As I’m sure most of you have heard by now, Jeff Van Gundy had some harsh criticism in terms of the Bulls playoff chances next year. Here’s what he said, via Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:
“To lose Rose by itself is going to cost you — even if you thought they were a 55-win team with Rose — that costs you 12-15 games right there,” Van Gundy said. “And then all the other guys I think people are overlooking. C.J. Watson even with his poor play to Asik in that sixth game, listen, he was a very valuable back-up through all of Rose’s injuries last year. He played well, and now, who’s their backup, they have Hinrich and who? (Marquis Teague) No, no, he’s not … did you watch him in summer league? “Struggled” is being kind. That’s not a knock. The 29th pick in the draft is such a hit-and-miss selection anyway. You have to give him time to grow and mature. But to think he’s going to come in and play behind Hinrich next year …”
“Their point guard situation last year was the MVP and a very good backup. This year it’s a combo guard in Hinrich and we’ll see who they can get as a backup. At the two-guard, (Rip) Hamilton is always hurt, and frankly in that Philly series, he’s older, he’s on the downside, and we’ll see if he can bounce back … Deng, you don’t know where he’s going to be injury-wise, and the frontcourt has been diminished. So to think that’s a 50-win team … listen, if they win half their games next year and make the playoffs, it’s a heck of a year.”
As a fan of this team, it sucks, but at the same time I have a hard time being upset at JVG for his comments. Even though Nick Friedell disagree’s with Van Gundy and the majority of Bulls fans, – which now range from cynical to delusional to disenchanted – simply because of his belief in Tom Thibodeau, I’m going to have to side with the cynics here.
Imagine this year’s roster coupled with a healthy Derrick Rose and a healthy Luol Deng, both playing 75+
games this season. It’s STILL significantly worse than last year’s roster. First of all, there is no point in comparing last year’s bench mob to this upcoming year’s. It’s not close. Marco Belinelli is not an equal replacement to Kyle Korver, whether it’s in regards to shooting ability, basketball IQ, defense or awe-inspiring good looks. I can’t say I even know who to classify as Ronnie Brewer’s replacement because Vladmir Radmonovic sure as hell isn’t going to measure up and while Jimmy Butler is going to be good, he’s not about to replace Ronnie’s defensive tenacity right off the bat. Give him another year. Nazr Mohammed to Omer Asik? I’m not even going to go there.
And then there’s Kirk Hinrich. Our prized off-season signing. I’m not going to lie, I love this guy. I’m pretty sure it’s even in my website bio. He’s certainly better than CJ but here’s the kicker… Watson was better at the one thing the Bulls desperately need even with a healthy Derrick Rose: shot creation.
Oh, and Carlos Boozer is another year older. That doesn’t really help things either.
To summarize, the Bulls biggest strength’s outside of Rose last year were their defense, ball movement and the Bench Mob. They’ve done a pretty solid number on each of those strengths, even going so far as to make one of them a weakness.
In a lot of ways, the Bench Mob and the defense go hand-in-hand and while Taj Gibson is a fantastic defender, Omer Asik was the anchor of the quick rotations that gave opposing coaches nightmares. With Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik gone, the defense has taken a huge hit. To add to that, one of CJ Watson’s most underrated traits was his defensive tenacity. When was the last time Watson really got burnt on defense? Hinrich was a defensive hound in his days with the Bulls but two more seasons and lingering injuries have taken their toll on his lateral quickness. Expect Boozer to be slower and less motivated than ever as well, by the way. He knows the Bulls aren’t playing for anything this year.
Now, let’s talk about ball movement. I know most of you are thinking “how do you get worse at this aspect of the game when the coaching staff hasn’t changed?” I’ll tell you: the reason it took until the second season for the core of this team to move the ball the way they do is because of familiarity. Six new additions to the team
and the departure of Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer – the two players that knew the flex/motion offense like the back of their hand – isn’t going to help that situation.
Now, let’s factor in injuries. With Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and likely Rip Hamilton missing a ton of time this year, Thibodeau is going to have to be very creative with line-ups trying to fill the scoring void. That’s not going to do anything positive for continuity. Not to mention, Rose and Deng are the Bulls best defensive players at their respective positions. They’re also the only players that can create/semi-create their own shot.
Chicago’s best offensive player on most night’s is going to be Carlos Boozer. Nate freaking Robinson is going to be the Bulls best shot creator. Let that sink in. Their next best option for offense is going to be running Marco Belinelli off a million screens. I wonder how that’ll go, considering how Asik was the only Bulls big man that could set proper screens last year.
The Bulls upcoming offensive woes are the real kicker for the 2012-2013 season. I sincerely, sincerely hope that I’m wrong but I can’t help but think Chicago is going to be in the worst type of NBA hell next season. Not the kind that the Bobcats are going through. Not even the perennial late lottery Houston Rockets will compare, because at least they can be fun to watch. Next year’s Chicago Bulls are going to be the Milwaukee Bucks of the past two years.
Jeff Van Gundy isn’t the best at this whole prediction thing (i.e., Heat will win 72 games) but I’ve got to side with him this time around.