Updated: Oct. 26, 2005, 11:52 PM ET

Growing pains for Baby Bulls?


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Where will the Chicago Bulls finish in the Central Division and the Eastern Conference? Get 12 different takes from ESPN's NBA experts.

Marc Stein ESPN.com
If they can duplicate the D that led the league in opponent field-goal percentage, maybe the Bulls will exceed my expectations. But they're a LOT smaller without Curry and Antonio Davis.
Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
John Paxson seems to have it figured out: If there's a guy he needs to get rid of, he can call Isiah and ship him to the Knicks. Paxson still needs to find some size if he expects the Bulls to be a serious contender to reach the second round.
Will Perdue ESPN Insider
Chicago got some value for Curry from NY. Look for Sweetney to grow under Skiles and look for a resurgence of Tim Thomas, but not until he adjusts his mentality to match that of Skiles and GM Paxson.
Jim O'Brien ESPN Insider
Losing Eddy Curry and Antonio Davis is a blow that will challenge the Bulls to regroup up front. Chicago was No. 1 in FG defense a year ago and is going to need this same effort to approach last year's success.
Eric Neel ESPN
Page 2

A lot of things went right last year (see Ben Gordon, see Kirk Hinrich), but a lot of things went wrong, too (see Luol Deng's injury and Eddy Curry's ailing heart). They're no fluke. They'll be back in it. Deng will see to it.
Tim Legler ESPN Insider

See Item 7 for Legler's analysis of the Chicago Bulls.

Scoop Jackson ESPN
Page 2


Will miss Eddy Curry in the middle more than they'll miss Eddy Curry as a player.

John Hollinger ESPN Insider
Unlikely to see repeat of big years from bench vets and departed Curry was one of their few effective scorers. Hopes hinge on improvement from Gordon, Chandler and Deng.
Chad Ford ESPN Insider
With Eddy Curry in NY the Bulls will struggle to find points in the paint. Defensively they could be even better this year, but offensively, it's going to be an even bigger struggle this season.
John Carroll Scouts Inc.
Luol Deng may be the wild card for this team. The 6-8 small forward's rookie season was cut short in late March. Deng's ability to defend will help this team get back to the playoffs again this year.
Ric Bucher ESPN Mag
They don't have anything close to a replacement for Eddy Curry. Scott Skiles is great at improving a team's focus and work ethic, but it came with a price (short shelf life) in Phoenix. Another young team at the tipping point.
Chris Broussard ESPN Insider

Last year's dream won't continue.

Hold the Curry
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Bulls forward Tyson Chandler can defend, but he's hardly the man to replace the offensive productivity of the departed Eddy Curry.

Lineup Breakdown
ESPN The Magazine sizes up the Bulls roster:

Starters: Last year's overachievers find their level.
Backside is like Barkley's. The comparison stops there.
You try to do your job with Andres Nocioni's breath on your neck.
D makes up for the fact that he's a self-check.
Scores at will. Will he do anything else?
Stockton with more soul, and a lot less control.
Bench: Chris Duhon is a calm leader and Nocioni is one scary dude. But you can't squeeze much out of this unit with either a carrot or a stick.



ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands Oct. 26.

Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Ben Gordon
Player Efficiency Rating
Vs. NBA Avg.: -0.2

Ben Gordon won the Sixth Man award with his spectacular scoring exploits, especially in fourth quarters. He led the NBA in double-digit fourth quarters and had one of the highest 40-minute scoring averages in the league. After a slow start, Gordon also defended well due to his speed and surprising upper-body strength. His defensive PER probably overstates his case because it doesn't account for the cross-matching with Kirk Hinrich. Gordon was foul-prone, however, and struggled with matchups against bigger guards who would post him up.

Offensively, Gordon thrived because he's a great shooter who can also get to the basket. He hit 40.5 percent of his high-arcing 3-pointers and has a very quick release on his shot. He also has explosive quickness going to his right and is among the league's best at shooting runners from five to 10 feet. Gordon throws up a one-handed shot with his right-hand that borders on being a hook shot and shoots it halfway to the roof before it drops down through the net. Though hardly textbook, it's incredibly effective.

Nonetheless, Gordon's PER wasn't as high as some might expect because of the other holes in his offensive game. He shot only 41 percent overall because he forced a lot of long jumpers, so his true shooting percentage was unimpressive. He also needs to work on his passing and ballhandling. Gordon's assist ratio was very poor and is disappointing considering all the attention he receives from opposing defenses. He also needs to keep better control of the ball, as his turnover ratio was well below average. While Gordon is extremely quick, he has a relatively high dribble and sometimes seems to struggle to control the ball. He also goes right every time and needs to add more variety to his game.

Despite those weaknesses, Chicago cannot afford to keep him out of the starting lineup. Gordon already is the team's best scoring threat and his continued improvement could be the Bulls' best defense against the plexiglass principle.

-- Bulls player profiles from John Hollinger's "Pro Basketball Forecast: 2005-06," available at Amazon.com and Potomac Books.

Raising expectations
Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images
Those 47 wins last year were a surprise. Sans Curry, they sound like a reach this year.

SportsNation Speaks
The Bulls actually had two serious candidates for the Sixth Man of the Year trophy -- guard Ben Gordon, who won it by pacing the Bulls offensively, and big man Tyson Chander, who set the tone on the defensive side.

We asked SportsNation whose contributions, looking ahead, would be more significant:

Which player is more integral to the future success of the Bulls?
56.4% Ben Gordon
43.6% Tyson Chandler

Vote: Bulls in 2005-06 | Results

Tim's Time
Ben Gordon

Legs on Bulls: The popular way of thinking will have the Bulls riding the success of last year and the maturation of all that young talent into a deep playoff run.

I'm not that popular because I believe losing Eddy Curry is a huge deal because without him they've become a strictly perimeter-based team overnight without a single low-post threat on the roster. That will make things tough, but they will still be in the hunt for the playoffs as a result of their outstanding young guards, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich.

Tim Legler, ESPN Insider

Coach's Corner
Scott Skiles
Experience: 5 years
Reg. season record: 182-163
Playoff record: 7-12
Coach's profile

Scott Skiles' young Bulls stunned the NBA with a great turnaround a year ago. They ended No. 1 in field-goal defense mirroring Skiles' hard nose personality.

Losing Eddy Curry's post presence and Antonio Davis' leadership will challenge Skiles to find some answers in these two areas.

Jim O'Brien, ESPN.com Insider

Hollinger's Q & A
How do they replace Eddy Curry?

Chicago was forced to trade its most effective offensive player last season, Eddy Curry, after a dispute over a DNA test for his heart ailment threatened to keep him out all season. Replacing his production won't be easy, especially on a team as short on scoring power as Chicago. The Bulls got 22.3 points per 40 minutes from Curry, who also shot 53.8 percent from the floor, and will have to replace that with newly acquired Michael Sweetney and Tim Thomas.

But don't weep for the Bulls just yet. Sweetney will start at power forward while Tyson Chandler moves to his natural center position, and he could replace much of Curry's missing post production. Sweetney shot even better than Curry at 53.1 percent, and while his 17.1 points per 40 minutes doesn't touch Curry's, he's a vastly superior rebounder (11.0 to 7.5 per 40).

Thomas should also figure into the mix and could help with his deep shooting, especially early in the year while Luol Deng is still recovering from last season's wrist injury. The only potential pitfall is the Bulls now are dangerously thin at center, with former Heat reserve Malik Allen shaping up as Chandler's primary backup.

More Hollinger Bulls analysis Insider

Fantasy Fix

Sleeper: Mike Sweetney has a fine power forward's body, and now he's getting a chance to show it off. Stolen from the Knicks in the Eddy Curry deal, Sweetney can score and rebound and take up lots of space down low. It's reasonable to expect a high field-goal percentage as well. Enjoy Sweetney's breakout season as a Bull in round 10.

Bust: Tim Thomas also came over from the Knicks, but Bulls fans aren't quite as excited. Thomas has never lived up to expectations. Don't look for much fantasy impact in rebounds or assists, as his minutes drop. Thomas will be a double-digit scorer off the bench, but a pretty hollow one statistically.

Eric Karabell | Fantasy Basketball Index



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