HOW THE CHICAGO BULLS WON THE OFFSEASON
To some, this means that once again the Bulls failed to land the prize free agent, just like 2000 (Tracy McGrady) and again in 2010 (LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade). Maybe the cloud of the “Jordan Mystic” looms over Chicago. Maybe it’s Derrick Rose’s fault he’s not pounding the pavement to get guys in Chicago. Maybe it’s the front office’s fault for being so cheap.
Or maybe, just maybe, the organization knew what they were doing all along.
In case you missed it, the Bulls signed forward/center Pau Gasol, drafted forward Doug McDermott and center Craig Bairstow, re-signed point guard Kirk Hinrich, signed point guard Aaron Brooks and signed forward Nikola Mirotic, who had been overseas playing for Real Madrid for the last three years. I’ll break down what each of these signings mean in a moment, but it’s clear that the Bulls had a Plan B in case Carmelo didn’t sign. And Plan B might have worked out better for the Bulls than Plan A.
Finally signing Mirotic was a huge win for the Chicago Bulls. While he was selected 23rd overall in 2011, many agree that if Mirotic hadn’t already had a contract with Real Madrid and was ready to come over immediately, he would’ve been a top five pick. Most also agree that if he had been in this year’s draft, he would’ve been a top four pick, behind Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker in no particular order. While playing for Real Madrid, Mirotic won the Euroleague Rising Stars award (comparable to the ROY) twice, Spanish League MVP (comparable to the MVP) and the Spanish Cup MVP (comparable to the Finals MVP). That’s incredibly impressive for the Bulls to land someone of his caliber at 17 million dollars over three years. The biggest question is whether or not Mirotic’s skills are transferrable to the NBA. Many hyped prospects from Europe have flamed out in the past, most notably Darko Miličić. However, his biggest skill is his ability to shoot (he shot 46.1% from three last year), which is transferrable to the NBA. The rim is the same size, the ball is the same weight and his shooting motion will presumably stay the same. Sure, he won’t get as wide open of looks as he did in Spain, especially once he starts to improve at the NBA level, but the skill nonetheless will still be there. This move, especially at the money they agreed at, wouldn’t have been possible if the Bulls had signed Carmelo Anthony.
On draft night, the Bulls traded up to get Doug McDermott, forward from Creighton, who scored the fifth most points in NCAA history. McDermott, or McBuckets as he’s more popularly known, should instantly help improve the Bulls on offense. While head coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t known for playing rookies – or being particularly fond of them – an exception will be made here. Here’s a McDermott shot chart from last year.
The other rookie, Cameron Bairstow, is a lot less heralded, but figures to make the team and could see some time in the event of an injury. Bairstow is a tough, hard-nosed defender that loves physical contact. Sounds like a classic Tom Thibodeau player to me. In Bairstow’s senior season, he averaged 20.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game. He’s got a nice 15 foot jumper and good touch around the rim. Now while it would be better for the Bulls and Bairstow’s development that he sits on the bench, he can give the Bulls some valuable minutes if needed.
The Point Guards
Some Bulls fans were more than displeased when the organization announced that Kirk Hinrich would return on a two year deal. And it’s not without reason. Hinrich isn’t the most offensively talented player in the NBA. But what Hinrich does bring to the table is defensive savvy. He’s known for being a defensive pest and providing tough defense. As a back-up point guard, Hinrich is more than serviceable. But his presence also allows Thibodeau to run his two-point guard set that he so clearly covets. But in order to truly and effectively run this set, you need more than two point guards, in the event of injuries and general fatigue during a game.
Brooks, who would be the main backup on most teams and might start on a few, has accepted a third string role in Chicago. He’s a solid defender, he can run an offense well and he is an adequate scorer. His career high scoring average is 19.6 points and he averaged 11.9 points in 29 minutes last year for the Denver Nuggets after a midseason trade. And he’s coming to the Bulls on a veteran’s minimum contract. The Bulls, instead of waiting around for an injury to occur and looking at the scrap heap, were proactive and gave Tom Thibodeau even more offensive versatility.
No, Pau Gasol is not the crown jewel of the free-agent class. But he’s one helluva consolation prize. Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 last year on a terrible Lakers team where he was options 1, 2 and 3, meaning defenses were free to key in on him. Last year, only new teammate Joakim Noah and his brother Marc Gasol averaged more assists for a big man than the 34 year old Spaniard. Getting him at 6.5 million this year should be considered a huge steal. Some are concerned about Gasol being washed up and not worth the money; over the last four seasons he’s averaged 16.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. There’s concern about Gasol’s ability to hold up throughout the season, and justifiably so. The big man has struggles with minor injuries the last few seasons and he’s 34 already. However, it would not be wise to bet that Gasol sees more than 30-32 minutes a night, given how much Thibodeau loves forward Taj Gibson and the skillset Nikola Mirotic brings to the table.
Gasol also holds value in being a mentor to the young Mirotic, as he begins his transition to NBA level basketball. Gasol is arguably the most well-rounded big man in the game today, with a myriad of moves that include up-and-unders, midrange jumpers, hook shots, baseline shots and shots at the elbow. This skillset is one that neither Noah nor Gibson possess, which will help Mirotic’s development immensely. Gasol’s unparalleled ability to pass immediately creates the best passing big man duo in the league with Noah as his front-court partner. The two’s ability to dish the rock creates two hubs not named Rose for Thibodeau to run his offense through. Defensively, he’ll be a major upgrade over Carlos Boozer – which isn’t saying much because a picket fence would be an upgrade over Boozer. Gasol is four inches taller than Boozer and has longer arms, which allows him to average 1.6 blocks for his career. He’s not going to turn into a defensive stalwart overnight, nor will he appear on any All-NBA defense teams, but he’ll at the very least be an average defender. Getting him at 6.5 million this year and 22 million over three years should be considered an absolute steal. Was he the first choice? No. But show me someone that could’ve better helped the Bulls this year for 6.5 million dollars. All things considered, Gasol was as perfect of a fit for the Bulls as they’ll get for someone not named Carmelo Anthony.
If it were allowed, would you trade Pau, Jimmy, Taj, McDermott and Mirotic for Anthony?— Kelly Scaletta (@KellyScaletta) July 24, 2014
The Bulls failed to land Carmelo Anthony. While they had a legitimate shot at him, the reality of the situation is that it was just too much money (around $45-$50 million) for Carmelo to leave on the table. This is a fact. But the Bulls didn’t let themselves get caught up in feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, they moved swiftly and created the deepest and best roster Tom Thibodeau has ever had. Some critics will point to the lack of shot creators on the roster. That’s duly noted, but the reality is that there’s more than one way to win a basketball game.
Getting so bored with the "Bulls NEED a shot creator" narrative. How many shot-creators do the Spurs have? Ball-movement & shooters work too— Adam Jun (@ajbulls) July 13, 2014
It's not a formula on how to win a title. People act like it's a set recipe. Like we're making choc chip cookies. 2 eggs, 2 shot creators...— Adam Jun (@ajbulls) July 13, 2014
In today’s era of basketball, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden and other talented wings reign supreme. The Bulls aren’t likely to out-wing teams because in order to get one, you’d have to either draft them or have the financial capability to sign them outright while keeping a palatable team together. Another route is by point guard play. Not only do most teams in the league have good point guard play, but I wouldn’t exactly call Derrick Rose stable at this point. I fully believe he comes back at 100%, but he still has a lot to prove this season. So I ask you, what’s the area in the NBA that’s sorely lacking an offensive skill and presence?
The post. The Bulls are going old-school and looking to bully you inside. Having Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler crash the bucket, Taj Gibson hit his baseline jumper, Pau Gasol beat you from almost anywhere within the restricted area and Joakim get easy buckets forces the defense to collapse in. And when they do, Mike Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich will be waiting for the kick-out and looking to make the defense pay. This league isn’t about shot creating – it’s about shot making. And the Bulls haven’t been able to make their shots the last few years. Now, with their myriad of offensive weapons, they should be able to.
The Bulls are now an extremely deep team, deeper than any team in the NBA not named the San Antonio Spurs. They, at the very least, matchup well with every team in the league and should be considered the favorites to come out the East.