These are the Bulls' "hot spots." For the record, gray is not good.
As the Bulls prepare for their game against the Los Angeles Clippers — the second stop on their current seven-game Western Conference road trip — Vinny Del Negro has some very real concerns to deal with. Forget the fact that his team could be without John Salmons, who spent Monday night in an Oakland hospital with flu-like symptoms, or that Kirk Hinrich’s status is unknown due to his own bout with flu-like symptoms, or even that he has to figure out a way to deal with L.A.’s Chris Kaman, who has very quietly become a real force inside (20.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.4 BPG).
Vinny’s biggest problem is that the Golden State Warriors provided a perfect blueprint for beating the Bulls, which is allowing and even enticing them into relying on their favorite field goal attemp. I’m talking about the long-range two-point jump shot.
If you read this blog and/or follow the Bulls with any regularity, you already know Chicago’s players love to shoot contested jumpers from that dreaded No Man’s Land between the paint and the three-point arc. Well, Tom Haberstroh of Hoopdata has provided some hard numbers to back up this little nugget of common knowledge.
According to Haberstroh: “From Hoopdata’s XeFG% page, we can see that 35.7 percent of Bulls shots are taken 16 to 23 feet away from the basket which, according to my digging, is by far the highest team portion of the last four years. One would think that the Bulls live in The Land Where Offenses Die because they were actually good shooters from 16-23 feet, but here’s the thing: they are terrible from there. As a team, the Bulls shoot 36.1 percent on long twos which is well below the league average of 39.6 percent. That might not seem like a big difference on the surface but in the last four years, only this year’s New Jersey Nets and the Isiah Thomas-led New York Knicks of 2006-07 fare worse from this area. So if you’re scoring from home, the Bulls love taking shots from a zone where they rank 118 out of 120 teams. Not only that, even though the Bulls frequent the long range shot, they almost never launch where the payoff is higher in 3-point land.”
Haberstroh goes on to point out that both Derrick Rose and Luol Deng attempt more than six shots per game from No Man’s Land, and that Deng has the league’s second-worst field goal percentage among players who attempt at least four shots per game from that 16-23 foot range. Haberstroh also notes that Rose, by virtue of his ability to penetrate almost at will, would benefit greatly from pick-and-pop big men…only his frontcourt contingent includes a group of players who don’t have an efficient midrange game (Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Tyrus Thomas) and one other who can hit from midrange but appears to be almost washed up (Brad Miller).
In other words, not only is Chicago’s offense fundamentally flawed, it lacks the personnel necessary to take advantage of its greatest asset (Rose). Again, none of this is particularly surprising. I’ve been blogging these very things all season. Now we have the statistical analysis to back it up.
What can the Bulls do? Conventional wisdom says they should start attacking the basket at every opportunity. However, there’s one small problem with that tactic. Hoopdata recently published another article about the five worst games at the rim this season. Guess which team “earned” the first, third and fifth spots on that list? That’s right. Your Chicago Bulls! In the three games listed in that article, the Bulls missed 72 shots at the rim. And those weren’t aberration games. For the season, the Bulls convert only 55.4 percent of their shots at the rim. That’s the third-worst mark in the league.
Uh oh again.
Of course, these problems feed into each other. The Bulls can’t shoot, so teams pack the paint, which leads to scads of missed shots at the basket. The Bulls know they struggle to finish at the rim, so more often than not they bail out by taking loads of shots they can’t make. It’s like the Bulls have to choose between two poisoned drinks, only they haven’t spent the last five years building up a resistance to iocane powder.
So I ask again, what can the Bulls do?
Not right now, anyway. Like I said, it’s a personnel issue. They don’t have three-point shooters. They don’t have efficient midrange shooters. They don’t have an inside scorer or any big men who can play off Rose by knocking down jumpers or powering through multiple defenders for the finish. Unless management pulls off a miracle deal before the trade deadline, the Bulls are doomed to feature one of the league’s worst offenses for the rest of the season.
This makes future planning almost ridiculously important. After this season ends, half of the current roster will probably be gone, and the Bulls (as far as we can tell) plan to spend big money on a top-notch free agent. And they’d better spend wisely, because the next three to five years of the franchise are at stake.
Think about it. Rose is the future, so we know he’s staying. The Bulls are stuck with Deng’s cap-killing contract through 2014, so we know he’ll be around. If Chicago signs a big name free agent to a four or five-year deal, probably for a lot of money, that player will almost certainly be a Bull for the bulk of that deal. That means we’re looking at a three-man core of Rose, Deng and Player X.
Player X damn well better be able to compliment Rose.
Ideally, Player X will be a big man who can hit consistently from midrange, swoop in for high-powered completions at the rim, and have some kind of low post game. Amar’e Stoudemire fits two of those bills, and he’ll be available on the open market this summer. Of course, Stoudemire has plenty of baggage. He’s had multiple knee surgeries. He doesn’t aggressively pursue contested rebounds. He doesn’t have a single inside move. And we don’t know how much of his success the last few years has been the product of playing alongside Steve Nash in the Phoenix Suns’ run-and-gun system. He might play well off Rose, but then again, Rose is no Nash, and the Bulls don’t have the shooters necessary to open up the space Stoudemire uses to shoot and drive.
There’s no easy answer. We only know that, for the Bulls to build successfully around their franchise player, they’re going to have to put a team together that is drastically different than the one they have right now. And if they make one or two bad decisions, they could be bad for several more years. Not exactly a pleasant prospect.
Let’s not mince words: the Golden State Warriors are a bad basketball team. They entered today’s game against the Bulls 11-27 overall and only 7-10 at home. In terms of wins and losses, only the Minnesota Timberwolves (9-33) and New Jersey Nets (3-37) are worse.
The Warriors have had two main problems this season. First, they’ve suffered a bizarre number of injuries. Seriously, the Warriors have as many players out of action as they have available for games. Their injured list includes Anthony Morrow (strained right knee), Anthony Randolph (torn ligaments/avulsion fracture of the left ankle), Brandan Wright (left shoulder surgery), C.J. Watson (lacerated right hand/index finger), Kelenna Azubuike (left knee surgery), Raja Bell (left wrist surgery), Ronny Turiaf (sprained left ankle) and Vladimir Radmanovic (strained right Achilles).
Crazy, right? I guess it’s safe to say the Warriors aren’t exactly oozing sympathy for the Bulls, who were without Kirk Hinrich (flu-like symptoms).
Golden State’s second problem has been their defense. Or, more accurately, their complete and rather embarrassing lack thereof. The Warriors rank 29th in Defensive Efficiency (108.7 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions). And although they score a lot of points — they average 107.3 PPG, good for 3rd in the league — the Warriors are only 20th in Offensive Efficiency (103.5 Points Scored Per 100 Possessions). The point being, their offense isn’t nearly good enough to make up for their lousy defense.
In all honesty, Golden State’s best defense is the mind-numbing effect their uptempo, undisciplined style has on their opponent’s offense. That was definitely the case today. They suckered the Bulls into playing their style…and it worked.
The Bulls only have themselves to blame. Too many one-on-one plays, too little movement without the basketball, not enough passing and waaaay too many jump shots. In fact, 72 of Chicago’s 96 shots were jumpers. Sure, I could give a little stink eye to Tyrus Thomas, who attempted only two shots at the rim (one of which got stuffed), but everybody was guilty of chucking…even Joakim Noah, who went 0-for-5 on jump shots (one of which was swatted). Has Noah ever attempted five jumpers in a game? Probably not. And there’s a very good reason for that.
Mind you, Golden State’s opponents hit 65 percent of their shots at the rim, which is second-worst in the league. This means that Chicago’s best strategy would have been to attack the basket relentlessly. Not only would that have earned them higher percentage shots, it would have gotten the Warriors in foul trouble…a real bonus considering Golden State coach Don Nelson only had eight players in uniform.
Instead, the Bulls were content to jack up outside shots, which probably explains why they hit only 36.5 percent of their field goals. That does not, however, explain why Chicago missed 11 of their 33 free throw attempts.
Of course, it’s worth noting that Golden State’s Andris Biedrins — who has appeared in only 14 games this season — is finally healthy. He set up camp in the paint and defied anybody who tried to challenge him. Biedrins grabbed a season-high 19 rebounds and blocked a career-high 8 shots. Now that he’s back and feeling like his old self, it’s very possible some of the Warriors’ defensive stats will improve. Probably only slightly, but still.
In addition to losing their minds on offense, the Bulls never really established themselves on defense. Nellie has always specialized in isolating his best offensive players to create mismatches. That’s precisely what he did against the Bulls, and you can see the results in the stat lines of Monta Ellis (36 points, 8 assists), Corey Maggette (32 points, 11-for-14 from the field, 10-for-11 from the line) and Stephen Curry (26 points, 5-for-8 from downtown, 6 assists).
Said Noah: “They’re match-up problems. And Maggette’s an unbelievable offensive talent. And Ellis is … he’s a monster out there. I think that they just played harder than us and they deserved the win.”
Now the Bulls are left to ponder one that got away, which could very well come back to haunt them. By the numbers, the Warriors were easily the worst team they’re going to face on this seven-game Western Conference road trip. If they don’t come through against the Clippers on Wednesday, an 0-7 trip wouldn’t be out of the question.
Said Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro: “When you lose there’s a lot of question marks. Our intensity was not at the level defensively that it needs to be at. We’re not going to win just out-scoring people. Especially Golden State, who can really put the ball in the basket. Those three guys are tough to cover off the dribble — we know that — but we should of done a better job with them.”
Well, you can’t change the past. Not without a DeLorean outfitted with a Flux Capacitor, anyway. So what can the Bulls do moving forward?
Said Vinny: “Play harder. Play smarter. With more intensity. And that’s what it’s going to take for us to win on the road. There’s no magic pill. There’s no perfect scenario. What it is, is, going to work — understanding, executing and getting after it.”
Sounds good. Now they need to go out and do it.
If you check last season’s schedule, you’ll notice this was the point of the year when the Bulls started to turn things around. After opening their road trip with a loss in Minnesota, the Bulls rebounded to beat the Clippers and eventually finished their seven-game trip 4-3. Let’s hope we see a repeat of that this season.
Derrick Rose injured his ankle during the preseason, and the recovery took time. The effect on his game was obvious. His explosiveness was greatly diminished. He couldn’t attack the rim the way he did during his rookie campaign. At one point, Rose said: “I told you, I’m like an old man out there. I have to wait 20, 30 minutes into practice where I’m really loosened up. I have to stretch a lot.”
Of course, sports fans are an impatient group of people. It’s all about what your favorite star has done for you lately. We don’t want to hear about injuries, or brutal schedules, or guys who are underperforming for unknown reasons. All we want is for our favorite teams to win every game, every night. When that doesn’t happen, we’re quick to blame the coaches, owners and players for being incompetent, failing or (even worse) flat-out giving up on us.
Sometimes those criticisms are fair. Sometimes they are not. As it turns out, the early disappointment in Rose’s regression from the league’s top rookie to its most notoriously slumping sophomore was premature. He has steadily improved from bad, to okay, to pretty good, to very good. Check out his splits:
You’ll notice that as Rose has gone, so have the Bulls. And last night served notice that Rose’s steady improvement isn’t a fluke or a simple hot streak. He has arrived. Rose scored a career-high 37 points, and he did it from a little bit of everywhere (except from behind the three-point line). He also grabbed 9 rebounds, dished out 6 assists and hit some truly clutch shots.
The first was a 17-foot jumper to put the Bulls up 100-99 with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter. Joakim Noah knocked down a couple free throws (which were also clutch) between a pair of three-pointers by the Wizards before Rose gathered in his own miss (which was blocked) and hit a baseline jumper to tie the game at 104-104. And while he couldn’t win the game at the end of regulation — he missed an 18-footer at the buzzer — he made up for it at the end of the second overtime by hitting a spinning, one-handed floater from 11 feet out to put the Bulls up 121-119.
Said Rose: “”I’ve been doing that move since college. If I want to go a certain way and they play me a certain way, I got to spin and I got a nice little floater. … I used to think about what move I’m going to make or whatever. I’m just letting it come to me right now.”
Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. The Bulls have now won eight of their last 11 games, which has come from two four-game winning streaks sandwiched around a three-game skid. And after the Bulls managed to score 100 points only three times in their first 28 games, they’ve now dropped 100+ points in six of their last 10, including 111.7 PPG on their current four-game winning streak.
Of course, would be easy to scoff at Chicago’s recent success. Take this four-game streak. They beat the lowly Timberwolves, smacked down a struggling Pistons team, they overcame the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics, and then outlasted an undermanned Wizards squad on the same day that Gilbert Arenas pled guilty to a felony gun charge.
Those are all fair points. But regardless of the circumstances, the Bulls still managed some feats they haven’t been capable of most of the season. They started off by easily beating a couple of teams they absolutely should have beaten (which hasn’t always been the case this year). They won a hard fought road game (in Boston) and then pulled out a nail-biter at home on the second night of back-to-backs.
Scoff at the Wizards all you want, but don’t try to tell me guys like Antawn Jamison (34 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists) and Brendan Haywood (16 points, 7-for-11, 20 boards) weren’t busting their butts trying to win that game last night. Sometimes a wounded animal is the most dangerous foe of all. That certainly seemed to be the case last night.
The point is: it’s progress. As Rose said: “We’ve been the type of team that would let it slip at the end. … It shows how much we’re improving.”
Of course, the Bulls begin a seven-game Western Conference road trip on Monday, so these good vibes may be put on hold for a while. Historically speaking, these long road trips have usually begun and ended in disastrous fashion, at least since the end of the Michael Jordan era. But then again, they may not have to be. Rose is playing fantastic basketball and the Bulls seem to be coming together as a team. Why couldn’t they win, say, three or four of these seven games?
That’s something I wouldn’t have even considered a month ago.
Luol Deng definitely deserved a hug after abusing Paul Pierce.
Okay, let me get the extenuating circumstances out of the way. The “Boston Celtics” were playing without their best player (Kevin Garnett), their top reserve (Rasheed Wallace), and another key roleplayer (Marquis Daniels). Due to the extreme shorthandedness, the “Celtics” starters have been putting in a lot of PT, particuarly Rajon Rondo, who has now logged 41-50 minutes in eight of the last 10 games. Furthermore, the “Celtics” were playing the second night of back-to-backs and their fourth game in five nights, so they clearly had weary legs.
And did I mention Brian Scalabrine started at power forward?
The Bulls are finally healthy — well, for the most part — and actually have something resembling a set rotation. After a season-opening slump caused by a bum ankle, Derrick Rose is Derrick Rose again. Joakim Noah is very nearly an All-Star-caliber center. Luol Deng is a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. Rookie Taj Gibson has been an unexpected but exceedingly pleasant surprise. John Salmons has been much improved since losing his starting job to Kirk Hinrich. For that matter, Hinrich has been better too. And Tyrus Thomas, although as on-again/off-again as ever, has been bringing energy off the bench.
These Bulls aren’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but let’s be honest: after winning seven of their last 10 games, it’s very reasonable to say this is the way people expected the Bulls to play all this season.
Rose (17 points, 8-for-16, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) made some spectacular drives, including one in which he made Rondo look like Yi Jianlian’s chair and then finished over Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. A few minutes later, Rose followed that play up with a left-handed finish. His explosiveness, quite clearly, is back. Plus, he’s now striking a balance between drives, floaters and pull-up jumpers. After not making David Thorp’s list of the top 10 sophopmores earlier this season, Rose is now leading all second-year players in scoring at 18.7 PPG.
As for Deng, he may have a broken thumb, but he’s been shooting lights out the last two games (21-for-31). And last night, Deng scored a game-high 25 points thanks to a hot hand and an aggressive streak that earned him a co-game-high 10 free throw attempts. Quite frankly, he abused former Finals MVP Paul Pierce, who had no idea how to defend him.
Noah (15 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocked shots) stood up the Perkins, who is as strong and physical a player as anybody this side of Shaq. He also showed some real aggressiveness in the fourth quarter, during which he scored 8 of his points to help the Bulls seal the deal. Most impressive was his running left-handed hook shot with 53 seconds left. Noah never would have attempted a shot like that in that kind of situation last season. He has worked really hard on his game…and it shows.
As a team, the Bulls outplayed Boston across the board. Chicago had the edge in rebounding (50-39, including 15-9 on the offensive glass), assists (20-17), steals (9-6), blocked shots (10-5), fast break points (13-10), points in the paint (48-42), and points off turnovers (16-11). Simply put, the Bulls hustled more and worked harder than the Celtics did.
Said Rose: “It’s probably the most complete game we’ve played all year.”
He may be right.
Of course, the Celtics — who never led after going up 2-0 — crippled themselves by bricking 13 free throws. Pierce and Rondo both missed four times, Perkins shanked three of seven, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis went 2-for-4. Kicking away freebies can haunt a team, and they certainly haunted Boston last night.
About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Bulls last night was their bench play. Chicago’s reserves scored only 14 points on 6-for-25 shooting. However, they did contribute 17 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals (all by Tyrus) and 2 blocks (both by James Johnson). Plus, Tyrus had a great hustle play that earned him some face time with Doug Collins and Kevin Harlan…
If, by some wild series of circumstances, these two teams meet in the playoffs again and the “Celtics” are the Celtics again, it’s hard to imagine the Bulls doing what they did last night. But so what? It’s good to see the “Bulls” have finally playing like the Bulls their fans hoped they’d be.
Although the Bulls have been notoriously week on the offensive end this season, check out some of these advanced stats: Chicago ranks 3rd in Offensive Rebounding Rate (28.9), 5th in Total Rebounding Rate (51.7), 7th in Defensive Efficiency (101.2 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions), and 8th in Defensive Rebounding Rate (74.3). It’s worth noting that the Bulls’ two most glaring weaknesses last season were defense and defensive rebounding. It’s clear the coaching staff and players addressed these problems and improved them significantly.
TrueHoop Network: Zach Lowe of CelticsHub: “When the Bulls improvised, or when the ball went up on the glass? That’s when they scored. That’s when the Celtics looked slow and unprepared. When the Bulls pushed the ball, they got good looks. (And it doesn’t help when Glen Davis forgets who he’s guarding in delayed transition, allowing Taj Gibson to receive a pass wide-open at the foul line, draw Ray Allen away from Kirk Hinrich in the weak side corner and dish the ball Kirk for an easy three that stopped a C’s run in the 2nd). Or how about that nifty little set when Rose dribbles at the top of the key and Brad Miller creeps up as if he’s going to set a high screen, only he’s not really going to—he just wants the defenders to think he is so they’ll anticipate it and move themselves slightly out of position, allowing Rose to drive away from the “screen” and blow by both of them. (This happened three times, twice with Shelden Williams — defending Miller — looking completely bewildered and failing to help at all).”
Based on the number of Kirk Hinrich trade rumors and the frequency with which various experts and unnamed sources confirm Chicago management’s desire to dump Hinrich’s cap-killing contract, you’d think the Bulls were trying desperately to escape a pact with some dark power. Did Jerry Reinsdorf lose a fiddle match with the devil? That’s what it feels like.
It wasn’t always like this. When Captain Kirk signed a five year, $47.5 million dollar contract extension back in November of 2006, this is what John Paxson had to say about it: “Kirk Hinrich is imperative to the foundation of our organization and we are extremely pleased to have him with us long term. We are attempting to build a team based on character and commitment and these are both traits that Kirk possesses at a very high level. This is a very good day for the Chicago Bulls organization.”
And the Bulls have been trying to trade him ever since.
“There’s been rumblings of Hinrich, Tyrus Thomas and a draft pick to the Raptors for Chris Bosh, though that doesn’t seem likely at the moment. A package of Thomas and Hinrich could also work in Portland: The Blazers have expressed interest in Hinrich in the past, and Thomas could help shore up their frontcourt depth, which is lacking with Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla out for the season. But what about Boston? On The B.S. Report today, ESPN’s Bill Simmons throws out a potential trade of Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine, another expiring contract and a future first-round pick or cash for Hinrich. ‘You now have the third guard that you basically haven’t had for the last three years,’ Simmons said. It’s an interesting proposition, and could free up enough money for the Bulls to allow them to go after Chris Bosh and LeBron James this summer.”
Sounds geat, doesn’t it? Especially that “the Bulls could sign Chris Bosh and LeBron James next summer” part. And the Celtics could certainly use depth in the backcourt…and Captain Kirk would definitely fit in with their defense-first mission statement. Patrick Cassidy of Dime Magazine called it “the trade the Boston Celtics need to make today.”
Too bad it’s never going to happen.
Boston wouldn’t want to part with the money — Kirk is still owed $17 million for the next two seasons — and I haven’t heard any convincing evidence the Bulls will land Bosh let alone get a shot at LeBron.
But hey, it’s fun to theorize.
Update!Another impossible trade scenario: Kirk and Tyrus Thomas for Andre Miller and Player To Be Named Later. Miller has two years and $14 million left in his deal…and the Bulls don’t want to bring in another comparable salary. Not to mention the fact that Miller sees himself as a starting PG but would be a backup in Chicago (unless Vinny decided to start him at shooting guard). If the Bulls do manage to trade Hinrich, it’s going to be for one or more expiring contracts.
And here we all thought the Bulls were finally healthy.
After Taj sat out of practice yesterday, Vinny Del Negro said: “He going to go see the doctor today and get some therapy. He’s feeling a little bit better, but that plantar fasciitis is bothering him a little bit, and he’ll get some treatment on it.”
There’s no word yet as to whether Taj will miss any time.
Said Del Negro: “Let’s see how he feels [Wednesday]. I’d like to get him some practice in [Wednesday] before we get up to Boston.”
That would be nice.
Perhaps sensing the need to fluff Tyrus in case he’s called on to start, Vinny also said: “Tyrus played well (Monday against the Pistons) and had a good practice (Tuesday) too. He was under control. I loved his activity.”
Just say “No-ah” to “Knee-Mac”:
Regarding the rumors about a possible tradethat would bring Tracy McGrady to Chicago for Joakim Noah and some expiring contracts: No, no, no, a thousand times no. There are plenty of reasonsnot to make a deal for “Knee-Mac,” but the biggest and most glaring reason is that (based on this rumor) it would cost the Bulls their second-best player (or third-best, if you believe Luol Deng is superior to Noah).
Fortunately, there are also rumors that McGrady could end up in Washington or Philadelphia, so there’s probably no need to panic just yet. About Noah, anyway. But if you’re a Kirk Hinrich fan, there’s always reason to worry. According to ESPN the Magazine’s Chris Broussard: “Kirk Hinrich is ahead of even Tyrus Thomas on their list of players they’d love to trade. In fact, Thomas is being offered around the league as a sweetener in any Hinrich deal. But with two years, $17 million left on his contract after this season, there’s not a great market for Hinrich.”
Seriously, has anyone in NBA history been involved in more trade rumors than Captain Kirk? I think ESPN should rename its famous “what-if engine”to The Kirk Hinrich Memorial Trade Machine.
On a night when the Bulls — who have been a notoriously awful scoring team all season — set season-highs in points (120), field goal percentage (57.1) and margin of victory (33), it’s worth asking the question: was the end result a function of the Bulls rising or merely a sign of how far the Pistons have fallen?
Or was it a little of Column A and a little of Column B?
The Pistons had been one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for most of the 2000s. Then Joe Dumars sent Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess to Denver in exchange for Allen Iverson and everything went to hell. But the experts insisted the trade that exiled Detroit’s heart and soul was part of Dumars’ master plan to rebuild the Pistons on the quick…a plan that culminated in him spending $90 million on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva last summer.
So far that plan has been a miserable failure.
Last night’s blowout was Detroit’s worst loss of the season, both because it set a season-high for margin of defeat and because it increased their losing streak to 13. That’s the most consecutive losses the Pistons have had since the end of the 1993-94 season. There are mitigating circumstances, of course. Detroit has had a rash of injuries to key players. Tayshaun Prince didn’t play last night, and Ben Gordon logged only six minutes because of a recurring hamstring injury.
Speaking of which, Gordon and Villanueva — Dumars’ big offseason acquisitions — combined to score 2 points on 1-for-11 shooting. Do you think Pistons fans want their $90 million back? I bet Dumars sure does.
And make no mistake: the Bulls must not become the Pistons. And I’m not talking about this season’s implosion. I’m talking about next summer, when Chicago will have lots of money to throw at free agents. The Bulls absolutely must not spend foolishly if they cannot lure a big-time FA to the Windy City. Detroit is now a blueprint for what a team should not do with a financial windfall.
Meanwhile…are the Bulls finally finding themselves? They have now back-to-back blowout wins at home against a couple of the league’s worst teams, so their scoring surplus over the last two games is probably a bit deceiving. However, they were trending upward even before the Timberwolves and Pistons came to town.
After scoring 100 or more only three times in their first 28 games, the Bulls have now scored 100+ five times in the last eight games (plus a 98-point game in Detroit against the Pistons). Their three-point shooting is picking up too, as the Bulls have hit 45 percent of their treys (42-for-93) over the last eight games. And John Salmons has been on fire, hitting nearly 60 percent of his three-pointers (19-for-32) in the nine games since he was removed from the starting lineup.
Derrick Rose has been lighting it up, too, by both scoring and dishing off to teammates. Last night, he finished with 22 poings (11-for-13) and a game-high 9 assists. Rose has now scored 20+ points in 11 of his last 18 games. And maybe even more importantly, he’s compiled at least 7 assists in the last six games, including three games with 9 assists. He hasn’t exactly transformed into Steve Nash, but both the quantity and quality of his passes have increased as of late.
The Bulls have won six of their last nine contests, and the three losses were close games they could have won. So what’s up with the improved play?
Said Vinny Del Negro: “We have Tyrus [Thomas] and Kirk [Hinrich] back and we’ve had some practice time together. Guys know their role off the bench because we have our rotation set with guys helping. And the schedule has been more in our favor.”
Sounds simple enough.
The schedule won’t be in Chicago’s favor for long though. The Bulls now face a stretch where they play 10 of their next 12 games on the road, and they will face the Celtics, Suns, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, and Hawks in that span. It’s going to be rough. Maybe even very rough.
But then again, we might be seeing signs of good things for the Bulls.
Don't worry about the score, Vinny. You're playing the Timberwolves...
I’m not sure what to take from Chicago’s 14-point home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, a.k.a. the second-worst team in the NBA (8-30 overall, 3-15 on the road). It’s certainly better than a home loss to the worst team in the NBA, which actually happened earlier this season. But what does it mean?
But here are some not-so-random observations anyway:
Three-point shooting on the rise?
Chicago has been a dreadful three-point shooting team all season…until recently. After going 7-for-14 last night against the T-Wolves, the Bulls have hit 46 percent of their threes (34-for-74) over the last seven games. They still aren’t attempting very many — the Bulls rank dead last in three-point attempts per game (11.0) and 14 is the most they’ve attempted during this hot stretch — but at least they’re finally knocking them down.
It’s also worth noting that Chicago’s 100-point games against the Bobcats and Timberwolves happened on the second night of back-to-back games…and both ended up setting a new Bulls season-high in points in a single game.
The Comeback Watch:
I hate that a thumb injury is taking the steam out of what had been a pretty solid comeback year for Luol Deng. In the last six games, Deng is 28-for-79 from the field (35 percent). During this six-game stretch, he has averaged only 12.5 PPG. Mind you, Luol entered the New Year averaging about 18 PPG on 46 percent shooting.
It’s a bummer. But give Deng credit where credit is due: he’s playing through the injury.
Here we Jo again:
Stat guru Wayne Winston’s adjusted plus-minus numbers lay waste to the notion of Joakim Noah as an elite player…or even an above-average player. Winston says that the advanced stats say Deng is Chicago’s best player. And yet Noah leads the Bulls in PER (16.9), True Shooting Percentage (53.9), Defensive Rebound Percentage (27.2), Offensive Rebound Percentage (13.1), Total Rebound Percentage (20.1), Offensive Rating (107), Defensive Win Shares (2.1) and Total Win Shares (3.2). He’s also second (to Tyrus Thomas) in Block Percentage (4.0) and Defensive Rating (101).
By the way, that Defensive Win Shares number? It’s 10th in the entire NBA right now. I’m just sayin’.
At any rate, Jo was fantastic against Minny, going off for 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting to go with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot. Noah was a big reason why Minnesota’s frontcourt tandem of Al Jefferson and Kevin Love didn’t dominate the game. (Well, that and Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis’ efforts at instituting a triangle offense.)
Said Kirk Hinrich: “He plays hard every night. You expect him to rebound the ball, but he’s been a huge part of this team in all aspects. He knows what it takes to win, he’s very competitive and what he does for us is huge.”
He runs, he hustles and he kills himself to win. Of the current Bulls, Noah is (to me) the second-most indispensible (to Derrick Rose). Speaking of Derrick…
Assists on the rise?
Most people realize that Derrick’s scoring been on the rise lately, but not everybody has noticed he’s making more plays for his teammates too. After averaging between 5-6 APG for most of the season, Rose is averaging about 7 over his last 10 games and around 8 in the last five.
Rose had an off shooting night against the Timberwolves (3-for-7), but he dished out 7 assists in only 31 minutes. I love Rose as a scoring machine, but the Bulls need him to create for his teammates. Like, desperately.
Taj versus Tyrus:
“Should Tyrus start over Taj?” is one of the biggest questions about the Bulls right now…which probably explains why they’re a sub-.500 team. But after a hot three-game stint after his return, Ty has been struggling. He was woeful against the ‘Wolves, as foul trouble (5) limited him to 22 minutes. He finished with 9 points (3-for-7), 5 boards, 2 steals, 3 blocked shots and a game-high 6 turnovers (although several of those TOs came in garbage time).
Meanwhile, Gibson had 13 points (4-for-8), 9 rebounds and zero turnovers in his 23 minutes. The reality is, Gibson is the more steady and consistent player, while Thomas is the more effective and impressive game-changing defensive force. If only there was some way we could merge them into a single player…
John Salmons finally found his shootin touch…and it was on the Bulls’ bench. Since he lost his starting spot to Kirk Hinrich, Salmons is shooting about 49 percent from the field (34-for-70) and a blistering 57 percent from downtown (15-for-26). His scoring is down a bit (12.2 PPG), but the shooting percentages are so drastically improved that Salmons is practically guaranteeing himself a bench role for the rest of the season.
The move has been good for Captain Kirk, too. In his eight games as a starter, he’s shooting 46 percent from downtown (17-for-37) and has six games with at least six assists. In his 21 games as a reserve, he had only four games with six or more assists.
Furthermore, I have accepted that their scoring woes are due in large part to the following facts: 1) the team has no inside scoring threat and 2) no high-percentage outside shooters. The NBA is simple in that you have to score either from the inside or the outside. The Bulls can’t do either very well. They currently rank 28th in Field Goal Percentage (43.1) and 29th in both Effective Field Goal Percentage (45.3) and True Shooting Percentage (49.7).
Yes, it’s rough, but I have accepted these things.
One thing I cannot accept, however, is poor free throw shooting. The Bulls are knocking down only 75.6 percent of their foul shots this season, which ranks them in the bottom third of the league. Free throws are free points! No team can afford to regularly kick away free points, especially teams that struggle to put the ball in the basket.
That’s not to say they haven’t had several games in which they drilled their free throws. But they have 12 games so far this season in which they’ve missed at least seven freebies. What is especially damning about that is the Bulls are 27th in free throw attempts (22.7). Teams that can’t score and rarely get to the line need to take advantage of every opportunity they get.
I bring this up because, after last night’s loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee, the Bulls have lost two very winnable games. In their five-point loss to the Bobcats in Charlotte, the Bulls missed seven of their 22 attempts at the stripe (68 percent). I let that slide because they made such a spirited effort on the road against a solid defensive team on the second night of back-to-backs.
But against the Bucks, it was worse, with the Bulls shanking 10 of 31 from the line (67 percent). Even more catastrophic was that four of those misses happened in the fourthquarter, including two consecutive misses by Derrick Rose when the team was down 85-80 with about three and a half minutes to go.
Four fourth-quarter misses at the line in a three-point loss. I’m just sayin’.
Actually, it was borderline amazing that Chicago managed to keep this one close in the final quarter. After Rose hit a hook shot at the 9:33 mark, the Bulls did not hit another field goal until LuolDeng canned a 19-footer with 1:51 left in the game. That’s nearly eight minutes without hitting a shot. Toss in the missed foul shots, and you almost have to wonder how the Bulls kept this one competitive, especially considering they were behind by as many as 17 in the first quarter.
The Bulls managed to comeback and almost steal this one from the Bucks thanks in large part to Rose, who finished with 25 points and a game-high 9 assists. He caught fire in the second quarter (7 points, 4 assists) as Chicago pulled to within six points by halftime. Then he had 6 points and 2 more assists as the Bulls pulled even at 64-64 after three quarters.
Unfortunately, after his fourth-quarter hook shot — which put Chicago ahead 74-68 — Derrick went as cold as the rest of the team. During that nearly eight-minute stretch of missed shots, Rose bricked three jumpers, missed a layup, committed an offensive foul and then misfired on his only two free throws of the second half.
That’s right: Rose made only one trip to the line in the final 24 minutes.
Of course, Chicago’s offensive fail in the fourthalso happened to coincide with some extra spirited play by the Bucks following a scuffle that almost broke out between Kirk Hinrich, Andrew Bogut and Hakim Warrick. The Bucks apparently used that as a rallying point.
Said Warrick: “We had to calm down. That’s what Andrew did. He got us in, told us to take a deep breath, stick together, and we did.”
Bogut (game-high 27 points, 13 rebounds, and career-high 6 blocks) added: “[It was] a little bit physical, a little bit testy at times, but I think that got us going. We went on a run after that, got the lead back and won the game.”
It didn’t hurt that Michael Redd pulled out of his funk to score 14 of his 24 points in the final 7:09, an outburst that included several clutch baskets. It was a painful reminder that Rose, despite his vastly improved play, isn’t an elite go-to guy just yet.
TrueHoop Network: Jeremy of Bucksketball: “Heading towards a loss just before a very difficult six game road trip to the West, Bogut helped regroup his teammates after a difficult fourthquarter stretch that left them down seven. Withtheir (occasional) three-point shooting prowess, you’d think the Bucks would be the kind of team that can come back from a deficit, but that hadn’t been the case all that often over the past monthfor Milwaukee. Lately, when the Bucks took a shot to the mouth, it was easy to sense the panic coming over the team. Jump-shots would begin to fly at record pace and misses would usually end up the result. But that wasn’t the case Friday. When the Bucks got down seven with eight minutes to go it was Michael Redd who continued to attack the basket, resulting in 11 straight points from the free throw line or paint. Attacking the paint to erase a fourth quarter deficit? A seemingly foreign concept prior to Friday night, but it was the rare answer for the Bucks.”
It’s the question that seemingly cannot be answered: What, exactly, should the Bulls do with Tyrus Thomas?
Start him or bring him in off the bench? Keep him or trade him? Let him shoot jump shots or put electrodes in his jersey that will give him a terrible shock any time he attempts a field goal that cannot be described as a ”dunk” or “layup”?
Well, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro has answered at least one of those questions. Tyrus will not start. Not yet, anyway.
Said Del Negro: “Taj has earned every minute. With Taj and Kirk (Hinrich) in the lineup, we’ve had better starts at times. Guys are going to get their minutes if they’re productive, execute the game plan and know what we’re doing. I’m happy with the starters right now and there’s no reason to change anything until I feel differently.”
Make no mistake. There’s main reason Thomas will remain a sub for now is that he remains as inconsistent as ever.
He was great in his first three games back from injury. He scored 21 points in his first game back, grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds in his second game, and finished with 19 and 7 with a game-high 14 free throw attempts in his third game. Tyrus also made several game-changing defensive plays in those three contests…all Bulls wins, by the way.
In the last three games, however, Tyrus has scored total of 19 points on 8-for-24 shooting, and he has almost as many fouls and turnovers (14) as rebounds (16).
Said Vinny: “The more consistent he is on the court, the more minutes he’ll get just like everybody else. We need him to play well and he knows that. I don’t think he has been in as good of a rhythm as he was the first few. He gave us such a big boost when he came back. He’ll be fine. I thought he had an excellent practice (Thursday). We need his activity and shot-blocking and running the court. He gives us more of an athletic presence. We’ll get him back on track.”
That’s sort of been the story of Thomas’ entire career in Chicago. He can do so much, has so much potential, but it cannot be harnessed on a nightly basis. It’s the Tale of Two Tyruses. There’s Good Tyrus, who can swing games in the Bulls’ favor by swatting shots, ripping down rebounds and swooping to the rim for easy baskets. Then there’s Bad Tyrus, who settles for long-range jump shots, gets pushed around in the paint, coughs up the ball and bungles his defensive rotations.
Will the real Tyrus Thomas please stand up?
Of course, we don’t even know how much longer Thomas will be on the team. With the NBA trade deadline approaching, the Bulls might very well consider moving him if the right deal presents itself. But until then, Vinny and the rest of the team will continue hoping and praying for a little consistency from their enigmatic big man. That may very well be the factor that determines whether the 2009-10 Chicago Bulls are pretty good…or mediocre.