(The NBA lockout refuses to go away, and it'll be a while before teams can upgrade their rosters. On the plus side, it gives us plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with players we'll want to target before (or if) the lockout ends. Some of these guys may be on different teams by the time the season starts, but hey, that's the risk that comes with any prediction article. Today, we look at the
When the Bulls lost out on the LeBron sweepstakes, no one expected them to challenge for a title right away. Their second-best player was the injury-prone Carlos Boozer, and Derrick Rose wasn't even considered as valuable fantasy-wise as Troy Murphy. (D'oh!) Yet the Bulls won a league-best 62 games anyway and Rose became the MVP of the league, leading many to wonder just how immaculate they would've been if James had actually signed with them. Instead they were forced to start Keith Bogans at shooting guard, and although they got as far as the conference finals, it become abundantly clear they were too reliant on Rose offensively. They should remain a contender for the conceivable future, but they're hardly a finished product as long as Bogans is in the starting lineup.
- Derrick Rose: Never again will he be considered a sleeper. Rose experienced a quantum leap in his third season, increasing his scoring average from 20.8 to 25, his assists from 6.0 to 7.7, his rebounds from 3.8 to 4.1, his steals and blocks from 0.7 and 0.3 to 1.0 and 0.6, as well as mammoth increases in free-throw and three-point percentage. He's remarkably quick, and with a balanced collection of scoring and passing, he might just be the best point guard in the league, and at least is in the conversation with Deron Williams and Chris Paul. The only stat he went down in last season was field-goal percentage, a result of his newfound interest in taking three-pointers; he hit 128 of them last year, after just 32 in his first two seasons. But there's no reason to think he can't improve in that area as well. Rose is already an incredible talent, and he'll only be 23 whenever the season starts. He's quite simply one of the premier talents in the league right now, and we haven't even seen the best of him.
- Luol Deng: There was once a time when Deng was so highly touted that the Bulls had a chance to deal him and Ben Gordon for Kobe Bryant. But the Bulls turned the offer down, and a few years later, it became pretty obvious that they gravely overestimated Deng's potential. It's not all bad though. Had they actually pursued the deal, Chicago probably wouldn't have wound up with Derrick Rose, so it might just be the best of both worlds. Plus Deng isn't bad at all. His 17.4 points per game last year were pretty darn good for a team's third scoring option, and though his rebounds dropped from 7.3 in 2010 to 5.8 a game, he hit 115 three's last year -- more than he had hit in his previous six seasons combined, and more than making up for his decline in rebounding. He's no superstar, but he's a terrific mid-level draft pick so long as he stays healthy.
- Carlos Boozer: Drafting Boozer means doing it in spite of his very disappointing postseason, in which he went long stretches without scoring and frequently found himself on the bench at the end of games. Boozer looked awful, and considering his long history of injuries and that there's a perfectly capable forward in Taj Gibson playing behind him, he carries a certain amount of risk with him. He's a consistent 20-and-10 performer when he's healthy, and would've been an All-Star last year had he not missed the first month of the season. His regular season play has never been in doubt, but those looking to avoid injury complications should search for an alternative.
- Joakim Noah: It was a tale of two seasons for Joakim Noah. He played in 24 games before the All-Star break, notching 14 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game -- all career highs. But then he tore a ligament in his thumb, missed roughly two months and returned after the All-Star break to relatively lackluster averages: 9.3 points and 9 rebounds in 24 games. With any luck, the Noah of the November 2010 will stick around full-time, because he's easily one of the best rebounders in the NBA. So long as his thumb is fully healed, the 26-year-old should continue to impress.
- Taj Gibson: Gibson is everything you could expect from a young bench player. He's young, he's athletic, he has a lot of potential, and he's horribly inconsistent. Yours truly got burned by him a couple times last year. I had him for games 9 and 10 of the season, when he went a combined 1-16 with just 2 blocks and 11 rebounds. So what does he do in his very next game, after I dropped him? 17 points, 18 rebounds, and one three-pointer -- the first and only three he's ever hit in 162 career games. Yeah, I'm still bitter. In summation, he has Tyrus Thomas-esque peripherals that fantasy geeks fawn over, particularly in his ability to block shots. But as a bench player, he won't be as useful as you'd like.
- C.J. Watson: Watson is a Class-A situational pick-up. He's utterly worthless so long as he's playing behind Derrick Rose. But should anything ever happen to Rose, plunge yourself into the waiver wire and add Watson as soon as humanly possible. He's a solid offensive player, having spent three years with the let's-play-no-defense Warriors. His 7.5 career scoring average is benign, but he averages 15.5 points per game as a starter, and the Bulls are so set on a point guard running their offense that he should produce a worthwhile statline if he's forced into action. Case in point, in his only start with the Bulls last season, Watson scored 33 points in 44 minutes against the Nuggets, hitting 11 of 22 shots with 2 three's, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
- Omer Asik: If you're confused why I have Asik as a fantasy player worth watching, it's okay. The Bulls' backup center averaged 2.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game last year, which sounds awful on the surface. Factor in that the 25-year-old rookie never started a game and only averaged 12.1 minutes and he suddenly becomes an intriguing prospect. He's a peg below Gibson on the list of Bulls to grab if Noah or Boozer gets hurt, but his Per-36 numbers (8.3 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.0 blocks) shouldn't be ignored. No, he won't come close to getting 36 minutes a night, meaning that he'll likely be useless this year. But he's already proven to be a stud rebounder and could be worth owning if he ever gets consistent minutes.
The Forgettables: Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Malcolm Lee, Kurt Thomas, John Lucas