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.

B/R names Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season

B/R names Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season

Bleacher Report named Zach LaVine as one of the NBA’s most overhyped players ahead of the 2018-19 season. The list included five players whose expectations have exceeded what author Grant Hughes, felt is realistic for this upcoming season. It is not entirely shocking for LaVine to make this list, and his defense was the main reason he was included. But the potential for his offensive output to get even better was somewhat overlooked. 

Per Hughes:

In 2016-17, he ranked 441st out of 468 players in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus metric. Last year, he was 490th out of 521. According to Basketball Reference, he's never posted a defensive box plus-minus in positive territory. He topped out at minus-2.0 in his abbreviated 2017-18 season.....It's hard to justify rotation minutes for a player like that, let alone $78 million.

Hughes’ critique is harsh, but based off of statistics that are hard to argue with. LaVine has indeed been one of the worst defenders in the league for the entirety of his NBA career, and his netting of the $78 million falls hand-in-hand with Jabari Parker’s comments on players not being paid to play defense. But for the Bulls to take the leap from lottery-to-playoff contender, at least a league-average D will have to be cobbled together. But that responsibility will not fall solely on his shoulders, and that is why I am skeptical on the idea of LaVine being “overhyped”. 

The post goes on to elaborate that even if LaVine was to recapture the magic of his solid 2016-17 season, he still would be a player who gives up more points on defense than he gets his team on offense. That is a strong possibility, but with the addition of Wendell Carter Jr. as another rim protector, capable of at least providing a hard hedge (if not an outright switch), there is a possibility that LaVine becomes a more aggressive defender out on the perimeter. But that is unlikely, and a much more realistic outcome is LaVine’s offensive value surpassing what is expected.

LaVine’s strength last season was his ability to get to the free throw line. Despite coming off a major ACL injury, he was able to get 4.5 free throw attempts per game, a mark that would’ve had him sandwiched between players like Kyrie Irving and Victor Oladipo had he qualified (LaVine only played in 24 games). It was the highest free throw attempt rate of his career, and assuming he expands on that in a year where he should be completely healthy, he will be one of the best in the league at getting to the line. 

His efficiency will be helped by players like Parker and Lauri Markkanen, who will draw attention off of him. LaVine’s 3-point percentage last season was 34 percent, a number that was more of a reflection of that fact that he was still working his way back into game shape. That 3-point percentage will soon trend more towards the 38 percent mark he shot the previous two seasons. And his 3-point attempts were also down, another mark that is sure to trend upwards, especially with Parker’s inclusion as a scorer who does most of his half-court work in the mid-post area. 

The way the 2018-19 Bulls are built, there is little behind Kris Dunn in the way of a reliable backup point guard, though there is belief internally that Cam Payne can develop into that player. But there is a strong possibility that LaVine will be used as a backup point guard to free up minutes for one of Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine or Chandler Hutchison. And in his rookie year, playing point guard, LaVine had an assist rate of 24 percent, but also an incredibly high turnover percentage. Since making the full-time switch to shooting guard, he has not posted a turnover rate above 10 percent. So, if he can adjust to the fact that there are other players capable of scoring 20 points on the floor—like he did in Minnesota—it is entirely possible for LaVine to be a player capable of getting you 20 points and five assists per game while scoring efficiently and avoiding turnovers. Even if his defense continues to be dreadful, a player who can keep the offense running well from either guard spot is definitely valuable in today’s league. 

In his last season with Minnesota, LaVine had a usage rate of 21.7 percent, a number much lower than his extremely high 29.5 usage rate last season with the Bulls. And while many think of LaVine as a high-volume shooter, his usage rate last year was likely a result of him forcing the issue to try to prove he was worth a significant investment. With his shiny, new contract in tow, LaVine should be focused on making the team better, and get one step closer to his Timberwolves self. On that squad, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins each scored 20+ points per game, while LaVine was averaging 18.9 points per game. And the team finished in the top 10 in the NBA in offensive rating.

It is not crazy to think the Bulls could have their own high-scoring trio in LaVine, Markkanen and Parker. And if that is the case, then the expectation is for LaVine to be a efficient scorer who can occasionally spot the open man. Hyped? Yes. But overhyped? No one is banking on him being an All-Star, though it remains in the realm of possibility. The idea that he is overhyped is based on the fact his new contract is $78 million and he is poor at defense, but this is overlooking the fact that LaVine has proven he is a player capable of having a large role on a top-10 offense. September 30 can’t get here fast enough.  

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

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USA TODAY

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.