How Good is the Bulls Roster?

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We are in a basketball lull. No more important Chicago Bulls basketball news or events until the start of training camp. Jimmy Butler promises to play an important role for Team USA in the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio, so maybe that can tame a bit of your Bulls hankering and also provide a bit of confidence for the upcoming season provided he performs well. Confidence can also be taken in the fact that the Bulls Summer League team won the championship in the just concluded Las Vegas Summer League. News on the ground now promises to be scarce until October when the final sorting of the Bulls roster will take place.

That being said, most of the spots on the roster are virtually guaranteed. Four of five starters are already known with the only question mark being at the Power Forward position. The Bulls currently have 14 players under contract (with only 1 non-guaranteed) for the upcoming NBA season, so barring potential trades or surprise releases the overall roster is also virtually set. That leaves a maximum of three roster spots up for grabs. That means little wiggle room exists in the rotation. However, even this may be gleaned from past performance and roster construction.Then we may be able to at least speculate on how good this new Bulls team can be.

What follows is a brief description/scouting report of players currently a part of the Bulls roster, followed by the same for the Bulls Summer League roster. This is based on personal observation with gaps filled by professional scouting reports.

Chicago Bulls roster:

Jimmy Butler, SG/SF – The self-proclaimed leader of the team who now must figure how to productively co-exist with Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo. A decent jump shooter with inconsistent 3-point range. A physical athlete who can get into the lane to create own shot. One of the best perimeter defenders in the league.

Isaiah Canaan, G – Shoot-first point guard with decent 3-point range and the ability to create for himself off the dribble. Not a distributor. Not a defender. Latest in line of similar Bulls point guards.

Cristiano Felicio, PF/C – Played well given increased minutes towards the end of last season. Is a big-bodied presence in the middle who can rebound. Must finish around the basket as he is not a threat outside of 5 feet. Lack of foot speed, lateral quickness and explosiveness limits effectiveness as a defender, even in this past Summer League.

Taj Gibson, PF – Very good interior defender and rim protector with the mobility to defend his position on the perimeter. Good rebounder who can finish around the rim. Inconsistent outside shooter.

Jerian Grant, G – A combo guard with decent size who coming out of college promised to be a good playmaker and perimeter defender, but struggled last season as a rookie. In Summer League struggled to run the offense and did not look good shooting the ball.

Robin Lopez, C – A mobile big man who is good defensively and as a rim protector. Good rebounder. Not much offensive game but will convert around the rim and can hit the occasional mid-range jump shot.

Doug McDermott, SF – Good outside shooter who seemed to take a step forward in his development last season in his second year. Will occasionally make plays off the dribble. Limited explosiveness and lateral quickness means he will always struggle defensively.

Nikola Mirotic, SF/PF – Was expected to make leap forward to consistent contributor last season but this did not materialize. Inconsistent shooter who can make the long-range shot and make plays off the dribble. Good length on defense but limited due to lack of explosiveness and lateral quickness.

Bobby Portis, PF/C – Good length and quickness to be an above-average defender if he can figure out how to pay defense in the NBA. These qualities have already given him the ability to be a good rebounder and shot blocker. Good post-up moves with a developing outside shot may make him an effective inside/outside option. Showed stretches of dominance in Summer League.

Rajon Rondo, PG – Pass-first point guard with elite passing ability and IQ. Elite defender in the past when he applies himself. Poor shooter who does not look for his own shot. Problems in the past with coaches and overall attitude.

Tony Snell, SG/SF – Long, athletic perimeter player who may be able to be an above-average defender. Improving 3-point shot but inconsistent. Has not shown much in 3 seasons.

Denzel Valentine, G – First-round pick showed stretches of dominance in Summer League. Playmaker who does a good job running a team and setting up teammates. Good size on the perimeter allows him to be a good rebounder and should assist in defending the post-up. Lack of explosiveness and lateral quickness limit his defensive value. Struggled with shot in Summer League.

Dwyane Wade, SG – Showed last season he is still a quality starting Shooting Guard. Tremendous leadership and basketball IQ. Good playmaker. Not a good shooter but still has the ability to get to the basket. Apathetic defender. Injury-prone.

Paul Zipser, SF – Second-round pick from Germany who profiles as a good shooter with some athletic ability to play multiple positions. Injury history.

Chicago Bulls Summer League Roster:

Jack Cooley, PF – A large post player who is a good rebounder and mid-range jump shooter. Very limited athletically so struggles defensively and with length down low. Always believed he could be a third big off the bench in the NBA but hasn’t happened yet, and won’t with Bulls.

Tre Demps, G – Shooting guard with the size of a point guard. No chance of making roster.

Spencer Dinwiddie, G – A tall combo guard with good playmaking ability. Length should assist in perimeter defending. Not a good shooter. Showed well in Summer League and may have secured a job off the bench.

Cristiano Felicio, PF/C – See above.

Jerian Grant, G – See above.

Aleksander Marcius, C – No chance of making roster.

Patrick Miller, G – Point guard with decent quickness and good strength. Is effective getting to the rim. Could be a good perimeter defender. Struggling with shot in Summer League. No chance at roster.

Raymar Morgan, PF/C – No chance at roster.

Bobby Portis, PF/C – See above.

Rasheed Sulaimon, G – Reputation as a good scorer and defender coming out of college but showed little of either in Summer League. No chance of making team.

Denzel Valentine, G – See above.

Dez Wells, G/F – Decent scorer and defender who started for Bulls in Summer League. No chance of making team.

If we start with 14 Bulls currently under contract and take into consideration that with a few exceptions Summer League players must dominate, or at least show periods of domination, to consider it even a possibility they can contribute during the regular season, not much will change for the Bulls unless trades are made. The only player from Summer League not under contract who may make the team is Spencer Dinwiddie. Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis demonstrated they may be able to be consistent contributors next season but this was already expected. The only way their roles may be larger than expected is due to trades and/or injury.

In terms of roster moves it would not necessarily be surprising to see one or two players traded, such as Taj Gibson and Tony Snell. But history would make this seem unlikely. Although Tony Snell is probably fighting for his spot and it would not be shocking to see him waived if no trade partner emerges.

Therefore, the roster makeup is pretty well-known and we can make educated guesses as to the rotation. As mentioned, the only starting position up for grabs is Power Forward. The best player to put in this position would most likely be Gibson, but given the lack of shooting in the starting lineup the better option would be Mirotic as he can provide some floor spacing and his defensive liabilities are better masked with other able defenders on the floor. Gibson would then be the first big off the bench along with Felicio. The first guard off the bench is probably Valentine with his ability to run the offense and size to play Point Guard through Small Forward. He will most likely be looked to provide spot starts for Wade as his injury is almost guaranteed, or if nothing else will require periodic games off to rest.

This leaves players fighting for other rotation spots. Portis may be the most versatile and complete big man on the roster but needs experience. McDermott will be one of the first off the bench simply for his shooting ability, most likely contributing at Shooting Guard and Small Forward and maybe even Power Forward. Canaan will get time with the second unit as scoring off the bench. Grant should compete to be the third guard off the bench behind Valentine and Canaan, maybe even surpassing Canaan when defense and passing is needed over scoring. However, if he is inconsistent as in Summer League he may struggle to get playing time, even falling behind someone like Dinwiddie. Zipser probably won’t see much time barring injury.

The problem becomes how do you manage and balance the need for offense and the need for defense. The Bulls are lacking well-rounded players. This is highlighted by starting Mirotic over Gibson. Gibson’s defense is needed if Felicio is the backup Center and it’s not guaranteed Portis transitions his athletic gifts to defensive ability. The Bulls need a rim protector to attempt to compensate for perimeter players who can’t keep their man in front of them. McDermott, Valentine, Canaan and Zipser all promise to be below-average defenders who will let their man into the lane. Grant and Dinwiddie (if he makes the team) could be at least average defensively but their playing time is not guaranteed. Therefore, even if the Bulls are counting on solid team defense to compensate for individual deficiencies they must have a rim protector on the floor at all times, meaning either Lopez or Gibson, both of whom have missed time in the past due to injury. Without injuries the Bulls roster and rotation probably looks something like this:

C – Lopez, Felicio, Portis

PF – Mirotic, Gibson, Portis

SF – Butler, Valentine, McDermott, Zipser

SG – Wade, Valentine, McDermott, Grant, Dinwiddie

PG – Rondo, Canaan, Grant, Dinwiddie

Much of the criticism aimed at the Bulls for moves made this offseason are that players acquired do not seem to fit the preference of Coach Fred Hoiberg. If he wants to run a “pace-and-space” system acquiring numerous players with athletic limitations and an inability to shoot doesn’t seem prudent. However, shouldn’t we believe that to some degree Hoiberg had a say in player acquisitions? Maybe the supposedly preferred system can be placed aside and there may be some confidence in the ability of Hoiberg to simply be a good coach and make the most of the talent available to him. But even then, what does talent maximization look like? A bunch of starters who need the ball to be effective. Virtually every player outside of Butler can either shoot, make plays or play defense, but definitely not all three and in some cases not even two. So then the Bulls roster is short of not only individual talent but is severely limited in who can play with whom. Taken together this limits the strategic choices available to Hoiberg and the overall viability of the Bulls roster. The playoffs are probably in the picture, but does anything about the current Bulls roster give confidence of a high seed and playoff progress?

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