, no one, including the Bulls’ front office, thought Teague would slip all the way to no. 29 in the draft. Everyone knew we were going after a guard. Was it going to be Doron Lamb, the sharpshooter from Kentucky? Was it going to be Will Barton, the long, versatile 2-guard from Memphis? Was it going to be Tyshawn Taylor, the emotional combo-guard from Kansas? I personally had no clue. But when the Bulls were officially on the clock, and Teague was still available, it just seemed inevitable. Even without those pre-draft workouts, the Bulls liked him the most simply because he was the best player available.
As stated in last week’s post on the Bulls’ draft prospects, Teague has arguably the highest ceiling of any point guard in this draft. If he had stayed one more year at Kentucky, he might have been a top-10 pick, so he’s great value for the us at the end of the first round. Teague’s a great athlete with a 40.5″ max vertical leap and has drawn some comparisons to Steve Francis. He loves to get out and run and break down defenses off the dribble. He’s also a great finisher at the rim, has solid vision, excels in pick-and-roll situations and can knock down midrange jumpers here and there. However, his decision-making in the half court, as well as his long-range jump shooting (shot 32% from three at Kentucky last season), needs work. He won’t become a true threat next season until he can consistently hit three-point shots to keep defenses honest and make them play up on him. Teague is an incredible talent nonetheless, and quarterbacking the Kentucky Wildcats to a national championship as a freshman should probably count for something. But as fun as it is to analyze a player’s skill level, what does this pick mean for the Bulls?
The biggest elephant in the room, other than Derrick Rose’s health, amongst fans and the Bulls organization alike has been the question about the Bulls back court. Most fans thought C.J. Watson’s time in Chicago should come to an end, but no one really had any idea about what Gar Forman and John Paxson were thinking — until tonight. With Teague ready to step in, I think it’s safe to say that Watson will be gone. He had his moments, yes, but for every good thing he did on the court, there were two or three bad things. Watson was completely exposed this past season, as he started 25 total games while Derrick Rose nursed injuries. The poor decision-making, the iffy shot selection and the terrible playoff performance ultimately put him in our doghouse, so there’s no better time for a high-upside point guard like Teague to come in and take over Watson’s spot. If, for some reason, the Bulls decide to keep Watson for one more year, then John Lucas will undoubtedly be let go, and Teague will get his minutes while Rose recovers from knee surgery. What will Teague’s primary role be next season, though, if the Bulls do follow the road that all signs point to and not bring Watson back?
Obviously, the Bulls must have at least three point guards on next year’s roster with Rose set to miss a majority of the regular season. Teague is a lock. But John Lucas and Mike James? Not so much. After Lucas’ horrendous performance against Philadelphia in round one and Tom Thibodeau’s surprising stubbornness to give Mike James any chance whatsoever to prove himself, it’s hard to see why either of them would be brought back. Maybe one (probably Lucas), but not both. I can’t imagine Teague being thrown into the fire immediately and starting for three months, so his primary role will almost certainly entail being the backup point guard before and after Rose comes back. That being said, someone will have to be the guy to get his name called during the starting lineups. With the $3.7 million the Bulls would save by not picking up Watson’s option, a guy like Kirk Hinrich, whom I mentioned in last week’s post about potential offseason decisions, would be a perfect bridge (there are other options out there, but he comes to mind first because of how much fans in Chicago love him). However, if Teague, or even John Lucas, ends up getting the starting nod on opening night, it wouldn’t shock me — stranger things have happened. And that includes Miles Plumlee getting drafted by the Pacers before Arnette Moultrie, Perry Jones III, Draymond Green AND Marquis Teague (seriously, what an AWFUL pick).
As far as the long-term future is concerned, this pick kind of confuses me. As @NBATradeIdeas tweeted last night, the Bulls drafted a point guard whose ceiling is Rose’s backup for the next five years or so. Why didn’t they take a flier on a potential shooting guard? Consider what blogabull.com’s Alex Sonty wrote:
The Bulls already have an MVP point guard whom the organization expects to log 35+ MPG for at least the next six years, so no matter how good Teague becomes, when does this value get added?
Honestly, I don’t know; and the Bulls probably don’t either, but will do their damnedest to sell you on “can’t have too much depth” narrative.
What I can do is speculate is that the Bulls are questioning Rose’s long-term viability as a point guard, as the 76ers did with Allen Iverson at an inflection point; that maybe more minutes in small backcourts in shifts as the secondary ball handler — the de facto SG — is optimal for his health, so he can rest more often on offense.
If Sonty’s hunch is true, then my analysis of this pick changes completely. Did the Bulls draft Teague with the notion that Rose will soon become the shooting guard of the future? None of us will really know the answer to this question until we see what kind of impact Teague will have during the earlier part of his career in a Bulls uniform. Of course, it’s all speculation, but it’s still something for us Bulls fans to ponder deeply.
Now that the Miami Heat have been crowned NBA Champions, the offseason can begin. As a result of the lockout, the offseason schedule has been accelerated with the NBA Draft and the start of free agency only four days apart. This will create a flurry of moves in the next two weeks, and we’re going to take a look at what the Bulls should do.
Consider trading Luol Deng
The Bulls face the problem of potentially playing all of next season without Derrick Rose, and if Deng elects to get surgery after the Olympics, he will be out for an extended period as well. This will surely put the Bulls out of contention, and as currently constructed, they cannot beat the Miami Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder. For this reason, the Bulls would be wise to see what Deng can get in return. Trading Deng allows the Bulls to simultaneously get younger while creating more cap flexibility down the road. There are a few lottery teams (Warriors, Kings, and Raptors) who would give up their top ten pick for more proven talent. The Bulls front office needs to weigh the benefit of receiving one of these picks and the players they could likely draft in these slots. While Deng has been one of the most consistent and best Bulls players for a long time, the NBA is driven by business decisions and the Bulls need to keep the long-term picture in mind.
Lock-up Omer Asik
Asik is restricted free-agent, and has drawn considerable attention from teams like the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics. The Bulls front office has been adamant about resigning Asik, and they have the ability to match any offer. Asik’s value overwhelmingly stems from his defensive talents, as he is extraordinarily bad on offense. If the Bulls are forced to match an offer from a team offering to overpay Asik, it would not be surprising to see them let him go. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf generally tries to avoid paying the luxury tax at all costs and will look to do so if signing Asik puts them over the tax threshold. Asik definitely is valuable to the Bulls, and coach Thibodeau loves his defensive players, so the front office will likely get creative in trying to bring him back.
Figure out the backcourt
With Rose out and C.J. Watson and John Lucas both free agents, the Bulls might potentially overhaul their backcourt. The Bulls are likely going to draft a guard filling one of the spots, but they will have to decide where to exercise the $3.7 dollar option of Watson. I think it is likely the Bulls bring back Watson due to his familiarity with the system and the players. Adding a combo guard in the draft will help the Bulls down the road, but for now, they should stay the course with Watson. Another consideration is the luxury tax the Bulls face, which they would like to avoid. All three of C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer’s contracts are non-guaranteed, meaning they could release them to alleviate some cap concerns.
Assess the free-agents
If the Bulls do decide to go in a different direction and part ways with C.J. Watson, they’ll likely look to free agency to temporarily fill the void at PG. While they will assuredly draft some sort of guard that can run the offense, there is very little chance coach Thibs would go into the season with a rookie running the offense. There are a few options out there such as Andre Miller, Kirk Hinrich, and Jason Kidd that would give the Bulls veteran experience at the position. Kidd has reportedly expressed interest in the Bulls, and at the right price, he may be brought in. Regardless, the front-office will need to find someone who can hold down the fort until Rose is ready to return.
Extend Coach Thibodeau’s contract
I’m not entirely sure why this has taken so long as it’s obvious how positively Thibodeau has affected the team and created a winning culture. Beyond Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, there may be no better coach in the NBA. While, a first-round loss was obviously disappointing, given the injuries the team sustained over the course of the season, Thibs did a phenomenal job. Similarly to how Popovich has been able to convert most players to fit into the offensive juggernaut he orchestrated in San Antonio, Thibs has been able to do so defensively for our players. The New York Knicks recently extended Mike Woodson for 3 years, 2 of which are guaranteed at $4 million per season. Jerry Reinsdorf and the rest of the front-office should use these numbers as a barometer and offer Thibs somewhere in the $5-6 millon range over four or five years.
18 and 9. That’s all people kept saying when Derrick Rose’s MRI revealed a torn ACL. 18 and 9. If we can win in the regular season without him, we should have no problem winning in the playoffs without him, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. It’s okay to remain hopeful as a fan. It’s what keeps us, as sports fans, going in life. But any sensible basketball fan knew that our season was pretty much over when Rose hit the floor untouched. Then it got me thinking: what are the chances the Bulls would have gotten to NBA Finals with a healthy Derrick Rose?
In order to figure this out, I used Excel Solver to power rate every NBA team during the regular season and playoffs from using season-long data from nba-reference.com. Using every single score from Christmas Day until the final day of the season, I calculated the home team’s margin, prediction of each game, and the squared error of each game, which equals (home margin – prediction)^2. The sum of the squared error acts as the target cell and must be minimized in order to come up with accurate team ratings. Assuming that the average NBA team has a rating of 0, you can see that home teams had an edge of 2.82 points per game during the regular season as well as throughout the ongoing playoffs. The Bulls had the highest rating of 7.426 (just edging out the Spurs at 7.277). This means that they were 7.426 points better than the average NBA team, and over 20 points better than the lowly Bobcats, which is just stupid. The same process was followed in order to come up with team ratings during this season’s playoffs. These ratings were used for the Celtics (3.25) and Heat (7.25) because they both tend to coast throughout the regular season, whereas the Bulls go balls through the walls night in and night out. Below is a snapshot of each team’s rating (regular season and playoffs).
Now the fun part: calculating our chances of beating Philadelphia, Boston and Miami with a healthy Derrick Rose using @Risk. The first step was forecasting the average scoring margin for home and away games. For home games, I took (Home Edge + Bulls Rating – Away Team Rating). The projected margin was then calculated using the average forecast and standard deviation (the book Mathletics states that “12 points is the historical standard deviation of actual scores about a prediction from a ranking system”). If that number is greater than 0, then the Bulls will be given a 1 (indicating they won) and will be given a 0 if the number is less than 0 (indicating they lost). If the sum of the wins is greater than or equal to 4, then the Bulls would win the series.
First up was Philadelphia. After running 1000 iterations, the Bulls won the series 769 times, meaning they had a 76.9% chance of beating the Sixers in the first round with a healthy Rose. And without Rose… well, we can all just agree that the probability was probably not even 10% given the way we’ve looked. Ew.
Next up was Boston. We had a 79.2% chance of beating them based on the Celtics’ current level of play in the playoffs.
Finally, Miami. It pains me to say this, but given how we played during the regular season (remember, we played 27 games without Rose, too), and given how Miami has played against the Knicks thus far (which is incredible to say the least), the Bulls had a 53% chance of winning the series and moving on to the Finals.
Who really knows what would’ve happened if the Rose didn’t tear his ACL? Coming up with probabilities is fun and everything, but it’s not a final indicator of who would actually win the series. The games still have to be played. That’s why it hurts to not see it happen. We’ve all dreamed about the 2012 Eastern Conference Final rematch with Miami since last May, yet it all fell apart so fast. All we can do is hope our boys get healthy and come back strong sooner rather than later.
Pretty much anyone in the world can say that the Bulls are nowhere as good a team without Derrick Rose. That’s clear. But it got me thinking – exactly how much worse is this team without Rose? I checked out nba.com to figure it out.
Let us first take a look at some advanced statistics and focus on the four offensive factors of basketball per 48 minutes of basketball: effective field goal %, turnovers committed per possession, offensive rebounding % and free throw rate. Considering the fact that the Bulls aren’t any worse defensively without Rose (thanks to Thibs), I’m choosing to ignore defense completely to zero in on our depleted offense. Here’s the catch, though: I am only looking at the four playoff games against the 76ers. Forget the regular season. There were too many meaningless games played during this season jam-packed with back-to-backs, back-to-back-to-backs, 4 games in 5 nights, etc. I know there’s only 37 minutes worth of data for Rose in this case, but it can still give us a good sense as to how the Bulls would have fared against Philly had Rose stayed healthy.
- Effective Field Goal %: 53.2% when in, 44.8% when out
- Turnovers Committed per Possession: 0.155 when in, 0.133 when out
- Offensive Rebounding %: 32.3% when in, 26.6% when out
- Free Throw Rate: 0.222 when in, 0.147 when out
Now, let us compare these numbers to those of CJ Watson and John Lucas.
- Effective Field Goal %: 48% when in, 45% when out
- Turnovers Committed per Possession: 0.127 when in, 0.147 when out
- Offensive Rebounding %: 18.1% when in, 34.4% when out
- Free Throw Rate: 0.152 when in, 0.169 when out
- Effective Field Goal %: 44.4% when in, 47.6% when out
- Turnovers Committed per Possession: 0.139 when in, 0.136 when out
- Offensive Rebounding %: 34.3% when in, 22.8% when out
- Free Throw Rate: 0.138 when in, 0.174 when out
- The Bulls are +7.8 in the series with Rose on the court and -7.1 with him off; -5.6 with Watson on and -2.9 while off; -6.4 with Lucas on and -3.1 while off
- The Bulls have an offense rating of 109.6 with Rose on the court and 91.9 with him off
Based solely on statistics, the Bulls have been significantly worse offensively without Rose against the 76ers. The turnover rate is actually higher with Rose in, but that’s probably because Rose led the team with 5 turnovers in game 1 due to the double teams he was drawing from the lengthy Philly defenders.
It is also interesting to point out that the Bulls have been infinitely better on the offensive glass with Lucas on the court than Watson. I honestly have no idea why this may be, but everyone can agree that Rose’s effect on our offensive rebounding obviously has to do with the fact that he draws extra defenders away from the basket, ultimately leaving an extra player down low to give us second and third chance points.
Lastly, the difference in free throw rates between these three point guards is an absolute joke. It goes without saying that neither Watson nor Lucas have the quickness and first step that Derrick has, and it’s clear that both players essentially have an incredible amount of trouble drawing fouls and creating open looks for everyone else.
With all that being said, it’s very safe to assume that, with a healthy Derrick Rose, the Bulls would have either swept Philadelphia or won it in 5. What a depressing way to go out. I won’t get over this for a looong time.