Posted: Wednesday September 20, 2006 4:52PM; Updated: Thursday September 21, 2006 12:54AM
At 25, Kirk Hinrich has turned into one of the NBA's best guards.
John W. McDonough/SI
While opposing shooters tended to hit a lot of iron against the Bulls, they also frequently put back their own misses. Chicago was a very pedestrian 16th in the league in scoring defense, giving up 97.2 points per game. With Wallace and Brown controlling the paint (along with the addition of swingman Adrian Griffin), expect that number to drop significantly.
But it is what happens on the wings that will help this team become championship-caliber. Hinrich is a born leader who has had to shoulder far too much responsibility in his young career. The addition of Wallace, a strong locker-room presence, should alleviate much of that pressure and allow the 25-year-old guard to focus on running the Bulls' offense with the efficiency of a Swiss watch.
Nocioni is the most physical small forward in the league. His versatility -- he easily can slide to the four position -- makes him a huge asset against a potential playoff opponent like Detroit, which, without Wallace, will occasionally slide Rasheed Wallace to the center position and play Tayshaun Prince at power forward.
Perhaps no one epitomizes Chicago's big-play ability more than the sharp shooting Gordon. A year removed from winning the Sixth Man Award as a rookie in 2005, Gordon, 23, proved even more potent as a starter last season, averaging 18.9 points in 47 starts. Further, Gordon stepped up when the games started to count: in April, Gordon gave the Bulls 21.7 points a night. His maturation process might very well be complete.
And there is no reason to believe the rest of Chicago's young talent won't continue to develop. Duhon improved his scoring by nearly four points per game last season and finished seventh in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. Luol Deng (14.3 ppg) proved last season to be dangerous from 15-18 feet; a summer spent working on his three-point shooting (he's a career 26.7 percent from behind the line) should make him even more of a weapon. And we still have no idea what the Bulls are going to get from Tyrus Thomas.
For nearly a decade Chicago has been haunted by the ghost of Michael's past. No more. This Bulls team is looking toward the future. Come June they'll have a victory party in Grant Park with a bright golden trophy to show off.