Monday, Nov. 1, 2010
Updated 4:01 PM
By Aggrey Sam
It's far too early to seriously discuss postseason awards, but since he atypically hasn't exactly backed away from the hype, why not--as Derrick Rose was famously quoted on Bulls' media day--jump the gun and examine Rose's chances to take home the league's top honors. The NBA's leading scorer at 33.5 points an outing less than a week into the season--it should be noted that Bulls center Joakim Noah is thus far the league's top rebounding at 18 boards per night--Rose's shot volume has been heavily scrutinized, as the promise he's displayed and his increased exposure ("freaky like my lady pyramid" and "fast don't lie" are quickly becoming part of the basketball-watching public's lexicon, thanks to his sneaker commercials) have observers believing the All-Star point guard is poised for a breakout season.
That said, an average of 29 shot attempts in a game won't be the norm for Rose this season, after sidelined power forward Carlos Boozer makes his long-awaited Bulls debut and preferably beforehand. Every bit of his career high-tying 39-point effort Saturday was needed to defeat the Pistons, but while Rose is forced to carry even more of the load in Boozer's absence--something both acknowledged and approved of by Tom Thibodeau after his first win as an NBA head coach--the lack of offensive support Rose has received from his teammates is a bit alarming.
Noah--and power forward Taj Gibson, to a lesser extent--have been solid point producers in the season's first two games, but it's been remarked upon by many that the early version of the Bulls this campaign resembles last season's squad, which was disturbingly reliant on Rose's scoring. Besides new personnel and a new system, a big difference is, players like Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons and even Flip Murray were at least adequate at creating their own opportunities on occasion.
Of course, it will take time for players to familiarize themselves with each other and Thibodeau's scheme, something that is at times very evident on the court, judging by the team's communication on the floor, lack of flow and admissions that not everybody is entirely comfortable with the offense yet. Those issues should sort themselves out in time and making the presumption that Luol Deng will bounce back from his slow start to the season, there will be times when the Bulls' offense will be clicking as it did occasionally in the preseason, with lots of unselfish ball movement, the inside-out philosophy working through patient shot selection in the halfcourt and diverse scoring options outside of Rose.
Meanwhile, Rose has the ability to put up gaudy scoring numbers and hold down the fort until Boozer's return, in the event that the team gets bogged down in an offensive malaise. With an emphasis on pushing the tempo to manufacture points--the likely quick fix for the time being--he'll thrive in transition and on the nights when his much-improved outside jumper is dropping, he'll truly sparkle.
However, with Thibodeau likely to force-feed touches to Boozer (in an effort to take opposing defenses' focus off Rose, not necessarily to make Boozer the team's first option) upon his return, expect the naturally-unselfish playmaker in Rose to emerge more prominently, leading to a decrease in scoring. A prediction of his numbers would be foolish, but if Rose remains among the league's top scorers all season, the Bulls are probably not playing up to their potential, thus lessening his chances of being bestowed the prized hardware.
Without huge numbers, Chicago would have to be one of the the NBA's elite--let alone the East's--this season, something many believe they're on the cusp of, but few opining they'll truly be there. Additionally, a pre-ordained cast of usual suspects--James, Bryant, Wade, Howard, et al--with the inclusion of burgeoning superstar Kevin Durant, would have to be thoroughly outplayed for Rose to climb the mountaintop, an unlikely prospect.
For now, simply helping the Bulls get up to speed and at least tread water during a harrowing November schedule is enough to expect--even if the United Center crowd continues to chant otherwise. Relax, enjoy the ride and remember that not even a week of the 2010-11 season has passed yet.
Speculate At Your Own Risk
Speaking of premature, the mini-firestorm over either correctly interpreted or misconstrued comments by 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala about wanting out of Philadelphia, followed by subsequent speculation that the Springfield, Ill., native could land in Chicago--in exchange for Luol Deng--isn't necessarily ludicrous, but almost certainly ranks below the probability of disgruntled Portland guard Rudy Fernandez or even superstar Carmelo Anthony coming to the Windy City this season, in terms of likelihood. While it's true that it appears that Sixers rookie Evan Turner and Iguodala have some redundancy issues as far as having point-forward tendencies (not to mention the conundrum Philly head coach Doug Collins faces in trying to develop point guard Jrue Holiday when neither he nor the aforementioned pair are proficient perimeter shooters), that swap wouldn't necessarily cure the Bulls' perceived ills.
Iguodala would obviously bring some athleticism to Chicago, give the Bulls another competent shot creator, add the services of one of a player regarded as one of the league's best wing defenders and would seem to be a good fit with Rose in an up-tempo style. However, his erratic outside shooting wouldn't help the team's cause on offense and from a payroll standpoint, his hefty contract couldn't be considered relief from Deng's notorious deal, nor would he bring in the star cache to justify the move, especially as finances must be closely monitored with Rose's own long-term contract slowly approaching and if any big-ticket item were to be acquired, it would have to be the talents of an Anthony in order to not create an uproar from the masses.
Could Johnson Become a Regular?
In the wake of his eight-point, nine-rebound, four-assist, three-block, two-steal night Saturday, second-year forward James Johnson has played it cool when asked his opinion of whether his performances validates more playing time in the future. Cited by teammates as the key to the Bulls' comeback from as many as 21 points down against Detroit, Johnson's energy, athleticism and ability to make plays on both ends of the floor duplicated some of his impressive preseason outings.
After an up-and-down rookie year, a rough summer league and an offseason during which he lost approximately 30 pounds, the organization picked up the former No. 16 overall pick's third-year option mostly based off potential, not production. But on a deep roster, Johnson was told by Thibodeau that he likely wouldn't be in the team's rotation and subsequently saw no action in the team's season-opening loss at Oklahoma City.
Johnson's work ethic and positive attitude are viewed as primary reasons that Johnson got his opportunity against the Pistons, but he also adds some dimensions that no other players on the team possess. Johnson's powerful frame, versatility, athleticism and size for the wing are attributes that led to the Wake Forest product being picked so high in the draft to begin with, but he's now figuring out the pro game and making the simple play instead of constantly going for the big splash.
If Johnson continues to defend at a high level, is active on the glass, takes care of the ball and is judicious with his shot selection, there's no reason to keep him off the floor, unless his veteran counterparts are executing their roles so much (which hasn't happened as of yet in the case of many of Chicago's role players) that there's no reason to take a chance on the Wyoming native's inexperience. But in a season in which court time is important to Johnson's development and future--something usually frowned upon by contending teams, unless that player is a major contributor or is regarded as a surefire present and future key cog for the team--he ironically may end up with an opportunity to earn minutes by the merits of his present abilities, not just injuries or desperation. Monday's home matchup against Portland may be a good test to see whether Thibodeau subscribes to similar notions.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.