The season rests on Derrick Rose’s shoulders. This is not news to fans, teammates, or even Rose himself. Last season we all saw exactly what the Bulls are capable of without Rose – not enough. Sure, they were able to make the playoffs for the 5th consecutive season. Sure, they eliminated the higher seeded Nets and advanced to the Conference Semi Finals. Then something happened that Bulls fans are all too familiar with – they were eliminated by LeBron James and the Miami Heat. If one thing is for certain in the NBA, it is that the road to the NBA Championship will run through Miami. While the Bulls were not big players in offseason free agency this year, they will (hopefully) start the season with an entirely new lineup than any one used last year (thanks to multiple injuries all year long).
To prepare for the upcoming season, we broke down your 2013-14 Chicago Bulls, player by player, to find out exactly what it will take to bring the NBA Title back to Chicago for the first time since the Jordan era.
Projected Starting 2013 Lineup
PG- Derrick Rose
As touched on earlier, Derrick Rose is clearly the Bulls most important player. He carries even more weight on his shoulders this year with the departure of Nate Robinson, who was far better at creating his own shot than either Marquis Teague or Kirk Hinrich will be this year. If the Bulls want any scoring production from a point guard this season, it is going to have to be from Rose. We all know what Rose is capable of – but the last time we saw him during a game, he was lying on the court after tearing his ACL. With over a year’s time to recover, Rose will undoubtedly be fresh – but how long it will take to adjust to real game action is up in the air. While we can’t predict the future, we can tell you one thing – the Bulls will only get as far as Derrick Rose takes them.
SG- Jimmy Butler
From Ben Gordon to Keith Bogans to Marco Belinelli, the shooting guard position has continuously failed to produce any significant contributions on a consistent basis since 'His Airness' left town. Bulls’ fans are hoping this drought has finally come to an end with the emergence of a small town kid with big time potential, Jimmy Butler. Butler emerged onto the scene in a big way last year, shining in the playoffs, where he averaged a team high 40.8 minutes while chipping in 13.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Butler undoubtedly has what it takes to defend the best players in the game. We have seen him shut down the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and most importantly Butler always presents a touch matchup for LeBron James. We have seen flashes of what Butler is capable of as a scorer, but there is definitely room for improvement. Ideally Butler will continue being a lockdown defender, while improving on both his 3 point range and slashing ability. With most of the Bulls scoring coming from Rose, Luol Deng, and Carlos Boozer, Butler averaging 15-20 points a game and shooting around 40% from beyond the arc could be more than enough to make the Bulls a legitimate championship contender.
SF- Luol Deng
Besides Derrick Rose, there is a lot of controversy surrounding another key player who missed significant playoff time. Prior to game 6 against the Brooklyn Nets, Luol Deng came down with a freak, life-threatening illness suffered after a spinal tap to check for meningitis went wrong. The illness left Deng weak, losing weight and unable to play. With Deng and Rose out (among others), the Miami Heat were too much for the Bulls to handle. On top of needing to get back into basketball shape and stay healthy, questions loom about Deng’s future with the Bulls. Deng’s relationship with the Bulls front office has been very rocky and his agent has already said his client will test free agency following the season. A consonant professional, Deng will undoubtedly push aside these issues during the season and give it his all for the Bulls. When Deng is on the court, fans know exactly what he is capable of. Deng is a two-time All-Star who can score in bunches and plays some of the best defense in the NBA. Another (healthy) season of Deng playing basketball like Luol Deng normally does and the Bulls will be more than happy with the man most likely playing his last season in Chicago. Who knows though – a lot can change with one big postseason run.
PF- Carlos Boozer
Next up is a man who is almost certainly playing his last season in a Bulls uniform. Carlos Boozer starts his 4th consecutive year (amnesty eligible) as the Bulls starting Power Forward. Carlos is coming off of a season in which he averaged 16.2pts and 9.8 boards for the frequently injured Bulls. Most casual fans will look at those stats and will be quick to praise Boozer - diehard fans know the truth lies in Boozer’s defense. Boozer has always been a good back-to-the-basket scorer, creating his own shot much of the time. Playing defense, on the other hand, has never and will never be a strong aspect of Boozer’s game. Boozer is usually slow to the ball and always seems to be a second behind when it comes to help defense, allowing for open cuts to the baskets and many and-one opportunities. The Bulls will rely on Boozer to continue his scoring and continue working to improve his defense, but don’t be surprised to see backup Taj Gibson on the court in crunch time when defense is needed over offense.
C- Joakim Noah
Rounding out the starting 5 is the big man in the middle, Joakim Noah. Noah fought through a nagging foot injury all season long, including the playoffs, but was the constant lifeline of the team, always being right where he is needed to give the team a spark. He will never be a 20 point average scorer, but he can do everything else. He can rebound well, defend well, and surprisingly runs well for a center in the NBA. Many may argue that Noah’s presence is just as important as Rose’s. After all, the team would be extremely limited using 36 -year-old backup center Nazr Mohammed in quality minutes along with Taj Gibson. Coach Thibodeau has already said he plans to lower Noah’s minutes to prevent any further damage. Look for the Bulls to be extra cautious with Joakim throughout the season.
The Bench Mob
Taj Gibson PF
Although the faces of the Bench Mob change every year, the expectations and heart of the bunch remain unchanged. Taj Gibson returns as the leader of the crew, playing huge minutes last year at both power forward and center. Gibson begins his first year of his contract extension with the hope that he will step in as the Bulls power forward once Carlos Boozer leaves town. His defense is leaps and bounds better than Boozer, but he leaves room for improvement in his offensive game. If Taj simply continues to improve on his mid-range jumper, while locking down opponents on D, he could not only see an increase in playing time this season, but could also find himself as the Bulls new starting power forward following this season.
Kirk Hinrich PG
Kirk Hinrich returns this season looking to cement down his role as backup point guard to Derrick Rose. Bulls fans have seen enough of Hinrich to know what he brings to the table, but staying on the court is his biggest challenge. Hinrich has been injury prone his entire career and it wasn't any different last year, missing significant time throughout the regular season and the majority of the playoffs with a calf injury. When healthy, look for Hinrich to man the 2nd team offense and occasionally play alongside Rose at shooting guard.
Marquis Teague PG
The player with the biggest change of role this season may just be Marquis Teague. Teague will essentially be replacing big time scorer and athlete, Nate Robinson, who departed for Denver this offseason. Nate was a wild card last year, struggling some games, while nearly breaking records set by Michael Jordan in others (see Game 4 v Nets). The Bulls know that Teague’s scoring abilities may be limited, but consistency will be the big goal for Teague this year. Teague definitely has the athleticism and speed to succeed, but a solid jumper and a more well-rounded game are still in the works. Look for Teague to play sparingly throughout the season, continuing to develop under Thibodeau.
Nazr Mohammed C
The Bulls usually like to have a veteran player on the team whose value is more noticed on the practice floor and off the court rather than on the floor during games. We have seen the likes of Kurt Thomas and Brian Scalabrine in this position before, and for the second year in a row, Nazr Mohammed will fill this role. Barring an injury to Noah, Boozer, or Gibson, Nazr is more than likely not going to see any action early in the season. As the season progresses, Mohammed may be asked to fill in more frequently.
The New Guys
Mike Dunleavy Jr. SG
If you can’t beat em’, join em’. This cliché fits perfectly for veteran shooting guard Mike Dunleavy Jr. Dunleavy has spent his last seven seasons in the Central Division playing against the Bulls – five with the Pacers and two with the Bucks. This year he hopes to fill a role that will be vital to the Bulls success - a sharp shooter with deep range. Dunleavy shot over 42.8% from beyond the arc last season, the highest average of his entire career. A season at over 40% will be huge for the Bulls, and anything over that is icing on the cake. It is too soon to call the Dunleavy signing a steal (he declined offers for more money to play for the Bulls) but if he picks up where he left of last season, that’s exactly what it will be.
Tony Snell SG
Tony Snell joins the team as the Bulls top draft pick in 2013. Like all of the rookies under Thibodeau, Snell will not see much playing time this year. Rather, the Bulls expect Snell to develop much the way Jimmy Butler did. Snell has impressed in summer league action, using his 7-foot wingspan and great foot speed to create shots and frustrate opponents defensively.
Erik Murphy F
Erik Murphy joins the team this year as a rookie draft pick out of Florida. Murphy will join Snell in the role of being an observer on game day and continuing to improve every aspect of his game during practices. With the hopes that Bulls 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic will join the club after the season, Murphy’s role and future with the team is unknown. However, as always with Coach Thibodeau, he can find the perfect role for any capable player to succeed.
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