Atlantic Division Outlook: Chicago Bulls vs. Brooklyn Nets

Mar 17, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) is defended by Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago won 118-102. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) is defended by Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago won 118-102. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

This week, we’ll preview the Atlantic Division here at PAE. The Brooklyn Nets are still reeling from trading away all their first-round picks under Billy King. The Chicago Bulls will face a team an undermanned team with young and inexperienced players.

The Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets are at best a work, a work in progress.

Even with some new changes in Brooklyn, the Nets are still about three years away from anything remotely resembling a playoff team. They desperately need good draft picks to build the team back up or find a miracle combination of free agent acquisitions, which is what they are counting on this season.

Brooklyn has Brook Lopez as their steady anchor at the post who will bang bodies against his brother Robin Lopez a few times this season. Both are expected to have a great defensive impact and cancel out each other.

Luis Scola is the only notable big man who won’t even measure up to Bobby Portis, who scores inside-out, runs the break as a rim attacker and scraps for defensive rebounds like a maniac. The Nets also picked up Trevor Booker and the undrafted Egidijus Mockevicius, who is a raw rebounding monster that played for the Lithuanian National Team, but isn’t as polished as say, Omer Asik when he first came to Chicago. At the rim last season, Brooklyn’s opponents shot 62.5 percent, which was among the bottom six teams in the NBA last year.

The Nets’ Jeremy Lin, Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are energy players who can score, but don’t threaten any veteran NBA roster by themselves. The Nets back court may be anchored by Lin and the veteran Randy Foye. The team also ranks at the bottom of the league defending perimeter shooters from 20-24 feet at 39.4 percent. That’s like allowing opponents to shoot layups from long range.

The Nets have been running backdoor cuts and ball movement to get their points last year, but the token offense and a defense that probably can’t stop either Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic from getting their numbers shows how underhanded they are. The Bulls can also treat Nets’ games as a serious scrimmage with their second team. Paul Zipser might even score 20 plus on a good night.

It’s that 90’s Silverchair song for the Chicago Bulls against the Nets: Pure Massacre.

One of Brooklyn’s new draft picks — Michigan guard Caris LeVert — a combo guard whose game is similar and reportedly better, according to draft scouts than the Bulls’ own Denzel Valentine. But, LeVert has a history of alarming stress fracture injuries on his foot or shin that may recur given a heavier NBA schedule than the college game.

LeVert might survive the NBA like Spencer Dinwiddie of the Bulls did coming into the league healing from a knee injury and become the Nets’ future starting playmaker.

Isaiah Whitehead was an interesting 2016 draft prospect out of Seton Hall, but he needs to prove he can score off the bench consistently or just be another streaky college phenom who could not make the NBA transition. He may not even break the rotation this year unless Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson uses a smaller guard over either Kilpatrick and Hollis-Jefferson.

We don’t know how the bench guys of the Nets will fit in with the team this year. Maybe Jeremy Lin can spark the team together to play better like Jason Kidd before him when it was the New Jersey Nets.

Just kidding.

If the Bulls were going to play fair against Brooklyn, Hoiberg would start Dinwiddie at point guard, Isaiah Canaan at the two, Tony Snell on the wing, Paul Zipser at power forward and Taj Gibson in the middle against them.

That’s how bad the Nets are.

Coaching: Kenny Atkinson vs. Fred Hoiberg

Fred Hoiberg has the luxury of “Three Alphas” playing for the Chicago Bulls, while Kenny Atkinson is just there to prove he can coach in the NBA given the scraps of NBA free agency plus Brook Lopez.

The Nets still have athletic players in Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but it’s still going to be another year for the young Nets guards just trying to play at the NBA level and holding their own. That’s all Atkinson really has.

The smart thing for Hoiberg to do is to blow this team away in the first half. Play a veteran-heavy second unit Bulls squad, then mop them up with the SummerBulls to help the young and athletic core gain more confidence closing out teams.

No matter who the Bulls will be up against, the young guys should be groomed to play as many minutes as they can learning the Hoiball system playing against a team like the Nets.

Next: Bulls officially announce Media Day in Sept.

Denzel Valentine’s Time to Shine

Hoiberg has offensive weapons on the team that a third of other NBA teams can only dream of putting together (thanks to the thankless job of Gar Forman drafting smarter than people give him credit for).

Denzel Valentine should have the lion’s share of second unit’s backcourt playing time racking up assists in flurry offense sets where he surgically dismantles the Nets. Valentine can play defense with his high IQ, scoring his own baskets and using the Bulls’ “Rifle Squad” better than Aaron Brooks before him.

Valentine, Dinwiddie and Jerian Grant should have a party swarming the Nets. Bobby Portis should be given the green light to bully all Nets comers assigned to defend him.

With Hoiberg having 8/10ths of what he needs to win with his flow offense, the Bulls should win Nets meetings handily.