In the past few days, the Bulls have reinvigorated their roster. Last year, they miraculously managed to win 48 games without Derrick Rose. It might have been Tom Thibodeau’s best coaching job. The Eastern Conference was historically weak, but the Bulls were a team without a single player with a typical scoring mentality. Yet, they would grind out wins with defense and toughness, the staples of Thibodeau’s teams. After being eliminated in the playoffs by the Wizards, it was obvious that the Bulls had drastically overachieved in the regular season, and needed a major influx of talent, or at least a healthy Derrick Rose if they were to be taken seriously in the playoffs.
But in the offseason, the Bulls have made several moves to bolster their offensive fire power. Drafting Doug McDermott was the first significant move. He is a scorer first and will create space in their half-court sets, with his ability to hit 3’s and put the ball on the floor and hit mid-range jumpers. More recently though, the Bulls made two moves that should help even more.
First, the Bulls agreed to terms with Pau Gasol, who’d been deciding between the Bulls and Spurs. Gasol is the type of player that can fit into any team. His passing skills are unsurpassed by any big man in the league, and he is a great guy in the locker room. Unless he’s on Kobe’s team and Kobe is jacking up too many shots! But in all seriousness, he is a great fit on the Bulls. With Noah and Gasol, the Bulls will have arguably the best passing tandem of big men in the league. Playing Gasol at the high post will let Noah operate more under the basket. Gasol is not a shoot-first player, but he is a facilitator, and teams in need of scoring can always use facilitators to get guys open shots. That’s what Gasol will do.
The other big news for the Bulls came from thousands of miles away. Their 2011 first round draft pick Nikola Mirotic tweeted that he would be joining the team next season. Mirotic is a 6’10” stretch four. He’s been called one of the best players in the Europe, and maybe even the best European player to come over to the NBA since Dirk. Of course, that title is often given to the newest, hottest name overseas. Everyone is the ‘next Dirk’ until they get to the league and then barely scratch the surface of the rotation. But by all accounts, Mirotic is the real deal. Here’s a nice little primer on Mirotic’s game. Knower of all things basketball-related in other countries, Fran Fraschilla says that Mirotic would have been a top 4 pick in last month’s draft. Fraschilla of course tries to temper our expectations of Mirotic, telling us that Mirotic is not Dirk. At least not yet. But that he should still be a very solid contributor for the Bulls next season.
Between Gasol and Mirotic, and most importantly Derrick Rose, the Bulls should have a much easier time scoring the ball next season. No one knows what Rose will look like next season, and no one is really sure how much to expect from Mirotic next season, but the Bulls will have many more weapons than they did last season. They will have finally have their go-to-scorer, slashing point guard Rose running the offense. And then for the first time, the Bulls will have stretch power forwards in Mirotic and sometimes even McDermott (if and when they play small) that will give their offense a completely new look.
Are these moves enough to make the Bulls real contenders in the weak East? Maybe. It will depend on how good Rose is. If he’s anything close to his former MVP-self, then yes: the Bulls will contend for the Eastern Conference championship. If Rose isn’t able to crack 20 points per game, and Mirotic’s learning curve is steeper than expected though, the Bulls are probably a second round team in the East.