Consistency is something the Bulls have had over the past two seasons. They kept most of the same players, signed just a few new guys, and kept winning games.
But that consistency will be gone this upcoming year, with many of the wins possibly going with it. The Bulls got rid of almost their entire Bench Mob, save for Taj Gibson. C.J Watson, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and John Lucas are all gone. All of the starters will be back, with the exception of Derrick Rose who will miss much of the season recovering from his ACL injury (Luol Deng could also miss time).
Let’s take a look at who is going and who is staying on this Bulls team, and what that could mean.
Omer Asik: Omer Asik is probably the toughest bench player to say goodbye to, at least for me. His defense was game-changing, even if his stamina was nonexistent. Asik’s 92 defensive rating was best on the team and his ability to alter shots while not fouling was better than most centers in the league. But with that great defense also came terrible offense and even worse hands. Asik posted the worst offensive rating on the team (97), lower than even Brian Scalabrine. The poison pill contract from Houston made it so that the Bulls would really have to invest in Asik, and the worst hands in the NBA. For a guy who played just 14.7 minutes per game, that $15 million in year three was too much. But Chicago is definitely going to miss his defense off the bench, and will miss him even more so if Joakim Noah goes down with an injury. They will also surely miss his eerie similarity to Linguini from Ratatouille.
Ronnie Brewer: Ronnie Brewer’s second year with Chicago was worse than his first, but Brewer still brought defense and intensity whenever he was on the floor. Much like Asik, Brewer was a great defensive player that didn’t have much offensive talent. He started the season shooting really well (64 percent from the field, perfect from deep in four games in December), only to quickly regress to the mean. Ronnie’s end of the year numbers were as ugly as his jumper looks. Brewer finished the year shooting just 42.7 percent from the field, and 27.5 from three (both worse than 2010-2011). His offensive rating and defensive rating also fell this season compared to last one. His defense rating was only slightly worse, going from a 98 to a 99, while his offensive rating fell seven points, to 103. Brewer’s true shooting percentage fell from 51.8 in 2010-2011 to 46.5 this season. He was a great slasher on offense, but he didn’t have a good jumper and was also really great at missing open dunks. He was let go because the Bulls think they have a replacement in second-year player Jimmy Butler. With Asik and Brewer, the Bulls were often looking to play to a 0-0 tie while these guys were in. Brewer’s defense will be missed, but Butler could fill in the role quite well (we will get to him in the next section).
Kyle Korver: The women of Chicago are taking this one incredibly hard. Kyle made the ladies swoon with his looks. And made Stacey King freak out every time he hit a three pointer. Korver was never anything much more than a shooter though, and for a few stretches last season, he wasn’t even that. His 101 defensive rating was one of the worst on the Bulls (he did beat Rip Hamilton’s 104, though; so there’s that). But his offensive rating (120) was tied for best on the team, with Joakim Noah. He shot 43.5 percent from deep, and his 57.5 effective field goal percentage was best on the squad. Unlike the first two guys, Korver didn’t excel at defense, but with the other bench players, this deficiency was often covered up. Korver was the perfect player to pair with Rose: a deadly spot up shooter that you never wanted to leave to help in the lane. But Rose wasn’t healthy much, and John Lucas III just doesn’t strike the same fear into opponents when he is driving down the lane. Speaking of which…
John Lucas III: JL3 was an enigma to me. Going into the year, he wasn’t expected to play many minutes, but things changed with injuries to Rose and Watson. He wasn’t terrible for a third string point guard that’s under six feet tall, but he had his problems. One of those issues was that his X button seemed to be stuck, rendering it nearly impossible for him to pass. And his small frame also didn’t do him any favors on defense, except when he became a hurdle for LeBron James (tune into the Olympics, as Lucas is rumored to be the second hurdle in lane four of the 200 meter hurdles!). Basically you never knew what you were getting from Lucas. He might shoot 28 times and score just 25 points against the Wizards, go 3-11 in a losing effort against the Blazers, or he may go 9-12 with 24 points in 26 minutes in a win over the Heat. Lucas had the utmost confidence in himself and was hustling at all times. He did more than most people expected out of a guy who played just ten minutes in the entire 2010-2011 season. Of point guards that played more than 25 games, Lucas had the ninth highest usage percentage, a little much for a third string guard. JL3 dribbled and shot too much, which was extremely frustrating, but brought a lot of excitement because of those two things as well. And it wasn’t always his fault that he shot so much, considering he wasn’t playing with the most adept offensive guys in the league. I hope JL3 gets minutes in Toronto, because he’s always fun to watch.
C.J. Watson: Watson started 25 games last season because of injuries to Derrick Rose averaging 9.7 points and 4.1 assists. Those are solid numbers, but Watson’s decision making was always iffy. Taking bad jumpers and making questionable passes were all part of the C.J. Experience. He was a good back-up point guard overall, and did a solid job trying to be a starting point guard for 25 games and fighting through injuries. In the end Watson was still a point guard that shot just 36.9 percent during his two years in Chicago (JL3 shot 39.9 percent, for comparison). He was a big reason the Bulls finished the season with the best record, but the Bulls didn’t want to pick up his $3.2 million option. That was an interesting decision, because Rose will be out most of this season, and Watson has experience leading this team. I guess someone had to leave to make room for the return of Kirk Hinrich.
Carlos Boozer: I will be holding a “Carlos Boozer was amnestied!” party when it happens. All are invited. You have to draw on your hair. From the “I Would Have Bet All My Monies Against This” department: Boozer was the healthiest Bull last season, starting all 66 games. He averaged 15.0 points on 53.2 percent shooting and 8.5 rebounds on the year. Solid numbers, but with Boozer there always seemed to be something missing. He almost exclusively shoots his jumper/fadeaway now, rarely going to the basket. According to HoopData, Boozer had 4.2 attempts at the rim per game last year, down from 6.0 attempts in 2010-2011. His attempts from 3-9 feet fell as well, while his attempts from 16-23 feet rose from 3.0 attempts per game in 2010-2011 to 4.6 last season. Boozer gets lot of criticism (a lot of that from me), but 15 and eight is solid, even if he can’t play defense.
Jimmy Butler: Butler is the reason Brewer was expendable. He did his best Brewer impression, shooting 40.5 percent from the field, but did average 10.9 points per 36 minutes, which is solid. And after his great summer league, expect him to build on his rookie year, with his expanded minutes.
Luol Deng: Deng had his first All-Star season last year, even though his scoring dipped (15.3 last season, down from 17.4 in 2010-2011) as well as his field goal percentage (41.2 percent, down from 46 percent). Pre-All Star Break, Deng was averaging 15.9 points per game on 42 percent shooting, and 40.6 percent from three. Those numbers fell to 14.8 points per game on 40.2 percent shooting, and 33.6 percent from deep. Maybe that was fatigue from the scrunched schedule (and Thibs’ refusal to let Deng rest more than three minutes per game), or more likely, Lu battling through the wrist injury. Deng’s numbers may have been down slightly, but Thibs still leaned on Deng heavily. Lu played 39.4 minutes per game, by far the most of anyone on the team (Rose played 35.3 minutes per game, and the next closest was Joakim Noah at 30.4 minutes per game). His three point percentage did rise, from 34.5 percent to 36.7. He’s also been playing well for Great Britain during the Olympics, while playing almost all of those games as well. Lots of trade rumors surrounded Deng near the trade deadline, but he is still on the team, and will probably play heavy minutes once again this season. He may still need surgery on his wrist, which could spell an ugly start to the season for the Bulls.
Taj Gibson: The lone Bench Mob member that will be with the Bulls, is also the best Bench Mob member. The frontcourt of Gibson and Asik was scary good, protecting the rim and changing shots better than most starting frontcourts. Asik will be missed, but Gibson will continue, and now will be paired with Nazr Mohammed. Gibson’s 96 defensive rating was third best on the team, and his 109 offensive rating was top five as well. He shot 49.5 percent from the field last season, better than 2010-2011. Gibson’s percentage from 10-15 feet rose from 28.8 percent in 2010-2011 to 37.2 percent last season. His shooting at the rim and from 3-9 feet also rose slightly. Gibson is in a contract year, and will be getting a big contract soon, so hopefully he put in one of those great contract years that many guys do. The problem with Gibson, is that, going into his fourth season in the NBA, he will be 27 years old already. He may not have much room for growth, but if he improves his midrange jumper, he will soon be the starter at power forward for a team (hopefully for the Bulls, when they re-sign him and amnesty Boozer).
Rip Hamilton: Rip was supposed to be the answer at shooting guard, but was very much not. The 34 year-old Hamilton was rarely healthy, playing in just 28 games. When Rip was healthy, he shot 45.2 percent, his best percentage since 2007-2008. His passing was impressive, and his motor on offense added an interesting wrinkle in the Bulls’ offense. Ultimately though, Rip’s defensive rating of 104 was worse than his offensive rating (101), so the Bulls were losing when he was on the floor. His 13.2 PER also means he was a below average player. And if you weren’t sure if he had a poor season, you can look to earlier this summer when no one wanted to trade for him. Maybe if he is healthy he can get some sort of rhythm this season, but it’s safe to say Hamilton will be gone after his contract expires next season.
Joakim Noah: Not only were Jo’s defensive numbers good (96 defensive rating), but his offensive rating was tied for best on the team (120, with Korver). Although his points, shooting and rebounding numbers fell slightly, he recorded the highest PER of his career (19.6). He’s currently still recovering from an ankle injury that forced him out of the playoffs, and scarily, was still bothering him enough to keep him from participating for France in the Olympics. Noah missed just two games this regular season though, a big jump from missing 24 in 2010-2011. Jo’s defense and hustle helps the Bulls a ton and they’re going to need him to be healthy more than ever this year. Boozer and Noah, who played together a lot in 2011-2012, actually started to mesh, which was a good sign after a shaky (and injury plagued) first season together. Noah shot just 21.7 percent from 10-15 feet, but Finger Gunz shot 43 percent from 16-23 feet (up from 33 percent in 2010-2011).
Derrick Rose: The only guy that’s untouchable on the roster had a tough season last year. He couldn’t get healthy, and then…well we all know what happened. Rose is going to be out for most of the next season, and won’t be 100 percent for a while after that. He is a hard worker, so he should come back just as strong, but it’s scary to think his career may have been altered by one awkward landing. Rose will be just 24 when this season starts and 25 when he (should) return to full health. He’s still approaching the prime of his career, and has time to reach that potential he was destined for.
What it means:
The Bulls’ bench helped them get a lot of wins in the regular season. They didn’t help as much in the playoffs, but were integral filling in for injuries and outplaying the opponents’ bench to stretch a lead or claw back into the game. There is no doubt Chicago will miss these guys. The injury to Rose only makes the outlook for this season more grim.
Jeff Van Gundy thinks it will be a good season for the Bulls if they win half their games. I have to agree with this, considering Rose’s absence, Deng could miss the beginning of the year, and Carlos Boozer is the starting power forward (just kidding, kind of). After two great season under Tom Thibodeau, Bulls’ fans are in for a tough one this year.
All of these moves are, apparently, part of a grand plan that the Bulls have decided upon. That plan is to hit free agency in 2014 with lots of cash and hope to land a big name free agent. That doesn’t make a ton of sense for two reasons. First, the Bulls haven’t had great luck in free agency, and banking on a free agent to sign with you, over the other 29 teams, isn’t a safe bet. Secondly, the 2014 free agent class isn’t really great. Oh, and a bonus reason: basically throwing away two full seasons for a possible free agent doesn’t seem like the best basketball plan. But it sure is a great financial plan!
Chicago had the type of team that was supposed to contend for titles for years to come. But Rose’s ACL injury changed all that. Now it seems the Bulls will struggle during 2012-2013, and are planning on conceding the 2013-2014 season as well. They may never reach that podium that they seemed so primed for just one year ago.