Beyond the Arc: Bulls midseason report card

306676.jpg

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.

Tonight on CSN: Bulls shoot for five straight wins as they battle Nuggets

Tonight on CSN: Bulls shoot for five straight wins as they battle Nuggets

Watch as the Bulls take on the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

1. A pair of playoff teams....really. The average basketball fan thinks Bulls vs. Nuggets and doesn't necessarily think of a pair of playoff teams. But the Bulls have won four straight and are tied for sixth in the East, while the Nuggets have surprised the league and gone 25-31, good for eighth in the West. The Bulls opened as three-point favorites, meaning this one could go either way. And when it comes time for the playoffs this is one both teams may look back on as A) a helpful win or B) one the loser really could have used.

2. Going for five straight. The Bulls have won four straight for the second time this season. That fifth game the first time around was a seven-point loss to the Clippers. The Bulls won six in a row last season in December and January, so this is an opportunity to pick up a five-spot for the first time in more than a year. Currently the Bulls are tied with the Spurs for the longest winning streak in the NBA.

3. Cameron Payne getting involved. Expect to see more and more of the second-year point guard who came over in the deal from the Thunder. Payne got just a handful of minutes on Saturday against the Cavaliers but looked good, going for 6 points on 2-for-3 shooting in 12 minutes. There's a logjam at point guard to be sure, but the Bulls dealt for Payne because they want to see what he can do in extended minutes. He has a good matchup against Denver in Jamal Murray and Jameer Nelson, and could do some damage when he gets in.

4. What could have been. When the Bulls traded the Nos. 14 and 19 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft to the Nuggets for Doug McDermott, Denver used one of those picks on Michigan State guard Gary Harris. The 6-foot-4 guard has turned into one of the better young under-the-radar players, averaging 14.2 points on 48 percent shooting and providing solid defense in 29 minutes a night. Who knows if the Bulls would have selected Harris with one of those picks, but he sure would look good on the perimeter next to Jimmy Butler.

5. Bobby Portis momentum. With Taj Gibson out of the picture the starting power forward job is officially Bobby Portis' to lose. Portis has been impressive in his last five games, averaging 11.4 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and is shooting 36 percent from deep. He'll get a difficult test against the Nuggets' frontline, but these are the kinds of games that can help the young forward's progression.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Bulls: All of the most recent news and notes

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."