UPDATE: Multiple reports are out that Thabo Sefolosha will get the starting role next to Derrick Rose tonight over Kirk Hinrich. While it’s interesting that Thabo will get a shot, and not a horrible idea, he did not play all that much during the preseason. This is just another example of what worries me about Del Negro as a coach. It’s not that he won’t have good ideas or cannot communicate well with his team, but it seems like he just doesn’t know what he’s doing a lot of the time. Hopefully he’ll learn quickly, because I think it will be a long year otherwise. Thank goodness it’ll be fun to watch Rose regardless of the team’s record.
Projected Starting Lineup
5 – Drew Gooden
4 – Tyrus Thomas
3 – Luol Deng
2 – Kirk Hinrich
1 – Derrick Rose
Not Gonna Play
9 Luol Deng SF 23 6-9 220 Duke $9,385,000
Deng needs to take another step this season. He gained good leadership experience over the summer with the British national team. Now he needs to bring that experience to the Bulls. The two players with the most years of NBA service on this roster, Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden, aren’t going to get that job done. Deng also needs to be more aggressive on offense. Too often he catches a pass, dribbles once and shoots. He needs to work on his triple threat game more instead.
90 Drew Gooden PF 27 6-10 250 Kansas $7,151,183
Gooden is the team’s most accomplished low post scorer. This ability will earn him minutes and seems to have earned him a starting role on opening night. We’ll see if Del Negro gets fed up with his lack of concentration the way Gooden’s past coaches have. Gooden is talented and in a contract year. I expect motivated play from him, but nothing we have not seen before.
7 Ben Gordon SG 25 6-3 200 Connecticut $6,404,750
Ben Gordon will score. However, will the team jerk him around after all of the contract issues over the summer? I envision a Reinsdorf-Paxson-led minimization of Gordon’s role unless they plan to trade him during the season, which is sounding unlikely. Anybody else think the toe stub thing was extremely strange? Poor Ben. Nobody is going to pay him his $10 million, but he also does not deserve the way the Bulls have treated him.
34 Aaron Gray C 23 7-0 270 Pittsburgh $711,517
Gray lost 30 pounds over the summer and while he was not overweight before, he was probably one of the slowest players in the NBA. His speed should be improved, but he is not going to outrun anybody. I think it was KC Johnson who recently humorously wrote that Derrick Rose might lap Gray in a down court sprint. Gray is a solid backup Center with a soft touch and a big body. The only problem is the Bulls do not seem to have a starting Center.
12 Kirk Hinrich PG 27 6-3 190 Kansas $10,000,000
So Hinrich is coming off the bench? I think if that’s how they’re going to use him, they need to try and trade him. Maybe he is too small to guard 2s every game and has had trouble adjusting to playing off the ball, but he is too valuable to play bench minutes. Sure, he would be a great backup PG, but does anybody else see that going over well for the long-term? This situation concerns me. That said, he did have a down year last season. If he does not revert to his prior form, maybe he will be best suited to come off the bench.
32 Larry Hughes SG 29 6-5 185 $12,827,676
While I do not wish the man harm, pain or misfortune, his injury was kind of a blessing in disguise. It will allow Del Negro to look at a back court situation he wishes he had. A situation with a manageable four guards deserving of time instead of five. While Hughes has really surprised me with his effort on both ends of the court in preseason – what is it, 2002? – he is still far and away the least valuable guard in the rotation. Too many bad, forced shots and too much defensive risk taking for glory steals. The Bulls would trade him if there were any other team in the league willing to take on his contract. Unfortunately the only team out there who might consider it would be Cleveland for Ben Wallace.
35 Demetris Nichols SF 24 6-8 216 Syracuse $711,517
May he’ll develop out of nowhere? Not going to see much playing time.
13 Joakim Noah PF 23 6-11 232 Florida $2,295,480
Noah has me worried. He was supposed to have the starting Center job all wrapped up but now it looks as if natural Power Forward Drew Gooden will start there. Though entering his second professional season, Noah is said to have major conditioning issues. And this from a lanky guy whose major assets are energy and grittiness? He was arrested in the offseason for carrying an open container and was found to have a joint hidden in a pack of cigarettes on his person. While the joint does not worry me the cigarettes do. This guy might actually be the one who would START smoking after becoming a professional basketball player. I still have very high hopes for what Noah will eventually bring to the team, but I am worried, very worried.
5 Andres Nocioni SF 28 6-7 225 $8,000,000
I expect Nocioni to settle in to a solid 7th man role, bringing energy and scoring off the bench while annoying other teams best scorers part-time with his in your face defense. He is not a great defender, but he can bug the hell out of some guys. He and Deng have the best rotation situation of any position on the team.
1 Derrick Rose PG 20 6-3 190 Memphis $4,822,800
He needs to start from day one. Looked great in preseason, showing the ability to get to the rim almost any time he wants. His defense still has a ways to go, but he will create a lot of open outside shots for teammates with his penetrating ability. If the season goes wrong, Rose will leave us fans with at least something entertaining to watch regardless of the record.
2 Thabo Sefolosha SG 24 6-7 215 $1,931,160
I guess Thabo is a starter. Interesting. This is a role he can grow into and be strong in. However, with guys like Hinrich, Gordon and Hughes on the bench behind him, how much time will he have to do so? Great defender. Good ball handler and passer. So-so shooter. Last season he showed the ability to get to the rim but had some trouble finishing. He has all the tools though we are still waiting to see him put them all together. Now is his chance.
15 Cedric Simmons SF 22 6-9 235 N.C. State $1,742,760
See Demetris Nichols but take away two years.
24 Tyrus Thomas PF 22 6-9 215 LSU $3,749,880
I expect a huge year from Thomas. He had a very strong preseason, showing a ton of energy and more desire than he has in years past. However, even though his mid-range jump shot is improving, he is settling for it way too much. I think his FG % in the preseason was in the mid-30s. That is not going to cut it. He needs to play to his strengths – opportunistic interior offense and help side defense – and bring the other aspects of his game along slowly. Playing with Derrick Rose should really help Thomas. These two, hopefully, will turn into THE duo for the Bulls for years to come.
Coach: Vinny Del Negro
I am worried. Very worried. Let’s hope I am wrong. He seems smart and likable. The players seem happy with him for now, which is all you can ask so far. However, tonight will be the first regular season basketball game he will coach at any level. When Michael Jordan decided to try and play major league baseball the White Sox manager at the time said, “I’m interested to find out if baseball is as hard as I think it is.” While I am no kind of basketball coach, right now I’m interested to see if being an NBA coach is as hard as I think it is.
Average Age: 24.3
Average Height: 6-7
Average Weight: 218
Source: ESPN.com – Height, weight, age and salary vary based on source.
The Bulls are one of the youngest teams in the league this season and over the upcoming 82 games that fact is going to be visible in their play. However, recent Bulls teams that won 47 and 49 games were also very, very young. The main difference this year will be a head coach who has yet to coach a regular season basketball game at any level as well as an excessive depth of talent. In fact, the combination of those two features will ultimately spell doom for this team’s playoffs hopes.
The Bulls are crazy deep at every position, yet unfortunately lack any transcendent stars. Sure, Derrick Rose looks like he’s going to be a star in the near future, but is probably a year away at the very least. While most teams would probably envy the depth that the Bulls roster features, a head coach is totally new to the profession might have trouble with it. Del Negro’s inconsistent rotation over the course of the preseason doesn’t point to good things for the regular season. He’ll have some tough decisions to make with more players expecting not only major minutes, but to start than he has roles to fill.
The balance of this talented roster is indeed fragile. You have Thomas, who is entering his third season, a season by which players who are going to be strong pros usually start to show it. He’ll be facing off against Drew Gooden for minutes in a contract year for Gooden. The Bulls have two promising young centers in Joakim Noah and Aaron Gray, yet Del Negro seems poised to start the undersized Gooden at Center. This decision of course would leave two men who each thought he had a chance to start competing for backup minutes. And that’s just the frontcourt situation.
At the three, they have Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni. This position probably will feature the most stable rotation. Having just signed a large extension, it should be clear to everybody that Deng is the starter. Nocioni puts forth as much effort as anybody on the team, but is unfortunately only a so-so defender. That said, he brings an excellent scoring burst off of the bench. The only wrench that could be thrown into this rotation would be Thabo Sefolosha being forced to play more at the SF position than his natural role as a 1 or a 2, which brings us to the guards.
Five guards on this roster have realistic expectations of starting. Hinrich and Hughes have started since sometime in each of their rookie seasons. Rose, the number one pick in the draft, has every reason to believe he should start after a very impressive preseason. Ben Gordon, coming of an unsuccessful negotiation for a contract averaging over $10 million per year, is both in a contract year and clearly believes he is worthy of starting.
Of course a coach with a talented, deep young team needs to try out different lineups in preseason to see what he has. However, Del Negro has gone far beyond testing the waters. Multiple players have started, gone to the bench and started again in this short exhibition season. Minutes for certain players have looked just like what Tyrus Thomas has said he hates most:
You can’t produce consistently if you don’t play consistent minutes. It’s impossible, regardless what people say. You play me five minutes and then say I’m inconsistent? That’s crazy. You won’t be consistent playing 30 minutes a game for three games and then five minutes a game for the next six. It’s not going to happen.
This roster has too many quality players, especially guards, for everyone to stay happy. Del Negro is going to have to piss off a couple of guys. However, he can keep the faith of the rest of his players by establishing both a starting lineup and a regular rotation early in the season. A rookie head coach is going to need his team to buy in. Unfortunately, it does not look like Del Negro is going to give his players the consistency they desire as he keeps talking about how the lineup and rotation are going to have to be fluid and change from game to game. I think the chemistry on this team will start to suffer early in the season and will never recover. During the offseason the Bulls will purge about half of this team and move forward with the core they truly hope to rebuild around.
Predicted record for 2008-2009: 35-47