COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bulls are going to likely lose a good portion of their roster this offseason and with free agency only a month away, it's time to start looking to the future.
Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson will be unrestricted free agents for 2013-14 and are not expected to return for another season. Rip Hamilton is also likely to be bought out of the remaining year on his contract. With the loss of these players, the Bulls still have one question they've been trying to answer for at least two seasons: Who will be successful as a number two guard? Answer: J.R. Smith, who said he will likely explore free agency this offseason. He might just get a bigger contract with the New York Knicks, but it wouldn't hurt for the Bulls to test the waters.
Smith won the Sixth Man of the Year award following the best season of his career. With the Knicks he averaged 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, improving on both offense and defense. The rebound average for Smith comes off a career high 4.5 defensive rebounds per game. This growth as a player could make Smith an asset to the Bulls next season as he's proven he should at least have the opportunity to try for a starting role.
Of course, Tom Thibodeau is big on defense, which is something Smith has struggled with in previous seasons. Smith, while making great strides pulling down rebounds, still needs to work on his ball pressure and creating turnovers before stepping into a starter role as a Bull.
Jimmy Butler is expected to step into the starting role for the Bulls, but Smith makes more sense if you were to base it purely on offensive numbers. Butler only averaged 13.1 points off the bench to Smith's 18.1, they're about even on defensive rebounding at 4.4 rebounds and 4.5 rebounds respectively--Smith faring only slightly better--and they both average the exact same assists per game at 2.7.
The edge goes to Smith based on his points per game average. The Bulls are looking for a scorer to complement Derrick Rose when he comes back from his knee injury and while Butler is good, Smith is better statistically. A five point per game difference could very well be the difference between a win and a loss in a close game.
It also doesn't hurt that he won the Sixth Man of the Year award, as previously stated. Last year's winner was James Harden, who stepped into a starting role for the Houston Rockets and took them to the postseason for the first time since 2009. The Bulls already have shown they can make the postseason, but maybe Smith can help them round out the roster.
The one concern about Smith is his knee. He reported swelling after the playoffs due to fluid build up and will likely need to have it drained. The swelling and pain may have had a lot to do with Smith's low production and diminished explosiveness in the postseason shooting only 33 percent from the field, but that's offseason speculation at this point--luckily in Smith's favor.
While this is little to be concerned with on the surface, it still merits monitoring. The last thing the Bulls need is another injury prone addition to their roster.
Tim Bearden has covered professional sports in Chicago since 2010. He's extensively covered the Chicago Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs and White Sox. He graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in journalism and has written sports for Buzz Magazine, the Chicagoist and his own blog FantasyFreakout. You can also follow Tim ( @tdbearden) on Twitter.
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