COMMENTARY – Looking at the roster for the 2014-2015 season, it appears that Luol Deng is not a part of the mix, but Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell, and Mike Dunleavy are. The drafting of Tony Snell at No. 20 came as a surprise as it seemed the Bulls would snag another big for their thin frontcourt, either Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng or Mason Pumlee of Duke. A few weeks later during free agency, the Bulls signed 6’9 swingman Mike Dunleavy to a two-year deal. Now, with a logjam on the wing with Deng, Butler, Snell, and Dunleavy, it’d be interesting to see who is the odd man out.
It’d be easy to say that Snell would be on the far end of the bench because of his lack of experience or Dunleavy because he was the last man in; however, neither is entirely true. With more support at his position and nursing nagging injuries, Luol Deng could see a decrease in his time on the court, which is both a positive and a negative. (For clarification, I am not advising that Deng is in the doghouse or will be receiving DNP-Coach’s Decision, just that he could see a minutes decrease from 39 to about 33.)
A steal in the 2011 draft, Jimmy displayed what he was capable of last season and has more than likely locked up the starting shooting guard position. Butler is a youthful and talented two-way player that fits nicely in Chicago’s system. With Derrick Rose returning it’ll be easier for Butler to get open shots and clear driving lanes, creating a strong and explosive backcourt. His ability to log heavy minutes, witnessed in several playoff games last season, leaves little wiggle room for another player to fill in for him. Butler is the one player being profiled to see a guaranteed increase in playing time, regardless of how the organization handles the Luol Deng situation.
There must be something special about this kid for the Bulls to pull out a shocker and draft for talent rather than need. Snell was a bit of a sleeper, not a first round selection on most mock drafts and is believed to be able to contribute right away. He had an impressive Summer League in Las Vegas, averaging 11.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG, and 35% shooting from behind the arc. Snell’s lanky build and long arms make him a capable defensive weapon, similar to Kawhi Leonard, much to the liking of Tom Thibodeau, as he could poke balls loose with ease. The Bulls passed up addressing a haunting size issue to take a chance on Snell, so don’t expect to see him on the end of the bench collecting dust.
It was confusing to see the Bulls allow Marco Bellineli to leave via free agency and then sign Mike Dunleavy Jr. to the same contract Bellineli received from the San Antonio Spurs. Regardless, Dunleavy was brought in as an insurance policy in case Deng or Snell got off to a slow start. Although he is likely to be the first wing player to come off the bench, Dunleavy could be used less if Deng recovers well from his injury or Snell shows some strong potential. His 43 percent three-point shooting last season and off-ball movement should be enough to keep Mike on the floor to create space for a slashing Derrick Rose. Nonetheless, Dunleavy should see minutes early on, whether or not he keeps them is dependent on the guy before and after him in the rotation.
Deng is usually the victim of heavy minutes-per-game because of a lack of depth. Now, with reliable and consistent help, it’d be in Deng’s best interest to rest his injuries more and prove to other organizations that he is worth signing. Not only does Deng’s rest benefit him, but other players looking to prove that they are worth keeping when the franchise finally parts ways with Luol.
Keep your eyes open, this is going to be close.
Shawn Jones has been following the NBA since 2003. He also writes for SportTechie and studies Sports Communication at Bradley University. Follow him on Twitter @Shawn_Jones93 and subscribe to his blog:Shawntjones93.blog.com