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Chicago Bulls

Will a hot finish from last year be the start of something big now?

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By Chris Ballard

Team Page | Conference ranking: 9 | Overall ranking: 20

Jamal Crawford
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Jamal Crawford
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
Fast Fact
Eddy Curry became the first player in six years to average more than 10 points despite playing less than 20 minutes per game.

Jamal Crawford doesn't look like a team leader. Baby-faced and prone to tugging on his jersey with his thumbs while he talks as if he were wearing suspenders, the 23-year-old Chicago guard looks as if he just got out of college. Which, of course, he would have, had he stayed at Michigan and not left after his freshman year to join the NBA in 2000. Now, after three seasons in Chicago, he's in the peculiar position of being one of two Bulls with the longest continuous tenure, yet he's only a year older than Kirk Hinrich, the team's first-round draft pick out of Kansas.

Nevertheless, the Bulls' coaches and fans are fully expecting Crawford to lead the team's long-awaited resurgence this season. "We're counting on a lot from him," says coach Bill Cartwright. "Maybe even more so because he played so well at the end of last year. Now, though, we want him to create for others as well as for himself."

Crawford played at nearly an All-Star level down the stretch last season, averaging 23.0 points and 6.4 assists in the final eight games. But now the pressure to produce is greater because the team's 2002 first-round draft pick, Jay Williams, is sidelined indefinitely after a motorcycle accident and because Crawford's backup, Hinrich, is a rookie. "I've been working on making things easier for my teammates," says Crawford. "Finding out where they like the ball and focusing on being a creator." Quizzed on where swingman Jalen Rose likes the ball, he responds, "Up high. Right above his belly button." Center Eddy Curry? "Anywhere in the air." On forward Tyson Chandler, however, Crawford stumbles, saying, "I guess I throw it in the air a bit."

It's early in training camp, so Crawford can be let off the hook. But if the Bulls are to make the playoffs this year, he'll have to do his homework.

Enemy Lines

An opposing team's scout sizes up the Bulls

"I'm sure Jalen Rose thinks this is his team, but he's a shoot-first guy who dominates the ball, and that isn't the best thing for the development of Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler.... Curry came on during the second half of last season, and that has to give him confidence. He's extremely quick with his moves in the post, but that might be because he's such a horrible passer out of the double team. I think he fears being doubled.... Curry obviously listens and learns well, but I'm not sure I feel the same way about Chandler. I wonder about his inconsistency. He looks like he should be able to score whenever he wants to. He's great at setting up deep in the post, where all he has to do is turn around for a high-percentage shot, but he doesn't get down on the blocks often enough.... I've never felt Scottie Pippen was a leader, though he can set a good example by preparing for each game and playing with intelligence and energy. But even that will be hard if he misses close to 20 games, as he has each of the last three seasons.... The Bulls are still running a lot of triangle. They're also trying a two-guard front, in which you don't really know which one is the point guard. That's good for Jamal Crawford because I don't know if he really is a point, though he did cut down a lot on his errors last season. If they start Rose and Pippen with Crawford, they'll have three ball handlers and it won't matter which one initiates the offense.... Kirk Hinrich was drafted to replace Jay Williams, but can Hinrich overcome his lack of quickness? ... I see their young guys continuing to get better. They have no choice but to improve on their road record [3-38 last year], and I'll be shocked if they don't enter the last month contending for the final playoff spot."

Issue date: October 27, 2003

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