The following quote was infamously made from Bulls VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson on December 26th during his state of the team address.
“In the meantime, you’re drafting in the middle of the pack all the time. You’re good enough to make the playoffs a little bit, but you’re picking between 14, 15, and 22. It’s difficult to get impact players, unless you’re lucky like we were with Jimmy (Butler) years ago.”
Nearly a month later, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is playing second year undrafted center Cristiano Felicio and rookie second round pick Paul Zipser over lottery picks Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine and coveted first round pick Bobby Portis.
So, as if Paxson’s quote wasn’t dumbfounding enough, it appears Hoiberg is throwing it right back in his face. Not necessarily in spite of Paxson and company giving him a flawed roster (which would be funny), but because it’s the right move, and those two have been the better players. And thus, it leads us to another indictment on not only the front office, but multiple avenues as well.
The Bulls front office lauded Hoiberg when he was hired for his ability to develop players. Through almost two years, we’ve yet to see that development come to fruition.
(You can probably give Valentine a pass considering he is a rookie, and has dealt with various injuries throughout the year).
This can be labeled as a two-way street; between the coaches and players. Does this mean that players aren’t working hard enough in the offseason or during the season? Not by any means. Rather for the players themselves they just aren’t progressing at a fast enough rate, whether that’s from a physical or mental standpoint. As for the coaches, it’s possible that what and how they are teaching hasn’t been effective.
When you look at players such as Nikola Mirotic, Portis and McDermott, they’re still struggling in the same areas that they were one or even as much as two years ago. So much so, that as we’ve seen over the course of this season, they haven’t been able to find a consistent role Hoiberg’s rotation.
To that last point, when provided the chance to earn consistent minutes in Hoiberg’s rotation, Fred hasn’t done the best job of putting the younger players in positions to succeed.
Niko and McDermott have both primarily been used as spot-up shooters for teams lacking in adequate spacing. And ya know, that’s fine, but Fred hasn’t used either of their actual skill-sets to his advantage. For instance Niko’s potential play-making as a point forward, or using McDermott’s ability out of the post or off screens like JJ Redick, Klay Thompson or Kyle Korver.
As for Portis, Hoiberg thrusted him into a position that was obviously forced. At the beginning of the season, while Felicio had earned the backup center minutes, Fred tried putting Portis in that position as a way to get him playing time while being behind Niko and Taj Gibson. Center is not Portis’ natural position and forcing him to play out of position just for the sake of giving him minutes wasn’t and isn’t conducive to his development, as we’ve seen.
More than the player development, more than the coaching staff, this all once again falls back on the front office duo of John Paxson and Gar Forman. Their last three first round draft picks have yet to pan out, their futures currently bleak. They haven’t drafted well since the aforementioned ‘luck’ with Jimmy Butler.
From the bottom-up, Lee and Cole were picks packaged for Mirotic, and Harris and Nurkic (plus 3 second-rounders) were used to acquire Doug McDermott. Teague, Muprhy, and Bairstow are out of the league.
Needless to say, the Bulls scouting and player evaluation has been poor for quite some time. If we are to look back at the last three first round picks, each come with very similar, significant flaws that would attribute to their lack of impact at the NBA level. It’s almost as if the front office hasn’t learned their lesson about drafting players with questions about their defensive abilities and overall lack of athleticism.
As this season drags on, it becomes more obvious with each passing day that this organization needs a fresh start in multiple areas. Namely, it needs to start at the top of the organization with Paxson and Forman. If there’s one thing that Jerry Reinsdorf and his son Michael need to do this offseason, it’s to move on from the duo, and Hoiberg, and bring people with new, fresh visions for where this organization can go. Because with a franchise a player in Butler, you can’t afford to keep wasting years of his prime.