Something is off with the Chicago Bulls this season. Maybe it’s Derrick Rose, who this team relies on so much despite everything, that’s simply not playing good enough basketball. Maybe it’s Fred Hoiberg not getting through to the pros after getting used to his status among college players. But maybe this is a team on the verge of something big, and all it needs is some sort of tweak.
One thing that’s been easy to notice recently for the Bulls has been the declining form of Nikola Mirotic. He started in the first 18 games of the season, averaging 11.8 points on 38% from the field, looking progressively worse as the season went on. Hoiberg went with a switch, putting Taj Gibson in the lineup instead of him while the Bulls keep shuffling small forwards, while Mirotic became a bench player again. Since moving to the bench, his shooting woes continue (36% from the field) while scoring just 7.4 points per game. The Bulls are 4-3 in that span.
If the Bulls are going to make a trade, it’ll probably be something to do with the frontcourt. In today’s league, it seems that having Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Gibson and Mirotic on the same team is a bit too much. Mirotic isn’t your classic big man and the only one of the four who is a stretch four, but he’s the only one of them who is also in his early stages of his NBA career, not yet 25. His salary makes him more movable, although the Bulls are considering the Gasol and Noah options as well. Gasol, despite his points, has been terrible defensively this season, and might help the Bulls get some firepower and defense in a different position, while freeing up minutes and space for the other bigs to play with. It can also finally give them the opportunity to play Bobby Portis some more, who has a total of just 50 minutes this season. Doug McDermott could benefit from the change as well.
There are other options. With Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks on the team, maybe the Bulls can let go of one of their backup point guards. It’s not quite clear what they can there, but maybe a better backup to Jimmy Butler, although he isn’t too fond of resting most of the time? It just feels like the Bulls roster is a bit clogged in certain positions, and needs a little bit of messing around with in order to give the team a better chance of fighting for second place in the East, or maybe even giving the Cavaliers a little fright.
That has nothing to do with Hoiberg. Butler complained that the new coach doesn’t ride the players as hard as the previous one. He probably shouldn’t have said that, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t right. And it has nothing to do with Rose, who is no longer playing with a mask, but seems to be doing more harm than good during his minutes on the floor. Maybe it’s all about him, and the moment he becomes a useful point guard again, everything else will fall into place.