Bulls

Who will be the NBA's surprise team in 2010-11?

Who will be the NBA's surprise team in 2010-11?

Friday, Sept. 24, 2010
10:35 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.

16. Who will be the league's surprise team and which team will be the most disappointing?

The Sacramento Kings aren't the Oklahoma City Thunder. Tyreke Evans isn't Kevin Durant. And while it's improbable the Kings make the drastic leap their fellow young-gun Thunder did last season, it shouldn't be completely unexpected that they are a much improved squad in the 2010-11.

There are some other choices to make some positive headway in comparison to their dismal 2009-10 campaigns--Washington, if Gilbert Arenas resembles his old self and meshes with top pick John Wall and the rest of the Wizards' young talent; New Orleans, with a healthy Chris Paul, new coaching staff, front office and some underrated offseason additions; Philadelphia, with veteran head coach Doug Collins, a new regime calling the shots and a versatile and youthful Sixers roster; New Jersey or whatever team ends up with Carmelo Anthony--but Sacramento is more of a sure bet.

Evans, the reigning Rookie of the Year, has a chance to eventually become a superstar in the league. His powerful 6-foot-6 frame, the versatility to play all three perimeter positions (although he's best with the ball in his hands), incredible scoring instincts and a lot of room for improvement all indicate stardom. Most impressive, however, is how he injected a semblance of hope to a team that had been floundering since their halcyon days last decade, when Chris Webber and company had them in contention on an annual basis.

It's far from a one-man gang in "Sac-Town," as Evans is only the centerpiece of the organization's youth movement. Power forwards Jason Thompson and Carl Landry (the latter was acquired last season in a deal that sent former Kings leading scorer to Houston) have complementary games, as Thompson is a more of a face-up, finesse player with size and length, while the undersized Landry possesses a physical mentality. Young wings Donte Greene and Omri Casspi are both long, athletic and active types. Greene has displayed flashes of potential with his shooting range and athleticism, but has lacked consistency, and Casspi, a native of Israel, was one of the better rookies in the first half of last season before struggling a bit down the stretch.

Paired with Evans in the backcourt is the solid and underrated Beno Udrih, who offers a safety net similar to what former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich provided Derrick Rose early in his career. Oft-injured swingman Francisco Garcia provides long-range shooting, while free-agent acquisition Antoine Wright adds some experience and toughness on the defensive end.

One of the more overlooked offseason moves was Sacramento's swap with Philadelphia, in which the Kings swapped big man Spencer Hawes and former Bull Andres Nocioni for shot-blocking center Samuel Dalembert. Hawes simply wasn't panning out as expected and "Noce" appears to be in the twilight of his career, and Dalembert--whose contract expires after this season, giving Sacramento some flexibility going into next summer--fills a real need for his new team with his defense and rebounding.

But perhaps the biggest stride Sacramento took this offseason occurred back in June, when they selected Kentucky big man DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth overall pick and Marshall big man Hassan Whiteside in the second round. Both players were considered steals, but their pre-draft stock dropped for reasons that concerned some observers.

Cousins teamed up with the aforementioned Wall during their lone college season, but was hardly in his shadow. However, unfounded doubts about his character and work ethic plagued him, and his perceived adversarial stance toward the media didn't help. Regardless, Cousins' combination of size, strength, shooting touch, footwork, rebounding and passing ability--he's viewed as having Derrick Coleman-like qualities, in both a positive and negative sense--made his selection a no-brainer, something confirmed by a strong summer-league performance in Las Vegas, at which fellow youngsters Evans, Thompson and Landry were in attendance to provide encouragement and build camaraderie. It wouldn't be a shock to see the Alabama native contend for Rookie of the Year.

Whiteside, on the other hand, is considered much more of a project. Unlike Cousins, he didn't play in the spotlight in college (or even high school, for that matter) and although he put up gaudy stats during his freshman campaign, his maturity was questioned to the point that he went from being a potential late-lottery pick all the way to the second round. While he needs to add weight and adjust to the level of competition, his long-term potential as an athletic shot-blocking phenom with uncanny quickness and range on offense (he's been compared to a young Marcus Camby) is worth the gamble.

Sacramento's collection of young talent--the 29-year-old Dalembert is their oldest projected rotation player; Wright, Garcia and Udrih are the only other players who have played at least five seasons in the league--make it unlikely that they'll make the postseason in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. This is a team, however, that jumped out to a hot start last season--Bulls fans may remember their 35-point comeback win last December at the United Center--before being beset by injuries and the inconsistency of youth. But with a such a talented young core (hopefully any immaturity issues will be mitigated by being in sleepy Sacramento), Kings coach Paul Westphal's up-tempo approach and the example of the Durant-led Thunder as inspiration, the potential is there to be a spoiler--not just in the future, but right now.

In terms of disappointments, a handful of teams stick out as obvious candidates. In the wake of Amar'e Stoudemire's departure, Phoenix could struggle. Speaking of Stoudemire, the Knicks might not be as formidable as some think, even with players better suited for Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun style. Memphis, after a better-than-expected 2009-10 season, re-signed swingman Rudy Gay to a huge extension, but otherwise didn't make many significant offseason upgrades.

The Charlotte Bobcats, though, are a team on the verge of a true letdown. Following the franchise's first-ever postseason appearance, starting center Tyson Chandler was dealt to Dallas and starting point guard Raymond Felton signed with New York. Not exactly the recipe for success.

Forward Gerald Wallace, the face of the franchise, made his first All-Star appearance, but "Crash" isn't regarded as a true go-to guy. Stephen Jackson enjoyed a renaissance of sorts after being traded from Golden State early last season, but it's a well-known fact that Jackson doesn't necessarily deal with losing situations well. That pair, however, should be the least of Larry Brown's concerns.

Young backup point guard D.J. Augustin will have the first opportunity to replace Felton as the starter--unless rumors of New Jersey's Devin Harris being shipped to Charlotte as part of a proposed four-team deal for Carmelo Anthony, turn out to be substantiated; Augustin could be traded to the Nets in that scenario--while former Illinois prep star Shaun Livingston parlayed a solid comeback season in Washington into a free-agent deal in Charlotte. Erick Dampier, who came to Charlotte in return for Chandler, was recently waived by the Bobcats (Dampier is currently sifting between potential offers from Miami and Houston, among other teams), leaving Chicago native Nazr Mohammed as the likely starter at center, with free-agent acquisition Kwame Brown--in an ironic reunion with Bobcats owner and Bulls legend Michael Jordan, who selected Brown with the first overall pick for Washington back in 2001--as the primary backup. Boris Diaw--also rumored to be in the potential Anthony deal; the Frenchman would be shipped to Utah--has been somewhat underwhelming as Charlotte's starting power forward, where he shares time with former Bull Tyrus Thomas, the recipient of an extension this summer.

Even if Charlotte's starters are considered serviceable (the addition of Harris would certainly be an upgrade), the bench is full of question marks. Youngsters like Gerald Henderson, Derrick Brown and Chicago native Sherron Collins are basically unproven, while the likes of shooter Matt Carroll, forward Dominic McGuire, center DeSagana Diop and veteran Eduardo Najera don't strike fear into the hearts of the opposition.

Last year's Bobcats team was successful because of a focus on defense, sharing the ball and buying into Brown's coaching philosophy. But the NBA is a game where talent often prevails and Charlotte simply doesn't have enough of it. Not only will the Bobcats struggle to meet raised expectations, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if the mercurial Brown decides not to ride out the storm.

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.

Michael Porter Jr.: 'I'm the perfect fit for today's NBA game'

Michael Porter Jr.: 'I'm the perfect fit for today's NBA game'

Michael Porter Jr. grabbed some attention when he remarked that he was "perfect fit for today's NBA game" during an appearance on The Will Cain Show.

The interview went a long way towards showing off the uber-confident nature of Porter, who has consistently talked about being the best player in his class throughout the draft process. Porter also remarked that he was "an immediate impact guy," and that he "doesn't want it to take long to be one of the best players in the NBA."

His hubris has been intruiging considering the mystery surrounding the prospect.

During the interview Porter added that he would be open to doing more workouts for NBA front offices ahead of Thursday's NBA Draft. The only workout he has completed so far was his pro day workout in Chicago, and multiple reports have cited that Porter did look good shooting, though he was in an isolated setting with no defenders.

The one thing Porter has not done much throughout the process is talk about his weaknesses, which is somewhat concerning seeing as he has much to improve on. The general consensus is that a healthy Porter can get buckets at will. But if he can improve his ball-handling, rebounding and passing skills, he will be much more than a go-to scorer. Tightening his ball-handling skills is likely the key, as the ability to grab the rebound and push in transition would be a huge boon for Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg's offense.

The biggest question when it comes to Porter on the Bulls is can he fit with Lauri Markkanen? Despite receiving many favorable Kevin Durant and Paul George comparisons leading up to the draft, there is a rising sentiment that his best position in the NBA may be the power forward spot. It is not yet known if he has the foot speed to stay in front of quicker wings in today's NBA. But at six-feet-ten-inches, it is easy to imagine him having a huge advantage against slower power forwards rather than wings. While Markkanen is not currently built to be a full-time center, playing him at the five with Porter at the four would present Hoiberg with a potentially devastating closing lineup.

Versatility is the name of the game in today's league, and Michael Porter Jr. may be the key to unlocking the full potential of Hoiberg's pace-and-space attack. 

Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls

zipser618.jpg
USA TODAY

Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls

Just two years after being drafted in the second round, Paul Zipser told German media that he doesn’t see the Bulls wanting him next season.

The Bulls have until mid-July to pick up Zipser's option.

"I would not be surprised if they no longer want me.” Zipser said in German and translated via Google Translate

“Actually, I'm pretty sure I will not play in Chicago soon.”

Last month, Zipser had surgery on his fractured left foot, in his native country of Germany, which grew speculation the Bulls wouldn’t pick up his player option for next season. Zipser said the surgery "went perfectly."

Zipser showed some flashes of potential in his rookie season, averaging 5.5 per game and 2.8 rebounds in 44 games. But this past season, he played more games, but injuries derailed him from improving his overall production. He finished with four points and 2.4 rebounds in 54 games, including 12 starts.

Zipser explained that things changed from his first year to his second year.

“They were very varied," Zipser said. "The first year was just going very well. I fought my way into the team from the beginning and showed how I can help the team. The Bulls just needed someone like me. That's why it worked so well. We benefited from each other - that's why we were successful.”

“That was very different. It was not right from the beginning, and I was already struggling with my injury. It was not quite clear what it is. If you have pain in your foot, you automatically go down a bit with intensity. You just do not want to hurt yourself and be completely out. It was then difficult for me to keep my head in the sport - I did not manage that well. Nevertheless, the injury should not be an excuse.”

Nothing is official yet, but it sounds like Zipser might not dress up in a Bulls uniform next year.