Bulls facing tough series against Hawks

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Bulls facing tough series against Hawks

Friday, April 29, 2011Posted: 4:04 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

While most of the so-called NBA experts are picking the Bulls to take care of Atlanta in 4 or 5 games, there are some real areas of concern when you analyze the match-ups.

First of all, Hawks' forward Josh Smith is one of the most versatile players in the league, capable of filling up a stat sheet like Scottie Pippen used to do. At 6-9, Smith blocks shots like a center, and runs the court like a guard. He's capable of putting up 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals, 5 assists and 5 blocks in an up-tempo game.

Against Orlando in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks started a bigger front line with Jason Collins at center and Smith teaming with Al Horford at the forward spots. But Atlanta's best line-up is Horford at center, with Smith and Marvin Williams at the forwards. Smith is much too quick for Carlos Boozer to defend, and I'm not sure Tom Thibodeau would want to have Joakim Noah guarding a player with range out to the 3 point line.

If Atlanta goes small against the Bulls, Thibodeau might be forced to give more minutes to Taj Gibson, who has the best chance of matching up with Smith defensively. The Bulls might even go with a small line-up of their own, using Kyle Korver at small forward and Luol Deng at power forward.

The other issue is containing Horford, a 2-time All-Star, who had one of his best games of the season against his old college teammate, Noah, back in March. Horford is deceptively quick playing the center position, and is capable of driving past Noah for strong finishes at the rim. Noah and the Bulls did a much better job defensively against Horford in their 2 wins over Atlanta, but it's a match-up that will take on a lot of importance in the upcoming series.

Right now, the Hawks aren't sure about the status of Kirk Hinrich for the Conference semi-finals. Hinrich injured a hamstring muscle during the clinching win over Orlando, and had to be helped from the court. The Hawks don't know if he'll be able to play in Monday night's opening game, and they're not sure what he'll be able to provide throughout the series.

If Hinrich can't go, the Hawks lose their best defensive option against Derrick Rose. The other former Bulls' point guard, Jamal Crawford, is an excellent scorer, but one of the worst defensive players in the league. If the Hawks are forced to go with a tall back court of Crawford and All-Star Joe Johnson, they would probably have to put Johnson on Rose. Johnson is a strong defender, but at 6-7, he would have a tough time staying in front of the lightning-quick Rose.

On the other end, the Bulls will have to be physical against Johnson, using and Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer to keep him from driving into the paint, where he's tremendously effective scoring on jumpers and flip shots from 10 feet in. The Bulls have had a lot of success defending Johnson in the past, and his playoff history would suggest it's unlikely he'll come through with a series filled with high-scoring games.

One of the keys for the Bulls will be trying to establish Boozer in the post. He's coming off a couple of bad games in the Indiana series, and a painful "turf toe" injury. But he has the size and strength to get Smith in foul trouble if the Hawks go with their small line-up. Keep an eye on which coach is forced to adjust his line-up first. Will Thibodeau have to get Boozer out because he can't defend Smith, or will it work the other way around? That match-up could determine whether this series goes short or long.

Atlanta doesn't have any answers for Rose, but then again, who does? The soon-to-be-named M.V.P. is capable of blowing past any defender in a one-on-one situation, and he can also elevate over the Hawks' interior defenders, with the exception of Smith. With Rose getting into the paint, Atlanta's big men will be forced to help, and that should set up plenty of easy baskets for Noah, Boozer, Gibson and Deng.

The Hawks' best hope of extending the series is the 3 point line. Johnson, Crawford, Williams and Hinrich are streaky, but dangerous from beyond the arc. If they start draining 3 balls, the Bulls will be forced to extend their defense, creating more opportunities for Horford and Smith inside.

The Bulls "bench mob" didn't play to its usual level against Indiana, but they should have the advantage against an Atlanta team that normally doesn't get much production from anyone on the 2nd unit besides Crawford. And, when it comes to coaching, give Thibodeau and his staff a huge edge over 1st year Atlanta head coach Larry Drew.

I'm picking the Bulls to win the series in 6 games, but it might only go 5 if Hinrich is out for an extended period, or Atlanta's streaky outside shooters go cold. What do you think? Please post your comments in the section below. I'll see you at the United Center Monday night. We'll be doing SportsNet Central near Gate 3 at 6:30.

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.

Bulls finalize training camp roster

Bulls finalize training camp roster

The Bulls finalized their training camp roster on Monday morning, in the lead-up to the start of the team's official media day.

The team will carry 19 players into the preseason before cutting that number down a maximum of 15 in late October.

No. 0 Isaiah Canaan, guard: Signed to a two-year, $2.2 million deal in July, Canaan will compete with Spencer Dinwiddie and Jerian Grant for minutes behind Rajon Rondo.

No. 2 Jerian Grant, guard: The combo guard will get a fresh start in Chicago after an inconsistent rookie season with the Knicks.

No. 3 Dwyane Wade, guard: The three-time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer begins the next chapter of his famed career after 13 seasons in Miami.

No. 5 Bobby Portis, forward: After showing flashes of potential in his rookie season, the 6-foot-11 Portis will be in line for an extended role following Joakim Noah's and Pau Gasol's departures.

No. 6 Cristiano Felicio, center: The Brazilian impressed plenty in last season's final month, and he should see significant minutes behind Robin Lopez.

No. 7 D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, guard: The undrafted rookie averaged 14.8 points per game in his senior season at Georgetown.

No. 8 Robin Lopez, center: One of the league's most underrated centers, Lopez was one of five players to average 10 points, 7 rebounds and play in all 82 games a year ago.

No. 9 Rajon Rondo, guard: The veteran point guard led the NBA in assists last season, but playing on his fourth team in three seasons means his best days may be behind him.

No. 11 Doug McDermott, forward: The sharpshooter showed significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, finishing sixth in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage. Now about the defense...

No. 15 Thomas Walkup, guard: The All-American honorable mention went for 33 points in No. 14 Stephen F. Austin's opening-round upset win over No. 3 West Virginia.

No. 16 Paul Zipser, forward: The Bulls' 2016 second-round pick can do a bit of everything, and at 22 years old he could be ready to contribute sooner than later.

No. 20 Tony Snell, forward: It may be difficult for the former first-rounder to crack the rotation after a forgettable third season.

No. 21 Jimmy Butler, guard: An All-Star in each of the last two seasons, the 27-year-old Butler is poised for yet another career year.

No. 22 Taj Gibson, forward: The 31-year-old veteran is in a contract year, and should see an even more expanded role after starting 55 games last season - even if Nikola Mirotic replaces him in the starting lineup.

No. 24 Vince Hunter, forward: The 6-foot-8 Hunter averaged 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for the Reno Bighorns last season as rookie.

No. 25 Spencer Dinwiddie, guard: A casuality of the Pistons' crowded backcourt, Dinwiddie has a chance to carve out a role in Chicago behind Rajon Rondo.

No 31 J.J. Avila, forward: A standout at Colorado State who graduated in 2015, Avila appeared in four Summer League games for the Knicks, averaging 1.2 points and 1.5 rebounds.

No. 44 Nikola Mirotic, forward: The Bulls will be relying on Mirotic's outside shot, which improved mightily in his second season from 31.6 percent to 39 percent.

No. 45 Denzel Valentine, guard: The jack-of-all-trades will need some time to find his role, but he's an apt passer and outside shooter with good size on the wing.

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

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Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

All the new guys: Last October, the Bulls entered camp with essentially the same roster that lost to Cleveland in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, save for then-rookie Bobby Portis. This time, there’s no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah, no Pau Gasol, no Mike Dunleavy, and no E’Twaun Moore.

That’s four starters (essentially) whose performances or presence has been counted on in some way, even through some of the uncertainty that surrounded a few of these guys.

Conceivably, the Bulls can have around five new players in the actual rotation who weren’t thought of this time last year, although last year’s product left a lot to be desired.

The adjustment time and chemistry building starts Tuesday.

Who starts at power forward: All other positions in the first five are set, especially with the new faces. But the pivotal decision for Fred Hoiberg, if it hasn’t been made already, is who will start alongside Robin Lopez at center. It could be Nikola Mirotic, or Taj Gibson or even Bobby Portis, depending on Hoiberg’s sensibilities.

Smart money says it’ll probably be Mirotic considering he’s the best perimeter shooter of the three and actually a decent defensive rebounder. Gibson being a great screener, finisher and defender makes him intriguing as an option, but offensive space will be limited if he’s out there with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. As for Portis, is he ready to take a step toward consistency in year 2?

The point guard: Rajon Rondo’s basketball intelligence is genius level, where he can master a gameplan and probably even devise one of his own that rivals his coaches. The man can counter a play before the opposing defense initiates an adjustment. That said, how will he and Hoiberg mesh this season? He clashed with Doc Rivers, had knock-down battles with Rick Carlisle in Dallas and George Karl didn’t have it in him to fight anybody in Sacramento, let alone Rondo.

Rondo likes playing the game at his speed, with his own feel and rhythm. Hoiberg will have to tailor his style for the new personnel he has, and luckily for him, isn’t a “my way or the highway” type of fellow that’s sure to rub Rondo the wrong way. Will Rondo embrace Hoiberg’s system and become an extension of the coach, or will Hoiberg give Rondo enough rope to explore Rondo’s intelligence to find a middle ground?

Will that even be enough?

The backup point guard: Just as intriguing as the starting power forward battle will be who backs up Rondo at point guard, although it’s likely that player won’t have to fill the traditional role of doing anything aside from walking the ball up and letting either Butler or Wade initiate the offense.

It’s likely Hoiberg will change his substitution patterns to have either Wade or Butler anchor second units in the second quarter, as a way to maximize the time he has with both while not having them invade each other’s space in the halfcourt. So who plays backup point could be more about who fits best next to the best player on the floor as opposed to who the best player is.

It seems to open the door for rookie Denzel Valentine since he can play three positions (although defense will be a task), along with Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and Spencer Dinwiddie.

Grant was a first-rounder in 2015 who wants to show he’s worth that status, while Dinwiddie was projected as a lottery pick three years ago before tearing his ACL at Colorado.

It’s certainly not the most stressful decision Hoiberg will have to make, but a curious one.

Developing an identity: Does it happen in training camp? Who knows, but tones are often set as to what type of squad a team will be. Last season, Hoiberg believed he was building on a solid foundation after Tom Thibodeau’s defense first mentality, but signs of things crumbling began to show very early in the preseason.

This season, with so many new pieces, moving parts and overall uncertainty, there’s question as to what kind of team the Bulls will be. It’s intriguing, to say the least. But what will the Bulls hang their hats on come late October?