With Derrick Rose out for most of the upcoming year and with the Bulls very close to eclipsing the luxury tax threshold, Jerry Reinsdorf, John Paxson and Gar Forman decided to take the time this off-season to revamp much of the team’s roster. Whether or not that was a good plan will be decided a few years down the line, but one thing right now is for sure: this Bulls team looks very different than the one that went two consecutive seasons with the league’s best record.
A lot of new faces coming aboard means also means the Bulls need to sit down and do “inventory”: ask themselves which player fits in which role. Where do they fit in terms of positions? What will they be called upon to do? How many minutes should each player expect to get? With the roster pretty much set, it’s time for everyone to take a look at those things.
Since Derrick Rose figures to not be around till at least late February, free agent acquisition Kirk Hinrich figures to be the team’s starting point guard, making it feels like old times for Bulls fans. We all know what Kirk can do: play solid defense, shoot the three ball and do his job running the offense.
Backing up Hinrich figures to be another free agent acquisition and a veteran presence in Nate Robinson. For his entire career, Robinson as always been known as that “instant offense” type of player who can come in and score in bunches off the bench. Picture a much better version of John Lucas III, and you could see a lineup at some points in games where Robinson is running the point while Hinrich is at shooting guard.
There is also one more point guard on the roster: rookie Marquis Teague. The Bulls signed Robinson later in the free agency period, and I am a bit surprised they did considering they made Teague their first round draft pick. With Hinrich and Robinson in the fold and assuming that Rose returns at some point, it looks like this year will be nothing more than a redshirt year for Teague.
When Rose does return, look for Hinrich to slide in on the bench and be that sort of “super sub” who can give quality minutes at both the point guard and shooting guard positions, and Robinson should not see his minutes decrease that much either due to his offensive ability.
As much as Bulls fans may not like to see it, Rip Hamilton will be the team’s starting shooting guard heading into next season. Plus, with Rose out, they will be counting on him even more to give the team offense. With this being a contract year, this is a huge year for Hamilton.
Backing him up will be the team’s new version of Kyle Korver and the only other true shooting guard on the roster: Marco Belinelli. He’s shown that he can score and shoot the three with consistency over the past few years, but he’s also played for bad teams such as Toronto and New Orleans. So, it remains to be seen whether or not he can be a key contributor on a good team. Even without Rose, the Bulls figure to be that.
The good news for Bulls fans is that Luol Deng now figures to be around at the start of the season, as he will put off wrist surgery to at least next off-season. The normal NBA schedule will help him in managing the pain, but he also will have a much bigger offensive burden to carry. It will be interesting to see how the wrist responds to that and how many minutes Tom Thibodeau will give him each night. Will he still get the 40 minutes per game that he got the past two seasons?
To answer that question, I don’t think so. That’s because of how high the Bulls are on Jimmy Butler, who figures to be something like the new version of Ronnie Brewer. He’s a defensive stopper with a much higher offensive ceiling than Brewer, so he will likely see his fair share of minutes off the bench. The Bulls also could use him at shooting guard as well.
The third small forward on the roster is Vladimir Radmanovic. When he was signed, I thought he would be the team’s new Kyle Korver, but now with Bellinelli aboard and two guys ahead of him at small forward, it is going to be tough for Radmanovic to see a lot of meaningful minutes unless Thibodeau decides to use larger than a 10-man rotation.
Carlos Boozer, once again, figures to be the starting power forward. Whether Bulls fans like it or not, Boozer will likely be the focal point of the offense with Rose out, and it’s the biggest reason why the Bulls aren’t even considering their amnesty clause on him until at least next off-season.
However, Thibodeau has hinted this off-season at increasing the minutes of Taj Gibson, and he showed last year that he was not afraid to sit Boozer in favor of Taj late in games. Look for the minutes at the power forward position to be more evenly distributed than it has been over the past two seasons.
Obviously, Joakim Noah will be the team’s starting center. His role doesn’t change, as he will be the team’s “heart, hustle and muscle” and main stopper on the interior.
On paper, newly acquired Nazr Mohammed figures to be the team’s main backup center. Mohammed was a member of the Thunder last season, and he will be used in that Omer Asik role this season as someone who can come in and defend with the second unit. However, look for Taj Gibson also to get some minutes at the position. Thibodeau has said that he likes the lineup on the blocks of Taj at center and Boozer at power forward, and he plans to employ that more often this coming season.