Bulls Player Outlooks: Robin Lopez

Apr 1, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks center Robin Lopez (8) drives to the basket towards his brother Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) past guard Wayne Ellington (21) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks center Robin Lopez (8) drives to the basket towards his brother Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) past guard Wayne Ellington (21) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

When it was announced that the man behind Benny the Bull was leaving the team, it may have been some sort of eerie foreshadowing as the departure of Benny coincided with the arrival of a mascot’s worst nightmare – Robin Lopez – the focus of today’s Bulls player outlook.

A lot of Chicago fans probably haven’t taken the time to really let the arrival of Lopez sink in. For that, they can be forgiven. It’s only natural that he might be an overlooked piece in the trade, even if he was the main acquisition by the Bulls. Most fans will probably focus on what they lost, rather ignoring what was gained.

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If you haven’t heard by now, Chicago sent out Derrick Rose and Justin Holiday in the biggest trade of the summer. In return, they received Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant from the New York Knicks.

The history of Rose and his meaning to team and city has been well documented. Josh Vinson penned an important piece about the departure of Rose, as did Ricky O’Donnell and our own Daniel Coughlin. Still, Rose is gone and it is time to start looking at what the Bulls have instead of what they don’t.

Except, there’s more. Bulls fans also lost Joakim Noah this summer. However, Noah opted to leave as a free agent. He is joining Rose and the Knicks.

This is about Lopez, so let’s get this out of the way – Rose and Noah were among the best players in the league when they were good. They meant a lot to this team and their fans. They aren’t the players or people that they were years ago. People change, injuries happen, life moves on. We’ll always have the memories, but what we want for our team is to win, not a constant reminder of what might have been.

Over the past couple of days, we did some over/under outlooks. In the piece where we suggested that Chicago fans take the over on the Las Vegas line of 38.5 wins, we suggested that a major reason for that confidence is the addition of Lopez. We also gave you a quick rundown of Lopez when he arrived in the trade with New York.

Lopez should remind Bulls fans of a younger, more athletic, less injury-hobbled defender like Noah. When Noah was great, he was considered the anchor of the best defense in the league. Lopez is never going to achieve that, so scale back expectations. However, Lopez does impact defense around the rim. He is able to anticipate and disrupt shots. He has the ability to use his body as a battering ram to help secure loose balls either himself or for a teammate. Also, Lopez has the ability to help his power forward partners.

This video is a couple of years old, but it does a great job of highlighting what Lopez brings to the defensive end of the floor, confirming each of the things presented in the previous paragraph. He’s able to use length to block shots. His sturdy frame allows teammates to dive in and swoop up defensive rebounds. That same size and strength that allows him to box out on perimeter shot attempts also helps him in the block where he can’t be bullied. Instead of being an easy back down target, he can stand his ground and force difficult or off-balance shot attempts.

If video proof isn’t enough, don’t take my word for it. Check out the Nylon Calculus rim protection statistics for yourself. Lopez is a detriment to opposing team. The part that sticks out from all of this is probably his ability to help his power forwards. One of the things highlighted in the video above is his ability to help on defense with LaMarcus Aldridge. The Bulls are likely going to field some combination of Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Taj Gibson is also a possibility as a skilled veteran, but I’m acting here under the assumption that the Bulls will start the most gifted offensive threat at the position, which is Mirotic, and that Gibson is likely traded at some point during the season.

As for offense, Lopez is going to be a very nice upgrade as a traditional center. He also brings a bit of explosiveness, not a large amount, which helps him elevate and finish through contact.

If you watched even a minute of that highlight video from Lopez’s 2015 season, you immediately noticed that Lopez does things that neither Pau Gasol or Noah could do last season – rim-run out of the pick-and-roll. Noah was, and maybe still is, an exceptional distributor, but he doesn’t have the ability to roll, dribble, and then finish an offensive possession. Gasol probably has dreams about the old days when his body could keep up with his mind, but he can’t finish through traffic anymore and he definitely can’t roll off of a screen with half the athleticism or speed that Lopez is bringing to the table.

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A pick-and-roll type of center that can work out of the post in back to the basket situations is going to be huge for Fred Hoiberg’s offense. The possibilities of drawing help defense down low to free up shooters and conversely, having a rim crasher out of the pick and roll who can finish at the rim helps on those nights when players like Jimmy Butler couldn’t hit Lake Michigan from Navy Pier.

The only reason that Bulls fans might not be excited about having Lopez is because their minds are clouded by the memories of what Rose and Noah were, not what they are today. Even if they never reconcile this change, or if they don’t discern an improvement on the court, they’ll be thankful for the Lopez contract. Just like Butler and Paul Zipser, Chicago controls Lopez for several more years.

Lopez is under contract for the next three seasons and in the final year of his deal, he’ll be earning $14.5 million. As a younger, better player for what the Bulls need than either Gasol or Noah, he’s going to be earning millions less than what it cost the Knicks to get Noah and he’ll be slightly cheaper than Gasol’s deal with San Antonio for the next two years. The contract is the cherry on top for Chicago.

The Rose trade and acquisition of Lopez was so good that the Bulls front office should have just quit while they were ahead. Instead, they dirtied up the offseason by also signing Rondo and Wade. But not even those contracts can diminish the value of Lopez.

If things go bad, like we suggested they might in our Take the Under piece, Lopez becomes the second best trade piece the Bulls have behind Butler. They might resist moving either, but Lopez could still command either a good draft pick or a starting five caliber asset in return.

Not a lot of things look great for the Bulls, but the contract and skill combination for Lopez makes him one of the brightest spots for the upcoming season. If Hoiberg’s offense gets humming and the defense doesn’t crash, you can bet that a lot of it had to do with a particular mascot-dueling center that goes by the nickname “RoLo.”