As Bulls players begin to trickle in to the Berto Center to prepare for what could be a very special season, CSNChicago.com is getting fans ready to hit the ground running, too.
NBA training camps don't open until the end of the month, but from Monday through Friday up until Bulls' media day, we're discussing everything from Derrick Rose's comeback to the top competition in the Eastern Conference—with a twist.
CSNChicago.com has compiled the insights of anonymous behind-the-scenes league insiders (an assistant coach, a front-office executive, a retired player and an advanced scout), to go along with in-depth reporter breakdowns and complementary statistical analysis to ensure that diehard hoops fans are up to speed when the balls officially start bouncing.
Today’s Topic: What makes the Bulls special?
“Defensively, they’re strong. They’re going to get into the ball. Derrick’s a good defender when he wants to be. Hinrich fights over every screen, no one’s tougher than he is. They’ve got a good presence defensively at the wing spot with Jimmy Butler and/or Luol Deng. Joakim, great leader. Boozer will never make the all-defensive team as a power forward.
Probably that’s where other teams are going to get Boozer involved in screen-roll and if you look at any weakness they might have, until Taj Gibson gets in the game, it’s probably attacking Boozer defensively. But that’s nothing that the Bulls didn’t already know in years past, but again, they don’t have much of a weakness. Backup five spot to back up Joakim Noah, they’re still going to go with Nazr Mohammed.
Will the rookies be ready to help them? That remains to be seen. Offensively, I think they’re going to be very, very good. I think they’ve got experience. You can’t win without experience. They have toughness, they’ve got a great coach. Whether they can get enough shooting remains to be seen, but they do have Dunleavy now.
But I think Joakim Noah is really coming into his own, as he has in the last couple years, just getting better and better, as long as he’s healthy. Much better perimeter shooter, at the mid-range level, that anybody ever thought he would be. Great leader, really maturing, great team guy at both ends. He’s really their second point guard. They hit him in the middle, flash him into the middle, he hits the weak-side people. He knows when to fake handoffs and drive the ball to the basket. He makes game-winning plays, he makes free throws when the game is on the line. He’s a great teammate, roots on his guys. If they get that second unit playing like they did a few years ago, they’re going to be a force to reckon with.”
Obviously, this source chose to focus on the Bulls’ trademark under Tom Thibodeau, their elite defense. He didn’t point out anything that fans who have been paying attention didn’t already know, but it’s always illuminating when people who aren’t around the team constantly rave about something that, speaking for myself, can almost be taken for granted.
One thing to take note of: as much as Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and even Rip Hamilton helped the Bulls offensively, none of them could be considered great defenders. Rose might not be the next Gary Payton, but his size and athleticism alone gives them an upgrade at point guard, and Hinrich, with less of a workload, is an outstanding defender at both guard spots. Butler will be the full-time starter at the two and takes some pressure off Deng, as well as creating arguably the top defensive wing tandem in the league.
New addition Mike Dunleavy has never been known as shutdown defender or anything, but I think his size and length at his position get underestimated. All of those factors will make things easier on two of the league’s better interior defenders, Noah and Taj Gibson, who are unique because of their ability to guard smaller players on the perimeter when switching in pick-and-roll scenarios. Boozer is Boozer, but despite his deficiencies, the Bulls have still been an upper-echelon defensive team, while Nazr Mohammed’s comfort level in the second half of last season was an underrated storyline, as it now gives Thibodeau the confidence to rest Noah without having to overextend Gibson.
As far as the youngsters, I think Marquis Teague’s length, quickness and ability to pressure the ball will pay dividends in time and Tony Snell clearly has great tools — particularly his wingspan, but his willingness to battle stronger players inside during summer league was nice to see — although I doubt either will be key rotation players this season. Erik Murphy has a ways to go defensively, but the effort is there and after playing for a college coach in Billy Donovan with a solid track record of preparing players for the next level on both ends of the floor, I’m confident that he can make the adjustment. Besides, all he’ll be expected to do is knock down open jumpers — both in pick-and-pop and catch-and-shoot situations — so if he’s physical and smart enough to wisely use his six fouls while on the court, that alone should ensure him a Matt Bonner-like role in the future.
Tomorrow: Will heavy minutes take a toll on the Bulls’ key players?