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Say Hello… to the Bulls’ New Bench Mob

Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson will headline the Bulls’ second unit next season.

Just a week or so after The Bench Mob drastically fell apart, the Chicago Bulls 2012-13 roster is nearly rounded out. With C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, John Lucas III and Omer Asik officially taking their talents to Brooklyn, New York, Atlanta, Toronto and Houston, respectively, the Bulls have already found a plug for each hole those men have left. Whether the chemistry of the newcomers lives up to that of The Bench Mob remains to be seen, but this new group of guys, led by the glue that is Taj Gibson, certainly has the ability to pick up where the bench left off and, if you’re really optimistic, may even surpass its production from the past two seasons (don’t count on it though). It’ll be tough to maintain the consistency and reliability that the bench provided throughout the regular season, there’s no question about that. However, some of the players whom the Bulls have brought in this summer or have been promoted may bring something to the table that the other guys did not. Let’s take a look at who exactly those players are:

Kirk Hinrich, PG/SG. Replacing: C.J. Watson

Captain Kirk needs no introduction. If he can stay healthy, he’s an upgrade over Watson in my mind. Of course, he’ll be starting in place of Derrick Rose for a good few months, so expectations will be relatively high, but his defense and leadership should make him a valuable asset to this Bulls team. (If you didn’t read my post from two weeks ago about Hinrich coming back to Chicago and what it means, click here.)

Marquis Teague, PG. Replacing: John Lucas III

He’s only 19 years old, but Teague is no joke. It will take some time for him to adapt to the NBA at such a young age and learn the ins and outs of running the point at the professional level, but he was far and away the best player on the board when the Bulls drafted him and has the ability to become an all-star caliber point guard some day. His long-range jump shot is nowhere near that of JL3’s, but his athleticism, quickness and excellence in transition should give him a leg up on other point guards who have come into the league with little or no college experience. He should end up being a pretty serviceable backup point guard for the Bulls as a rookie and will only improve with age and experience. Nevertheless, he has a lot of weaknesses to overcome and will definitely experience plenty of growing pains, specifically with his shooting and decision-making. (If you want a scouting report on Teague and a more in-depth analysis of what  he will mean to the Bulls next season and beyond, read my post from the day after the draft here.)

Jimmy Butler, SG. Replacing: Ronnie Brewer

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Jimmy Butler is Ronnie Brewer 2.0. Brewer has proved time and time again that his potential has been completely maxed out. Like I said back in June, he’ll never be more than a high level defender and role player with a limited offensive skill-set and inconsistent jump shot, whereas the 22-year-old Butler has a much higher ceiling and the potential to be one of the premiere defenders in the NBA. He’s a great team player with an incredible work ethic and attitude. According to the Chicago Tribune, he “practically lived at the Berto Center [before Summer League]. He would work out, rest, then work out again. His body looks fit. His mind sounds sharp. He knows the opportunity ahead of him.” As raw as he may have seemed at times last season on the offensive end, it’s his perseverance and balls-to-the-walls mentality that will ultimately lead to him becoming one of the most important players on this team and possible team leaders some day.

It may not mean much at all, but Butler absolutely tore it up in Vegas for Summer League this past week. He lead the squad in scoring, averaging 20.8 points in the four games he played (he sat out the fifth and final game with an undisclosed injury), good for fourth overall in the league. He also lead the entire Summer League in minutes (averaged 35.5 per game) and pounded the glass for a total of 26 rebounds in four games (side note: the Bulls’ Malcolm Thomas, the 6’9″ man-child out of San Diego State, averaged 12.4 rebounds per game and may have very well earned himself the final spot on the roster to start next season). On top of that, Butler attacked the rim with a vengeance, something the Bulls offense desperately needs, and got to the free throw line an amazing 39 times. He made – get this – 35 of them, good for 90%. I don’t really care how meaningless the Summer League may be, because Butler played some confident and inspiring ball. I think it’s safe to say this man is on a mission and will surprise many people come next season.

Nazr Mohammed, C. Replacing: Omer Asik

A 14-year veteran, Nazr Mohammed is coming off a season in which he averaged 2.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 63 games for the Oklahoma City Thunder. If you find yourself strangely excited about the signing of Mohammed, then there’s something seriously wrong with you – it wouldn’t hurt to go see a doctor or someone capable of bringing you back down to earth. He’s an enormous downgrade from Asik – easily the biggest downgrade at any backup position – and brings very little to the table. Yes, he can catch a ball on the low block, make a layup and shoot free throws decently (63.9% career), all things that Asik cannot do, but his defense is very below average, and he’s relatively undersized (6’10”, two inches shorter than Asik). If anything, Mohammed will bring veteran experience to the court and leadership to the locker room, but nothing more. He is simply a cheap alternative to Asik for a year or so until someone better can be found. The details of his contract have yet to be reported, but you can expect him to earn the veteran’s minimum ($1.2 million/year).

Vladamir Radmanovic, SF/PF. Replacing: No idea

Another brutal signing the Bulls made in order to fill out the roster. I was, and still am, disgusted by this pickup and don’t think I’ll be changing my stance any time soon. To be fair, though, the Bulls simply need bodies. Fortunately, Radmanovic only signed a one-year deal, so you’ll likely only see no. 77 (yes, he wears no. 77) for one short season and then forget about him forever. In 43 games with the Hawks last season, the 6’10” Radmanovic averaged 4.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in 15.4 minutes while shooting a whopping 37.6% from the field. Somehow, he shot nearly the same from outside the arc as he did from inside of it (37%), and I don’t really understand how. He’s a pretty horrendous defensive player, meaning that he will probably struggle to get playing time, especially with Tom Thibodeau at the helm. Don’t expect much production, if any, from the Rad Man next season. There’s a reason he’ll be playing for his seventh team in 11 years and fifth team in five years.

Marco Belinelli, SG. Replacing: Kyle Korver

The 6’5″ sharpshooting Belinelli may not be the most exciting player in the world, but he should fill the void that Kyle Korver has left just fine. They are very similar players: both are very streaky shooters and piss-poor defenders, but unlike Korver, Belinelli has shown very steady improvement offensively over the last few years (he’s also younger, so that makes sense). He averaged a career-high 30 minutes, 11.8 points and 1.5 threes per game for the Hornets last season (shot 37.7% from three as well and is a career 39.3% three-point shooter). Belinelli is purely a catch-and-shoot kind of player and tends to be a little too trigger-happy at times. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him struggle before Derrick Rose comes back and helps spread the floor for everyone, but given the way he played in New Orleans with Jarrett Jack running the point and no one else to open up opportunities (Eric Gordon missed almost the entire season), I’d like to think that Belinelli can pick up where he left off last season and continue to improve. Because of his inability to play defense, though, he will likely be thrown into Thibs’ doghouse early on, just like Korver was, until he can prove that he is willing to work hard and overcome his defensive shortcomings. For a guy who can do pretty much all the same things as Korver can at a much cheaper price ($1.96 million as opposed to $5 million), the Bulls found the right replacement.

Obviously, none of these players should make us jump for joy, and signing them doesn’t put us in a better position to win a title. In fact, just hearing that we signed Vladamir Radmanovic made me gag uncontrollably and led to me pulling a few eyelashes out. But, given the financial situation that the Bulls are in, this is the best they could do. As Nick Friedell wrote last week, the Bulls’ plan requires patience. This is not a team built to win a championship this season; they are good enough to win games, but not good enough to win a title. The Bulls are “stuck in cap hell” for the next two years, so it will take time for them to ultimately get to where they want to be. Until then, all we, as fans, can do is support them like we always have and just hope for the best. Let’s hope that the new second unit can provide some stability and begin a new era of The Bench Mob.


What does drafting Marquis Teague mean for the Bulls’ future?

The Chicago Bulls drafted arguably the best player available, Marquis Teague, with the 29th overall pick on Thursday night. What does it mean for their future?

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’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.

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Handicapping the Bulls’ Offseason Plans

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. 

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Keys to winning Game 5 and getting back into the series

Taj Gibson may be the key to winning tonight’s game.

I know I’ve stated before that the Bulls won’t win a championship without Rose (and Noah). But it’s still more than okay for us to be optimistic heading into tonight’s game at the UC. If the Bulls continue using the same game plan they’ve used the last three games, though, the season will probably end tonight. Here’s how they can get back into this series against Philly:

  • Stop crashing the offensive glass so much. Yes, the Bulls were the best rebounding team in the league heading into the postseason. But in this series, they are only rebounding 27.4% of their misses to Philly’s 24.9%.  With Noah out, the Bulls are essentially no better than Philly in the rebounding department. They may as well keep an extra body in the backcourt and focus on preventing Philly from running the fast-break, which has killed us all series long. They’re also shooting 22% from three (good for 15th out of 16) and nearly 50% from inside the arc, a lot of which has comes from easy fast-break layups/dunks and poor pick-and-roll defense. If we can get Philly in a half court game more often than we have, it will drastically increase our chances of winning
  • Go small. Starting Omer Asik won’t accomplish anything. He’s basically allergic to scoring unless it involves dunking the ball and swinging his legs up in the air. The Bulls may as well try something different by playing small-ball and starting Taj Gibson at the 5 and figure out a way to get Gibson, Lucas and Korver on the floor together at the same time. The three of them happened to have the best non-Rose and non-Noah 3 player combination +/- on the team during the regular season (+152 in 391 minutes). Throw Deng in there (the four of them together posted a +92 in 192 minutes during the regular season), and this should help space the floor and hopefully allow for some more open looks. It also doesn’t hurt to point out that, with Gibson on the court during the playoffs (per 48 minutes of playing time), the Bulls 3 point % has increased from 32.3% to 40.9%; their free throw attempts have increased from 16.3 to 24.3; their offensive rebounding % has gone up by nearly 8%; and their net rating (offense rating – defense rating) goes from +5.1 to -8.4. Taj needs more minutes. Period.
  • Limit the fouls and get back to fundamental defense. If you remember from yesterday’s post, free throws attempted per field goals made is one of the four factors to being a good basketball team. During the regular season, the 76ers were last in the league in free throw rate by making only 13.5 free throws per game. In the four games this series, they happen to have attempted 110 free throws, good for fourth most out of the 16 playoff teams. The Bulls have to stop playing lazy defense, which is supposed to be their bread and butter, and stop bailing out the Philly guards late in the shot clock. I can bet that Thibs has nearly had 4 or 5 heart attacks on the sideline by now because of this and could guess that it will take an extra couple of days for his voice to come back after this series. This is very atypical of Bulls basketball, so we’ve got to stick to our true identity and not give this team so many free points.

So there you have it. If the Bulls can accomplish these three things (and Thibs can play those recommended lineups more minutes), I don’t see why they won’t come out with a victory tonight. This isn’t to say that we can’t win without doing these things, because we very well can, but they are three things that have probably frustrated most of us the last few games. Although we’ve looked no better than atrocious without Rose, finally getting over the hump to win one game can go a long way for this team and give them the confidence boost they’ve needed to somehow pull out this series.

By the numbers: The impact of losing Derrick Rose

Replacing Derrick Rose with CJ Watson and John Lucas is unfair to both the fans and the team.

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 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
Other notable statistics:
  • 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.

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