Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bulls 2009-10 Season Preview

Last April I posted a "Season Preview Review" which compared my pre-season predictions for 2008-09 to how last season actually went. Read that first because where last season ended seems like a good place to start this 2009-10 Season Preview ...

  • With BG in Detroit, where will the points come from?

I'm not the first person to ask/answer this question, so I don't claim to be offering anything new in this space. Losing BG surely hurts, as I've said before: he is an incredible scorer, and probably the Bulls best player for the last few years. But for everything he got us on the offensive end, he cost us the almost-the-same with bad shots and terrible defense.

Replacing BG with Salmons in the starting line-up should be looked at as an upgrade. Salmons is over the groin injury that slowed him last season, and has an entire pre-season and training camp to get into the flow of the Bulls' system. He is better suited to play off Rose than BG. BG was an offensive black-hole, but Salmons should be better at letting Rose handle the rock and create shots for him, rather than needing the ball in his hands.

Luol Deng is also healthy, and has put on some muscle in the off-season. I'm hoping the muscle will help more on the defensive end when he has to stay in front of guys like Lebron and Joe Johnson. If he really is healthy, there's no reason to think he will not benefit from playing alongside D-Rose. I could see him moving back toward the player we had 3-4 years ago, and actually earning some (but not all) of his $71 million.

We also have Kirk and Pargo off the bench, so replacing BG's 20ppg is not as tough as it first seems. Kirk can play either the 1 or 2 spot, and provides a great defensive option that we never had with BG. Pargo can give us the quick scoring spark on some nights. Those two provide great versatility as far as creating difficult match-ups for opposing second units.

We should also expect to see a big jump (or more realistically, a small increase) in TT's points/offense if he continued to work on his jumpshot this summer. D-Rose's jumper will undoubtedly be improved, which should open up more options in the pick-and-roll with TT. Hopefully both of those players will have a decent enough jumper to keep opposing defenders honest, which will open up some lanes to the hoop.

So while we no longer have 1 player who can get hot and fill it up on any night, we have Salmons and Deng healthy, D-Rose with a year of NBA experience, two guards coming off the bench, and what should be an improved TT. That group of players should be able to collectively make up for the offense that left with BG, and won't cause bad match-ups for us on the other end.


--- Player-By-Player Analysis - Starters ---

  • Derrick Rose -

Rookie stats (per game average)

CP3 ||||| D-Rose

36 | minutes | 37
16.1 | points | 16.8
7.8 | assists | 6.3
5.1 | rebounds | 3.9
2.4 | turnovers | 2.5
43% | FG % | 48%

CP3 did not have a huge jump in his sophomore season. His points and assists each jumped about 1 per game (17.3 and 8.9) and his rebounds fell off slightly (4.4). If we expect similar changes in D-Rose, we are looking at about 18ppg, 7apg and 3rpg.

I realize that comparing anyone to CP3 is a stretch, but he seems to be the closest comparison for D-Rose. Their games aren't exactly alike, as Rose seems to be a slightly better scorer and CP3 is a better passer - but it's worth comparing.

I tried to remain relatively calm about D-Rose going into last season, hoping for some flashes of greatness and expecting some rough patches. He completely blew me away ... and in the words of Bill Simmons "the ceiling has been removed for Rose. I am prepared for anything over the next 12 years. Anything."

I think Rose will become a more consistent player (avoiding bad shooting or defensive stretches and mental errors) and still have his explosiveness (on the court and in the scoring column). He should have the ball in his hands more with BG gone, and I see him running a much smoother offense, scoring whenever he needs/wants. I feel confident making a bold prediction for Rose this season, so here it is:

Prediction: D-Rose makes the jump to a top 3 PG in the League, makes the All-Star game, and leads the Bulls into the playoffs for the second-straight year.
Projected stats: 18.3ppg, 8.1apg, 4.5rpg

  • John Salmons -

I realize John Salmons' numbers have made a big jump in the past 2 years. In his first five seasons, Salmons never averaged double-digit points. He then jumped to 12ppg 2 years ago, and averaged 18ppg for the the Kings and Bulls last season.

I am hoping that his production will remain at or near his recent production, rather than trending back to his early career numbers. And I think the numbers will stay up because something clicked and he figured out what he was doing. I don't think last season was an aberration, I think he will continue to put up similar numbers this year.

Playing along-side Derrick Rose can only help Salmons get open looks, and he shot 42% from three last season. He made a smooth transition into the Bulls line-up in the final 26 games last season, and having a full off-season and training camp should help. Plus, starting Salmons and Rose in the back-court will give us a pair of big, physical guards (something we never had with BG).

Prediction: Salmons will adequately fill the 2-spot for the Bulls, not as explosive on the offensive end as BG, but not as much of a defensive liability.
Projected stats: 17.5ppg, 2.0apg, 4.1rpg

  • Luol Deng -

Where to begin with Luol? What can we expect?
2006-07 Luol: 82gp, 18.8ppg, 2.5apg, 7.1rpg
2008-09 Luol: 49gp, 14.1ppg, 1.9apg, 6.0rpg

It's hard to make a prediction with any certainty, because I have no idea what to expect. Luol's per game averages last season certainly weren't bad. I would be satisfied with that production over 82 games ... but I don't want to settle for satisfaction. Especially not when we spent $71 MILLION (guranteed) to sign him for six seasons!

It is easy to forget that Luol is only 24 years old, so we can assume he has not hit his prime yet. But will he? And when? Even if he's healthy, can Luol guard the best 3s in the Association? Where does he fit in the Bulls' offense? Will he stand alongside the pick-and-roll and drain easy mid-range buckets all year? Has he worked on a go-to offensive move? As you can see, I have a lot of questions. And no answers, at least not yet. All we can do is wait and see.

If Luol does return to his form of 3 years ago, when he was widely considered a lock to be a future all-star, where does that get the Bulls? If D-Rose, TT and JoaNoah continue to develop and Luol is a stud, can the Bulls win 50 games? 51? 52? I don't see why not.

Prediction: Not sure that I'm ready to peg Luol back to where he was 3 years ago, but I don't see why he can't split the difference between that and last season (without the injuries).
Projected stats: 75gp, 16.4ppg, 2.3apg, 6.5rpg

  • Tyrus Thomas -

Another question mark for the Bulls. I will get this out of the way: I love TT! I have been opposed to the Bulls trading him for just about anyone. We have put in the time/effort developing him, waiting for him to take the step. I feared that if we traded him, he would make the jump and we would regret it for the next decade.

Now a part of me is nervous that it will never happen for TT. Will he ever make the jump and become the player we thought he could be when we drafted him? (Actually traded LaMarcus Aldridge for him and Viktor Khryapa). There is still hope, there is more than hope, there is reason to belive. TT spent last summer working on his J, which was not spectacular, but much improved. He does not need to be a knockdown shooter, just good enough to keep opposing defenses honest on the pick-and-roll with D-Rose.

If TT can continue to take steps (even small steps) on the offensive end, he can continue to use his freakish athleticism to get boards and block/alter shots on the other end. I realize that LaMarcus Aldridge and TT are not the same player, not even on the same level right now - but I don't think it's as far off most people think. LA's rookie stats (22mpg, 9.0ppg and 5.0rpg) were similar to TT's stats last year (27mpg, 10.8ppg, 6.5rpg). Then LA had a big jump the next year (17.8ppg, 7.6rpg).

Prediction: I see no reason that TT won't make a similar jump this season, so it all comes together this year. The Bulls (organization and fans) patience will pay off.
Projected stats: 15.5ppg, 11.5rpg, 1.0apg, 2.2bpg

  • Joakim Noah -

I have never had a bigger swing on any athlete (except daily with BG for the last 2 years). I hated JoaNoah at Florida. I convinced myself to give him a chance when the Bulls drafted him. He started to grow on me, then last season I started to like him. A young, energetic center who can play D, grab boards and doesn't care about offensive stats ... what's not to like? Then came the Celtics series, and the steal. If it didn't happen before that, that was the moment when JoaNoah entered Bulls lore and became a true Bull in the eyes of Bulls fans. He went from being some guy we didn't really understand, to "our guy". And for all that, at some point he became the most un-tradeable Bull not named D-Rose.

The Bulls actually have a good, young center. He might not be the best at any one facet of the game, but he gives the Bulls what they need. Energy, hustle, defense, passion ... he's our intangibles guy, and he's a great one. Henry Abbott (ESPN TrueHoop) recently stated: "Joakim Noah will never be beat in the race to congratulate a teammate." What a compliment.

Prediction: It's hard to see a jump in any of JoaNoah's offensive stats, but I think we will see a jump in a stat he really needs to improve: rebounds. He has the hustle/energy, and this year he combines that with experience and brains to get more boards.
Projected stats: 7.0ppg, 10.2rpg, 1.0apg, 1.7bpg


--- Bench ---

The bench should be one of the Bulls' strengths this year. We have a great mix of savvy veterans and athletic, young players. We should have an advantage over many teams if the second unit consists of: Captain Kirk, Pargo, Taj Gibson, James Johnson and Mad-Bad-Brad. We have tons of front-court depth with those 2 new rookies, and even more depth if you include the possibility of Derrick Byars and Chris Richard (who have been getting some pre-season burn). [Note: I am consciously/intentionally not including Aaron Gray because I don't want him to wear anything but a suit this year.]

  • Kirk Hinrich -

Definitely our most versatile back-court player because he's a combo guard that plays both positions well. He can spell either D-Rose or Salmons, depending on fouls and situations. Playing Kirk at the 2 is extremely useful because it opens up the possibility that Salmons can spell Deng (at small forward) at times.

  • Janero Pargo -

Touted as the poor man's homeless man's BG, I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult. Either way, I'm much happier to pay Pargo $2 million for 1 season than give BG a long-term, big-money deal. It's obvious that this is a big down-grade offensively, but might be better for the team overall. Pargo might not have the same ability to score as BG, but he is willing to play his role. BG was the perfect 6th man, but he always wanted to be paid and treated like a starter. Pargo seems much more willing to accept limited minutes, but is definitely capable of providing an offensive spark.

  • James Johnson -

Not exactly sure what we can/should expect from JJ. He looks to be a versatile 3/4, which will definitely add to our depth up front. We don't really have another backup 3 (other than playing Salmons at 3 with the 2nd unit), so he might actually log some meaningful minutes.

  • Taj Gibson -

Looks like this was an excellent value pick. He played 4 years at USC, where he got some good experience playing with and against NBA-caliber players. He should be NBA ready and able to give the Bulls solid minutes as a rookie, but not sure how many minutes - picks up a lot of quick fouls.

  • Brad Miller -

Possibly the slowest player in the Association, Brad Miller still manages to provide the Bulls with some much needed toughness and versatility. A seven-footer with his range is always useful, especially running the pick-and-roll.

  • The rest (Lindsey Hunter, Aaron Gray, Jerome James, Richard Byars, Chris Richard) -

What can I say? I wouldn't mind seeing Byars and Richard make the roster, if only to add to our front-court depth. Never hurts to have some extra big bodies around. I love what Hunter brings as far as coaching/guiding D-Rose, but not sure he needs to get any meaningful minutes. I am absolutely sure that Aaron gray does not need any meaningful (or meaningless) minutes.


  • Coach: Vinny del Negro

I did not like this signing, and complained about hiring a non-coach as our head coach. There were times when VDN looked lost, which will happen when you have no game-management experience. We consistently ran terrible inbound plays, and often looked lost on both ends of the floor. I have to believe that it has to get better because it cannot get much worse. I am hoping that having a year under his belt will allow Vinny to do a little more coaching and a little less worrying.

Vinny should have a much better understanding of his personnel heading into this year, so he should be able to take advantage of his players' skills. I would love to be pleasantly surprised this year, so I'm willing to give Vinny a chance to show what he can do.


--- Overall Team Projection ---

I am obviously being very hopeful/optimistic with my player predictions, and I see no reason to change that here.

I already projected the Bulls to finish 6th in the East, but I hoped they could finish as high as 4th, so I'm splitting the difference now.

Without the black-hole known as BG clogging up the offense, I think D-Rose will thrive with the ball in his hands. Having Salmons and Luol in the line-up could help space the floor around the pick-and-roll. Luol and TT are poised to take steps this season, and the Bulls will take a step with them.

  • Record: 48 - 34
  • 2nd place in Central
  • 5th in Eastern Conference

--- Looking forward ---

  • Why signing D-Wade would be good in the short-term, but bad in the long-term:

We all remember the 2003 NBA draft class, and it seems crazy to think those players are entering their seventh NBA season. While LeBron cane straight from high school and is 24 years old, D-Wade played 2 seasons at Marquette and is 27 years old.

As a 26-year-old, I can tell you that 27 is not that old - but things are different in the NBA. It's a physical game that makes a player "old" before their age indicates that they are old.

One thing to look at regarding an NBA players is the number of games played. D-Wade has racked up only 394 regular season games over his career, but that number is skewed low because he has missed many games due to injury. He has played in 70+ games in only 3 of his NBA seasons. The total games number also does not include playoff games (61), international qualifying games, or the Olympics.

D-Wade has to play one more season before becoming a free agent, so he will be 28 years old when he signs his next contract. Assuming Wade signs for a max deal (as he undoubtedly will), he will be on the books for the next 6 years. Toward the end of that deal he will be a 34-year-old guard who spent 11-12 NBA seasons relentlessly driving to the rim and drawing fouls.

I have no doubt that D-Wade is (and will remain) one of the top players in the league for the next few years. What worries me is the last 2-3 years of the contract. With his history of injuries and aggressive/slashing style of play, it's a question of how far he will have fallen physically 5-6 years from now.

Derrick Rose turned 21 years old a couple weeks ago. The start of his prime is still 4-5 years away. Watching him grow and develop with D-Wade would be incredible, but I don't think their primes will overlap so I'm not sure it's the perfect match everyone thinks. D-Wade will be declining just as Rose reaches his full potential. The Bulls would defintely be exciting and fun to watch for the next 6 years with those 2 playing together, but really only leaves a 2-3 (2012-14) year window for a legit shot at the title.

All that being said, I am not opposed to the Bulls signing D-Wade. A home-grown Chicago back-court would be epically fun to watch and cheer for. We would be a legit contender in the East for the next couple years, taking advantage of D-Wade's prime. Then D-Wade could take a secondary role, possibly re-inventing himself as a player (think Jordan fade-away), while we continue to be a contender through all of D-Rose's prime. Plus, I would never trade a chance at current success (possible NBA title) for fear of a contract hurting us 5 years from now. Even if signing D-Wade to a max deal might not be the best long-term plan, it's hard to argue that it wouldn't make the Bulls a real championship contender for the next 3-4 years.

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