Bulls

20 in 20: The Bulls most important role player

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20 in 20: The Bulls most important role player

Monday, Sept. 20, 2010
8:57 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.

13. Who is the most important Bulls role player?

Behind the team's four marquee players--Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and newcomer Carlos Boozer--the Bulls have a balanced supporting cast. But who out of that bunch is the most important to the team's success?

Taj Gibson, coming off a first team NBA all-rookie debut campaign, will be relegated to the bench for his sophomore season. However, with the health histories of Boozer and Noah, it wouldn't be surprising to see Gibson, who started 70 of his 82 games played as a rookie (not to mention the Bulls' first-round playoff series against Cleveland), see major minutes. With added strength, the gritty and mature Brooklyn, N.Y., native should be even more effective as a rebounder, defender and finisher around the basket.

Then, there's Ronnie Brewer, the team's likely shooting guard. Brewer will be primarily relied upon for his lockdown defense on the wing. Although he isn't known as a prolific scorer, Brewer's occasional slashing forays to the basket and some high-flying play in transition will also be necessary for him to be a major contributor.

Sharpshooter Kyle Korver, Boozer and Brewer's fellow Utah expatriate, could compete with Brewer for the starting shooting-guard position. Regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench, his outside marksmanship--something sorely lacking on last season's squad--will provide what is likely to be a post-up and penetration-oriented squad with a player who can stretch the floor, specifically as a drive-and-kick shooter for Rose's drives and a kick-out option on potential Boozer double teams.

Backup point guard C.J. Watson will also play an important role, as Chicago's only real backup for Rose currently under contract. While there will have to be an adjustment from the free-wheeling style of play in Golden State, his former squad, Watson is capable of being an energy scorer off the bench, knocking down open outside jumpers, setting up his teammates as a playmaker and even pairing with Rose in the backcourt at times for a quicker lineup.

Veteran big man Kurt Thimas, though no longer in his prime, will bring elements of toughness, leadership and experience to a relatively young team. However, Thomas showed he can still be a real asset to a ballclub last season, as he rose to the occasion down the stretch for Milwaukee after star center Andrew Bogut suffered a gruesome season-ending injury.

Keith Bogans, a similarly-reliable player over the course of his pro career, isn't expected to do anything flashy, but should be a solid performer at shooting guard who adds to the team's defensive mentality in limited minutes. After an up-and-down rookie season, hopes are that James Johnson will be less inconsistent and use his blend of strength and athleticism within the team concept offensively, while offering a different look on defense. Rookie center Omer Asik, the team's 2008 second-round draft pick, is regarded as more of a developmental player, but showed flashes of potential this summer for the Turkish national team during the FIBA World Championships in his homeland.

The Bulls will certainly bring in additional talent to the team's training camp--point guard John Lucas III, the leading scorer on the team's NBA summer-league entry in Las Vegas, has been invited--and rumors persist that Chicago remains in the mix to trade for disgruntled Portland guard Rudy Fernandez and Denver Nuggets All-Star small forward Carmelo Anthony (increasingly a long shot at this point) so some of the current roster could eventually change before season's end. If it doesn't, the Bulls have a solid, well-rounded group that fit new head coach Tom Thibodeau's perceived strengths.

To answer the initial question, however, Korver, as the team's lone legitimate outside threat--the organization's dalliances with Fernandez and Orlando shooter J.J. Redick, who re-signed with the Magic after first signing an offer sheet to come to Chicago--is an extremely important piece of the puzzle. Even if he doesn't set another league record for three-point accuracy, as he did last season. Korver's reliability from deep range shouldn't be questioned after years of shooting proficiency and while he might not put up huge scoring numbers, as long as he remains consistent shooting the ball and provides his trademark hustle defensively--he's not a stopper, but he gives maximum effort on that side of the ball--expect him to have a solid, if not spectacular debut campaign in the Windy City.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Bulls player preview: Tomas Satoransky could finally provide point guard stability

Bulls player preview: Tomas Satoransky could finally provide point guard stability

NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet | Cristiano Felicio

How last year went

Tomas Satoransky was thrust into a leading role for the Washington Wizards following John Wall's season-ending Achilles injury. Previously a backup to the face of the D.C. franchise, Satoransky started the final 54 games of the regular season beginning Dec. 1, averaging 10.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 32.5 minutes. His shooting splits - 48.6/.40.4/79.8 - were impressive and he committed just 96 turnovers in 1,753 minutes, just 1.77 miscues per game. He accomplished those numbers all while the Wizards were more or less tanking in the wake of Wall's injury; 24 players appeared in a game for the Wizards from Dec. 1 to the end of the season, second most behind the Grizzlies' 27 players.

That solid performance over the final 54 games earned him a three-year, $30 million deal with the Bulls following their sign-and-trade for the 27-year-old point guard.

We'll also add here that Satoransky was a star for the Czech Republic national team in the FIBA World Cup the past three weeks. In eight games, he averaged 15.5 points on 45.7/48.1/90.0 shooting and 8.5 assists, the latter of which was second in the tournament behind Dennis Schroder's 9.4 assists per game for Germany. Satoransky led the charge for the Czechs, who surprisingly advanced to the tournament round and finished sixth, one spot above Team USA. Satoransky didn't make the All-Star Five (Rubio, M. Gasol, Scola, Bogdanovic, Fournier) but certainly had an argument for it.

Expectations for this year's role

It'd be a surprise if Satoransky didn't enter training camp as the starting point guard. If the $30 million weren't enough of a reason, his past performance (and World Cup play) makes him the most accomplished point guard on the roster and, for reasons we'll get into later, a perfect complement to the rest of the Bulls offense. He'll be expected to lead the team in assists, passes, and any other relevant distribution category. Unless Coby White makes significant strides early in his rookie season, Satoransky should carry the bulk of the point guard minutes.

He could also see some time off the ball. Satoransky has actually played the majority of his NBA minutes on the wing (49% at SG, 40% at PG, 11% at SF), only taking on full-time point guard duties last season with the post-Wall Wizards. Whether it's Zach LaVine playing as the primary ball handler or one of Coby White, Kris Dunn or Ryan Arcidiacono getting run with the first team, Satoransky, at 6-foot-7, has the versatility to play either wing spot on both ends of the floor.

Where he excels

Satoransky has never been a high-usage player. His career rate is 13.6% and he peaked at 14.1% last season - to put that in perspective, Denzel Valentine's career usage rate is 16.8%. But while Satoransky isn't going to use many possessions, he's incredibly efficient. That's essentially why the Bulls brought him in. He doesn't need the ball in his hands to affect the game, and when he does take action it comes in the form of the right pass, the right shot selection, the right play. Here are the numbers behind it:

Over the last two seasons, Satoransky is shooting better than 50% from the field (efficient) on 6.0 attempts per game (low usage). He was one of seven players to average 27 or more minutes and attempt fewer than 7 field goal attempts per game last season, but his 48.5% from the field was fifth among guards who played 25 or more minutes per game (Simmons, Brogdon, Harris and Irving were the only ones better). He shot nearly 40% from beyond the arc, a solid mark, though it came on 2.0 attempts per game; 84 guards played 25 minutes per game last season, and only Simmons, DeRozan and Gilgeous-Alexander attempted fewer 3-pointers per game than Satoransky. He's a smart shot taker.

Satoransky had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.50 as a starter, which would have ranked ninth in the NBA over the the course of the season. He was in the top-40 among all players in assist percentage (24.7%) and pushed pace for a Wizards team that ranked ninth in pace. That's excellent efficiency, which is why his 4.5 assists (again, low volume) may not look great on paper but contextually will fit in perfectly with the Bulls. He had two or fewer turnovers in 64 of the 80 games he played in.

The Bulls need efficiency at the point guard position, and it's OK that it'll come on low usage (he'd cost a lot more if he was this efficient with a usage rate in the 20s). That means more touches for Lauri Markkaken, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter and Wendell Carter. It means fewer turnovers, higher percentage looks and an offense that will keep the ball moving both in transition and in halfcourt sets. Satoransky may not hit many home runs with the Bulls (they don't need him to), but he'll very rarely strike out.

Where he needs work

No team attacked the rim more than Jim Boylen's Bulls, who averaged 55.9 drives per game after Dec. 3. They also attempted a league-high 26.9 field goal attempts on those drives (passing, drawing fouls, turnovers were other options) and go 7.7 free throw attempts per game off those drives, sixth most in the NBA. The Bulls' point guards were a big part of those drives: Kris Dunn averaged 11.7 drives per game, while Ryan Arcidiacono (5.2) and Cam Payne (4.9) followed behind. In six games, Walt Lemon averaged a comical 17.7 drives per game (Russell Westbrook averaged 18.4 drives per game, third most in the NBA last season).

So how does this affect Satoransky? It isn't exactly his style. Of point guards who averaged 27 minutes per game, Satoransky's 6.1 drives were 40th of 43 players (Ball, Beverley and Forbes were the others who averaged fewer). This isn't necessarily an area Satoransky needs work, but if Boylen wants to continue playing a drive-and-kick offense, Satoransky will need to improve. He only produced points on 40.7% of his drives last season, a well below-average mark.

Defensively, Satoransky isn't a major positive or negative. His 6-foot-7 frame gives him solid length to contest shots and help defend passing lanes, but he's not going to provide anything out of the ordinary. This isn't groundbreaking news. Defensive RPM also puts him middle of the pack. He isn't overly quick but his length makes up for some of that. His versatility is probably more important than his ability to guard opposing point guards, though sharing the floor with LaVine more a large chunk of the game means he'll need to step up at times.

Best case/worst case

In a perfect world, Satoransky remains his low-usage, high efficiency self. That would mean distributing to the talented scorers around him, finding high percentage shots for himself and contributing where possible on the defensive end. He should be able to push pace successfully after doing so in Washington last season, and he hasn't missed a game due to injury in two seasons. The Bulls have needed stability at the point guard position since the Derrick Rose trade. Satoransky could be that player the next three seasons.

In a worst-case scenario, the Bulls aren't able to remain healthy and Satoransky is forced to take on a big role. That's just not the type of player he is. Satoransky had a higher usage rate in losses than wins last season and the Wizards were 4-11 during his 15 highest usage performances of the season and 8-7 in his 15 lowest usage performances as a starter. Health is the Bulls' biggest key this season, and it'll have a direct effect on what Satoransky can provide. If he's asked to do too much, his game will suffer.

One key stat

Just how bad do the Bulls need point guard stability?

Their point guards the last three seasons have been the equivalent of 31-year-old Bob Sura's 2004-05 season with the Houston Rockets.

The Bulls are desperate to find the answer at the point, and gave Satoransky $30 million to prove he's that player.

Bulls player preview: Cristiano Felicio gives center depth

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USA TODAY

Bulls player preview: Cristiano Felicio gives center depth

NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet

How last year went

There might have been a path to significant minutes for Cristiano Felicio, but the Bulls wound up drafting Wendell Carter with the seventh pick and keeping Robin Lopez through the duration of his contract. Felicio saw an uptick in minutes after Carter suffered a season-ending thumb injury in January, but he didn’t do much with it.

His best stretch came over the final 11 games of the season when Felicio averaged a modest 7.0 points on 51.7% shooting, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 21.9 minutes. He’s still a liability defensively, doesn’t have great hands, and 89 of his 95 made field goals were inside 10 feet.

Expectations for this year's role

Something has gone very wrong if Felicio logs any minutes this season. The Bulls quietly overhauled the position, departing with Lopez, drafting Daniel Gafford in the second round and signing Luke Kornet. It’s suddenly one of the Bulls’ deepest positions – with Wendell Carter Jr. in line for 30+ minutes a night – meaning Felicio is fourth on the depth chart with no real ability to contribute at power forward.

Where he excels

Felicio doesn’t have the surest of hands, but he has always looked comfortable rolling to the rim. It began with lobs from Dwyane Wade and has continued the last two seasons with guards like Ryan Arcidiacono finding him around the rim. Last year Felicio averaged 1.10 points per possession on pick-and-roll possessions, third on the Bulls behind Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. He also scored on 56.5% of those possessions (made field goal or free throws), which edged out Carter for the team lead. Of course, he was limited in not having a perimeter shot to pop out for 3-pointers, but he was a surprisingly nice roll man in his limited minutes.

Where he needs work

Felicio had a Defensive RPM of -1.63 last season, which was the second-worst mark among centers (only Willy Hernangomez was worse). The Bulls were 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Felicio off the floor, and the Brazilian big had just 11 steals and seven blocks in 746 minutes. It’s not a stretch to say he’s the team’s worst defender. It’s tough to see him improving in that area after four seasons.

Best case/worst case

In a best-case scenario, Felicio shows an improvement on the defensive end and finds some early-season chemistry with Kris Dunn on pick-and-roll action. He’ll be given a chance to compete with Gafford and Kornet for the backup center position. In a worst-case scenario, his deficiencies plague him and he continues to be an $8 million benchwarmer. Most likely, the Bulls continue counting down the days until his salary is off the books.

One key stat

Cristiano Felicio had 7 blocks in 746 minutes last season. How rare is that for a 6-foot-10 player? He’s the only NBA player the last two seasons that tall (or taller) to block seven or fewer shots in at least 740 minutes. The last player to do it was Joffrey Lauvergne in 2017, who blocked just six shots in 980 minutes (he incredibly blocked zero shots for the Bulls in 241 minutes; if you thought the OKC trade couldn’t get worse, you were wrong).