Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Bulls midseason report card
By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- If you're surprised by the Chicago Bulls' 28-14 record just past the halfway point in the season, don't worry. You're not alone.
Derrick Rose is struggling to come to grips with it as well.
Given the major injuries the Bulls have already dealt with this season, (Carlos Boozer missed the first month of the season with a broken pinky and Joakim Noah will probably end up missing close to two because of thumb surgery) the Bulls have played remarkably steady through the first two and a half months of the season.
"Yeah, it's kind of weird," Rose said of his Bulls' record at the halfway point after Monday's win in Memphis. "Knowing that we haven't been fully healthy with all the players, and we didn't really have that many games where everybody was healthy. When Carlos came back, Joakim was messed up, he wasn't at 100 percent [because of a torn ligament in his thumb]. And Carlos was getting in shape himself, so we were trying to work it out. But when we get both of them back, I think that we're going to be a hard team to beat."
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at how each player grades out through the first 42 games of the season. And grade the Bulls for yourself in our poll.
Derrick Rose, PG
Rose has done it all for the Bulls this season. He's averaging 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds a game. He's taken on more of a leadership role and has improved on the defensive end. Everyone laughed when he wondered aloud at the team's media day why he couldn't be the NBA MVP this season. No one is laughing now.
Joakim Noah, C
After signing a five-year extension worth close to $60 million right before the season started, Noah seemed intent on proving to everyone he was worth the money. He was doing just that before tearing a ligament in his right thumb in late November. Noah averaged 14 points, 12 rebounds and three assists a game. He also became the defensive anchor coach Tom Thibodeau envisioned having in his new system.
Luol Deng, SF
There are games when Deng still disappears and struggles to find his shot, but he has been one of the most consistent players on the team. His defense has been solid, he's still averaging 18 points and six boards, and he's one of the league leaders in minutes at almost 40 a night. He seems to have found new life in Thibodeau's system and is having more fun on the floor than he's had in a while.
Carlos Boozer, PF
Boozer has given the Bulls exactly what his track record would have suggested. He's a 20-and-10 machine. He's the low-post presence this team hasn't had in years, and he seems to have fit in well in the locker room. But, he's also injury-prone (having missed 17 games already this season) and his defense leaves a lot to be desired. Exactly as advertised.
Keith Bogans, SG
Bogans was brought in to do two things: Hit open 3-pointers and play solid defense. After knocking down plenty of treys in the preseason, Bogans has struggled to find his shot all season. He is shooting just 32 percent from behind the arc, despite repeated open looks playing alongside Rose. His defense has been fine during most games, but it hasn't been so good that it warrants keeping him on the floor, even for the 12-15 minutes he gets a night. Why he remains in the starting lineup is a question the city of Chicago ponders every day, but Thibodeau seems intent on leaving him there for now.
Ronnie Brewer, SG
After missing most of training camp because of hamstring injury and struggling to find consistent minutes throughout the first month of the season, Brewer has finally seemed to find his groove. No, he doesn't have the long-range shot that a 2-guard needs playing alongside Rose, but the Bulls knew that when they signed him. Brewer is a hustle player who will fill up the stat sheet in multiple categories, and has gained Thibodeau's trust.
Kyle Korver, SF
Korver was known as a streaky shooter, but the prevailing thought was that he would have just as many good shooting nights as he had bad ones. That wasn't the case during most of December -- there were just a lot of bad ones. Korver recently said that the past month was probably the most frustrating of his career. After a recent string of big shots over the past week, though, he appears to be getting back on track.
Taj Gibson, PF
The second-year forward was playing great at the beginning of the season, filling in nicely for Boozer, averaging close to a double-double every night. Once he started coming off the bench, though, things changed. He had a hard time adjusting to his new role, and a Dec. 18 concussion against the Los Angeles Clippers didn't help his cause. As Thibodeau has repeatedly pointed out, Gibson has played solid defense all season, and appears to have found his groove again, but he is still trying to get back to the high standard he set for himself earlier in the season.
Kurt Thomas, PF
Thomas barely played during the first two months of the season, but once Noah went down, the 38-year-old veteran stepped up. He has been a calming influence on the floor and in the locker room, and he can still play solid defense and grab rebounds. Thomas is the type of insurance policy that every NBA team wishes they could cash in when one of their stars goes down.
Omer Asik, C
The Turkish center has had some bright moments this season and has definitely impressed the coaching staff with his hard-nosed play. At times, he still struggles to pick up some aspects of the NBA game, especially offensively, but he appears to be very coachable and willing to learn. He needs to hit the weight room hard in the offseason and bulk up, but that should come over time.
C.J. Watson, PG
Watson had a great game in place of Rose during a Nov. 26 contest in Denver, scoring 33 points and almost leading the Bulls to a victory. Aside from that performance, the highlights have been few and far between. Watson still looks like a 2-guard at times playing point. His minutes have been sporadic as Thibodeau tries to figure out exactly how to use him.
James Johnson, SF
The second-year forward showed flashes of solid play earlier in the season and has been a spark plug during a handful of games off the bench, but he has barely played since early December. Thibodeau clearly doesn't trust him on the floor, and it doesn't seem like that will change any time soon. Johnson has the athleticism to succeed in the league, but he continues to make mental errors during the few minutes he gets on the floor. Unless something drastic happens, he won't crack the rotation this season.
Brian Scalabrine, PF
Another case of a guy who has been exactly what the Bulls thought he would be. Scalabrine was brought in to help players learn Thibodeau's system and be a solid presence in the locker room. He has accomplished those goals with flying colors. He is one of the most popular players in the locker room and is constantly giving his teammates pointers. On the floor, he rarely plays except at the end of games. Over the past two months, he has played just 13 minutes combined. Still, he's a fan favorite and a league leader in the number of chants directed at a single player. Few arenas in the leagues don't have a "SCAL-UH-BREE-NEE" chant break out at least once.
Thibodeau has done a great job changing the culture around the Bulls this season. The players have completely bought in to what he is selling and trust him implicitly. They know the long hours he puts in every day and don't want to disappoint him. Still, like most rookie head coaches, Thibodeau has made his share of questionable decisions. Most notably, the decision to put John Lucas III back into the Nov. 26 game in Denver in the final seconds to shoot free throws. Lucas, who had just been signed that afternoon, missed both and Carmelo Anthony drilled a buzzer-beater to win the game. For the most part, though, Thibodeau has continued to make the right moves and clearly has the Bulls headed in the right direction.