As the 2011 NBA Playoffs begin tomorrow, with the Chicago Bulls having the first seed and number record at 62-20. The Bulls haven’t won 60+ games in a season since 1997-1998, making this the sixth time in franchise history (All previous ending with Championships). After a summer filled with a coaching change and nine new players, the Bulls were thought to grab the four-maybe-five seed. The Bulls have celebrated their 20th year anniversary from their first Championship (’91), they’ve unveiled a bronze bust for Scottie Pippen at the United Center and they’ve announced that Artis Gilmore, Dennis Rodman and Tex Winter will be inducted in this year’s Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s been a great year for the Chicago Bulls franchise. Let’s go back and grade the overall performance of the Bulls.
In this category, I’ll be grading Executive VP of Basketball Operations, John Paxson, and General Manager, Gar Forman.
I’m sure everyone remembers the comment chairman Jerry Reinsdorf made during “Monsters in the Morning” on Comcast SportsNet during February of 2009:
“When you have a team that’s not performing it’s an organization failure. You win and you lose as an organization, but if there’s one person this is not responsible for what’s going on right now, it’s John Paxson. I have tremendous confidence in John Paxson. He’s really one of the best people that I know.”
In May of 2009, Paxson stepped down as General Manger but remained with the team as VP of Basketball Operations, while still having major say in personnel moves. Gar Forman was promoted to take on the GM role. Forman and Paxson had a busy summer, and the work is paying off, read on to see what one transaction could lead up to:
In the summer of 2010, the Forman/Paxson recruited Coach Tom Thibodeau, and traded away Captain Kirk Hinrich to make salary room to maybe bring in one of the big three free agents, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James. You might also remember a little show called “The Decision.” Well, then you know what happened. The Bulls didn’t get any part of the three (trust me, a blessing in disguise). Instead, the signed someone better…Carlos Boozer. He was a free agent? Not necessarily. It was a sign-and-trade, the Bulls getting an inside presence, while the Jazz free up some room on their salary-cap. The signing of Boozer led to the signings of former Jazz teammates Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. CJ Watson was another addition, the Bulls retrieved him from Golden State and signed him for two years in return for a 2011 second round pick. They also acquired big man Tim Thomas, A.K.A. “Big Sexy,” dubbed by Bulls commentator Stacey King, from Milwaukee as a veteran to help bring up new center Omer Asik, who also signed with the Bulls in the summer from the Turkish league.
Forman and Paxson are up for NBA Executives of the Year. Even Stan Van Gundy thinks so:
“There’s this perception that Miami made all these changes and we made changes at midseason and Chicago is doing it with the same group. They’re not doing it with the same group. They made a lot of changes and I said the other day that John Paxson and Gar Forman should win the Executive of the Year award. But they won’t. Pat Riley will get Executive of the Year because they made the big splash, but in reality those guys should win it. They made a lot of changes and they were below Miami in the standings. Now they are above Miami in the standings, so how could you not go with those guys?”
Overall Grade: A-
During the summer, General Manager Gar Forman and Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson fired Vinny Del Negro and hired Boston Celtics Assistant Coach, Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau, known as a defensive-minded genius, helped the Celtics become the best defensive team in the league in 2007-2008.
“Tom has come in with a positive plan and a belief system from the start, and he has adhered to that. He’s done the best job in the league.” –John Paxson on hiring Thibodeau as new head coach
In his first ever head coaching job, Coach Thibs has done an incredible job. He doesn’t let the player get away with anything on the court. He’s hard-nosed and vocal without being too critical and expects his team to be the best. The players trust him, even when he’s in your face about giving up 100+ points to an opponent, including Captain and All-Star, Derrick Rose.
“I love it, he definitely yells at me a lot because he knows I can take it. I don’t show that much emotion when people talk to me anyways. So he’s hard on me, but I just go with the flow and go out there and do what he tells me to do.” –Derrick Rose on Coach Thibs’ in-your-face mentality
I think Coach Thibodeau deserves to win Coach of the Year because I think he helped push Rose this season, along with the whole roster. He does not care who you are, if you’re not doing your job, he’ll be in your face. The Bulls have leaped from 41-41 in 2009-2010 to 62-20 this season. Bulls have held their opponents to 43% shooting, ranking second in the league. They also held their opponents to 36% behind the arc (first in the league) and 38.2 rebounds per game (second in the league).
Defense wins championships, however the Bulls are ranked 20th in the league for points per game, 98.62.
Overall Grade: A-
The Bulls have All-Star Derrick Rose as their starting PG. Rose is the first Bull to make the NBA All-Star team since Michael Jordan. He’s carried the Bulls this season, leading in scoring (25.0 PPG). He’s played and started all but one game (due to painful ulcers). He averaged 7.7 APG and his three-pointer percentage has improved to 33% (from 27%). Last season, Rose made 16-60 from downtown, this season 128-385. His free throw percentage also improved from 77% to 86. The reason: he has gone to line twice as much this season. He’s proved time and time again that he’s “too big, too strong, too fast, too good.” His speed and penetration to the basket may confuse refs at times, because they can’t tell if he gets bumped. However, he drives first, before he relies on his jump shot. Which, by the way has improved as well, he’s making five more PPG. As a leader, the team sticks with him, the Bulls do not care their captain is 22 years old. He has a high basketball IQ, and “he just wants to win.” It helps that he is humble, even though he adds to a jam packed highlight reel a couple times a game, he has and a strong work ethic. He strives to be better every time. When you say jump, he says how high, and he has a 40 inch vertical!
“Until you get to be around him every day and you see his makeup and you see his drive and his humility and the fact he’s never satisfied, he gets to the gym early, he practices hard, he’s a great leader, he stays late, you couldn’t ask anything more of a guy. I think because of those attributes, he will continue to get better throughout his career. He’s just a very unique guy. He really doesn’t care about individual statistics. He cares about the team and winning more than anything else.” –Coach Thibs on Rose’s Improvement and Work Ethic
Let’s not forget about CJ Watson, Rose’s backup. He may not get a lot of playing time, but he’s part of the Bulls’ second unit, A.K.A. the Bench Mob. In his 13.3 minutes that he averages, he puts up about 4.9 PPG and 2.3 APG and has played in all 82 games as well.
Overall Grade: A++ (Yes, two pluses)
The Bulls acquired veteran swingman, Keith Bogans, for this area. He’s one of two players that has played and started all 82 games of the season. He averaged just under 18 minutes and 4.4 PPG, but he hits the shot and three-ball when he can, especially at the start of the game. He shot at 40% on the floor this season and 38% behind the arc, making 90 from downtown. His defensive role comes in handy, helping guard Celtics shooter Ray Allen to a 3-11 shooting on the floor and 0-3 from the three during the Bulls’ 97-81 win on April 7th.
The Bulls also added Kyle Korver this summer, the L.A. born, Iowa raised and FORMER Bulls hater ironically, who ranks 17th in the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage (0.415). This season, he went 3-6 on the floor vs. the Miami Heat on Jan. 15th, including a game winning three-pointer with 25.5 seconds left giving the Bulls a 98-96 lead, the Bulls beat the Heat in that contest 99-96. In the next game in Memphis on Jan. 17th, Korver scored 22 points, going 8-12 on the floor and 6-10 behind the arc. When the Bulls need him, he’s ready, especially in clutch situations. Korver has played all 82 games and made 242-557 FGs and 120-289 three-pointers. Even though Korver has had a few inconsistent nights, he finished with 19 points in 29 minutes vs. the New Jersey Nets. I’m not worried about his consistency in the playoffs, he is a natural shooter.
“Korver is without question if not the best shooter in the NBA, he is one of the best shooters in the NBA.” –Gar Forman on signing Kover
Ronnie Brewer is the type of guard who does all the little things and then some. He is a huge part of the Bench Mob. In New York on April 12th, he sprained his right thumb going for a loose ball, but is expected to play in the playoffs. Before the injury, he played in 81 games, including a start and averaged 48% on the floor. He has led the team in steals with 1.31 SPG (106 total). His defense is a big deal for the Mob. He works hard for his minutes, whenever the starters need a boost, they can count on Brewer and the Bench Mob to take the lead or continue in their shoes. He’s a big presence on the baseline, if that baseline is open, expect Brewer to get a cut and dunk. Whether it’s the one or the five, the Bulls bench has a deep depth and play together no matter what the combination.
Rasual Butler wasn’t added to the roster until March, and hardly played at all, but in the final regular season game vs. the Nets, he went four-for-five on the floor and two-for-three from downtown for 10 points in 13 minutes. He is always prepared. Just to see that someone like Butler can still be hot without getting too many minutes can say a lot about the Bulls depth in guards.
Overall Grade: B-
Luol Deng is probably the most underrated small forward in the league. Injuries have held him back a lot in the last few seasons, probably making him seem less than worthy. However, he started and played in ALL 82 games, even played with some minor soreness, dinks. Some situations, he put in almost 40 minutes a night and 17.4 PPG. He’s shooting 46% on the floor and 35% from the three and averaging 5.80 rebounds a night. He doesn’t have a true backup, unless the Bulls consider Brewer or Butler as his step-in. Deng makes a big difference on defense, guarding guys like LeBron James and Paul Pierce, and another offensive weapon to help support Rose.
Overall Grade: A
This is going to be a tough one. Carlos Boozer is the main attraction, even though he missed 23 games due to injury. In the 59 he played/started, he’s shooting 51% and grabbing about 9.60 boards and averaging 17.5 PPG. He makes the offense a little easier for Rose. He was signed for that particular reason. To help Rose blossom and to find him on the pick and roll and set the screens for shooters like Rose, Bogans, and Korver. Offensively, he’s great on handling with both hands, even though he’s slightly better with the left and can finish on either side. Boozer’s got a great hook and is not afraid of taken the jumper, he can hit the 16-23 footer and shoots 70% from the free throw line.
Defensively, he’s average at most. He can be slow to get back on defense. He’s a great rebounder, but barely takes charges. He also fouls an opponent pretty hard…Carlos Bruiser?
Taj Gibson is a force of nature. During Boozer’s injury, Taj picked up the slack, even with Boozer healthy, Taj comes off the bench and averages 7.1 PPG and 5.70 RPG and he’s shooting just under 47% on the floor. He ranks ninth in the NBA with blocks per 48 minutes (2.92). What Boozer lacks in defense, Taj makes up for. He’s played through injuries like plantar fasciitis and as of recent, has to wear a bigger shoe due to an injured right big toe. Taj is versatile; he can play the four or the five spot and can coordinate between the starting unit and the Bench Mob.
Overall Grade: C+
The 90s Era Bulls, the Jordan years had a three-headed monster A.K.A. their three big guys, the centers. The present-Bulls might’ve re-conjured that concept when the Bulls brought in veteran Kurt Thomas to back up Joakim Noah and guide rookie Omer Asik. When JoNo missed 34 games, 30 recovering from thumb ligament surgery, Thomas and Asik both stepped up to the task: 38-year old Thomas proved that there’s still some juice left, starting in 37 of 52 games he’s played. Starting, he shot 51% on the floor, averaged 7.4 RPG, 5.2 PPG and 1.0 BPG. Asik, nicknamed “The Turkish Delight” “Turkish Hammer” and “Asik and Destroy” by Bill Wennington and Stacey King, for his monstrous dunks, has put up 5.8 RPG 55% FG percentage in 12.1 MPG.
“He’s the guy that’s real critical to our team. His age, he’s young; he’s active, playing hard. Him and Jo in the game together is crazy because they always get tips, loose balls, whatever. His offensive game is getting a lot better. He’s shooting the ball a lot better from the free-throw line.” Rose on Asik’s improvement from training camp
With the injuries to Noah and Boozer, the fact the guys like Taj, Asik and Thomas have stepped up says so much. Signing Boozer and him getting injured instantaneously and Carmelo Anthony trade rumors for Noah floating around and his injuries before All-Star weekend was insignificant but these three guys picked up the slack without the Bulls suffering.
No matter the age, or circumstance, these three are always ready to play and always getting better. Come playoff time, they’ll be prepared for the task ahead.
Overall Grade: B+