|SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines|
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Bulls|
I don't think they're going to miss Ben Gordon that much. Of course, he was a different option for them and he scored, but Derrick Rose is going to fill in nicely and they'll be able to get Kirk Hinrich on the floor more. Plus, they've got John Salmons now [for a full season].
I was impressed with Rose's mid-range jump shooting, which was better than advertised last season. Just his stroke, the way he released the ball, being able to get to a spot and pop off the dribble -- he was very good. His athleticism and ability to get to the basket are off the charts. And if he can stop and hit jump shots when people are waiting in the lane to beat him to the spot of his drive, then he's really got it. I like his demeanor leading the team. I don't want to call him a leader yet, but they're following him and he's out there fighting. He looks to distribute the ball, he runs sets, he can control the tempo with his offense and he's tough defensively. If you put him and Hinrich on the floor together, that's two pretty tough guards.
I'm sure we'll see Rose up there with Deron Williams, Chris Paul and the elite point guards in a couple of years. He's going to have to do a bit more playmaking and he's going to have to get his team somewhere in the playoffs. I don't see Rose becoming a big-time deep shooter. But I can't emphasize enough that getting within that 15-foot range and stopping off the dribble is terrific enough for him, and I don't think anybody's going to be able to crowd him because he can go by you just by putting his body on you -- he's muscular, strong and fast. If he's running pick-and-roll, defenders may try to go under [the screen] and force him to shoot, but as a coach you can put him in situations so they can't go under: Get the screen down a bit lower where he's within his range when they go under it.
Defensively, Rose is going to have to learn to play the position a little bit more. He'll learn when to gamble and when not to, when to reach and when he can't, and how to play the different people. Can he be a franchise guy? There's no doubt he can be on a team that can go to a title. But first they're going to have to come up with a big man who is the yin to his yang, that kind of thing. I mean, Kobe couldn't do it by himself either. They've got to find a pretty big name who comes in there to provide the toughness and back up whatever Rose wants to do and support him, and whether the guy is a 4 or 5 doesn't matter. But he has to be a big man who is a big-time scorer and rebounder and follows the team concept while supporting his point guard.
People wonder if Hinrich is a true shooting guard, but to me he's a player more than he is any one position. He guards shooting guards, small forwards and point guards. He's a utility basketball player whose toughness comes through, and teammates play off his enthusiasm and his drive. You can't help but play hard when he's out on the floor with you. Even if he comes off the bench behind Salmons, he'll be valuable. However, they want to use him [enough] because he's an asset. As a scorer, he's probably not the prototype shooting guard. But when you've got a scorer at the point like they do, he and Rose can share the responsibilities. And when he's on the floor with Salmons, you've got Hinrich running the point. So it just depends on how they want to play.
Salmons is another guy I've always liked as a versatile wing who can score. He shoots well enough to command respect and he's hard-nosed. He can put it on the floor and get to spots, and he can score in traffic. He's been around the league and played with a lot of different people, and he's always found a way to score. He can help fill that gap as a scorer now that Gordon is gone. If you look at Salmons, Hinrich and Rose, they have a lot of depth and versatility there. Gordon was a ball dominator, while this group here can play off each other.
Picking up Jannero Pargo was another great move because he can come in and play with any of those guys whether they need him to handle the ball or score.
Luol Deng's health coming off his wrist injury is a big factor. If he can get back to where he was three years ago, they can put a big lineup out there with Deng, Salmons and Rose. Deng has got to be able to hit jump shots. He's always been able to get up and down the floor, but sometimes his shooting has been sporadic. A lot is going to be expected of him and Hinrich based on their big salaries, but in Deng's case, he's going to have to try to forget about that. He needs to realize he's going to be on the roster no matter what and try to patiently work his way back into playing NBA games, because it's been a long time since he played the way he can. He's got some proving to do, especially coming off a wrist injury like he had. That kind of thing can affect your ball-handling and shooting. But if he can get back to his old level, that's a very solid rotation in the backcourt and on the wings.
Tyrus Thomas is not going to be the answer to their needs up front. At best, he can be their third- or fourth-best player. His athleticism is going to make big plays, but he has not been a consistent decision-maker, and he is lacking with his back to the basket and as a jump shooter. Could Carlos Boozer be the kind of player they're needing up front? That rumored offseason deal for Boozer could have been a good move for them, but on the other hand, Boozer has been fragile and they're probably going to have overpay for him. Thomas did improve a bit last year. He made some jump shots I didn't think he had in him -- the mid-range ones and the catch-and-shoots in the playoffs, when he was having a pretty good run against the Celtics. He's always had the athleticism and the length, but he got selfish at times as if he was trying to be a 2 or 3 and stepping up to be The Man on that team. What he needs to do is to accept his role and play it. He's going to get all of the opportunities he needs if he just makes the open shot, defends and rebounds -- and try not to make the flashy play and show his skills like he's marketing himself. He needs to try to be Horace Grant but with a little more athleticism.
They have a good duo at center with Joakim Noah and Brad Miller. One thing they've got to understand is that Miller can get out of shape. If you don't get him in the game and use him, he might be gone by the end of the year mentally. Maybe they have to keep him focused by putting him on the floor at the beginning and telling him he's going to play only 20 minutes -- but he's going to start. Make sure he's involved on a daily basis so he doesn't let himself get out of shape and then get hurt. Because if he gets out of shape and he pulls something, now he's out a month and a half and then he's really out of shape. His value to them is that he knows how to play. He's able to pick-and-pop, set screens, and he knows when to knock somebody down, he isn't afraid to use a foul. He needs to play enough so that Rose can develop that instinct for what Miller is going to do on the pick-and-pop. That's one of the big advantages of playing him over Noah. Nobody has got to worry about Noah on the pick-and-pop, which is one of the hardest things to guard because you can't rotate to it. As a defender, you've got to get back to your own man, and when the other team has a good shooter like Miller who pops to a spot that you can't rotate to cover, that's a big advantage for them. But in terms of getting up and down the floor and being a defender, Miller is going to be a low-minute player.
I like Noah's energy. He can't shoot a lick, but he keeps the ball alive on the rim and he has good hands. And he's a guy you don't have to fight to keep his weight down or to stay in shape because he's an athlete. He knows how to play, how to find his niche, and knows what he can do to help the team and he does those things without trying to overdo it. He's sort of like the opposite of Thomas in that way. He probably shouldn't play more than 30 to 35 minutes, in part because he's such a poor free-throw shooter [68.4 percent in two seasons] and that makes him a liability at times. I don't know if he has the ugliest free-throw stroke in the league, but he's right there.
Now this is the part where we talk about Jerome James. Jerome James is a nice guy. He got offered a big contract [by the Knicks in 2005] and he took it. Shame on whoever offered it to him -- do your homework.
They need another big body up front, and I'll be interested to see if they can get something out of rookie Taj Gibson.
I was worried about Vinny Del Negro in the first part of the year last season. But as the year went on, his team played hard for him. It helped that they made the deadline trade for Salmons and Miller. He has a good coaching staff, and you could see the nuances that he was bringing from different places. Watching their sets, I could see the Bernie [Bickerstaff] stuff, the Del Harris stuff, though Harris isn't back with them this year as an assistant. And at the same time, Del Negro was maintaining how he wanted to play by letting Rose use his athleticism.
Are they going to be better this year [after winning 41 games last season]? I say yes. Are they going to win the Central? No, but they should finish second.