Good news: Bulls don't have to depend on NBA Draft to get better
BY MARK POTASH | Afternoon Sports Club June 23, 2011 12:20PM
It would be a stretch to think the Bulls could find as good a player as they did with Taj Gibson at the bottom of the first round of tonight's NBA Draft. | AP
Updated: June 23, 2011 6:51PM
Just for a little historical perspective, here are the best players the Bulls have EVER drafted in the range of their scheduled picks in tonight's NBA draft: (Nos. 28, 30 and 43):
1. Norm Van Lier (No. 34 in 1969); No. 2 Toni Kukoc (No. 29 in 1990); 3. Clifford Ray (No. 40 in 1971); 4. Rod Higgins (No. 31 in 1982); 5. Taj Gibson (No. 26 in 2009).
Not only is there a precipitous drop-off, but Van Lier and Kukoc, it's worth pointing out, didn't play for the Bulls the year they were drafted. Van Lier was traded and then re-acquired in 1971; Kukoc didn't sign with the Bulls until the 1993-94 season.
If it’s immediate impact you’re looking for, the list is even less impressive:
1. Taj Gibson (No. 26 in 2009); 2. Chris Duhon (No. 38 in 2004); 3. Rod Higgins (No. 31 in 1982); 4. Trenton Hassell (No. 30 in 2001); 5. John Laskowski (No. 30 in 1975).
So it figured that Bulls general manager Gar Forman downplayed the idea of getting an impact player in the draft this season. With the NBA's reigning MVP in Derrick Rose and a team that won 61 games last year, the chance of finding a player who will be productive as a rookie is better than in previous years.
But it's still a long shot. Even when the Bulls had Michael Jordan, the only impact player they found late in the first round or beyond was Kukoc. Nothing else fit, despite the presence of the great Jordan: Mark Randall, Byron Houston, Corie Blount, Keith Booth, Rickie Winslow, etc., etc.
But like those Jordan-led teams, the Bulls don’t need a lot of help. They’ll still have the nucleus of a team that had the best regular-season record in the NBA last season (62-20), led by the dynamic Rose.
And though the Bulls lost to the Miami Heat in five games, while the Dallas Mavericks beat the Heat in six to win the NBA title, the Bulls weren’t that far away from winning it all in 2010-11. Look at it this way: With 5:00 to go in the fourth quarter in each of the five playoff games against the Heat, the Bulls were trailing in only one of them. At the same point of each of the six games against the Heat in the Finals, the Mavericks were trailing in four of them. The Mavericks didn’t really play the Heat much better than the Bulls. But with a veteran team, they finished better.
The Bulls need a second scorer who can make plays off the dribble. And they need more offense from their starting shooting guard — holes that one player in free agency can fill. But they also have a lot of room for improvement from within. And as close as they are, that can make the difference. Here’s a look at some areas of improvement that won’t require a draft pick or a free agent.
1. Derrick Rose can improve his shooting. Rose not only was the MVP of the league last season, but he was fourth in voting for most improved player. And he’s still got room for improvement. The most tangible area is his three-point shooting, which tailed off in the post season. Rose shot 40 percent on three-pointers in the first 32 games last season, but dopped to 30 percent in the final 48 games and 25 percent in the playoffs. Whether it was form, shot selection or fatigue, Rose can take another big step forward in that area next season.
2. Joakim Noah can become a bigger factor offensively. Noah’s dwindling offensive production was overshadowed by Carlos Boozer’s inconsistency in the postseason, but it was a big factor against the Heat. Noah lost even the threat of an outside shot after returning from a thumb injury and it allowed defenses to better defend Rose’s penetration. Noah pledged to work on that part of his game in the offseason. It’s no longer a luxury to his game. It’s a necessity.
3. C.J. Watson should get a better shot at playing with Rose. One of the keys to the Mavericks’ success last season, especially against the Heat in the Finals, was their versatility. With Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea, they often had two point guards and/or two penetrators on the floor at the same time. As great as Rose is with the ball, there are times — like when he’s being guarded by LeBron James or Paul George — that he can be even more effective playing off the ball. Watson, a proven scorer and playmaker, gives the Bulls the best chance to do that. The Rose-Watson combo kind of flopped last year, but Tom Thibodeau never really gave it a chance.
4. Tom Thibodeau won’t be a rookie coach next season. Thibodeau earned his Coach of the Year Award, but there’s no doubt he learned a lesson or two in the playoffs. He’ll never specify what mistakes he actually learned from. But it won’t be hard to tell on the court. He’s set in his ways, but he also believes that history is a great teacher. It’s hard to believe he won’t be better in 2011-12.
5. Taj Gibson. This one’s a little tricky because of the Boozer factor, but Gibson has more room for growth than anybody on the current roster because he’s not only skilled, but he fits the Bulls’ schemes at both ends of the floor. That might turn out to be Thibodeau’s biggest challenge next season: letting Gibson grow in a system that is tailored for him without turning Boozer into a liability.
And for what it’s worth, Gibson was the No. 26 pick of the 2009 draft. So you never know. With the momentum Rose, Thibodeau, Forman and the Bulls have right now, they might get more help than they expect tonight. The good news is, their hopes for the 2011-12 season doesn’t depend on it.