Ben Gordon can drive, dish, pass and drain the three-pointer. But what has Chicago fans buzzing is his blossoming friendship with one of his Bulls predecessors at shooting guard, a fellow by the name of Michael Jordan. Says the 21-year-old Gordon, "He's sort of taken me under his wing."
Drafted with the No. 3 pick--the same as Jordan in 1984--after starring at UConn, Gordon met His Airness this summer while playing pickup games at Hoops the Gym. Gordon had just bought a three-bedroom condo in suburban Northbrook, and Jordan's wife, Juanita, had been his real estate agent, so the two began talking about Gordon's new home and soon struck up a friendship. Jordan has taken Gordon to a Cubs game and had him over for a barbecue. Still, says Gordon, "We've never had a chance to sit down and talk about basketball. Most of what I've learned from him has been out there on the court playing--hints on how to get shots off and stuff like that."
Bulls coach Scott Skiles just hopes that Gordon--a Bobby Jackson--type who can play both guard spots--picked up a few of MJ's defensive tricks. "We're going to need Ben to defend [the two spot]," says Skiles, knowing that there'll be matchup problems when the 6'2" Gordon plays alongside 6'3" point guard Kirk Hinrich. "Ben's strong and has a low center of gravity. He's a competitor, and I think he'll be a fast learner."
With Hinrich, 23; Tyson Chandler, 22; Eddy Curry, 21; and 19-year-old Duke rookie Luol Deng all slated to play key roles for the Bulls, Gordon's rapid development could make the youth movement in Chicago complete. He might not start right away, but he'll be counted on heavily. If he can score double figures while holding his own on D, he'll make the Bulls an improved team--and his new pal proud. --M.B.
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Bulls
They've been rebuilding forever, but the Bulls are still at least a year away because it's hard to have two young guys growing up at the same time. If they had drafted only Eddy Curry or Tyson Chandler in 2001, then they could have filled in with veterans.... If they ask Chandler to post up, they're taking away his effectiveness--he needs to slice into the post and attack with a running step. Curry is the more valuable of the two because true centers are hard to find. He has excellent size, good back-to-the-basket moves and instincts in the paint, plus the potential to be a solid rebounder and defender.... I thought Antonio Davis would serve as a better example for the young players. He needs to accept that he's going to play 16, 18 minutes and be a mentor to those guys. If he fights the coaches on his role, then he's sending the wrong message--especially when Chandler and Curry can see he's not that good anymore.... Kirk Hinrich was sensational as a rookie last year. He brings plenty to the table as a floor leader whose scoring must be respected--an absolute must for NBA point guards today. As a defender, he doesn't back down from anybody.... I don't see rookie Ben Gordon as a point. He can create for himself with a very good midrange game, and I wouldn't want to take that away by asking him to run the team.... Andres Nocioni of Argentina tends to look for his own offense too much, but he's tough andsupplies a surprising amount of leadership for a rookie.... Scott Skiles's volatile personality is a source of energy, but he also has to show that he's patient. If these players can develop the ethic to play hard night after night, then success won't be so far away.
Last season Kirk Hinrich led NBA rookies in double doubles (14), and was the first Bulls guard since Michael Jordan in 1984--85 to be first-team All-Rookie.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 23--59 (14th in East)
Points scored: 89.7 (26th in NBA)
Points allowed: 96.0 (18th)
Coach: Scott Skiles
(second season with the Bulls)
BEN GORDON (r) [NEW ACQUISITION]
ANDRES NOCIONI (R) [NEW ACQUISITION]
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (Euroleague stats) (r) college stats *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)