Chicago Bulls Season Preview: Bench players will likely make or break their season


The Chicago Bulls made headlines over the summer with their free agent signings of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. It will be up to the team’s bench players, however, to step up in order for them to produce a winning season.

At the conclusion of the 2015-2016 NBA season, one which saw the Chicago Bulls finish a disappointing season under first year head coach Fred Hoiberg, the team knew it needed to make some drastic changes in order to compete with the “best of the best” teams such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.

The team wrapped up their first season in the “Hoiberg Era” with a pedestrian 42-40 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.

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The Bulls organization decided to take swift action in reshaping their roster that often had chemistry issues between two of their biggest stars, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler.

To do this, the team made some notable roster moves by trading the injury-prone Rose to the New York Knicks. They also bid farewell to beloved fan-favorite center Joakim Noah, signed future Hall-of-Famer Dwyane Wade to a two-year deal and signed former all-star point guard Rajon Rondo.

In short, the Bulls certainly made headlines during an eventful off-season, one which ultimately led them to conclude that this team would be better off trying to remain relevant by contending in the Eastern Conference with a cast of aging veterans past their primes, as opposed to engaging in the long, uncertain process of producing a successful rebuild.

A gamble, to say the least, is the best way to describe what the Chicago Bulls have done this off-season.  The team is banking on Butler, Wade, and Rondo co-existing together in order to lift this Hoiberg team up from the deep end of pure mediocrity.

While many NBA experts peg this Bulls team as being a below .500 team, I believe they can have a successful season, one which witnesses them making it back to the playoffs.

Speaking with K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune recently about the upcoming season, Dwyane Wade said it best:  “When you’re coming off a season where as an organization you don’t make the playoffs, your goal can’t be winning a championship.  Your goal has to be day-to-day making steps to improve yourself so you can get to a point where you’re a playoff team.”

In order for this Bulls team to make it to the playoffs, they will need to first-and-for-most avoid the evil injury bug that usually makes its way into the Bulls’ locker room year after year.

Unfortunately for the Bulls players, avoiding injuries are easier said than done (just ask this year’s first-round pick Denzel Valentine, who recently suffered a sprained ankle in a preseason game). Wade is not finding the fountain of youth anytime soon, so keeping him healthy for an entire grueling season will certainly be a challenge for this Bulls’ organization.

Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, two key players for the team’s immediate success, are also known to be injury-prone in recent seasons, so the same challenge applies to them as well.  In order for this Bulls’ team to get on the right track to have a promising season, injuries to key players have to be at a minimum.

Now, to the biggest question mark that this Chicago Bulls’ team faces — how will their young bench players perform this season?

This question may indeed hold the key to whether the Bulls end up exceeding early-season expectations.

While it’s a safe bet to conclude that barring injuries, Rondo, Butler, Gibson, and Wade should all have pretty good seasons given their track records, the same cannot be said for the Bulls’ unproven bench players.

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For starters, this year’s Bulls bench lacks in-game experience.  As previously mentioned, Rookie first-round pick Valentine, while a promising player who has the versatility to play both guard and forward positions, already suffered an ankle sprain that will sideline him for two weeks.  In order for the Bulls’ young rookie to develop into a key contributor this season, he will need valuable playing minutes, and he is losing just that.

While it remains to be seen if power forward Bobby Portis will be a starter or come off the bench for the Bulls this season, he too is a young player with limited in-game experience, being only in his second season.

Portis showed flashes of promise in his play on offense a year ago, even with limited minutes. He has sneaky athletic ability, smooth ball-handling skills for a big man, and a nice mid-range jumper.

Even with all that, Portis’ in-season development as a player on both offense and defense this season will go a long way in determining how successful this Chicago Bulls team is. Continuing to garner increased minutes role either as a starter or coming off the bench should help Portis improve in all facets of his game.

Small forwards Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, both with multiple seasons under their belts, still have plenty to prove this season.

Snell had his share of opportunities to contribute for the Bulls over the years, and overall, his offensive game remains a work in progress, given his lack of a consistent jump-shot to keep defenders honest.

Defense is where Snell excels best, as he is solid when defending opposing players his size.

As for McDermott, his offensive play on the court improved dramatically from his rookie year to his sophomore season, in large part due to playing more minutes. He increased his three-point shooting percentage to over 40 percent.

Even with the offensive improvements made last season, McDermott still struggles defensively, due to his lack of athleticism.

With this year’s Bulls roster lacking legitimate three-point shooting weapons to space the floor, it becomes crucial that both Snell and McDermott become consistent threats when shooting three’s, because doing so will help the team create additional driving lanes on the floor for Wade, Butler, and Rondo.

Power forward/center Nikola Mirotic is also in the mix for a starting spot. His play on both offense and defense will go a long way in determining how successful this Bulls’ team is.

Ever since he played his first game with the Bulls, Mirotic has been the definition of “inconsistency” on both offense and defense. He often forces ill-advised shots on offense, while getting into foul trouble on defense.

If Mirotic can find some consistency in his play on both ends of the court, the Bulls will be extremely happy, given that projected starting center Robin Lopez cannot be relied upon too much to produce points on offense. He is known more for his defensive play around the rim.

The rest of the projected Bulls bench is Cristiano Felicio, Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant, and Spencer Dinwiddie. They are all young players who have limited NBA playing experience. Whether any of them contributes significantly for this Bulls team is a big mystery.

There is some upside to all of these players. Jerian Grant was a great college guard for Notre Dame, and although his play on the court has yet to translate as well in the NBA, he, like the rest of these bench players, might just need an opportunity to show what they are really made of.

All these players have a chance to be counted upon at times throughout the season to shoulder the load on this Bulls’ team, especially if injuries to key contributors occur at various points in time.

Overall, injuries aside, if the Chicago Bulls’ young bench players can show gradual improvements as the season rolls along, this team can have a winning season, one which sees their ticket being punched once again to play competitive postseason basketball. If not, the Bulls’ organization may be second-guessing their off-season strategy.

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The Chicago Bulls’ strategy is a big gamble. One that might just pay great dividends when it is all said and done.