The Bully Pulpit

A (Way Too Early) Chicago Bulls Depth Chart Prediction

bulls depth chart

I know, I know. It’s way to early to accurately predict what the Bulls’ depth chart and minutes breakdown will look like— but it’s Thursday, I’m bored, and I like spreadsheets.

Once we get closer to the season, we’ll do a player-by-player breakdown of the best- and worst-case statistical scenarios for each Bull, but if you ask me, the only statistic the Bulls need to worry about is playing time.

I still maintain that the biggest problem with the 2015-16 Chicago Bulls was their lack of identity. (Such a meatball argument, I know.) While identity isn’t really something you can quantify, I do believe it’s important, more so in the NBA than any other league.

With only 12 players allowed to dress, each guy better damn-well know their role, otherwise, in place of a team, you’re left with some sort of weird basketball ambiguity. That’s what the Bulls were last season. There was no structure, no routine. If you’re going to be critical of Fred Hoiberg, that criticism needs to start at his inability to carve out roles for his players. Testing out different lineups is fine during the first quarter of the season, but when you’re still fiddling with things in March and April, there’s a good chance your team is an organizational mess. Don’t be put off by my general Bulls malaise and pessimism— this team does have a lot of quality pieces. The problem is, Hoiberg couldn’t figure out the best way to put those pieces together. That’s half the battle.

To give you some context, the Bulls had 25 different starting lineup combinations last season. Cleveland had 19. Golden State had 12. The 76ers had a laughable 36. Now, to be fair, in Chicago’s case, a lot of those lineup changes were forced by injury— but even when healthy, it was still pretty difficult to tell what each player’s role was supposed to be.

To be clear, carving out players’ roles is different than setting a depth chart. Starting lineups essentially don’t mean anything. Andrew Bogut started 66 games for the Warriors, yet played only 20.7 minutes per game. Andre Iguodala, of the same Warriors team, started one game last season, and played 26.6 minutes per game. Was Iguodala a “starter” on that team? Well, technically— no; but he did play the fifth-most minutes on the roster, so for all intents and purposes— yes, he was.

We’ve seen the same thing with Manu Ginobili on the Spurs and Jamal Crawford on the Clippers. A lot of times, these star players, who we call “humble” for coming off the bench, will win the NBA Sixth Man Award, simply because they’re playing 30+ minutes a game, while the rest of the players in the running are out there for 20.

The point is, don’t get too hung up on “starters” and “backups” when reading these predictions. The player’s role is much more important than an arbitrary title. Remember Keith Bogans? He started 82 games for the Bulls in 2010-11, playing 17.8 minutes per game. The Bulls went 62-10 that year. The point is, don’t get butthurt when you see your favorite player third on the depth chart. Alright, enough preempting, let’s get into this mess:


The Chicago Bulls Projected Depth Chart (2016-17)

Note: Mins/game denotes projected minutes played per game at that position, not overall.

Point Guard:

Rajon Rondo1. Rajon Rondo (~35 mins/game)

2. Jimmy Butler (~10 mins/game)

3. Jerian Grant or Isaiah Canaan (~3 mins/game)

We know who the starter is going to be. The question here revolves around his backup.

Until Jerian Grant can pull his head out of his ass, I don’t see how any coach could play him 20+ minutes per game in good conscience. The Bulls would be better off letting Butler or Valentine take the ball up the court, and saving Grant/Isaiah Canaan for spot duty. Butler can do it when he’s on the floor; Valentine can take over when the starters are out.

Shooting Guard:

Jimmy Butler1. Jimmy Butler (~25 mins/game)

2. Denzel Valentine (~18 mins/game)

3. Doug McDermott (~5 mins/game)

Jimmy Butler is the clear starter here, but due to the Bulls’ lack of backup point guard options, I foresee Butler manning the point a lot next season. That’ll mean minutes will open up for McDermott and Valentine, the Bulls’ two SG/SFs that are probably best-adept at playing the two-spot. Who knows, Wade could fill in with some spot minutes here as well, but in his old age, I’m not sure he has the lateral quickness to stay in front of NBA shooting guards. Doug and Denzel don’t either, but at least they can shoot.

Small Forward:

Dwayne Wade1. Dwyane Wade (~26 mins/game)

2. Doug McDermott (~15 mins/game)

3. Tony Snell/Denzel Valentine/Nikola Mirotic (~7 mins/game)

The Bulls have a bit of a logjam between shooting guard and small forward. Butler, Wade, Valentine, McDermott, and Snell are all capable of playing both positions, and in some instances, due to their range, I could see Portis and Mirotic manning the three spot for stretches as well. This is sort of where the Bulls were last year, with a bunch of good pieces to fill that 2-3 spot, only this year, they have a clear starter in Dwyane Wade. I think Wade’s presence, for however long it lasts, will hurt the development of McDermott and Valentine a bit, and it probably ultimately means the end for Tony Snell, but we’ll have to see just how the minutes shake out here.

With Wade as the starter, the biggest thing the Bulls will need coming off the bench at small forward will be shooting, especially if Mirotic (who I have in the starting lineup) doesn’t have his shot falling that night. Expect to see a lot of first-quarter “McDermott for Wade/Gibson for Mirotic” substitutions next year.

Power Forward:

Nikola Mirotic1. Nikola Mirotic (~18 mins/game)

2. Taj Gibson (~18 mins/game)

3. Bobby Portis (~12 mins/game)

If the Bulls make a run next year (which I doubt), Taj Gibson will be the most important player on the team, save Jimmy Butler. The Bulls are fucked in terms of their front-court, and assuming Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio don’t have breakout years, they’re going to need someone to play both positions for 15+ minutes per night. Thankfully, they have the perfect guy for the job in Gibson. I don’t think we’ll see a 17-11 year from Taj, but he’s the only player on the roster who’s a proven low-post defender and rebounder. God help the Bulls if Taj goes down.

I haven’t even mentioned the guy I project to start at four, Mirotic, because I think his role will be a lot less important compared to Gibson’s. Don’t get me wrong, the Bulls need his shooting, but I really don’t see him playing more than 21 minutes or so per night. That number will change if his shots start falling, but so far, we haven’t seen enough consistency from him to warrant starter-like minutes.

Center:

Robin lopez sideshow bob1. Sideshow Bob (~20 mins/game)

2. Taj Gibson (~13 mins/game)

3. Cristiano Felicio (~10 mins/game)

4. Bobby Portis (~5 mins/game)

The center position was made a lot clearer by the addition of Sideshow Bob. He’ll start, play about 20 minutes per game, and then the rest of the minutes will be split between Taj, Felicio, and potentially Bobby Portis, if the Bulls elect to go small. Felicio is the wildcard here. If he can start putting up 6-and-6 type numbers, he should be able to cement himself into the reserve center role, which would take some pressure off Taj. At the moment, though, I don’t trust Felicio for 20 minutes per game. Gibson will be the glue that holds this Bulls front-court together.

Player-by-Player

(Sorted by projected minutes played)

Player

PG

SG

SF

PF

C

Total

Role

Butler 10 25 0 0 0 35 Primary scorer and defender
Rondo 35 0 0 0 0 35 Primary distributor and ball handler
Gibson 0 0 0 18 13 31 Front court glue, garbage man
Wade 0 0 26 0 0 26 A do-everything second fiddle to JB
Mirotic 0 0 3 18 0 21 Stretch four, pick and pop player
McDermott 0 5 15 0 0 20 Primary second-team scorer
Valentine 0 18 2 0 0 20 Second-team ball handler and distributor
Sideshow 0 0 0 0 20 20 Just stand there and be tall
Portis 0 0 0 12 5 17 Energy guy, stretch-four potential
Felicio 0 0 0 0 10 10 Energy guy, efficient near the basket
Snell 0 0 2 0 0 2 Just give us something, man
Grant 1.5 0 0 0 0 1.5 Give Rondo a break, don’t be dumb
Canaan 1.5 0 0 0 0 1.5 Scoring punch off the bench
Zipser 0 0 0 0 0 0 I still don’t know what this guy is good at

 

 


Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

(Header image via.)

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