Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010
By Mark Schanowski
Ive had the chance to attend a lot of these events over the last 20 years, and invariably, the coaches and players talk about how excited they are for the upcoming season. But for the first time since 2007, the Bulls enter the new season with hopes of being a top 4 team in the Eastern Conference and having a realistic shot at advancing beyond the opening round of the playoffs.
What are your goals for this Bulls team? What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses? Can they win 50 or more games? Please post your comments in the section below.
The optimistic view on this years team centers on an improved defense and a share-the-wealth offensive system introduced by new head coach Tom Thibodeau. If youve been watching the pre-season games, youve seen Derrick Rose pushing the ball at every opportunity with a free-flowing half-court offense that will bring out the skills of players like Luol Deng and Kyle Korver.
Deng, in particular, looks like a new man. Under Vinny Del Negros system, Deng was often asked to go to the weak-side corner and wait for passes off the high screen-and-roll the Bulls ran so often in half-court situations. Now, hes moving off the ball, coming off screens and driving hard to the basket. He looks like the player NBA general managers were calling a future All-Star back in 2006 and 2007. Deng has even added a three point shot to his game and hes connecting at a better than 50 percent clip during the preseason.
Korver should be a big factor in the Bulls offense, once he recovers from a cyst on his ankle thats limited his mobility. Kyle told me after the luncheon his ankle is feeling a lot better after receiving a cortisone injection and hes hoping to play in the final preseason game against Indiana Friday night. He said if this was the regular season, he probably would have played through the pain. But once hes 100 percent healthy again, Korver will give the Bulls half-court offense the long range shooter theyve desperately needed. His quick release allows him to get shots off quickly coming around screens and we all know he set an NBA record for 3-point accuracy last season.
The Bulls are deep at the guard position with Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson battling for playing time opposite Rose. And, once Carlos Boozer returns from his hand injury, theyll have more depth up front than weve seen in a long time with the addition of 7-foot center Omer Asik and veteran big men Kurt Thomas and Brian Scalabrine.
The biggest concern right now is injuries. Korver is feeling better, and Brewer is making progress from a strained hamstring, but now Bogans is having problems with a stiff back and Joakim Noah is out with flu-like symptoms. Lets hope the worst is behind the Bulls and theyll be able to get through a tough opening month without Boozer. The schedule is loaded with home games in December, with should give the coaches a chance to work Boozer into the offense and find a consistent rotation.
AROUND THE NBA
With opening night less than a week away, its looking like Boston and Orlando will provide a stiff challenge to Pat Rileys traveling all-stars down in Miami. The Magic have won an incredible 21 straight preseason games over the last three years and Vince Carter is playing like he discovered the Fountain of Youth. Orlando is deeper than ever with the addition of solid veterans Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon and theyre determined to show the rest of the league they still have the best team in the state of Florida.
Boston went 7-1 in the exhibition season and it looks like Shaquille ONeal is planning to catch Kobe Bryant with five championship rings. Shaq is starting in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins and once Perkins returns, the Celtics will be able to call on Shaq, Jermaine ONeal and Big Baby Davis for size off the bench with wing players like Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson and Delonte West also available in reserve. Boston came within minutes of beating the Lakers in Game 7 of the Finals back in June and they look better than ever this season. Reports out of Boston say Kevin Garnett has his explosiveness back after a long rehab from knee surgery and thats bad news for the rest of the league.
As for the Heat, theyve been dealing with a variety of injuries in the pre-season. Dwyane Wade has missed almost all of the exhibition games because of a hamstring pull and its no secret his body is starting to break down after carrying a mediocre Heat squad over the last couple seasons. Miami added veteran Mike Miller to provide a three point shooting threat for the Big 3, but now Miller is hurt again and could miss several weeks of action after injuring his thumb in practice on Wednesday. Even the King himself, LeBron James, strained a hamstring in a preseason game, but he recovered quickly. Miami will win a lot of regular season games, but dont be surprised if they come up short against either the Celtics or Magic come playoff time.
Out West, it still looks like the Lakers and everyone else, but L.A. is also dealing with injury concerns. Kobe Bryant is playing limited minutes while continuing to rehab a knee and center Andrew Bynum again will miss extended time because of his continuing knee problems. Ron Artest switched numbers again, going back to the 15 he wore as a rookie with the Bulls and from what Ive seen in the preseason, hes dropped a lot of weight and is playing a lot more fluidly than he did the last couple seasons.
The Lakers should prevail in the West, but dont count out teams like Dallas, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland. Denver could tumble this season, especially if they decide to trade Carmelo Anthony, and it will be interesting to see if Jerry Sloan can work his magic with the talented--but underachieving--big man Al Jefferson in Utah.
The regular season is almost here and if youre like me, it cant come soon enough. Well have a one hour preseason special before the Bulls home opener on October 30th, live on the United Center concourse at 6 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. If youre going to the game, stop by to say hello.
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.