I can only speak for myself, but does it feel like there’s something in the air? Sure, “The Return” made this Bulls season more anticipated than usual and it’s still extremely early in just the preseason, but people seem to be more excited about the team as a whole, not just Derrick, than usual. After the incredibly gutsy, but hard to watch performance witnessed last season, the Bulls have the potential to be a very fun squad, even more than in Thibs’ first two years in Chicago. It might sound cliché, but being around the team, I feel a similar level of camaraderie, as if nobody’s focused on anything but being the last men standing in June. Sure, it’s easy to be skeptical after seeing all of the injuries in the past, but what other approach should they take? The rival Pacers, revamped Nets and of course, defending-champion Heat will all have something to say when it’s all said and done, but this Bulls team has a feel to it that I can’t put my finger on just yet. There’s plenty going on around the league as a whole, but as always, I welcome your questions about Erik Murphy’s long-term potential to become the next Dirk, Derrick’s lack of double-figure rebounding games and how Jo’s hair has hampered his low-post game. On to the first mailbag of the new 2013-14 NBA season:
Do you think Derrick Rose can average 25 and 8 again? - Sam W.
Sam, if you’re asking whether I think Derrick will average 25 and eight this season, then I’d have to say no. With the Bulls having more offensive weapons and better balance than in his MVP season, I don’t think he’ll have to, even if he’s capable of doing so. But I do think he could; it just wouldn’t be very efficient. I’ve always maintained that Derrick is a true point guard, just one with tremendous scoring ability and who cares caters his game to the personnel around him. Now, in the future, depending on how the Bulls’ roster shapes up beyond this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he approached the numbers you mentioned, especially more than a year removed from his return to the court.
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Do you think there's any chance Jimmy could be an All-Star this year? What are the Bulls' expectations for Jimmy Butler, and will he reach them? - Brian and Jerry
Brian and Jerry, since these questions are in a similar vein, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. As far as Jimmy being an All-Star this season, let’s be serious. I love his game and the way he’s developed, but on a loaded squad like the Bulls, he’s still the fifth option offensively in the starting lineup. Thibs doesn’t even really run too many designed plays for him, which is a credit to his game, as he thrives in transition, as an offensive rebounder, cutting off the ball and knocking down open perimeter jumpers. Jimmy has almost become a cult figure among Bulls fans and although people around the league have a lot of respect for his emergence in the second half of last season, then taking it up another notch in the playoffs, a greater sample size is required, at the very least, before All-Star status is even considered slightly realistic. That said, Jimmy has already outperformed the Bulls’ expectations for him when he was drafted with the final pick of the first round back in 2011. I’m sure there will be some revisionist history, but if he became a solid defensive backup and energy player in Thibs’ rotation, that wouldn’t have been a bad outcome for this stage of his career. Now all he has to do is stay on his current path, be a reliable low double-digit scorer and lockdown defender to keep the organization pleased, with perhaps a bigger role for him in the future. I certainly think those goals are attainable and given his workmanlike mentality, I wouldn’t at all be shocked if he surpasses them. The bigger question is what kind of long-term contract extension is he in line for moving forward. I’d rank him below San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, both in terms of his role and accomplishments, but I think that’s a solid comparison when it comes to young, two-way wings in his draft class, so keep an eye on what type of deal the Spurs give him, as Jimmy should be in line for something under that threshold.
Is this year's Bench Mob better than last year's? - Alfred
Alfred, first of all, I’d kind of like to get rid of the “Bench Mob” moniker for the second unit on a permanent basis. I’ll have to ask Taj about that, but I don’t think the players themselves referred to the reserves that way last season and he’s the only holdover from two years ago. But I definitely think this group is an upgrade from last season’s bench, which didn’t have as much depth and had a rotating cast of characters due to injury. Nate was obviously the most potent bench scorer the Bulls have had under Thibs, but he started several games in Kirk’s place, as did Marco, and eventually Jimmy, for Rip. I like this season’s bench because Kirk as a backup to Derrick is a great point-guard duo and “Cap” is superior to the majority of second-string floor generals in the league. Then, you have a healthy Taj, Nazr with another year in Thibs’ system under his belt and finally, Dunleavy. We’ll have to see what happens, but based on his skill set and track record, I prefer him to two of his predecessors that he gets compared to most frequently, Marco and Kyle. In fact, while it doesn’t have the same sheer depth as the original (and only) “Bench Mob,” on paper, I like this second unit better, particularly with the strength of the starting lineup. Besides Omer, I see upgrades across the board—Taj is still Taj, but looks better than ever in the early going and while there really isn’t a backup shooting guard, nominally Ronnie’s spot, but Jimmy is that much better as a starter than Keith and Rip’s tenure was so injury-plagued that he clearly gets the nod—so although there isn’t a mob-like quantity, I’ll take the quantity of this group of reserves.
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Do you think there's room for the Bulls to keep Dexter Pittman? - Redell
Redell, Dexter will get strong consideration, but if the organization decides to keep only 13 players, I liked his chances a lot better before Mike James came to town. On the other hand, Jo’s training-camp groin injury also helps his cause. Before camp, the Bulls’ biggest need appeared to be center and while it’s still a priority from a depth standpoint, Nazr’s solid play as a starter and Taj’s remarkable start to the preseason, all with the team’s All-Star center currently sidelined, bodes well. His size, physical play and work ethic all make Dexter a good fit for the Bulls, but a big man of a similar pedigree, perhaps with more experience, could be available later in the season (Kurt Thomas had an offseason foot procedure and is expected to be ready to go by January or February) on an as-need basis, so it’s a tough call and one I would imagine that the organization is also struggling with. Maybe they’ll keep 14 players, which previously seemed unlikely, but I could see being a possibility now.
If Mike James makes the team, what does this do to Teague's development? Having 4 point guards doesn't make much sense. - Greg
Greg, I had high hopes for Marquis coming off summer league and still do, knowing how Thibs can bury guys on the bench early, only to give them an opportunity, whether it’s based on injuries or not, and later rely on them as time progress. That said, his familiarity with Mike James doesn’t bode well for Marquis, who was already behind Kirk on the depth chart at point guard. Mike and Kirk can play both guard positions and are experienced veterans who understand exactly what Thibs expects from them. I think Marquis is talented and he has upper-echelon speed, even on the NBA level, but on a team with championship expectations, I don’t see Thibs playing him for a regular, substantial amount of minutes just for the sake of development. He’s only 20 years old and should have a long career ahead of him, but I can’t say that Chicago is necessarily the best place for him. Looking at Derrick and Kirk, then surveying the league, he could be better off somewhere there’s a real need for his abilities and he’d get a fair chance to develop, play through mistakes and have a set role. I’d completely understand if Mike made the team, as the Bulls are in win-now mode and I don’t think he would have even come to camp if there wasn’t a strong indication that he had a good chance of making the regular-season roster after becoming the starting point guard in Dallas down the stretch of last season. But if that does happen, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marquis was wearing another uniform by February.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Send him questions about the Bulls and anything NBA related via his Twitter handle - @CSNBullsInsider