Monday, Feb. 22, 2010
By Mark Schanowski
I know it's only been two games since Hakim Warrick joined the Bulls after the trade with Milwaukee, but he's already become an important part of the rotation with his ability to run the floor and finish near the basket. Warrick also understands defensive rotations, and he's where he's supposed to be on both ends of the floor, a task that always seemed too much for Tyrus Thomas to comprehend. I'm not saying Warrick is more talented than Thomas, because he's not. Basically, they are very similar players. Both stand 6'9", both have good leaping ability and both do their best offensive work close to the basket. Tyrus has done a good job in his first two games with the Bobcats. He's averaging five blocks a game and double figure rebounds. I'm sure Michael Jordan and Larry Brown feel like they stole a young player with worlds of potential from the Bulls. But what happens when Tyrus inevitably gets into a shouting match with Brown, or decides he doesn't feel like hustling in a particular game? Don't be surprised if his honeymoon period in Charlotte ends in the near future.
As for Warrick, I always liked his potential coming out of Syracuse. He played four seasons for the Orange, and that experience in a top college program obviously helped his fundamentals and maturity. Warrick is a career 50-percent shooter, and he was a starter for a good chunk of his four years in Memphis. The arrival of Zach Randolph forced him to look for a new home in free agency and he signed on with Milwaukee just before the start of training camp. Warrick started some games for the Bucks, but Scott Skiles never could settle on a consistent rotation because of injuries and the addition of several new players to the roster. Here in Chicago, Warrick should get 25 to 30 minutes every night as the first forward off the bench, and his role in the offense should grow once he learns all the plays and the tendencies of his new teammates. We've heard a lot of talk about expiring contracts, and Warrick's 3 million dollar deal does run out at the end of the season. But after the Bulls make a play for one of the elite free agents, let's hope they've got money left to bring back a valuable reserve like Warrick.
MILLER TURNING BACK THE CLOCK
Have you noticed how well the Bulls' half-court offense functions with Brad Miller and Kirk Hinrich in the lineup together? Early in the season, it looked like Miller was nearing the end of his career. He was moving slower than usual, wasn't hitting that perimeter jumper and was making too many careless turnovers. But ever since Vinny Del Negro made the lineup change on December 26th to put Hinrich in the starting lineup, Miller has been one of the team's most consistent players. He's using that pump fake move to get past opposing centers,and drive to the basket for easy hoops. And, he's also hitting the 15 to 18 foot jumper more consistently. Miller's feeling so frisky he's even added the three-point shot to his offensive arsenal. And, how about that celebration dance coming back down after a made three? My partner, Kendall Gill, calls that move the "Funky Ostrich." The truth is, the Bulls wouldn't be over .500 right now without the contributions of Miller. He's taken on additional minutes because of Joakim Noah's foot injury, and the extra playing time has made him more effective. Watching Miller and Hinrich run the high screen and roll is a joy for those of us who enjoy the finer points of the game. Neither player is going to beat their defender 1-on-1, but their ability to pass and cut and find the soft spots in the opposing team's coverage should be made into an instructional tape for young players.
By the way, Noah says his foot is finally feeling better after missing most of the last three weeks to rest a bad case of plantar fasciitis. The Bulls need to be careful not to rush him back into playing heavy minutes, and with the way Miller is playing, they can gradually increase Noah's playing time as they look forward to the playoffs in mid-April.
GIBSON ONE OF THE STEALS OF THE 2009 DRAFT
Another reason the Bulls can afford to be patient with Noah is the play of rookie power forward Taj Gibson. Gibson was supposed to watch and learn this season after he was drafted 26th overall last June. Matter of fact, he was the second forward the Bulls took on draft night after they selected James Johnson with the 16th pick. Johnson was the guy who was supposed to crack the rotation, while Gibson was looked at as more of a developmental player. The reality has been exactly the opposite. While Johnson has struggled to find out where his talents translate at the NBA level, Gibson showed he could contribute as an inside defender and consistent rebounder from Day 1 of training camp. And, with his confidence growing throughout the season, he's showing us an expanded offensive game, including left-handed finishes in the paint and crossover dribble moves. It's safe to say NBA scouts missed out in evaluating the 6'9" forward out of USC, but not here. Beyond the Arc projected Gibson as a good pick for the Bulls well ahead of the draft. Tim Floyd didn't have much success as a Bulls' coach, but let's give him some credit for getting Taj ready to play in the pros. Gibson credits Floyd for a lot of his development and that's good enough for me.
The Bulls were criticized by a number of the "so-called" NBA experts for passing twice on Pittsburgh big man DeJuan Blair in last June's draft, and Blair is having a solid rookie season for the Spurs. But Gibson is a better all-around player, and given Blair's issues with his knees, it sure looks like the Bulls got the right guy. General Manager Gar Forman says a number of teams asked the Bulls about Gibson in trade talks leading up to the deadline, which is a good indication of how he's viewed by other coaches and front office executives. Gibson's development might lead the Bulls to focus on the shooting guard position when the free agent signing period opens in July. But even if Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer winds up in a Bulls' uniform, Gibson is the kind of unselfish player who can have a lot of value coming off the bench in the future. NBA people are talking about Derrick Rose, Noah, and Luol Deng as the kind of foundation pieces that should help the Bulls attract free agents this summer. With the way Gibson has developed into a quality NBA starting power forward, it might be time to add his name to the list as well.
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.