Baller Mind Frame

NBA Season Preview: Chicago Bulls Team Preview

2014-15 NBA SEASON PREVIEW CONTENT LIST

Atlantic: Celtics | Nets | Knicks | 76ers | Raptors |Division Preview
Central: Bulls | Cavaliers | Pistons | Pacers | Bucks | Division Preview
Southeast: Hawks | Hornets | Heat | Magic | Wizards | Division Preview

Pacific: Warriors | Clippers | Lakers | Suns | Kings | Division Preview
Northwest: Nuggets | Timberwolves | Thunder | Trail Blazers | Jazz | Division Preview
Southwest: Mavericks | Rockets | Grizzlies | Pelicans | Spurs | Division Preview

Top 10 by Position: PG | SG | SF | PF | C
Top 10 Lists: Sixth Men | Sophomores | X-Factors | Rookies | Games to Watch | Comeback | Contenders | Breakouts

Articles: Assessing the Cavaliers Trio | Important Season for James Harden | Return of Paul George? | Trading Rajon Rondo | Are the Nuggets This Season’s Suns? | NBA’s Best Starting Five | NBA’s Worst Starting Five | Now or Never for Durant and Thunder After Injury

Fantasy Basketball: Top 10 PGs | Top 10 SGs | Top 10 SFs | Top 10 PFs | Top 10 Cs | Sleepers, Studs, and Sinkholes | Analyzing the Schedule | BMF Mock Draft | Cavs and Cav-Nots | Like A Bosh | Rajon Injury Impact

Media Day: Clippers | Hawks | Kings | Knicks | Magic | Mavericks | Nets

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

BMF-CHI0

Most Important Player: Derrick Rose
We haven’t seen a healthy Derrick Rose suit up for the Chicago Bulls since April 2012. The franchise, the team, the city, and the fans need him back. I’d say that qualifies him as “Most Important Player.”

X-Factor: Joakim Noah
Derrick Rose’s second comeback and Pau Gasol’s debut will get the majority of the headlines in the Windy City but I’d make the argument Joakim Noah is the player who will most dictate Chicago’s success. He’s the defending Defensive Player of the Year, an All-NBA performer and the heart and soul of a team that has had success over the past couple of seasons mainly because of that mindset and style of play. The Bulls come into this season more talented and explosive than last season, but the Bulls won’t lose their identity thanks to Noah.

Rotations: The Chicago Bulls trotted into the 2014 NBA Playoffs with Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and a fairly nonexistent bench once you got past Taj Gibson. Fast-forward five months and 40 percent of that starting lineup has changed and the Bulls have a revamped bench. The team will likely start Butler, Dunleavy, and Noah along with the returning Derrick Rose and newly acquired big man Pau Gasol. What catches my attention will be how Tom Thibodeau uses this new-found depth. Thibodeau is notorious for being the anti-Gregg Popovich; shortening his rotation way too early in the season and running his players into the ground before the playoffs arrive. The Bulls are deeper this year than they have been in Thibodeau’s tenure, possibly a godsend for their postseason hopes as long as Thibs adjusts his style. Realistically they could go 10-deep if he bends. The Noah/Gasol/Gibson trio is interchangeable and Nikola Mirotic has to be considered for playing time in the frontcourt as well. Summer League standouts Doug McDermott and Tony Snell should see time off the bench and Kirk Hinrich will fall back into a backup role.

What Needs to Go Right: The roster additions the Bulls made in the offseason were in large part designed to improve their anemic offense. The Bulls should remain an elite defensive team because of Thibodeau’s schemes and the play of Noah, Butler, Gibson, and Hinrich, but they need to make strides on offense too. Let’s hold this thought for just a sec.

It’s Really Bad If: Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it’s really bad if Chicago can’t stay healthy. Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy, Jimmy Butler, and Taj Gibson have all missed double-digit games in the past few seasons. If the injury bug bites the Bulls, their championship hopes could bite the dust.

Bold Prediction: The Bulls offense averages over 100 points per game (highest under Thibodeau was 98.6 in his first season)

PLAYER PROFILES

Cameron Bairstow, C
Strengths:
Potential to be a versatile scoring threat. A beautiful head of hair.
Weaknesses:
Doesn’t possess overwhelming athletic ability, making him a defensive liability. 
Season Prediction:
Bairstow’s free-flowing locks will rarely be seen drenched in sweat, unless he’s bumped down to the D-League.

Aaron Brooks, PG
Strengths:
Capable backup point guard. Can score quickly off the bench. 
Weaknesses:
Vertically challenged. Living in the shadow of former New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks.
Season Prediction:
Brooks is likely Derrick Rose insurance, similar to D.J. Augustin’s role last season. If Rose remains healthy, Brooks will probably see limited time.

Jimmy Butler, SG
Strengths:
One of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Great athleticism, coming along offensively.
Weaknesses:
It’s troublesome that Butler’s shooting percentage plummeted below 40 percent last season.
Season Prediction:
Butler will continue to log huge minutes, badger the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer, and come along as an offensive weapon.

Mike Dunleavy, SF
Strengths:
High basketball IQ. Great perimeter shooter. Creates space for teammates to work on offense.
Weaknesses:
Probably the biggest defensive liability of Chicago’s regular rotation players.
Season Prediction:
Dunleavy will continue to do Dunleavy things, but with McDermott behind him he probably won’t be playing over 30 minutes per game like last year.

Pau Gasol, PF/C
Strengths:
Still a premier scorer in the post. One of the best passing big men in the Association. Should really help the Bulls offensively.
Weaknesses:
Not a guarantee that he will give Chicago 82 games. Slipping defensively at a steady rate. Susceptible to vertigo. 
Season Prediction:
I’m high on Pau. I think he gives the Bulls 70 games and 26 impactful minutes a night. That’s really all they need from him.

Taj Gibson, PF
Strengths:
Plays with all kinds of energy. Quickly developing a dependable offensive repertoire. An underrated defender and rim protector. 
Weaknesses:
His offensive game is developing, but still has plenty of room for improvement.
Season Prediction:
Gibson will still get 28-30 minutes a game even with more competition in the frontcourt. I’d expect career highs in points, rebounds, and blocked shots.

Kirk Hinrich, PG
Strengths:
Tenacious, scrappy defender. Makes the smart plays.
Weaknesses:
Not much of a scoring threat. Can he stay healthy at nearly 34 years old?
Season Prediction:
Hinrich will serve as the backup to Derrick Rose and ideally it would stay that way. Nothing against Hinrich, but I hope his starts are limited this year.

Doug McDermott, SF
Strengths:
Prolific scorer at the college level. Can put the ball in the basket from anywhere on the floor. Has a great feel for the game.
Weaknesses:
Concerns about his ability to defend. Is he athletic enough to guard small forwards? Is he too small to defend power forwards?
Season Prediction:
Even though McBuckets won’t be able to defend like Thibs would like, I think he’ll carve out a niche on this Bulls team. Really, if Dunleavy can start at small forward, McDermott should get some minutes as his backup.

Nikola Mirotic, PF
Strengths:
A tremendously skilled offensive player. Could probably play either small forward or power forward. Multilingual.
Weaknesses:
Might deal with some NBA growing pains. Thibs isn’t typically friendly minutes-wise with first-year players.
Season Prediction:
Chicago’s prized European possession isn’t going to make a monumental impact this season. There is a logjam at the power forward spot, but Mirotic is just too skilled to be buried on the Bulls bench.

E’Twaun Moore, SG
Strengths:
Good size. Above-average three-point shooter. Gritty defender.
Weaknesses:
Inexperience. Doesn’t totally have a position (is he a point guard or a shooting guard?).
Season Prediction:
Moore is fearless, a trait that should be endearing to coach Tom Thibodeau. It’s just hard to imagine him getting too many minutes if the injury bug doesn’t bite the Bulls.

Joakim Noah, C
Strengths:
Linchpin of the Bulls offense and defense. Heart of the team. Terrific passer. Loud yeller.
Weaknesses:
Not a dependable scorer. Seemed to wear down late last season after carrying an ungodly burden.
Season Prediction:
The load on Noah’s shoulders will be lightened but his output won’t drop off. Once again, Noah will be a contender for Defensive Player of the Year.

Derrick Rose, PG
Strengths:
A hometown favorite. His presence alone will ignite the United Center. Possessed next-level athleticism prior to two knee injuries.
Weaknesses:
It’s slowly looking more and more like Rose might be injury prone. May not be capable of playing in every back-to-back or four-games-in-five-nights situation. Looked rusty in the FIBA World Cup.
Season Prediction:
Rose gives the Bulls nearly all 82 games and looks like 90 percent of the player he was in 2011. I’m somehow crossing my fingers as I type.

Tony Snell, SG
Strengths:
I love a good nickname and Snell earned himself a great one last year. My friend, and Bulls fan, Weston Hunter referred to Snell as “Stretch Flavor Flav,” because of his length, build, and cornrows.
Weaknesses:
Snell ditched the cornrows but kept the length. Still fairly inexperienced.
Season Predictions:
As I referenced above, if Thibodeau digs deep into his deepest bench yet, Snell could see the floor. He looked good in Summer League, but then again, so did Mike Muscala, Will Cherry, and Erick Green.

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