ESPN's John Hollinger debuted his 2012-13 Player Profiles on Monday by looking at the NBA champion Miami Heat and runner-up Oklahoma City Thunder, and today he has released his profiles for your Chicago Bulls (ESPN Insider Only).
I've had qualms with some of Hollinger's work in the past, mainly because of an over-reliance on PER. This was especially the case when he essentially dismissed Derrick Rose from MVP consideration in 2010-11 because his PER wasn't quite "elite" enough. But I must admit that most of Hollinger's stuff is top notch, and while PER is flawed (like pretty much any advanced stat), it's still a pretty darn good way to compare players.
Hollinger's Player Profiles - in which he scouts and projects stats for every player - have been superb thus far, and his Bulls efforts are no exception. So let's take a look, player-by-player, at some of the stuff he has to say about this new-look Bulls team.
Derrick Rose, PG
2011-12 PER: 23.10
2012-13 PER Projection: 24.89
First off, I just want to say that I'm pleasantly surprised that Rose was atop Hollinger's list at starting point guard as opposed to Kirk Hinrich, because seeing Kurt's grinning mug up there would have just made me depressed. But anyway, Rose is obviously a mystery this year due to the ACL injury. We've heard all the reports about how great his rehab is going, but that is usually the case for most rehabs. The fact that Rose is so young certainly has to help the process, but you just never know with these things.
Barring some team disaster, it appears that February/March is a safe target date for Rose's return. The question then becomes just how effective he will be. Hollinger's projections seem quite lofty and kind of odd, because in his scouting report he mentions how Rose's return in the spring will be a bit "rocky as he works out the kinks." A near 25 PER is certainly not rocky. But whatever. As long as I see Derrick back on the court and looking like his old self at any point this season, I'll be satisfied.
Richard Hamilton, SG
2011-12 PER: 13.27
2012-13 PER Projection: 11.82
Hamilton was a huge disappointment last year, mainly because he couldn't stay on the court due to a variety of injuries. When he did play, he was alright, but Hollinger points out a major cause for concern:
Hamilton played only 28 games, so take the shooting numbers with a grain of salt, but of more lasting concern was the demise of his free throw attempts. Without those, he's a really ordinary player because more than half his shots are long 2s -- in fact, he took a higher proportion of his shots from that distance than any other player in the league (see chart). In the past he's been able to draw a fair number of fouls with shot fakes and moves off the ball, but last season only three guards had a worse rate of free throw attempts per field goal attempt; Hamilton had only 37 free throw attempts all season.
The chart Hollinger mentions shows that 61.8 percent of Hamilton's shots came from 10-23 feet, which was tops in the league by 1.8 percent over Charles Jenkins of Golden State. And on all of those shots, Hamilton shot just 39.8 percent from the field, which was below his career rate.
With Rose sidelined, Hamilton will be asked to shoulder a bigger responsibility on offense. At this point, I'm not sure he can do it efficiently. Hollinger makes an interesting point about possibly using Hamilton off the bench, which is something I may not be opposed to. In any case, this is probably moot, because we all know Hamilton will be dealt before the deadline in order to get under the tax.
Luol Deng, SF
2011-12 PER: 14.13
2012-13 PER Projection: 14.02
I really have no idea what to expect from Deng this season. While he was an All-Star last year, he set career lows in shooting percentage and PER, prompting Hollinger to call the selection "a bit of a joke." I'm not sure you can call it a joke because at the time Deng was somewhat deserving of a bid, but it's something that can be argued.
Of course, and Hollinger points this out in his critique, perhaps the biggest reason Deng struggled offensively last year was because of the torn ligament in his left wrist. This affected his ability to penetrate, which resulted in less shots at the rim, less free throws and more tough jumpers.
After the season, Deng chose to play in the Olympics, a decision which I had no problem with. But despite the assertions that his wrist was fine, we saw him post dreadful shooting percentages. The lack of help from teammates was most likely a factor, but you have to imagine the wrist was as well. And yet, still no surgery (a decision I do have a problem with).
I admire what Deng brings to the table. He's tough as hell, can play multiple positions relatively well and plays balls to the wall for 40 minutes a night. His minutes are a running gag at this point, and I doubt they'll be diminishing anytime soon. With small-ball being somewhat en vogue these days, Hollinger notes that we may be seeing more Deng at power forward, especially with Omer Asik making now making bank in Houston.
But despite all this, I have major questions about whether Deng can improve upon the rather weak efficiency numbers he posted last year. Based on Hollinger's projections, he has those questions as well.
Carlos Boozer, PF
2011-12 PER: 19.79
2012-13 PER Projection: 18.50
When you look at some of the numbers, we see a guy who is still a respectable offensive player. Boozer led the league last year in field goal percentage on shots from 3-9 feet, besting guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Roy Hibbert. Overall, Boozer's field goal percentage was a solid 53.2, and he boasted a very good 19.79 PER.
But when you start digging a little deeper, you come across some problems. Boozer spent way less time around the rim last year, resulting in a steep decline in free throw attempts. So despite strong shooting percentages, his true shooting percentage was 20th among power forwards. Not good enough for a guy making $75 million.
What's also obviously not good enough is his mostly brutal defense. Take it away John:
Defensively, Boozer is Chicago's worst frontcourt player, but the excellence of the other three made him look worse: Chicago gave up 8.6 points per 100 possessions more with him on the court. While he was 11th in rebound rate among power forwards, his help defense was pretty deficient, consisting large of screaming loudly that a pick was coming before pretending to stop the ball handler. He also has short arms and doesn't always sprint back, making him something of a magnet for criticism in the Windy City.
One interesting tidbit Hollinger goes on to point out is that Boozer has actually performed capably on defense as a center, posting a 12.7 opponent PER last year. With this in mind, we could see him play more center this upcoming season. But the fact remains that he's a largely horrible defender, which is why he was often bolted to the bench in favor of Taj Gibson in many a fourth quarter. That kind of stuff is why a good portion of the fan base wants him amnestied as soon as possible, even if he's still a solid scoring option.
Joakim Noah, C
2011-12 PER: 19.59
2012-13 PER Projection: 18.25
Noah got off to a disastrous start last year, but rebounded to post pretty respectable numbers. In fact, Hollinger calls it "his best season as a pro." This may be the case simply because he was able to stay healthy all season (until the end), but based on what we saw at the end of 2009-10 and the start of 2010-11, we know Jo is capable of even more.
Noah's year came to a crashing end in the playoffs thanks to that gruesome ankle injury, and it apparently was serious enough to keep him off the court for a good portion of the offseason. However, Noah has recently been working out with legendary center Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, who's expecting to see a new and improved post game out of the Bulls' center. I usually file this stuff under the "believe it when I see it" category, but it's never a bad thing when you're getting praise from one of the all-time greats. In a similar vein, Bill Russell also recently raved about Noah.
With Rose out, it would be extremely beneficial to the Bulls if Noah indeed showed an improved offensive game. He's already an excellent passer and an asset in the high post, but it would be nice if they could get some consistent points from him down low on stuff other than tap-ins. While it would be foolish to ever expect him to be a prolific low post scorer, I don't think having a respectable post game is too much to ask.
Taj Gibson, PF
2011-12 PER: 16.90
2012-13 PER Projection: 15.61
I think Hollinger hits the nail right on the head when he calls Gibson "one of the league's most underrated players right now." Bulls fans and NBA junkies might realize why Gibson is set to cash in big time, but many others probably don't realize just how valuable he is:
Meanwhile, Gibson ranked second among power forwards in blocks per minute, and his defensive stats are otherworldly. Chicago gave up a whopping 10.5 points per 100 possessions fewer with Gibson on the court, and this was already a dominant defensive team. Opposing power forwards mustered only a 12.6 PER against him, according to 82games.com, but it was his help defense that really stood out -- Gibson can comfortably switch on guards and lock them up.
This could be a huge year for Gibson, especially if he and the Bulls aren't able to come to terms on a long-term extension. He's slated to see an increase in minutes with Asik out of the picture, so other teams will get to see what he's really made of. If he can continue to improve his offensive game while remaining a dominant defensive force, his price tag will just keep rising. K.C. Johnson did offer some comforting words this morning by saying that he believes a deal will be reached before the season, but per usual, I'll believe it when I see it.
Kirk Hinrich, PG
2011-12 PER: 9.28
2012-13 PER Projection: 8.71
I think most people already know by now how Matt and I feel about the Hinrich signing. We loathe it, and it's not just because the Bulls hard-capped themselves by doing it. For me, it's because the Bulls pretty much made him their top priority this offseason, despite the fact that he's stunk for the better part of the last few seasons. And when I see Hollinger's dismal projections, I feel even worse.
Hinrich still has some value because he can play both guard positions, but it's not like he can play either of them very well. He's a decent shooter and an adequate ballhandler, but he can't get to the rim and rarely gets to the line. Defensively, while he still does a nice job against shooting guards (holding them to an 11.0 PER), he can't really handle good point guards.
On that note, we get this analysis from Hollinger:
One thing that's obvious from his tenure as a Hawk is that he's much more effective as a 2 than a 1, at both ends of the floor. Atlanta played some of its best ball late in the season with Hinrich starting at the off guard, where he can be a defensive menace and spot up on the weak side.
So Kurt for shooting guard in 2013-14, right? Right? (Wrong.)
Vladimir Radmanovic, F
2011-12 PER: 11.72
2012-13 PER Projection: 11.49
I think very little of Radmanovic as a player, but the truth is, he is better than Brian Scalabrine. While VladRad may be a bit of an airhead, he's still a respectable shooter and a surprisingly decent defender, especially at the three. According to 82games.com, he allowed a stellar 8.9 opponent PER while playing small forward. I hope not to see too much of Vlad, but if he can be an "effective combo forward" in limited minutes, I'd call that a win.
Nate Robinson, PG
2011-12 PER: 18.05
2012-13 PER Projection: 14.73
I've always loathed Robinson, so when I heard the news that he was signed, I just kind of threw up my hands in disgust. But after looking closer at some of the numbers, I realized that he was actually quite good last season:
It now appears that Robinson's horrific 2010-11 season was an outlier. He reverted to his old form last season as one of the league's premier bench energizes and proved a tremendous low-cost pickup for Golden State. Robinson averaged nearly a point every two minutes, but the real revelation was his distribution from the point. Unbelievably, he ranked ninth in the league in pure point rating and eighth in turnover rate; in particular, his rate of 7.8 assists per 40 minutes was by far the best of his career.
I don't expect Robinson to be as good this year, but he should hopefully prove to be a better version of John Lucas III. The Bulls will need all the offensive firepower they can get, and Robinson can provide some shot creation for himself and others. And while his defense may be terrible (worst in the league according to Synergy), perhaps Tom Thibodeau can work a little magic there.
Nazr Mohammed, C
2011-12 PER: 11.02
2012-13 PER Projection: 11.15
Arguments can be made that there isn't much of a drop-off from some of the old bench guys to the new guys. In the case of backup center, no such argument can be made. There's a steep drop-off from Omer Asik to Nazr Mohammed. While Asik is a dreadful offensive player, one can't deny that he's an elite defensive center. Mohammed is old, a "defensive liability" and not much of an offensive threat anymore. I would imagine that the Bulls primarily use a three-man frontcourt rotation, with Mohammed seeing limited minutes and Deng getting time up there when the situation calls for it.
Marquis Teague, PG
2012-13 PER Projection: No projection available
Teague really struggled in Summer League, but Hollinger thinks rather highly of the rookie point guard:
Nonetheless, this was a great value pick by Chicago. Teague is unquestionably an NBA athlete and his struggles at the point were perhaps overstated. He may take his lumps as a rookie, but he'll be one of the league's youngest players and offers strong upside at a bargain price going forward. My Draft Rater had Teague rated as the fifth-best talent (I did a couple tweaks post-draft, but even going in I had him rated highly), so getting him at No. 29 while also filling a position need was a huge coup for the Bulls.
With Hinrich and Robinson in the fold, who knows what kind of minutes Teague will get this year. I figured this year would be a perfect year to develop Teague, but apparently management has other ideas. All I can say is that I hope Summer League was a mirage and that Hollinger is right.
Marco Belinelli, SG
2011-12 PER: 12.00
2012-13 PER Projection: 11.98
I personally wish the Bulls would have held on to Kyle Korver, but they certainly could have done worse by replacing him with Marco Belinelli. The Italian Stallion isn't the elite shooter that Korver is, but he should be able to bring a little more in terms of shot creation. As much as I loved Korver's ability to free himself for open looks by working off the ball, I cringed whenever he tried to put the ball on the floor.
Hollinger doesn't speak all that highly of Belinelli, calling him a "Groundhog Day player" due to the fact that there's been little improvement over the course of his career. The shooting guard is also a mediocre to below average defender, but considering Thibs turned Korver into a respectable defender, hopefully we can see a similar transformation here.
Jimmy Butler, G
2011-12 PER: 12.48
2012-13 PER Projection: No projection available
We saw some nice things out of Butler last year. Defensively he showed a ton of promise, effectively guarding the likes of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James for short stretches. Offensively, Butler's a major work in progress, but he did have a knack for getting to the line. Hollinger asks whether that will keep up:
The question, of course, is how much of this will carry over to more regular duty --particularly the free throw attempts, which are the dividing line between his being moderately used on offense and his being a millstone. The Bulls cleared the way for him to play a lot more this season, so we should have an answer fairly early.
Butler's brilliant Summer League was promising, but it would be foolish to take too much from that. We need to see him do it in real games. With the similar Ronnie Brewer gone, Butler will have a chance to prove that he belongs in the rotation. If his game continues to grow, the Bulls will have a very valuable asset on their bench.