With the dust mostly settled on this offseason’s player movement — and there was a whole lot of it this year — it’s time to take stock of all the fascinating new faces in new places, as well as the more compelling stories of players who will face new challenges while sticking around. Over the course of the next few weeks, Andrew Unterberger will do a team-by-team look at the most interesting players going into next season — one new to the team, and one returning — as we all try to pass the dog days of NBA-less summer, dreaming of hoops-filled months to come. The series continues today with the teams in the Central Division: the Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers and Bucks.
Most Interesting New Player: Tony Snell
Not a ton to choose from here, obviously — it’s Snell, fellow rookie Erik Murphy, and reserve sharp-shooter Mike Dunleavy, now about a team away from officially reaching journeyman status. Murphy seems unlikely to make a huge impact, Dunleavy’s impact will be decent but predictable, but Snell intrigues me. From his play in Summer League, he looks a lot like budding Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, and I of course mean that in the most literal sense — with his dreads, tall but slight build, and expressionless demeanor, there’s probably not a better physical comp in the league for Leonard than Snell. But he also looks like he could maybe provide a good poor man’s facsimile of Leonard’s skills: solid three-point stroke (39 percent his final season at UNM), long and athletic wing defender (6-foot-7 for a nominal shooting guard), toughness to spare. We’ll see if it actually pans out as such, but from the little I saw, I was impressed.
In general, I was also impressed with the way the Bulls basically oriented their entire offseason around one simple strategy: improving their outside shooting. Maybe not all of Snell, Murphy and Dunleavy will end up being legit contributors to the team, but if two of them do, that’s a simple dimension added to the Bulls’ attack that simply wasn’t there last season, when Jimmy Butler and the departed Nate Robinson were the only outside threats of any consistency. Nothing too sexy, but you never know when an outside shot or two could make the critical difference in an Eastern Conference playoff game, even a whole series. Definitely better to have than not have.
Most Interesting Returning Player: Derrick Rose
Would’ve loved to say Jimmy Butler here, since I’m fascinated to see if he can continue the improvement of his breakout season and become the near-All-Star contributor I feel he might could be, but c’mon. There’ll be no bigger story the first month of the season — with the possible exception of Dwight’s first games in Houston, but I can certainly tell you which of the two I’m more excited for — than D-Rose’s return to the Bulls lineup after a full year’s absence. I practically had heart palpitations when they announced that the first TNT game this year was going be the Rose-led Bulls against the two-time-defending Heat — there might not be a better opening night matchup possible than those two old foes squaring off with both sides finally back at full strength.
Can a fully healthy Derrick Rose lead the Bulls past the Heat in the East playoffs? For now, I’m still pretty skeptical, but to have one more legitimate challengers to the throne — in a season where there are already one or two other credible contenders on the far side of the map as well — should certainly make things more interesting (and less depressing), for the regular season and beyond. I can’t wait.
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