By Argie Grigorakos
The NBA offseason provides its players the opportunity to recharge, regroup and get ready for the following season to come. The few months off also provides players with substantial time to improve on their basketball skill set, and ideally come back as better professionals. Every team in the Association goes through exit meetings at the end of all of their seasons with their players as Coaches, and in most cases team executives, thoroughly outline their expectations for the following season to come. It is made clear to each and every individual player what is expected of them in the near future. Goals are set, and roles are clearly explained. Ultimately, players must seek to fulfill those goals once the new season starts later that fall.
The core of the Chicago Bulls returns for the 2014-2015 season, and many may assume their play and roles would remain the same, but the history of Tom Thibodeau shows that he always expects all his players to improve on their last season’s play. However, not only will Coach Thibbs expect players like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to take the next step in their professional careers, but new players like Pau Gasol and rookie Doug McDermott will be counted on to improve on their last season’s play, as they will take on specific roles for their new basketball team. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff will use their rotation, and what steps each player took in order to improve on last season’s play. Every player on the roster will have an important role, and therefore everyone must be ready to bring their play up another level in the next few weeks in training camp. Listed are just some of the ways Coach Thibbs could use his roster, and what each player must improve on in order for the Chicago Bulls to have an opportunity to reach their ultimate goal, an NBA Championship.
Aaron Brooks: Joins the Chicago Bulls as a scoring point guard. He will be a third string point guard who will probably see circumstantial playing time. Brooks may only play when Derrick Rose or Kirk Hinrich face foul trouble in a contest, or injuries that require them to miss games. Aaron Brooks may establish the same role as Nate Robinson or DJ Augustin in years past, as he has a knack to provide a scoring punch instantly when called upon. Last year Brooks averaged 9 points and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 38% from downtown. All season the coaching staff will stress to Brooks to stay ready.
Cameron Bairstow: The rookie center will be the odd man out, as Coach Thibbs has a reputation of not playing rookies. Also, the Bulls are very deep up front, and even an injury to one of their bigs may not even get Bairstow into the rotation. As he does of all his players, Tom Thibodeau will ask Bairstow to play hard in practice and spend extra time with Coaches in order to polish his game. Bairstow will definitely have to watch a lot of video to help him become acclimated to the NBA game. During Summer League action, Cameron showed a great drive and passion that any Coach would appreciate, unfortunately Bairstow will be “red shirted” this up and coming season.
Nikola Mirotic: The European prospect will make his NBA debut this season and it will be interesting to see how the Montenegro big man adjusts to a new league and culture. Nikola’s hardest task will be adjusting to the defensive schemes of Tom Thibodeau, which is arguably the most detailed and sophisticated in the league. Being a stretch four, Nikola may not be strong enough to play most opposing Power forwards, so it is probably safe to say the team emphasized strength and conditioning with him these past few months. It may take Mirotic a full year to adapt to the physicality of the NBA, and thus his playing time may be inconsistent in year one. Certain matchups will determine his playing time, as Nikola works his way through to becoming a solid NBA team defender.
Doug McDermott: The one rookie on the roster that may provide an immediate impact. Doug McDermott showed in his college years that he simply has a knack for scoring the basketball. The Bulls will ask him to continue his scoring ways at the professional level, as Doug showed in Summer League that he’s a versatile offensive player. Many will argue that Summer League play should not be taken too seriously, but Doug showed a great repertoire that shouldn’t go unnoticed. He scored through pin downs, constant ball screens and isolation plays. Like all players coached by Tom Thibodeau, Doug will be asked to improve as a team defender, but he will also be asked to help Derrick Rose in creating offense on the perimeter from time to time. In the Summer League Doug McDermott averaged 18 points per game.
Tony Snell: Speaking of Summer League, Tony Snell may have been the most impressive Bull as he was fifth in the league in scoring at 20 ppg, and voted to the All-Summer League team. He showed an aggressiveness throughout that was lacking from his rookie season. The Bulls expect him to continue his aggressive shooting, as it will be vital in keeping all defenses honest. Confidence must have been stressed in Tony Snell’s exit meeting, and if Summer League was any indication the message didn’t fall on deaf ears. Also due to his length and speed, Tony Snell has the potential to be a premier defensive player in the league for many years to come. It became evident last year that Tony Snell will need to add muscle if his wants to take that next step in his basketball career. Strength is key for his growth.
Kirk Hinrich: Being one of the captains of the team, Kirk will be expected to lead vocally as well as by example. With Derrick Rose being back in the fold, Hinrich will be expected to lead the second unit efficiently. Kirk shot a respectable 35% from deep in 2014, but a horrible 39% from the field overall. He will need to improve on both numbers in order to be a true offensive threat. Hinrich’s defense has always been solid and he will have to continue to provide constant ball pressure on the perimeter. Kirk will see some playing time along Derrick Rose throughout the season, as Coach Thibbs could experiment with Derrick off the ball as Hinrich runs the point. Health is the biggest key for Kirk Hinrich, as he’s had some setbacks the last few years. As long as Derrick Rose stays healthy, expect Kirk’s minutes to be handled with some caution.
Taj Gibson: Building off the great momentum he had built last season where he garnered the second most votes for Six Man of The Year, Taj Gibson will have to bring the same energy and resolve he displayed throughout the campaign. From a defensive standpoint, Taj is arguably the most versatile defender at his position, as he may play the pick and roll defensively better than any other big in the league. Last season saw Gibson improve his offensive game, as he added several moves to his post game. He became a reliable player on both ends of the floor. Taj needs to continue to improve his mid range shot, as DRose re-enters the offensive schemes. Scoring opportunities will present themselves to Taj and he will have to deliver. Taj will be involved in many pick and roll situations and thus a consistent 16 footer is critical for his game.
Mike Dunleavy: When the Duke alum joined the Bulls last summer I am sure he didn’t envision averaging 31 minutes a contest. With the trade of Luol Deng, Dunleavy stepped into the starting line up, and it is safe to assume that he will be there this season. However, this year we should see a reduction in Mike Dunleavy’s minutes as the team seems to have more depth than the previous season. Looking at his 2014 stats, the Bulls will ask Mike to improve on his shooting from the 3 point line (38%), and from the overall field (43%). He will be playing with an elite point guard, so those perimeter shots should become easier. Solid efficiency in a slightly reduced role will be expected.
Jimmy Butler: The key for Jimmy Butler this season is playing in a more efficient manner. In the 2013-2014 campaign, Jimmy averaged 13.1 ppg, 4.9rpg, 2.6apg and 1.9 spg, all solid numbers while being voted to the all NBA Defensive Second Team. It was a productive season for Jimmy, but his shooting percentages left a lot to be desired. He shot 39.7% from the field, and most concerning, 28% from deep. Jimmy is arguably the best defensive player at his position, but he will need to immensely improve on the offensive end in order to become an all-around NBA player. Butler was also tied for minutes per game with Carmelo Anthony last season, and should expect more of the same this campaign. Coach Thibbs likes to play his best wing defenders a bulk of the minutes, and that shouldn’t change next season.
Pau Gasol: The newly acquired Spaniard will be joining a basketball team in great need of his skill set and intangibles. Gasol brings a championship pedigree, as well as a polished post game to go along with it. He will be asked to run a lot of pick and roll with the team’s point guard, most notably, Derrick Rose. He will be expected to consistently hit the mid range shot. Health has been an issue with Pau, as he has missed numerous games the last few years due to various injuries. With the front court depth the Bulls possess, Pau’s minutes should be closely monitored, and he will be well paced. He will need to adjust to the defensive expectations set on him by the coaching staff, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Taj Gibson closes out games, especially early on as Pau gets acclimated to the Bulls defensive principles.
Joakim Noah: The reigning defensive player of the year will be asked to do much of the same this year as he did last. He will be the defensive anchor, the emotional leader, and one of the facilitators on the offensive end. However, in order for Joakim Noah to truly become an elite NBA player he will need to add a scoring post game. He occasionally displays a clever hook shot out of the post or hit the open jumper, but what will truly separate him from the rest of the bigs in the league is a back to the basket game with a variety of different counters. Great post players always have a second, third or even fourth option to go to if their primary move is stopped, and Joakim Noah must focus on developing those counters moving forward.
Derrick Rose: Since the spring of 2012 when he tore his ACL, there hasn’t been one word mentioned more often to, or about Derrick Rose, that is health. Rose’s priority this season is obviously remaining healthy and getting back to his elite status. Many have observed Derrick shooting horribly in the World Cup during this summer, but his great speed and athleticism seems to remain. He had only played 10 games in the last 2 seasons prior to the tournament, so it should be understandable that shooting woes will exist. The rust is being knocked off, and come opening night his wind should be back. Rose is doing exactly what everyone in the Bulls organization should expect him to do, that is playing the game that he loves in a greatly competitive atmosphere. Expect the Bulls to carefully handle Derrick’s minutes early on, and don’t be surprised if he doesn’t play both games in back to backs. For the last couple of years Derrick Rose has spoke about working on his jump shot during rehab, and when he eventually gets into peak basketball shape, his efficiency and timing should improve from a shooting perspective. With total optimism of good health, Derrick Rose should fulfill all expectations placed on him by the coaching staff, which is really bad news for 29 oppositions.