[Promoted Fanpost. Latest trade rumors can be found here, but for one thread lets talk about these guys like they'll be Bulls next year. -yfbb]
Last year at about this time I wrote a piece entitled Off-Season Homework Assignments. In this piece I designated two tasks to each player to improve upon over the off-season. After the 2010-2011 season, I believed the Bulls could win a title if they improved upon Bogans, and had individual players enhance their games. Unfortunately, my theory was never tested as injuries decimated the Bulls all season long. Nonetheless, it was good to see a few of the players take my advice, because you KNOW they come to BAB to learn about how they can improve.
This off-season the front office seems to be re-evaluating everyone's role with the team, then making moves accordingly. Thus, this season-ending post investigates which players are able to improve and enhance their game.
First a couple of caveats:
1) I'm looking at players currently on the roster, not potential players (say draft picks).
2) I'm including CJ, Korver, and Brewer as the Bulls are able to keep them if they so choose.
3) As an indicator of future player growth, I'm using improvement over last summer as a data point. Unfortunately, I don't know how the lock-out impacted each player's off-season training.
The Bulls as currently constructed are as follows:
1. Derrick Rose: 23
Hope of Improvement: Future improvement, yes. This year, no.
Over the previous off-season I hoped Rose would develop a better floor game and improve the consistency on his three point shot. Unfortunately, due to the myriad of injuries he suffered this year it is hard to evaluate Rose's game. His shooting percentages were down across the board, but I actually felt he improved quite a bit. This is a classic case of the eye test contradicting the numbers, and I believe the injuries are the culprit. Before the injuries to him and his teammates Rose's shot selection and floor game (aka running the offense) was vastly improved. This may be in part to having Rip running around a series of screens and creating motion within the defense, rather than have Bogans sitting in the corner. The number of three point shots he took declined, which I felt was positive, as in 2010-2011 there were several games Rose would shoot 1-7 from beyond the arc. The total number of games with excessive and poor three point shooting declined helping the Bulls run their offense, prevent fast breaks, and have better offensive possessions. In summation, during the brief period Rose was healthy he showed glimpses of improvement over the previous season, but it is hard to truly evaluate his play due to the injuries (both to him and his teammates) decimating his numbers.
Looking forward, I don't believe Rose will be able to improve his game this off-season. This is due entirely to the fact he is rehabbing his ACL. I believe in future summers Rose will be fully capable of expanding and enhancing his game, just not this off-season.
2: Rip Hamilton: 34
Hope of Improvement: Unlikely
I am unable to evaluate Rip's improvement from 2010-2011 to 2011-2012 as he was not with the Bulls in 2010-2011. Rip is 34 and had massive injury problems this year. I hope Rip would spend the off-season improving his strength and conditioning to prevent future injuries, as well as improve his mid-range and three point shots, which were surprisingly inconsistent this year. Again, this is hard to evaluate as the time both he and Rose played together was extremely limited.
Unfortunately, Rip is 34, and I can't foresee him expanding his game. With an additional year of age, he is only more likely to get re-injured, and as his physical abilities further recede, his shot will become more inconsistent. Rip's likelihood for improvement is extremely unlikely.
3. Luol Deng: 27
Hope of Improvement: Unlikely
After the 2010-2011 season I implored Deng to improve his three-point shooting and his finishing in transition. On both counts I believed Deng improved. He shot 2 percent better from three point range, and I don't remember as many blown lay-ups (possibly because the injury prevented him from driving in traffic). Deng also seemed to create a shot for himself, it only happened five or six times all season, but it did happen. He was at the three point line on the wing, took a dribble or two towards the lane, stopped, pumped, and shot. It worked, and I was amazed. Unfortunately, this did not happen nearly enough to claim Deng developed the ability to be the second creator the team needs. Also, Deng's overall field goal percentage declined drastically, probably due to the injury to his left wrist. Nonetheless, Deng showed the ability to improve his game. His three point shooting over the past two years has vastly improved, and he has rounded into a fringe all-star.
Unfortunately, he is also injured, and will have limited training time to improve upon his game. Deng has showed the capacity for growth, but he is also aging. Deng is 27 now and has picked up a bunch of miles over the past two years. Pretty soon Deng's physical abilities will start to decline, and though he doesn't rely on his athleticism, he does not have good speed or explosion to begin with, Deng will be transitioning from a player with average athleticism to a player with subpar athleticism. Deng's off-season improvement is doubtful this year, and limited in years to come.
4. Carlos Boozer: 30
Hope of Improvement: Not a chance
Boozer's points for improvement were talking with Kurt Thomas to learn old-man defense, and improving his offensive repertoire. Although Boozer did show more defensive effort, the defensive performance was still lacking. His offensive repertoire did not improve, nor did his footwork, or anything on the offensive end. Basically, Boozer was the exact same player, without the excuse of being injured.
Moving forward, Boozer is 30 and I see no hope for him to improve.
5. Joakim Noah: 27
Hope of Improvement: Moderate, but slimming
Noah's mid-range jump shot and ambidextrous finishing were my two main points of improvement for Noah. Noah started the year terribly. He was out of shape, out of rhythm, and basically sucked ass. Noah appeared to partially recapture the Tornado that kept defenders honest when he was in the high-post, but it didn't become the automatic shot I hoped it would become (a la Kurt Thomas). Conversely, his finishing around the hoop didn't noticeably improve or decline. I did feel Noah's decision making improved some, as he was less likely to take the ball from coast to coast, and was subjected to fewer charges. In both the last two season's, Noah's play has varied greatly. In 2010-2011, he started off as the second best center in the league (that is no longer the case), but injured his thumb and his game declined. In 2011-2012, he started poorly, and rounded into the Joakim Noah Bulls fans love to see.
Projecting forward, Noah is a difficult person to evaluate because of this in-season fluctuation. My belief is Noah, although not that young at 27, could still vastly improve his performance by making slight improvements to his elbow jumper and finishing around the block (not necessarily in the post, but finishing off of passes and offensive rebounds [basically, finishing in traffic]). Unfortunately, Noah's conditioning at the beginning of the year, leads me to believe he is not a dedicated off-season worker, and I should not assume he will make these basic and doable upgrades. Further, Noah is an energy player, and over the next few years, this energy and quickness will start to decline as he ages. Hence, Noah's hope for improvement is moderate but slimming.
6. CJ Watson: 28
Hope for Improvement: Unlikely
First, CJ is 28?!?! For some reason I thought he was younger. Second, I didn't have much for Watson to improve upon over last year. I cited his consistency and free-throw shooting as areas for improvement, and his free throw shooting did improve about 5 percentage points. His consistency however did not. Of course, Watson was another of the walking wounded for the Bulls this year, and in the playoffs he got torched. It is one thing to go up against someone younger, bigger, and faster than you for 36 minutes a game, but it is another to go up against someone younger, bigger, and faster than you for 36 minutes a game while you require surgery on your feet. Although Watson did provide several clutch, game winning shots, his complete brain fart in Game 6 of the Philly series still leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. If he runs the clock out like he should have, I believe the Bulls play Miami in the ECF (where they promptly lose, because they have no Rose and a hobbling Noah).
I didn't have much for Watson to improve on last year, this year there is nothing glaring. If forced, I would have to say consistency, but again Watson had surgery on his feet, and is 28. Watson is who Watson is, I don't think his game will improve much.
7. Ronnie Brewer: 27
Hope for Improvement: Minimal
After last year, I hoped Brewer would improve his ball-handling and his three point shot. His handle never really came around, though I never really expected it to. Brewer also featured a startling trend I noticed while assembling this post. His field goal percentage declined noticeably, while his three point percentage improved. In fact, Brewer had a career year from beyond the arc. Of course he still shot 27%. Brewer did not make any noticeable improvements in his game. Brewer is a typical role player, and when combined with a good coach (like Thibs) can be deployed strategically and effectively. Brewer does not possess a high ceiling, and at 27 does not have much time to improve. Brewer's hope for improvement (which I would want to be his mid-range and three point shooting), is minimal.
8. Kyle Korver: 31
Hope for Improvement: Minimal
I had hoped Kyle Korver would improve his ball-handling and his jumper off the curl, and though neither really happened I actually felt Korver improved quite a bit. His team defense (as he'll never be a great one on one defender) and his defensive rebounding were much better. I was looking forward to the playoffs to see if Korver can stay with the other team's weaker offensive guards (say a Mario Chalmers), but with Rose's injury went Korver's reason to be on the floor. Korver, like Brewer, is also a role player and his success is very much dependent upon his deployment. Looking forward, I don't think Korver can improve a whole lot. He is 31, unathletic, has good vision, and passing, but relies on others to get him the ball. Korver has essentially been the same player ever since he entered the league. I think it is foolish to expect much improvement from a 31 year-old, but hey, his defense and rebounding surprised me this year.
9. Jimmy Butler: 22
Hope for Improvement: Vast
Jimmeh! Obviously as a rookie he was unable to improve upon his previous season. He flashed moments of defense, and athleticism, but really he didn't get enough minutes to make any real conclusions. I agree with those BAB's that are skeptical of Butler's ability to seamlessly replace Brewer in the line-up, in spite of the fact he flashed the ability to do so many times. Butler had limited playing time, so it is hard to focus on one or two areas he needs to improve upon. My initial thought is his spot-up shooting and defensive discipline as I believe all rookies can improve upon those areas. As for Butler's ability to improve, I believe it is vast. He showed good athleticism, defense, and awareness he simply needs to refine those skills into usable tools. When the Bulls selected him, I thought he was a high-floor low-ceiling type player. I don't believe that anymore, I think Butler can become a good starting caliber player. He won't be a superstar or anything, but a good starter, he should be fully capable of becoming.
10. Taj Gibson: 26
Hope for Improvement: Moderate
Last year I hoped Taj would improve upon his mid-range shooting (specifically, the 15 ft baseline shot) and his defensive discipline. His shot was erratic again this year, but I felt his defensive discipline did improve. He still has momentary mistakes, but he is far-less prone, thus far-less likely to bail the opposing team out after 21 seconds of excellent team defense. I also felt Taj improved his interior scoring. In my opinion he is our best post-up player (though, not very good), but can convert fairly well within 6-8 feet. Further, he can convert off of drive and dishes, offensive rebounds, in transition, and a little on his own. Taj still has good athleticism and length and at 26 has a good three or four years before his body starts to decline.
I still hope Taj can create an automatic 15 ft jumper, as he would then be able to do everything Boozer can with better defense. I'd also love to see Taj improve his free throw shooting, as this has become a real sore point for far too many Bulls players. One or two free throws throughout the game change that game's complexion greatly. Regarding Taj's ability to improve, I believe it is moderate. His areas of weakness (shooting) are improvable. Taj has proven to be a hard worker, he just needs to sit in a gym and shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Further, Taj should be fairly motivated as it is about time to start talking contract extension, and since Taj entered the league later than most, this is the contract he will rely on for the rest of his life. That should be plenty motivation to improve these basic aspects of his game.
11. Omer Asik: 25
Hope for Improvement: Moderate
Asik is a bit difficult to evaluate. Last year I hoped he improved his free throw shooting and his finishing. Neither happened. Further, these two aspects of his game are so glaring that everyone knows he has to improve these, and just a moderate improvement in either turns him into a 10 million dollar man. He is a beast defensively, this is not arguable, but his offensive prowess is so weak that it becomes a legit question as to whether or not you play him. Given such an obvious weakness, and having seen zero improvement in that facet, I wonder if he will ever improve his offense. That is why Asik is difficult to evaluate, because he has a lot of room for growth, but in his one off-season thusfar, has shown none. This may be a lock-out thing, or maybe he focused on learning english instead, but I am hesitant to project Omer improving because he has not thusfar. Therefore, he is a moderate hope for improvement because there is vast room for growth, but has not proven he will improve. Perhaps, his contract situation properly motivates him this year.
12. John Lucas: 29
Hope for Improvement: Limited
I didn't evaluate John last year, but I doubt he'll be able to improve much. If I could ask John Lucas to improve on anything, I would hope it is his passing as I got far too annoyed watching him dribble at the 3 point line for 20 seconds prior to jacking a long-distance jumper. He is short, not a freak athlete, and is 29. I feel Lucas is who he is, and he isn't going to get much better. Though, I do want to thank him for giving the Bulls a few of the best moments of the season, like when he outplayed Lebron down the stretch of the fourth quarter back in February.
Hope for Improvement: Great
After last year I wanted Thibs to review everything he did as a rookie head coach and make changes where they were needed. I also wanted Thibs to implement a better offense. When the Bulls were healthy their offense was humming, but that is the problem, as the Bulls were not healthy. Further, I feel Thibs did a great job in the midst of all the injuries. Although the team reverted back into a defense only team during the playoffs, I believe this was more because Rose was injured, Noah was injured, Deng was injured, Watson was injured and Boozer sucks. I don't think anyone should be expecting excellent offensive output when Watson (laying injured), Brewer/Hamilton, Deng (playing injured), Boozer, and Asik are in. Whereas I hoped Thibs learned the value of offense during the 2010-2011 playoffs, I hope he learned the value of health this season. If Thibs can see and coach to the big picture more, he may be the next 'great head coach'.
Noah is the only starter with the hope of improvement this off-season, and he hasn't proven to be an off-season workout warrior. The bench bigs have room for growth, but the trio of Watson/Brewer/Korver are who they are, solid role players. Coach Thibs has room to improve in managing players. Unlike the end of the 2010-2011 season I don't believe the Bulls can expect off-season improvements from the current players to propel the Bulls to the title.
Go Bulls! Pay the Tax Jerry!