Jul. 04, 2015
Franchise Futures Series: Chicago Bulls
The Franchise Futures Series ends today (I'm sure you're devastated), with a look at the Chicago Bulls. Unlike the other teams in this series, the Bulls are, you know, good. I saved the Bulls for last, because I actually think they are the hardest team to predict of the bunch. They've been really good without ever making it to the top of the mountain, they have a mix of young players and veterans, but I don't think they have anyone in their prime (hear me out on this one, Bulls fans, we'll get to it in a second), two of their three best players have been hobbled by injuries recently (Rose and Noah), and they have a rookie head coach. Add all that up, and you get a team whose future looks pretty convoluted, but that's not going to stop me from pretending to be confident!
I'm sure Bulls fans realize this, but I think we need to get it out in the open: Derrick Rose is not the Bulls best player, nor is he the Bulls most important player. I wish we could've seen Rose achieve his full potential, he certainly looked like he was going to be a transcendant player, but if anything good came from Rose's injuries it's that Jimmy Butler got a chance to become the focal point of a team, and he's flourished. Butler is a legitimate two-way star, and still improving. Now, let me address my prior assertion that no Bulls player is in his prime. Butler is about to hit his prime, but he can still get better so he's not there yet. Noah is past his prime due to injuries and playing a kajillion minutes every season, same for Rose. Gasol is obviously on the downside, as are Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, and Aaron Brooks. I think Nazr Mohammed's prime came in the early 70's, and Doug McDermott, Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic, and Bobby Portis (obviously) haven't hit their primes yet. You could make the argument that Taj Gibson is at the tail end of his prime, and I wouldn't fight you too hard on that, but he's 30 years old and certainly on the way down. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just makes future success a little hard to predict. Every year Butler, McDermott, and Mirotic improve, Noah, Gasol, and Gibson regress. I imagine Rose can stay at the same level for the next three or four years, barring another injury (knock on wood. Seriously, everybody knock on wood. Do it! Right now!).
I think Doug McDermott has a nice future in the NBA, despite not playing much last season. Thibodeau didn't trust McDermott because he wasn't a great defender, but I believe Hoiberg will give the former Creighton star more playing time and a longer leash. Nikola Mirotic *pump fake* came on really strong *pump fake* during the second half of the season *pump fake* and even entered the Rookie of the Year conversation *pump fake*. See what I did there? Anyway, I really like Mirotic's game, he's a lights out shooter and showed a better off-the-bounce game last season than I expected. I also love his confidence, he's not afraid to shoot and he always thinks his next shot is going in. He's still getting better and provides a completely different skill set when he plays power forward than either Noah or Gibson.
I don't know what to expect from Hoiberg, I didn't watch many Iowa State games, but I imagine he will spread out the minutes a little more, which should help the younger guys improve and keep the older guys fresh. The Bulls always looked better in the regular season because their starters played so many minutes. In the playoffs, every team shortens it's rotation, which negates the advantage the Bulls had during regular season games. Playing more guys during the season should help prepare the whole team for the playoffs.
Final Prediction: I think Joakim Noah will be traded this year. The Bulls have an abundance of talented big men, and may need to trade one to alleviate the log jam. The Bulls organization has never shown itself to be very loyal to its players (they almost killed Luol Deng before trading him) and if they see that Noah, like Deng, is declining after playing so many minutes, I think they'll look to get some value for him while they still can. Butler will make the all-star team every year for the next five years, and Mirotic will make it at least once. I believe the Bulls will make the conference finals twice in the next five years and make it to the Finals once, but lose to the Western conference champion.