By Argie Grigorakos
This NBA offseason has seen numerous players on the move, as role players and all league greats such as LeBron James joined new rosters. The turnover leaves a high degree of anticipation for opening night, as the movement has created great intrigue and excitement. With the big 3 saying good bye to its most important player, The Eastern Conference now becomes a situation of parity. Teams like the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors will look to build off their successful 2014 season, as their young players will look to carry their momentum into the up and coming season. Yes the Miami Heat lost an all time great in LeBron James, but they added key veteran players like Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger to keep their team formidable in the respected Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers were the biggest winners this offseason as they nabbed the best player in the league, LeBron James. They are also rumored to be adding double double machine Kevin Love later this month. The young players of the Cavs will most likely be embarking into unchartered waters next season, as their major acquisitions surely will take them from a Conference basement dweller to a contender.
The Eastern Conference will provide interesting storylines and subplots starting this fall, as it will indeed be up for grabs. Fortunately for many Bulls fans, their team will be at the forefront of the competition. The Chicago Bulls started this summer by trading for the rights to sharp shooter draftee Doug McDermott from Creighton. Mr. McDermott was one move of many, that may prove to be missing pieces to the teams championship puzzle. The trade for the Creighton graduate will provide the team instant offense, and a 3 point threat to a roster that was almost dead last in the league in both categories the past season. Many experts may point to McDermott’s lack of athleticism affecting his transition to the pros, but he proved at the College level that he has the tools to be a threat anywhere on the court, and his efficiency was way above average. When scouting Doug McDermott out of college draftexpress.com said, “McDermott was born to score, as it’s something he simply has an unbelievable knack for. He is the fifth best all-time leading scorer in NCAA history, and indeed led the nation in that category in each of the past 2 seasons….What’s perhaps most impressive about McDermott is that he’s not just a volume scorer, he’s also tremendously efficient-his percentage 57% 2p%, 45% 3p%, along with just 1.8 turnovers per game are sparkling. Its virtually unprecedented to see a player score at the rate he does, and still remain that efficient”. National media, and College basketball enthusiasts built last season on the potential of Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, but what may have gone a little unnoticed was the special play of a small forward in Omaha. Throughout his 4 years at Creighton, and his involvement with USA Basketball, Doug has shown a willingness to buy into systems and adapt to different situations. By participating in US camps, Doug had an opportunity to be around his future head coach Tom Thibodeau, who is serving as an assistant, and study the habits of his future teammate Derrick Rose. He could pick up on the defensive principles set by Tom Thibodeau in the US camp, which will allow him a smoother transition come next Bulls training camp. Doug McDermott may be the first rookie under the Thibodeau regime to carve a major role in the teams plans from day one. If he plays his cards right, Doug has the potential to be the first rookie to start for Thibbs. Doug proved to be receptive to another hard nose coach in College, his dad Greg, will he do the same with arguably the most demanding coach in the Association? His history and track record shows that it is highly likely.
Doug McDermott will not be the only rookie on the Chicago Bulls who has the potential to be a vital contributor come next season. It has been well documented for months, especially on the BullsZone website, the importance of the acquisition of European great, Nikola Mirotic. He is the prototypical stretch 4 who can provide great spacing to any ballclub, especially one that is carrying a former league MVP at the point guard position Derrick Rose. Mirotic has a variety of different moves at his disposal that he can use to take advantage at the power forward position. He has the threat of a quick release and a deadly pump fake that can create a move to the basket. He does however come with some limitations. Draftexpress.com described Nikola by saying, “he’s just an average defensive rebounder, ranking in the middle of the pack in this category amongst ACB and Euroleague power forwards”. Anyone who has followed the Chicago Bulls the last few seasons, knows that in order for Coach Thibodeau’s defense to be completed successfully a defensive rebound is required, thus the former Real Madrid star must improve in that aspect if he wants to see significant playing time. Fortunately for Mirotic, and what is being unnoticed, is the impact his teammates Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah will have on him. Not only will Mirotic improve immensely offensively by practising against arguably the 2 best defensive players at their positions Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, but defensively he will be able to watch their tendencies and habits very closely. Obviously from a physical standpoint Nikola needs to get stronger and bigger to deal with playing the power forward position, but he can quickly become a good team defender by just studying and working hard in practice everyday. He must learn Thibb’s defensive schemes quickly, and he seems to have the willingness and basketball I.Q. to do so. Draftexpress.com goes on to scout Nikola by saying, “Mirotic is very fundamentally sound-never off-balance, always staying solid in his stance and rarely gambling for the sake of making a spectacular play…showing excellent timing as a shot-blocker and even getting in the passing lanes on occasion, likely aided greatly by his excellent length”.
As much as the Bulls rookies will potentially play key roles in the team’s success, it is up to the veterans to lead the way. The last 2 seasons saw great tragedy hit the ballclub by Derrick Rose suffering multiple knee injuries. Fans were left feeling frustration, and despair, but optimists can argue that the injuries allowed players like Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and most notably Joakim Noah evolve as basketball players. All 3 saw their roles expand, and ultimately their skill set enhance. Jimmy Butler was named to the All-NBA defensive second team this past season, showing a hunger and desire on that side of the floor, that is always needed on any championship squad. He was needed to take on the best offensive wings night in and night out, and Jimmy never backed down. On most nights he was indeed a “stopper”. There is no reason why that tenacity won’t carry over to the 2015 campaign.
It was constantly stated throughout last season the noticeable development of Taj Gibson on the offensive end. He truly evolved as a post player, eventually gaining more minutes per game at the expanse of Carlos Boozer. Taj Gibson took the next step needed for team success, ultimately garnering the second most votes for six man of the year. He was always a great defender who can guard multiple positions, and now he has an offensive repertoire to add to his resume. However, even though has come a long way in terms of offense, perhaps the most crucial element to the Bulls charge to the finals is the impact Taj and fellow teammate Joakim Noah will have on the defensive end. Taj along with All-NBA Center Joakim Noah are arguably the best 2 bigs in the league at switching the pick and roll, and making lives miserable for smaller ball handlers. Opposing teams will have to go to their second and third options on offense in order to try to figure out the Bulls defense.
Speaking of Joakim Noah, the Chicago Bulls starting center may have had the biggest jump of any player on the roster during the last 2 seasons. He became the leader of the team, be it through defensively anchoring different units, or facilitating the offense. Noah has become the second star the Bulls needed, and along with 2 time NBA champion Pau Gasol, will seek to cause havoc in the paint. Along with sharp shooting veteran Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls filled out their team with floor spacing wings and versatile bigs that can hurt you in different ways, but what will truly get this team over the top is the health and play of former MVP, Derrick Rose. Throughout the US camp this summer, Derrick has shown many flashes of his old self in terms of speed and agility that must leave the Bulls, and the whole city of Chicago smiling. Pooh will return to a team that has faced major obstacles, and adversity the past 2 seasons. Those type of circumstances can either break a team or make them stronger. Seeing the team develop and fight to 2 playoff appearances in as many seasons, how can some argue against the ladder. Derrick Rose has a lot to prove to many different people, be it his critics, fans or peers and he will truly play with a chip on his shoulder. A sense of purpose, and motivation will not be lacking from this group.
In a season that will see a Pacers team play without their star player Paul George, a Cavs team that will present a new big 3 with 2/3’s not having any playoff experience, and a Miami squad picking up the pieces after their best player headed home to Ohio, how can anyone bet against the Windy City hosting a Finals series come next June. The Derrick Rose injuries may have been a blessing in disguise, as it allowed his teammates to improve as basketball players and most importantly as a unit. Passion and character was on full display as the Bulls waited patiently for their best player, now it time for them to reap the benefits of their outstanding labor. The Bulls are ready to grab their Eastern Conference adversaries by the horns.