"They played through Joakim Noah last year," notes Collins. "Now he's playing as a power forward. He's not catching the ball as much. He's not (as) much of a playmaker because you have Derrick Rose and you have Pau Gasol."
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Doug Collins: Bulls a very different team

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By Sam Smith | 10.28.2014 | 9:29 a.m. CT | asksam@bulls.com | @SamSmithHoops

One time Bulls coach Doug Collins believes the Bulls should start Doug McDermott and suggests it could be a slow process for Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah learning to play together and sort out their roles in the offense.

Collins, regarded as perhaps the most astute analyst working in TV media today, made his comments Monday in an ABC/ESPN media conference call with reporters. The Bulls opening game is against the Knicks Wednesday and will be televised by ESPN and WGN with the NBA Countdown show featuring Collins with Jalen Rose and Sage Steele premiering immediately before at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN.

The 2014-15 NBA regular season officially opens Tuesday with the champion Spurs getting their rings and hosting the Dallas Mavericks, as well as Orlando/New Orleans and Lakers/Rockets. Those games will feature several story lines of the fate of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, the coming of the Pelicans with Anthony Davis and the reinvigorated Mavericks.

Most of the NBA then gets going Wednesday with the Heat without LeBron James hosting Washington and a first look at whether Miami looks like a playoff team, the Thunder without Kevin Durant against fast rising Portland, tough Memphis welcoming No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and the Lakers heading into Phoenix. Then Thursday LeBron James and his Cavs follow the Bulls into New York and the Bulls Friday have their home opener against the Cavs with the return of Derrick Rose and the expected East conference finalists, the Bulls and Cleveland. There’s thus considerable attention toward the Bulls and Cavs, and Collins along with fellow analyst Jalen Rose answered media questions about the season.  

Collins said many are overlooking potential issues for the Bulls because of so many new faces and situations even though the core is intact. Collins mentioned the return of Derrick Rose, addition of Gasol and said the inconsistency of the second unit suggested perhaps a need for veteran Mike Dunleavy.

“I think when you look at the Bulls, I don't think people realize that you have a lot of the same pieces back, but they're a very different team,” said Collins.  “To me, when I see Pau Gasol out there playing as a center and I see Joakim Noah playing as a power forward, his (Noah’s) defensive role has changed.  Last year, he was the Defensive Player of the Year as a center. Now you're going to see him playing at that four spot a lot when Pau is in there as a five.  You'll see him (Noah) play as a five when he's out there with Taj Gibson. But so much of what they did last year, their offense, they played through Joakim as an offensive player, not necessarily to score but to facilitate.

“Now he's (Noah) got to find his role in that offense because the ball is either going to be in Derrick Rose's hands or it's going to be in Pau Gasol's hands in the post,” said Collins, zeroing in on the most troublesome issue for the Bulls in preseason.  “So that's a little different. To me, it's going to be interesting at the end of the day who Thibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) ends up settling on to be the starter.  It looks like Dunleavy maybe to start the year, but that second unit has got to get an identity.  I thought in the preseason they were very inconsistent.

“When you had (Doug) McDermott out there, when you had him out there with (Nikola) Mirotic, two rookies; you had Aaron Brooks, who was a new guy; you had Taj (Gibson) out there; and you had Kirk Hinrich,” noted Collins. “So I thought they were struggling to find who they needed to be. I'd go on record and say I feel like at the end of the day, if somehow Doug McDermott can be a starter, I think he's going to get better shots with that starting unit being out there with Pau Gasol and with Derrick Rose. And it's not going to depend so much on Jimmy Butler having to make as many shots. And then I think Mike Dunleavy is a guy who has played off the bench in his career, and to me with him out there and Taj Gibson and Kirk and Aaron Brooks, you've got a little bit more of a veteran feel to it.”

It’s an astute analysis, not surprisingly, from Collins, who coached the Bulls to their best seasons in more than a decade when he took over in 1986. He subsequently became one of the game’s elite turnaround specialists in coaching stints with the Pistons, Wizards and 76ers. Collins says he’s out of head coaching for good and is now working in the studio for ESPN. But with his son, Chris, coaching at Northwestern, Doug Collins is in the Chicago area more, he retains a close friendship with Bulls executive John Paxson and attended a Bulls preseason game. So Collins has spent more time watching the Bulls than the typical TV analyst, most of whom often provide a generic overview. Assuming they even watch the games, which it seems unlikely with the likes of former players like Shaquille O’Neal. Collins provides what a true coach sees. And it sounded like he sees a team that has adjustments to make in an early season learning curve.

“I sure hope that Derrick Rose can stay healthy because as a man who suffered injury, my heart aches when you see a great player (hurt),” said Collins, whose All-Star career was cut short over serious knee surgeries. “II was never a Derrick Rose, an MVP, but I was a player who played at a pretty high level and loved to play.  When the game was taken away from me, it was heartbreaking that I couldn't play.  I hope he can play.  He's taken a lot of grief from being hurt.  Nobody wants to be hurt, and so for him to be back out there – I saw some great play from him in the preseason--I think the question is going to be his building on the minutes.  But his efficiency has been terrific.

“Right now a team that is built on their defense,” noted Collins of the Bulls.  “Can their offense come up to snuff?  Can Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol give them extra points at all and make the game a little easier for them to where they don't have to grind out every game every single night?

“How do you incorporate Pau Gasol into the low post?” asked Collins  “They played through Joakim Noah last year.  Now he's playing as a power forward.  He's not catching the ball as much.  He's not (as) much of a playmaker because you have Rose and you have Pau Gasol.  Jimmy Butler has already got an injury.  So there's a lot of stuff going on there that we know they're going to be great defensively.  Can they get good enough offensively to be a team that can win a championship?       

“I don't know what kind of minutes (Nikola) Mirotic is going to get because I don't know if Thibs can play four bigs,” said Collins. “And we know there's 96-minutes between Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson, and I think the interesting thing for Thibs is it's going to be… last year, it was a given, the third quarter ended, Carlos Boozer put on his warm up, he ended the game with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.  Now Pau Gasol wants to finish those games, too, so what's it going to be?  It might be from night to night he doesn't always finish with the same two guys.  I think that's a dynamic that he has to figure out.

“I think they have the right pieces, but I think that's going to take a while longer,” said Collins.  “Derrick Rose coming back, they're still not solidified yet with that starting situation.  I'm of the belief that McDermott would be a better starter and Dunleavy coming off the bench would solidify that second unit. But I think Thibs is concerned about having the best possible team he can have out there to start the season so they don't get off to a slow start. With all this said and done and Chicago coming back, I think they have as much work to do as Cleveland in getting themselves together to where they want to be.”

Asked about Cleveland and Miami, Collins added: “I just look at Cleveland, I think they're going to be one of the most dynamic offensive teams in the league.  I said the first exhibition game they played, I think LeBron took seven shots, had two buckets, Kyrie didn't play, and they had 122 points.  So they're going to be a team that can score the ball.  I think the question is going to be for them as a champion:  Can they become a top-10 defensive team?  I think it's going to be vital for (Anderson) Varejao and Tristan Thompson to stay healthy.  They're their two big guys that they're going to ask to give them some size.  They're going to be a great rebounding team.  And I think at the end of the day, LeBron has a chance to lead the league in assists. And I think once again, he'll become a first league all defender, and so I think that they're going to be awfully tough to beat.

“I've got a lot of respect for Miami,” Collins added.  “When I look at their team, I say there's still a lot of questions with Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers being your point guard, still a lot of questions about how many games Dwyane Wade is going to be able to play at a high level because of the injury to his knee that he suffered. Can Chris Bosh be back to that No. 1 option, Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng filling in, what kind of bench play they're going to get?  I know they're going to be well prepared.  I know they're going to compete.  I know they won't beat themselves.  I just don't see them being in the class of those other two teams (Cavs and Bulls).”

There is no Next, a book by Sam Smith

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