Beyond the Arc: Noah returning just in time

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Beyond the Arc: Noah returning just in time

Monday, Feb. 21, 2011
8:58 a.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Don't be misled by the fact the Bulls put together a 22-8 record without injured center Joakim Noah in the lineup. The truth is, the team isn't nearly as good without the 4th year pro from Florida protecting the paint, grabbing rebounds and finishing on the fastbreak.

Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik have done a good job filling in, but Thomas is 38 and Asik is an untested rookie still trying to adjust to a new country and the speed of the NBA game. Noah has developed into one of the league's most versatile big men. Sure, his jumper looks funny and he's not going to command a double team when he catches the ball in the low post, but Noah makes the Bulls a much more dangerous team on both ends of the floor.

You all know Joakim is one of the NBA's leading rebounders, but his uncanny ability to grab loose balls and offensive rebounds gives the Bulls a handful of extra possessions every game. And, since the Bulls are not a good shooting team, those extra possessions are crucial, especially in close games against quality opponents.

Noah's presence also upgrades the Bulls' overall defense. Right now, Tom Thibodeau's squad ranks 2nd in the NBA in both points allowed and opponents' field goal percentage. And they're doing it without a legitimate shot blocker in the starting line-up. Noah's return will give them an elite low post defender who can cover up for some of Carlos Boozer's weaknesses on that end of the floor.

If you've been watching the games closely, you'll see that Boozer has trouble staying with quicker power forwards, and doesn't do a great job of sliding over to help against penetration. With Noah back, that weakness won't be as big of an issue. Thibodeau often turned to Taj Gibson to help out against high-scoring power forwards over the last few weeks, sending Boozer to the bench. Now, Noah will be there to help Boozer, who's low post scoring ability is so important to give the Bulls some balance on the offensive end.

BULLS MIGHT SIT OUT TRADE DEADLINE FRENZY

Speaking of offensive balance, Gar Forman and John Paxson would love to add another perimeter shooter before the February 24th trade deadline, but it doesn't look like they have the ammunition to make a significant deal.

You've already heard the names. Houston's Courtney Lee, Portland's Rudy Fernandez and Memphis' O.J. Mayo are probably the three guys who best fit what the Bulls are looking for in terms of affordability and potential impact. But Houston wants a big man in any deal for Lee, and the Bulls don't want to give up on the potential of Asik, who turned in some strong games off the bench before the All-Star break.

Fernandez might not be available either because of Brandon Roy's knee problems, and Memphis may have to reconsider their plan to trade Mayo because of an injury to Rudy Gay, which could move Mayo back into the Grizzlies' starting line-up.

There are shooting guards available like Cleveland's Anthony Parker, Denvers J.R. Smith, Detroit's Richard Hamilton and Charlotte's Stephen Jackson. But Smith, Hamilton and Jackson are too expensive, and as far as Parker is concerned, is he really that much of an upgrade over Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer?

In case you haven't noticed, Bogans has really turned around his game since the calendar flipped to 2011. He's shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc since January 1st, and has done a solid job defensively against some of the league's most athletic players.

Brewer has been exactly what the Bulls hoped for when they signed him to that free agent contract back in July. He's a rangy, active defender who knows how to get into passing lanes and create fastbreak opportunities. He's also done a nice job of working the baseline for momentum changing dunks, and knows his limitations on the offensive end.

Bottom line, unless the Bulls can get Lee from Houston for James Johnson and a draft pick, or work out a package for Mayo that doesn't destroy their frontcourt depth, they're probably better off standing pat at the deadline.

Ask anyone who's close to the team, and they'll tell you the Bulls' chemistry is as good as they've seen around the league in recent years. There's no sense disrupting that chemistry to add another player who isn't likely to make a significant impact this season. If the Bulls acquire another shooting guard, that could mean Bogans goes from starter to the inactive list, and how will that be received in the locker room?

The Bulls' front office is well aware they could use more scoring, and they're probably still one impact player away from contending for championships. But with a new collective bargaining agreement coming, and the possibility of a hard salary cap, the Bulls don't want to make a bad short term move that might impact their ability to sign Rose to a long-term, maximum contract extension.

You can bet Forman and Paxson will be on the phone this week, but don't expect a big money veteran to join the Bulls for the stretch run. So, what do you think? Should the Bulls make a trade before the deadline, or are you content with the team they have in place now that Noah is healthy again? Can the Bulls contend for the Eastern Conference Championship right now?

Please post your comments in the section below, and we'll see you Wednesday, when the Bulls start the 2nd half of the season against the Toronto Raptors. It's a 6 p.m. tip-off on Comcast SportsNet.

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Brian Hedger (nhl.com) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel.  The Bulls beat the Pistons in a game with huge playoff implication.  So could they actually make the postseason?

The Blackhawks are closing in one division title but what’s their biggest weakness?

Plus Theo Epstein’s a really great leader, Kyle Hendricks is going to have to wait a while to pitch plus DeShone Kizer loves the band “Chicago” but will he play here?

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

If you've been watching the NCAA Tournament closely, it's apparent this June's draft will include a number of elite prospects, maybe the best top 10 talent since the LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Wade draft in 2003. 

Washington didn't qualify for the tournament, but NBA scouts seem to be in agreement that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz will be the No. 1 pick. The 6-foot-4 freshman has the size and ball-handling ability to play either guard spot, and word out of Boston is Fultz will be the pick if the Celtics get the first choice in the draft lottery.

UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball put on quite a show in the Bruins' win over Cincinnati on Sunday, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Ball reminds scouts of a young Jason Kidd, showing amazing court vision and passing skills with the size to see over the top of smaller defenders. And don't caught up in his unusual shooting form. Ball can knock down shots, hitting almost 56 percent from the field this season and 42 percent beyond the 3-point line.

The other consensus top-3 prospect is Kansas small forward Josh Jackson. The 6-foot-8 Jackson is an Andrew Wiggins clone who has amazing quickness and finishing ability. Jackson improved his draft stock with a sensational performance in the first two games of the tournament. If the Bulls decide to trade Jimmy Butler in a deal for one of the top picks this June, the rangy 20-year-old Jackson would be an ideal replacement. If he ever gets a consistent jump shot, look out. We could be talking about a 25 points per game scorer.

Since Fultz, Ball and Jackson appear to be the kind of players NBA teams build around, the Bulls could potentially negotiate with the teams holding the top 3 picks for the best possible Butler deal. Right now, the Nets (pick will be swapped with Boston), Lakers and Suns own the worst records, and if the order isn't changed by the lottery, the Bulls could obtain a quality package centered around this year's first-round pick and a quality young player from any of the three teams.

Here's a look at how the lottery selections could fall based on the draft order as of March 23.

1. CELTICS (from Brooklyn)  Markelle Fultz  PG   Washington
2. LAKERS                              Lonzo Ball        PG    UCLA
3. SUNS                                  Josh Jackson   SF    Kansas
4. MAGIC                                Jayson Tatum   SF     Duke
5. 76'ers                                  De'Aaron Fox     PG    Kentucky
6. KINGS                                  Malik Monk         SG    Kentucky
7. KNICKS                               Dennis Smith      PG   N. Carolina St.
8. TIMBERWOLVES              Lauri Markkanen  PF    Arizona
9. KINGS (from Pelicans)       Frank Ntilikina      PG    France
10. MAVS                                 Miles Bridges    SF    Michigan St.
11. HORNETS                         Jonathan Isaac   SF    Florida St.
12. BLAZERS                          Justin Jackson   SF    N. Carolina
13. PISTONS                           John Collins      PF     Wake Forest       
14. BULLS                                OG Anunoby     SG-SF   Indiana  

Alright Bulls fans, I'm sure you're asking, why would the Bulls want to draft a player coming off a serious knee injury? Well, the Bulls haven't done all that well drafting productive older players from major programs, so why not roll the dice on a 19-year-old who could develop into the next Butler?

Scouts raved about Anunoby's potential heading into his sophomore season at Indiana. At 6-foot-8, Anunoby has good positional size to play both the small forward and shooting guard spots and figures to be a plus-defender from Day 1 in the NBA. Right now, his rehab from right knee surgery and lack of a consistent jump shot are the biggest concerns, but looking at mock drafts in the 13-20 range, do the Bulls really want to take a project big man or a mystery international player? 

Even if it takes a couple years for Anunoby to reach his ultimate potential, he seems like a good choice in today's position-less NBA. Plus, in the Bulls' current position, they need to take some chances and try to get lucky in landing a future star.

Two other athletic possibilities who are projected as late 1st round picks right now are SMU junior swingman Semi Ojeleye, a 6-foot-7 bundle of energy and muscle who should be able to contribute right away, and Oklahoma St. point guard Jawun Evans, one of the fastest players in the college game who could ignite the Bulls' fast break after Rajon Rondo moves on.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

If the Bulls are going to make a late season run to the playoffs, they'll have to find a way to pass two of the league's hottest teams. Milwaukee has won eight of its last 10 games to pull into a 6th place tie with the Pacers, while Miami has been one of the league's biggest surprises over the last two months, going from an 11-30 record on January 13 to 35-36, and a game and a half lead over the Bulls and Pistons for the final playoff spot.

Both late surges are surprising, especially the job Erik Spoelstra has done in Miami. After the controversial departure of Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley decided to hedge his bets for the future and signed a number of journeyman veteran types like Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Williams and Willie Reed to short-term contracts.

Williams was released and signed on with Cleveland, but Spoelstra and his staff have done a masterful job in piecing together a roster with a lot of duplication into a consistent winning team. Hassan Whiteside has continued to improve, averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds, while the guard rotation of Waiters, Goran Dragic, Ellington and Tyler Johnson has been especially effective.

Bulls fans will remember James Johnson as a guy who arrived from Wake Forest with a lot of potential, but went on to bounce around the league with little success. Now that he's finally in optimal physical shape, Johnson is averaging 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists off the bench while doing a strong job on the defensive end.

Spoelstra probably won't win the Coach of the Year award, but it might be his best job yet after losing Wade and Chris Bosh, then seeing promising second-year forward Justise Winslow go out with a season-ending shoulder injury.

It's been a different story in Milwaukee, where the Bucks got off to a fast start behind the amazing rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo to All-Star status. A mid-season slump dropped the Bucks out of the top 8 in the East, and when Chicago native Jabari Parker suffered another devastating ACL injury, it appeared Milwaukee was heading towards another trip to the lottery.

But Bucks' coach Jason Kidd got Khris Middleton back from a hamstring injury, and inserted rookies Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon into the starting lineup. All of a sudden, the Bucks took off with Antetokounmpo getting back to his early season production, and the bench unit of Greg Monroe, John Henson, Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry becoming a real strength.

It's unlikely either Milwaukee or Miami will be a threat to Cleveland and Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, but the hard work and persistence of those coaching staffs should not be overlooked.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Yet another example of the Bulls' maddening inconsistency under Fred Hoiberg over the last 2 seasons is the number of impressive wins offset by blowout losses.

These numbers courtesy of CSN's stats cruncher, Chris Kamka.

Bulls 20+ point wins and 20+ point losses

(with Fred Hoiberg as Head Coach)

                 20+ point wins             20+ point losses

2016-17              6                           7
2015-16              3                           7

total                      9                          14
========================================
(With Tom Thibodeau as Head Coach)

2014-15              7                           1
2013-14              7                           4
2012-13              5                           5
2011-12             14                          0
2010-11              8                          1

total                     41                         11

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

I'm pretty sure Hoiberg was being sarcastic when asked early in the week if battling for one of the final playoff spots in the East is "fun".

The coach's response? "It's miserable." 

Hoiberg won't get a lot of argument from Bulls fans who see their team stuck in the middle among the 30 NBA franchises right now. That's the worst place to be in professional sports, with no hope of contending for championships and little chance of getting a franchise-changing talent in the draft.