Chicago Bulls

Beyond the Arc: Bulls midseason report card

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Beyond the Arc: Bulls midseason report card

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
1:34 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Now that the Bulls have reached the official midway point of the regular season, its time to hand out some grades for the job done by Tom Thibodeau and his players. If you dont agree, or would like to provide your own evaluations, please post your comments in the section below.

HEAD COACH TOM THIBODEAU: A

Honestly, Thibodeau should be one of the leading candidates for Coach of the Year right now. To have his team 15 games over the .500 mark at the midway point with Carlos Boozer missing 16 games and Joakim Noah missing 17 is truly a remarkable accomplishment. Thibodeau has been able to get all the players to buy in to his defensive system a lot faster than anyone would have expected. Right now, the Bulls lead the NBA in opponents field goal percentage, which is generally recognized as the best indicator of a teams defensive proficiency. Hes also given his guys a lot of freedom on the offensive end, which leads to a willingness to accept his demands on the defensive side. About the only criticism you can have about Thibodeaus performance so far is the difficulty hes had finding a more meaningful role for sharp-shooter Kyle Korver. Oh, and maybe Thibs should start cutting down on Luol Dengs minutes.

DERRICK ROSE: A

Really, what more could one player do! He would be my choice for the NBAs Most Valuable Player for the first half of the season. Rose is the only player in the league to rank in the top 10 in both scoring and assists, and adding a consistent three point shot to his arsenal has made Rose practically unguardable. Rose has also put in a lot of work on the defensive end, which was one of his few weaknesses in his first 2 NBA seasons. Even with opposing defenses focusing most of their attention on slowing him down, Rose has been able to do just about anything hes wanted. His growth from year 2 to year 3 is remarkable. Hes clearly one of the top 10 players in the league, and has a legitimate shot at winning the M.V.P. award if the Bulls finish in the top 3 in the East with about 55 wins or so.

READ: Aggrey Sam's midseason report card

CARLOS BOOZER: B

Boozer has provided the low post presence the Bulls have been looking for since the early days of Eddy Curry. His offensive moves in the low post are even better than advertised, and even after missing the first 5 weeks of the season because of a broken finger, hes already averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. Boozer has also been a vocal leader, providing advice and encouragement to his younger teammates. His low post skills and leadership figure to be even more valuable when the Bulls head into the playoffs. Boozer is a proven playoff performer, and will excel in a half court situation when teams get fewer possessions per game. About the only knock on Boozer is his play on the defensive end, where hes often slow to help when a teammate gets beaten off the dribble. But you can count on Thibodeau to insist on Boozer showing improvement in that area as the season goes on.

LUOL DENG: A-

Deng has emerged as the guy Thibodeau leans on in almost every situation. Very few games go by when Deng isnt singled out in Thibodeaus post-game news conference for his ability to defend 3 positions, and for his versatility in the Bulls half-court offense. Deng has quietly averaged almost 18 points and 6 rebounds a game, and leads the team in minutes played. He gives the Bulls a reliable 3rd option on offense, and like Rose, hes much improved this season from 3 point range, converting on 35 percent from beyond the arc. Looking ahead to the playoffs, Deng needs to improve on his free throw shooting (only 71), and his ability to finish on the fast break.

JOAKIM NOAH: A

Before Joakim injured his right thumb, he was headed for a likely spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Like Rose, Noah added more offensive versatility to his game this season with improved moves in the low post and more confidence with his right and left hand jump hooks. He worked all summer with Thibodeau on his offensive moves and with trying to develop more consistency in his perimeter jump shot. As a result, Noah is now one of the more well-rounded big men in the league, and the Bulls figure to get a big boost when he gets back in the line-up in mid-February. Add in the intangibles that Noah provides with his all-out hustle and enthusiasm, and the Bulls should be hitting the playoffs with a deep and versatile team at both ends of the floor.

KEITH BOGANS: C-

Bogans was brought in late last summer as a reliable veteran who would be available for spare minutes in the event of a rash of injuries. But when Ronnie Brewer aggravated a hamstring injury just before training camp, Thibodeau decided Bogans gave him the best option of setting a good defensive tone at the start of games. And while Bogans has done a decent job defensively against opposing shooting guards, his inability to knock down open shots has forced the Bulls to play 4 on 5 and sometimes 3 on 5 at the offensive end, with Kurt Thomas really not looking to shoot either.

RONNIE BREWER: B

After a slow start because of the hamstring injury, Brewer has come on to give the Bulls exactly what they expected when he signed on as a free agent last July. Hes a reliable defender who gets points in transition and on inside finishes off the baseline. Brewer is not a consistent jump shooter, so hes not the best option for spacing the floor when Rose is in the game. But when you watch Brewer play every night, you can see all the subtle ways that he contributes to wins with his quickness on the defensive end and his ability to get his hands on passes and loose balls. Look for Brewer to play an even more important role as we get closer to the playoffs.

KYLE KORVER: B-

When you consider the Bulls committed 15 million dollars over the next 3 years to sign Korver as a free agent, its hard to believe he hasnt received more consistent minutes. Korver got off to a decent start from 3 point range, but his confidence seemed to sag as his minutes began to drop. Korver set an NBA record by hitting 53 from 3 point range last season, but hes just under 40 percent this year. Thibodeau doesnt seem to have a lot of confidence in Korvers ability to defend at either the 2 or 3 position. Maybe his 22 point outburst against Memphis will get Korver more minutes heading into the 2nd half of the season. He could be a very valuable weapon come playoff time.

TAJ GIBSON: B

Whether he starts or comes off the bench, Taj will provide consistent, active minutes on the front-line. When Boozer had to miss the first 5 weeks of the season, Gibson did a great job of filling in at the power forward spot, even though his outside shot has been a little erratic at times. Now that hes settled in to a reserve role, Gibson has focused on his defense, rebounding and shot blocking. His timing and jumping ability allow him to defend taller and heavier players in the post. With the Bulls injury problems on the front-line, it would be a risky move to trade him for an upgrade at shooting guard.

READ: NBA Midseason awards from Aggrey Sam

KURT THOMAS: B

After not playing at all early in the season, Thomas has been a life-saver with Noah out because of injury. He grabbed 18 rebounds in a recent win at Indiana, and hes shown the ability to knock down an open 15 foot jumper. Never underestimate the value of a savvy veteran who knows all the tricks of the trade. Thomas will see his minutes drop dramatically when Noah returns, but dont be surprised if he becomes a part of Thibodeaus playoff rotation.

C.J. WATSON: B-

Probably miscast in the role of back-up point guard. Watson is a shoot-first guard who was able to get away with questionable decision-making playing on a losing team with Golden State. Now that hes only getting 10 to 15 minutes a game as a back-up to Rose, Watson has had to adjust to playing at a slower tempo and trying to get his teammates involved as the floor leader of the 2nd unit. Hes played much better in recent weeks after figuring out what the coaching staff expects from him, and that 33 point outburst in Denver when Rose was out with an injury was impressive to watch.

OMER ASIK: B-

For a guy who moved halfway around the world to come to the NBA, Omer has done a pretty nice job of adjusting to the NBA game. Hes already a force on the defensive end with his ability to block shots and rebound in traffic. Hes had a tough time figuring out how NBA refs will call the game, usually picking up a couple fouls in his first few minutes of court time. Asik has a lot of work to do on the offensive end, and often gets in trouble bringing the ball down to waist level before jumping to try to dunk the ball. Still, Asik has a lot of potential, and he could wind up being a shrewd investment in future seasons.

JAMES JOHNSON: INC.

The 16th overall pick in the 2009 draft basically is just a spectator this season. Thibodeau told him at the end of training camp he would not be a part of the rotation, and except for blowouts, thats exactly what has happened. Maybe the Bulls should send him to the D-League to get some playing time.

BRIAN SCALABRINE: B

By all accounts, this guy is an excellent teammate, who works hard in practice and has an encouraging word for everyone he meets. Just like in Boston, hes become a fan favorite at the United Center. Scalabrine knows Thibodeaus defensive system from their years together in Boston, so if hes every needed for short minutes, hell be prepared and able to contribute.

GENERAL MANAGER GAR FORMAN: A-

Forman and John Paxson did an excellent job of putting the roster together last summer. Sure, they werent able to get LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, but Boozer has been a great fit in the Bulls offense, and the other free agents that were signed have settled in to productive roles in Thibodeaus system. The key for the 2nd half of the season will probably be the play of Korver. If he can return to his record-setting 3 point shooting of a year ago, the Bulls should have the floor balance to attack just about any team they face. But if Korver struggles, Forman may have to consider trading the valuable Gibson in a package to acquire an upgrade at the shooting guard spot. Because of the Bulls salary cap situation, making a meaningful trade will be extremely difficult, but you can bet Forman and Paxson will be on the phone up until the February 24th trade deadline to look for ways to improve the team heading into the playoffs.

So, what do you think? Please post your comments in the section below, or feel free to send me an e-mail.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade's homecoming may not last much longer. 

According to Nick Friedell's ESPN report, the Bulls are expected to reach a buyout agreement with the 12-time NBA All-Star "at some point in the next few months." 

The news comes two months after Wade picked up his player option, choosing $24 million over earning less on a more competitive team. 

If Gar Forman and John Paxson indeed decide to buy D-Wade out, the "Three Alphas," which consisted of Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, would all be out just one season after coming together. 

The buyout may also mean more ping-pong balls in next year's stacked draft