Each Monday throughout the season, CSNChicago.com Bulls insider Aggrey Sam will open up his mailbag and answer your Bulls and NBA-related questions. Do you want to get your questions answered by Aggrey? Click here to find out how and to submit your questions.
Long time, no see, right? It's already more than a month into the NBA season and here's my first mailbag in seemingly forever.
Well, I'm back and thanks to anybody who stuck with me during the hiatus, as well as any newcomers. In a way, I'm glad my first mailbag is taking place now, since the early-season gloom-and-doom following some rough moments -- such as the three-game losing streak on the Circus Trip and the infamous loss to Milwaukee, in which the Bulls surrendered a 27-point lead -- are over.
I think (hope) people can see what type of season this is going to be, one in which the Bulls don't necessarily have the star power to beat all of the elite teams on any given night, but are still capable, as evidenced by Saturday's home win over the Knicks.
There will be some disappointing losses, too, without the services of Derrick Rose to bail them out early in the campaign -- and even upon his eventual return, it's unlikely that he'll be the same player we last saw right away -- but in general, the Bulls should be a winning team, a bit over .500, a likely playoff team and have a real chance to maintain their stranglehold on an awful Central Division.
Anyway, with no further ado, here's the mailbag:
1. When Rip Hamilton returns, will Tom Thibodeau continue to give him the same number of minutes?
Rip's injury was a fluke thing, as he doesn't have a history with that particular ailment, but when Thibs limited his minutes at the start of the season, it was a bit of foreshadowing. Because Marco Belinelli has been playing so well in his absence, I could see Rip's minutes staying around 25 a night, fluctuating depending on matchups, his performance, whether Jimmy Butler is needed for a defensive upgrade or if Marco comes out hot off the bench. It's a tricky thing, as Rip had been playing well before he got hurt and in addition to his scoring, the mere threat of him on the court, as well as his playmaking, is something opposing teams game plan for. But I know Thibs was concerned about overusing him into the season and this injury just proved his point.
2. What's your prediction on when Rose returns and what kind of production can we expect from him when he's back?
I hate to make predictions when it comes to any injury, simply because nobody but the player knows how his body is feeling and the a combination of the player, the coaching staff and the organization as a whole -- as well as the player's camp -- will make the final decision when it comes to long-term injuries.
When it comes to Derrick, I've heard a few different scenarios and while the consensus view is that he'll return after the All-Star break, I've been told everything from he'll miss the entire season to he'll play the final 30 games, which seems highly optimistic. I'll go with March, which seems safe enough, as he'll have time to get off some of the rust prior to the postseason but I wouldn't be surprised if he's deemed physically able to play before that and with a nod to caution, he has extended practice time to prepare. As far as production, I believe his minutes will be limited so the gaudy stats won't really be there, but I do think he'll have stretches of games that will induce flashbacks, as well as some ugly moments due to timing. Assuming he plays 20 or so minutes a night, I'll go with 12 points and four assists a game.
3. Will the Bulls use their exception to sign a 14th player to help with minutes while Hamilton is out?
For now, the answer is no. I'm sure if there's a player that the Bulls feel would help the team, regardless of Rip's health, they would look into that. But right now with the way Marco is playing and Butler's progress in his second season, the Bulls will wait. If further injuries occur or a player at another position gets hurt, that may be another story. But at the moment the list of available players isn't exactly filled with amazing talents.
I was asked via Twitter about Chicago native Quentin Richardson and the name of another Windy City product, erstwhile Bulls guard Jannero Pargo, has come up. If and when the Bulls do add another player, expect those two to be seriously considered. However, unless they make a trade and need depth at another position or, as I mentioned an injury occurs, I think the Bulls will stand pat at the moment.
4. How should minutes between Belinelli and Butler shake out?
Marco has played big minutes in his first three games as Rip's replacement in the starting lineup and as long as he keeps shooting the ball the way he's been, I don't see that changing.
Aside from his play justifying his playing time, it also has the added benefit of boosting Marco's confidence and not having to alter the rotation -- something Thibs is big on. Also, Marco's ability to stretch the floor gives the starting unit more balance than Jimmy offers, even if he's a better defender. At the same time, it will be hard for Marco to keep up his numbers as teams watch more tape on him and make adjustments, and after Jimmy's start to the season, it's not like he's in the doghouse, so I suspect that he'll end up seeing the court a bit more, especially in blowout situations to rest Lu or when teams go small, as the Knicks did Saturday.
I'd guess the minutes will end up being distributed a bit more evenly, with Marco playing maybe a little under 30 a night, Jimmy playing 15 or so at shooting guard and then spelling Lu during the rare times he's off the court, as well as playing alongside him occasionally in small-ball lineups, though Taj can also be on the court for those situations, given his mobility.
5. Which player has been the most unexpected surprise OR disappointment in how their game has changed with Rose out?
Since the Bulls have a fairly experienced roster with holdovers who have played extensively without Derrick, I can't say anybody's early season performance has shocked me either way. If anything, Taj has struggled a bit, but I'd attribute that more to the rest of the "Bench Mob," particularly Omer Asik, leaving than Derrick's absence. I'd be curious to see how Jimmy would play with Derrick, as he didn't get much playing time as a rookie behind Ronnie Brewer and his ability to score in transition would seem well-suited to complement Derrick's game.
READ: Knicks' Brewer has fond memories of time in Chicago
Lu and Jo, especially the latter, have really stepped up their games offensively and been much more assertive, which is necessary without Derrick to manufacture points, whether scoring them himself or creating easy opportunities for others. To be honest, and I know this going back a bit, since they last played together in the 2009-10 season, I think Kirk could benefit most from Derrick's eventual return, as he'll have less ball-handling responsibilities when the two of them are playing in the backcourt together and will be able to go up against second-unit players.