Five Chicago Bulls in Sports Illustrated’s Top 100

Sports Illustrated’s excellent NBA blog, The Point Forward, recently rolled out their top 10 players in the NBA, to finish up their Top 100 of 2014 list. The question most Chicago Bulls fans will have, of course, is where the duo of Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney ranked Derrick Rose, as well as the rest of the Bulls. All five Bulls projected starters made the top 100 list.

For fun, I’ll list the first four Bulls here, then have a post up tomorrow with the top-ranked Bulls player (guess who!) and my, somewhat detailed, take on his ranking on the list.

From lowest to highest, along with what they said about each player:

90. Jimmy Butler

“Butler’s claim to a spot on this list is a thin one: He barely played during his rookie year before enjoying a breakout sophomore season in which both his traditional stats and advanced numbers still looked fairly pedestrian. His performance on the eyeball test was another matter entirely, particularly during the playoffs, when he played tenacious defense, accepted every challenge and upped his scoring as his minutes increased. His play against the Nets and Heat produced a chorus appreciation from impartial observers and envy from fans of other teams. That chorus swelled to a shrieking mob when he went off for 21 points and 14 rebounds and played all 48 minutes in Chicago’s Game 1 win over Miami in the second round. Butler’s NBA existence is headed for another shake of the Magic 8 Ball in Year 3 thanks to Derrick Rose’s return, but his hungry, team-first approach should ease that transition.”

71. Carlos Boozer

“Boozer is far from an ideal first-option scorer, but players (like him) who can successfully act as an offensive funnel are of greater value than their raw numbers suggest. Chicago’s offense was problematic when leaning too heavily on Boozer, but there’s something to be said about his possession usage, flexibility and passing as a means for avoiding disaster. He’s good in a pinch and even better when paired with a top shot creator (such as Derrick Rose, for example). Regardless, he is a consistent

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GIMME DAT TOP 75 RANKING!

source of both points and rebounds, which helps counter the fact that his defense remains a total mess. Boozer doesn’t move well laterally, and even after a few years under Tom Thibodeau, he still winds up conceding space and points on pretty basic play actions. That he’s too short to contest shooters and too slow to keep his man in front of him tends to create some pretty glaring problems, though a defense as good as Chicago’s can still account for both while sustaining elite marks.”

55. Luol Deng

“’Will’ is one of those overused, amorphous sports terms, but what else would you call it when a player logs more than 39 minutes per game for the third straight season even though his team is in a down year because the franchise player is out injured? Deng’s toughness and reputation as a gamer are so well established that no one was quite ready to believe that he would miss time during the 2013 playoffs, even when he endured a spinal tap that he called life-threatening. Deng, a tertiary offensive option and stout defender, doesn’t have eye-popping numbers, but his importance to Chicago’s continued success is unquestioned.”

21. Joakim Noah

“There’s more than a little ‘Hemingway protagonist’ to Noah, who responded to Derrick Rose’s impossible-to-overcome injury absence last season by pushing himself, his body and his game to every possible limit. Chicago’s Game 7 victory against Brooklyn in the first round — on the road sans Rose and Luol Deng — was his masterpiece: 24 points (on 12-for-17 shooting), 14 rebounds and six blocks in 40 minutes. “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” he said afterward. That performance summed up everything that makes Noah great: his unwavering confidence (he guaranteed a victory), nonstop, productive energy, reliable and thorough defensive impact and an insatiable will to win.

The standard (double-double every night) and advanced statistics (top-15 in the NBA In RAPM) agree: Noah was a very valuable contributor last season, even if his efficiency dipped slightly under the strain of more minutes that accompanied center Omer Asik’s free-agent departure. Noah was selected to his first All-Star Game and the All-Defensive first team. He finished fourth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, and he just might have won the award if plantar fasciitis hadn’t limited him down the stretch. Bum wheel or not, Noah posted career highs across the board and anchored a top-five defense for the third straight season. Chicago’s defensive efficiency was a full five points better (98.4 to 103.4) when its long, mobile center was on the court.

The lasting image of Noah’s season turned out to be that crazy Miami fan flipping him off as he left the court during the conference semifinals, yet another chapter in a fierce Heat/Bulls rivalry that once prompted him to dub Miami “Hollywood as hell.” Looking at the image now, one can’t help but guess that Noah was telling himself: “Just wait until Derrick is back.” Regardless of how the futures of Deng and Carlos Boozer play out, the combination of Noah and Rose, plus coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive genius, should make the Bulls a top contender in the East for years to come. Really, outside of LeBron James/Whoever, Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard/James Harden and maybe Chris Paul/Blake Griffin, how many duos offer greater promise over the next half-decade than Rose/Noah?”

Click the link and check out the rest of the list. Golliver and Mahoney do a great job of objectively analyzing each player as an individual, and in the context of their teams. It’s painstaking work to put together such a thorough list, and it’s well worth it, even if it takes a while to get through.

It’s an excellent read, and for die-hard NBA fans like myself and you, dear reader, it really whets the appetite for the (fast approaching!!!) NBA season.

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