I have an old video game, “The Lion King” for Super Nintendo. In the opening scene of the game, it begins with Timon saying “it starts.” But he isn’t excited about the start, he seems dejected, as if he knows what’s coming isn’t good (spoiler alert Mufassa dies). That’s how I feel about this Bulls season. Chicago’s Mufasa, Derrick Rose, is out for most, if not all, of the season (Rose didn’t get run over by a stampede though). Add to Rose’s absence that the Bench Mob, the guys Thibs trusted more than his starters on multiple occasions, is also gone for the most part, and who knows what’s to come this season.
Last year it was questionable that there was going to be basketball at all. This year, it seems appropriate to ask whether or not the Bulls will make the playoffs. The hope that last year started with has been replaced with lower expectations. Last season the Bulls had their best winning percentage (.758) since the 1996-1997 Bulls (.841). Those Bulls had Michael Jordan. Now Chicago has Marco Belinelli. You could make an argument that the Bulls are a top five team in the East, or maybe a lottery squad. It’s hard to pinpoint. My guess is they win 45 games and get the sixth or seventh playoff spot, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if they go north or south of that.
This year, the Bulls come in without their star and with a new supporting cast on the bench. The Bulls were used to playing without Rose last season, but many of those role players who filled in (C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, even John Lucas III played a huge part in the Bulls’ success) are now gone. And those guys were replaced by lesser players with smaller contracts for the most part. This is what Chicago has to work with, and under Coach Thibodeau they will come out hard every game.
The preseason had its ups and downs. Carlos Boozer played poorly to start, but looked a lot better in the last two games. Taj Gibson’s never seemed to get it all together and the same can be said for the rest of the bench for the most part. Jimmy Butler took a predictable step backwards after playing well in summer league. Nate Robinson took a lot of shots, but didn’t score enough points. Marco Belinelli barely made anything, except Bulls fans disappointed in his signing. Kirk Hinrich is already fighting injuries and Luol Deng will be dealing with his wrist issues for the entire year.
Chicago went 5-2 in the preseason though, which would be great if the preseason meant anything. But it doesn’t. And a few of those wins came because starters logged big minutes for the Bulls to keep the lead, when the other teams weren’t necessarily trying as hard to get that W. But they have to get used to 40-plus minutes a game at some point, I guess.
They were 4-0 at home in the preseason though, and were 36-5 in the United Center last year. Sacramento was just 6-27 on the road (compared to 16-17 at home). The Kings gave up 105.1 points per game to opponents when playing away from Sac-town. Overall they finished last in opponent field goal percentage and points allowed per game. That’s a good thing for a Bulls team still unsure where their offense will come from.
But offense isn’t as important as the defense. The Bulls lost Brewer, Watson and Omer Asik, three players that range from solid to great defenders. That will hurt. But they still have good defenders and the best defensive coach in the game. Thibs hides Boozer every possession he’s on the floor, it will be interesting what schemes he comes up to help these new guys mesh. And this defense may not win them a championship this year, but it’ll can get them to the playoffs.
From Zach Lowe’s NBA Tier Ranking post on Grantland: “In the last 10 seasons, only one team has finished in the top five in points allowed per possession and missed the playoffs: the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks, who put up one of the half-dozen worst scoring seasons in NBA history. Heck, 91 of the 100 teams who finished in the top 10 in points allowed per possession in that stretch made the playoffs, and of the nine who missed, eight ranked 27th or worse in scoring.
“In other words: It’s very hard to play defense the way Chicago has under Tom Thibodeau and miss the postseason. The Bulls lost two key defenders in Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer, but both were backups, and this defense should remain stout as long as Thibodeau, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson are around.”
Chicago may not be the scariest team defensively anymore, but they still should be one of the top squads in the league on that side of the ball with Thibs at the helm.
Last season the Bulls were 2-0 against the Kings. In the most recent win, February 14, Chicago was without Derrick Rose, but Luol Deng and Joakim Noah stepped up. Deng got pretty close to a triple-double, scoring 23 points to go along with eleven assists and seven rebounds. Jo dropped 22 and added eleven rebounds and four blocks.
The Bulls were 18-9 without Rose last year, putting them as a clear playoff team if they could duplicate that win percentage. But during those wins they relied on a bench that was dismantled. It’s going to be tough, but not impossible.
The Bulls don’t have much of a chance to win the championship this year, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t make the playoffs and be a tough out for any opponent. After last year’s early optimism, it’s unfortunate the Bulls are going to struggle this year. But that’s the circle of life and sports.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have traded super sixth man James Harden (along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward) to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks and a second-round pick.
In Thunder GM Sam Presti’s perfect world, this trade never would have happened. Had things gone Presti’s way, Harden would have signed an extension with Oklahoma City and joined Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to form the team’s core for years to come.
That $5 million made all the difference. To both sides.
Said Presti: ”We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these situations have to work for all those involved. Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers. We were unable to reach a mutual agreement, and therefore executed a trade that capitalized on the opportunity to bring in a player of Kevin’s caliber, a young talent like Jeremy and draft picks, which will be important to our organizational goal of a sustainable team.”
In all likelihood, Harden will receive his max deal from the Rockets, although teaming with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik won’t bring him the team success he enjoyed with the Thunder.
That’s simply life in the NBA. It’s business, as they say.
Which brings us to the subject of Taj Gibson. The Bulls have until Wednesday to work out an extension and thus prevent Gibson from becoming a restricted free agent next summer.
If the Asik situation taught us anything, it’s that restricted free agency can be deadly to a team that wants to retain its player. After all, the Bulls entered last summer with the firm stance that they would pay top dollar to retain Asik. Then the Rockets offered Asik upwards of $25 million for three years, which included a “poison pill” third-year salary of around $15 million.
That savvy move by the Rockets — who clearly wanted Asik badly — effectively cost the Bulls a valued player. It’s not a stretch to imagine the same thing happening with Gibson.
Talks between the Bulls and Mark Bartelstein, Gibson’s Chicago-based agent, continue. Sources said the roughly $8 million gap over four years isn’t atypical for this stage of negotiations.
The Bulls want to avoid having Gibson become a restricted free agent next summer should they fail to reach an extension, particularly since they were burned when Omer Asik reached that status. But they also have no plans to commit $10 million annually to Gibson, 27, when Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah all average north of that figure.
It’s a difficult situation. On the one hand, Gibson is a fantastic defensive player and the de facto leader of Chicago’s second unit. Yet his Player Efficiency Rating last season was 16.9, which ranked him 26th in the league among power forwards. That was just a hair above guys like Gustavo Ayon and Jason Thompson.
I’d be willing to bet you just thought: “Who are Gustavo Ayon and Jason Thompson?” To which I would have replied: “Exactly.”
The biggest worry about Gibson’s game is his offense.
According to Hoopdata, Gibson converted 65.7 percent of his shots at the rim last season, which is excellent. Unfortunately, a great many of those attempts came off uncontested dunks, layups and putbacks. Gibson doesn’t have many post moves and rarely creates his own shot.
Even more unfortunately is the fact that Gibson shot only 34 percent from 16-23 feet which — based on number of field goal attempts per game — is his second favorite location to shoot from.
Further, according to John Hollinger’s stats, Gibson ranks 26th in both Value Added (the estimated number of points a player adds to a team’s season total above what a replacement player would produce) and Estimated Wins Added (the estimated number of wins a player adds to a team’s season total above what a replacement player would produce).
Mind you, I’m not saying any of this to undersell Gibson or understate his value to the Bulls.
However, some perspective may be necessary. Gibson is a very popular player among experts and Bulls fans. And rightfully so. But while we’re extolling his virtues — which include stellar defense, consistent effort and being a fantastic teammate — it’s also worth looking at his shortcomings. Especially considering that, at 27 years old, Gibson’s game is unlikely to change greatly going forward. In other words, people expecting him to suddenly become a much stronger offensive player are likely to be disappointed.
Which may be an important factor when estimating his dollar value worth to the Bulls.
And that’s what it’s all going to come down to in the end. Like the Thunder, the Bulls will have to make a decision regarding what Gibson is worth based on a) what they have to offer under the current salary cap and luxury tax situation and b) what Gibson is worth relative to other players around the league.
As much extending or re-signing Gibson seems like a no-brainer, it may not be that simple. The Bulls learned this with Asik last summer. The Thunder just learned that with the James Harden situation.
It’s been an interesting preseason so far. Without Derrick Rose, it was obviously going to be fascinating to see what the Bulls did. But this has been curious for different reasons.
First, it was interesting to find out that Carlos Boozer was still alive. Boozington has put in two straight good preseason games. As I’ve said before, Boozer is going to have to put up more than he did last year to keep the Bulls afloat. If the two most recent preseason games are any barometer, the Bulls should have some success. If the first few preseason games were any gauge, it is going to be a long season.
The next thing has been Thibodeau’s preseason rotation. I get that the starters may be a little rusty, and they need time together, especially the new piece in Kirk Hinrich. But these games don’t count for anything. Which means the starters should not be brought back in to keep a lead and finish the game. That’s how Rose got injured last season. That was for a playoff game which is a little more understandable. These are for nothing.
The bench is the part of this team that needs work. Belinelli is shooting worse than a blind pacifist. Nate Robinson is as erratic and unpredictable as ever. Jimmy Butler has been up and down after his impressive summer league. Nazr Mohammed has put in good offense numbers but still needs work. And Taj Gibson, the cornerstone of the bench, has struggled mightily.
Add in the fact that these guys, with the exception of Taj, are new to the team, and you would think they would be getting the most run. Even finishing games to get some experience. But that hasn’t been happening because the Bulls have to win in the preseason.
Ask the Lakers if they care at all about their preseason record this year (0-7). I can guarantee they don’t. Because that record will be erased in less than a week. Maybe someone should let Thibs that the same will happen to the Bulls’ record.
With this odd rotation, comes another problem I have. Why hasn’t Marquis Teague gotten more minutes? He has played 29 minutes the entire preseason. That’s less than five minutes per game. And this is with Hinrich sitting out time with injuries. Oh, and of course Rose is out as well.
Nate Robinson is a better player than Teague. I’m not arguing that. But I am arguing that Teague is more important to the future of the Bulls than Nate. Or Hinrich for that matter. The Bulls got lucky that Teague fell to them so late in the first round. He has a lot of talent. I have no idea how good of a pro he’ll turn out to be, we will have to wait and see for that, but shouldn’t the Bulls want to speed up his development?
Now is the time to allow him to grow. Preseason doesn’t matter, even if Thibs thinks it does. And it’s understandable he doesn’t trust a rookie, but he’s never going to trust him if he doesn’t give him a chance. Preseason is the time to make mistakes. Rookies make a lot of mistakes. So mess up when the win or the loss doesn’t mean anything.
But it’s too late for that. Tonight is the Bulls’ last preseason game. The chance to prepare is almost over. So the Bulls have to rely on the guys that Thibs trusts. And judging by the way the bench has played so far, it seems that trust list has shortened.
Indiana is in great shape to win the Central. The Bulls have an uphill battle if they want to be Central leaders. These teams will meet four times in the regular season. This one doesn’t matter, except to Thibs.
Said Deng: ”I had the injury before (in 2004), and for some reason, maybe because it was my first time and I first had it, it felt a lot worse than the second time. The second time that I had it (last season), I asked the doctors a lot of questions.
“I never really lost any range of motion or strength, I just had pain. But as the year went on, I had my mind set on getting the surgery. As the year went on it just felt a lot stronger. I stuck with my rehab, kept doing my rehab, and til now kept doing my rehab and staying on top of it. It’s been good so far. I just got to continue with that and see how it goes.”
Luol Deng has a history of injuries. And, under current Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, he has a history of logging an awful lot of PT. In 2010-11, Lu ranked fourth overall in the NBA in Minutes Per Game (39.1). Last season, he ranked first (39.4). He’s coming off back-to-back preseason games in which he played 37 minutes. Preseason games.
When asked whether he expected to see the same kind of longs minutes he has in the previous two seasons, Deng replied: I expect to play the same. My strength, really, since I’ve been in this league is conditioning. I’ve always been blessed to be able to play high minutes. You’ve just got to stay on top of the little things — getting my treatment, stretching. Just being ready for 48 minutes a game, I really prepare myself for that.”
When asked what he expects from Deng this season, Thibs said: “The same thing as last year and the year before — just about everything.”
TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott posted an article about how teams on which players log heavy PT (in the 3,000-minute range) tend not to win titles. And maybe, with Rose likely to miss most or all of the season, competing for a championship isn’t the Bulls’ main concern this season. But it’s something to consider.
Maybe I’m worrying needlessly. Maybe as long as Lu gets post-game treatment and plenty of sleep in his off-hours, things will be fine. But minus Rose, the Bulls will be hard pressed this season. Losing Deng to overuse injury would be a real blow.
The Thunder played without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Translation: Take this win with a grain of salt. Even by preseason standards.
Still…it felt good to see Carlos Boozer have another strong game (24 points, 11-for-20, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals).
In fact, the entire starting unit seemed to be really syncing up before Kirk Hinrich strained his groin in the second quarter. That that point, Captain Kirk had 8 points (3-for-4 overall and 2-for-2 on threes), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot, all crammed into 15 minutes of PT.
Let’s hope it’s not a serious injury.
I liked how aggressive Luol Deng and Joakim Noah were. Deng (21 points, 5 boards, 3 assists) and Noah (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) combined for 19 free throw attempts, 5 steals and 3 blocked shots (okay, Jo had all the blocks, but still).
What I did not like (other than the Hinrich injury) was watching the bench struggle so badly (5-for-20) while the starters logged heavy minutes (37 each for Lu and Jo, 36 for Rip Hamilton, 33 for Boozer).
I mean, 37 minutes in an exhibition game? C’mon, Thibs.
I guess you could defend Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s decision to play the heck out of his starting unit — minus Hinrich, who sat out the second half — if they had looked rusty or ill-at-ease with each other. But they looked good.
And, anyway, the reserves are the ones who need floor time. The bench is what looks way off about this team in the early going.
Taj Gibson had zero points (0-for-3) in 19 minutes and finished with nearly as many fouls (4) as rebounds (6). I don’t know whether his contract situation is distracting him, but he has not played well this preseason. It’s becoming a real concern, especially considering he’s the leader of the (seriously underachieving) second unit.
Other than Jimmy Butler (2-for-3), none of the reserves could have located the basket with a GPS. In addition to Gibson’s o-fer, Nazr Mohammed was 0-for-2, Marco Belinelli (still without a three this preseason) was 0-for-1, Marquis Teague was 0-for-1, Nate Robinson (who moved into Hinrich’s starting spot in the second half) went 3-for-10.
Of course, Belinelli (12 minutes), Mohammed (7 minutes) and Teague (4 minutes) could have benefited from more PT.
Which brings me back to the “why are starters playing 37 minutes in a meaningless exhibition game?” question. It seems like there would be greater value in putting the reserves through their paces. Thibs pretty much knows what he’s going to get out of Boozer, Deng, Hamilton and Noah. Considering the combined history of injury problems that group has suffered, pushing them this hard before the season has even started seems risky. And Hinrich’s groin tweak could be Exhibit A.
But hey, I’m coaching from my desk chair.
The defense was strong as usual, limiting James Harden to 2-for-17 shooting and holding the Thunder to 39 percent as a team (although, again, this was minus Durant and Westbrook). I can’t say I was happy to see Serge Ibaka (24 points on 10-for-17 shooting) go off against the Bulls. But I guess you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Now we’re waiting for Friday’s preseason finale against the Pacers…
The Bulls have won two straight preseason games, which if you’re counting at home means absolutely nothing. Especially considering their most recent win came against the Timberwolves who were playing without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.
It’s going to be a lot tougher this time around. The Bulls take on the defending Western Conference champs, Oklahoma City.
Things to watch: Can Carlos Boozer keep it up? Booz finally awoke from his hibernation to go 10-17 from the field for 24 points, while also grabbing nine rebounds. He added had four assists and four steals to that stat line to put an impressive fully rounded game. This is the type of game Boozington is going to have to put up for the Bulls to be playoff contenders.
While Boozer played well, Noah had a terrible game. Two points, 0-6 from the field. If you would have shown me that line before the game, I would have assumed it was Boozer. One day both bigs for the Bulls will play well. I’m sure it will happen. Jo did have 12 boards, including six offensive. And at least when he plays poorly on offense, he still plays great defense.
Noah was scoring more than usual during this preseason, so if he can score against Perkins and Ibaka, it’ll be promising for the season.
Rip Hamilton scored 15, but they weren’t efficient (5-13 from the field). The same can be said of Deng (4-9 for 9 points). Kirk Hinrich was just 1-5 from the field and he had four turnovers.
As a team the Bulls shot 41.8 percent from the field. Needing offense is nothing new for the Bulls. They struggled with it when Derrick Rose was playing. They struggle a lot more with him out. With their bench defense weaker, the Bulls are going to need to score more points to get those wins.
And that defense will be in for a test tonight, going up against three really good scorers. Deng has one of the toughest tasks in the league trying to slow down Kevin Durant. Kirk will have his hands full with Russell Westbrook. And James Harden off the bench can be a nightmare.
The Bulls got the Timberwolves when they were down; they aren’t going to be so lucky tonight. This will be Chicago’s biggest test in the preseason (the last preseason game is against Indiana). If the Bulls think they are as good as last year, this will be one of the games that they can prove it, even if it is just a preseason match-up. The Bulls and Thunder met once last year, with Chicago losing 92-78. That defeat came without Rose and Hamilton in the line-up. That will be half true for this preseason showdown.
After going 13-for-37 over his first four preseason games — that’s 35.1 percent “accuracy” for those who enjoy simple math — Boozer finally broke out of basketball purgatory by shooting 10-for-17 from the field for his game-high 24 points. Boozington also added 9 boards, 4 assists and 4 steals (!!).
And people say he can’t play defense.
All kidding aside, Bulls fans always breath a sigh of frustrated relief when Carlos has a strong game. Although even then he can rarely win. If Boozer plays poorly, people complain (often bitterly) about his bloated contract and failure to meet expectations. If Boozer plays well, it’s expected and few people want to give him credit.
We’re about to start Season 3 of the Boozer era, and the man is still something of an enigma. Many fans feel like the Bulls got ripped off a couple summers ago when the team signed Boozer to $75 million free agent contract. People expected Boozer to be the 20-10 machine he was in Utah but believe that Carlos failed to show up.
Only he kind of did show up.
His raw stats are down, but so is his PT. If you check his Per 36 Minute stats, Boozer is still worth better than 10 rebounds and nearly 20 points per game. Last season, he shot 53.2 percent, which ranked 10th in the league and was only a shade below his career average of 53.7 percent. Similarly, last season’s Player Efficiency Rating of 19.7 is pretty darn close to his career average of 20.5.
So Chicago’s Boozer is nearly identical to Utah’s Boozer.
Except for the playoffs that is. His playoff numbers with the Bulls dropped off big time from what he did with the Jazz. But I’m not ready to start talking playoffs just yet.
The bottom line is Boozer shook off the rust and played well. Which is good news.
Said Boozer: ”Getting better and better every day, that’s the goal. The reason we have preseason is so we can get better and better and get ready for the regular season. I see myself getting better and better each day, each game, each week, and the preseason’s almost over so it’s about time to get going. … It just happened by the course of the game. It wasn’t like it was planned out. It just happened. We got a couple stops, ran in transition, I did a good job of sealing the ball and making myself presentable to them and they hit me in the right spots to be successful.”
Added Taj Gibson: ”He just needed to get going. He just needed to have a strong game to have himself ready for the season. I was saying to him, ‘Just get your legs going. Get yourself going in the post.’ He did a phenomenal job just running the floor, getting early seals, back to the old Carlos we know he can be and it was great. He did a great job. We kept feeding him and we’re going to continue to do that throughout the year. He’s going to be a big part of our success this year.”
Speaking of Gibson…he had a strong night too. Like Boozer, Taj had really struggled through the first four preseason games. Last night, he had a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) to go with 3 blocks and a steal.
Of course, here’s where I have to say “but.” Minnesota’s frontcourt — which was missing Kevin Love (broken hand) — consisted of Greg Stiemsma, Dante Cunningham, Andrea Kirilenko, Derrick Williams, Lou Admundson and Chase Budinger.
Not exactly a murderer’s row.
Of course, Joakim Noah wasn’t burning it up on offense. Noah went 0-for-6 and finished with only 2 pointsd. But he did have 12 boards, 2 steals and a block. Noah, along with Boozer and Gibson, was a big part of Chicago’s rebounding dominance (47-41).
The defense was strong. The Bulls had 13 steals, 8 blocks and held Minny to 42.7 percent shooting (including 3-for-19 from three-point range). Overall, the Bulls forced 21 turnovers and scored 25 points off of them.
However, the offense again struggled, with the Bulls committing 17 miscues of their own (for 18 points going the other way) and shooting 41.8 percent.
Noah wasn’t the only person whose shot was off. Kirk Hinrich was 1-for-5. Marco Belinelli — who still hasn’t hit a three in a Bulls uniform — was 0-for-5. Rip Hamilton scored 15 points but shot only 5-for-13.
The Bulls also played better in the first half (during which they outscored the T-Wolves 50-35) than they did in the second (when Minnesota outscored Chicago 46-42). And, just like in the last game, coach Tom Thibodeau had to re-insert the starters when the lead was getting away.
Said Boozer: “It was the third/fourth (quarters,) it was the second half. Our flow was a little different. We started trading baskets with them. We had a huge lead in the third quarter. We were up 16, 17, whatever it was. That beginning of the fourth quarter wasn’t what (Thibodeau) wanted, so he brought us (starters) back in. We did a very good job there at the end, but there was a stretch there we just traded baskets with them. That’s not something we like to do.”
Added Deng (who played a way-to-many 37 minutes): “We got to finish games better.”
Finishing is important. Personally, I’m more concerned about offensive efficiency and bench production. But I’m okay if the Bulls work on all those things.
Since the last time the Bulls played the Timberwolves things have changed for Minnesota. And not for the better. You have to feel bad for them, with Ricky Rubio in the same place as Derrick Rose with a torn ACL (although a few months ahead) and now Kevin Love breaks his hand.
(I would take a Kevin Love with a broken hand over a Carlos Boozer with his broken jumper every day of the week.)
The Bulls finally found their offense in the last preseason game against Milwaukee. Nate Robinson went off for 24 points on 7-16 shooting, starting in place of Kirk Hinrich (Robinson also added 13 assists; this is a Nate that Bulls’ fans can get on board with). Rip Hamilton even played well, scoring 23 points on 9-14 from the field and getting to the line five times.
Joakim Noah continued to have a good preseason (16 points, 7-15, 12 rebounds), while Carlos Boozer continued to do the opposite (3-9, 10 points, 10 rebounds, four turnovers).
Taj Gibson didn’t shoot well, but he still finished with seven points and eight rebounds. He recorded another negative plus/minus score and that number seems to reflect what he is now missing around him on defense (specifically Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer). And Jimmy Butler was perfect from the field! He only took one shot but…baby steps.
And the Bulls’ defense did well. Milwaukee shot 41 percent. Ersan Ilyasova was just 1-9 (the last two times the Bulls and Bucks met last season, Ilyasova averaged 23.5 points per contest).
Including tonight the Bulls have three preseason games left. That isn’t a lot of time to figure stuff out. Boozer needs to find ways to score; otherwise the Bulls are going to lose a lot of games. And in that case, if Boozer isn’t scoring, there isn’t really a reason to have him playing many minutes. At least Taj gives you defense.
Anyway, after tonight the Bulls play the Thunder and the Pacers, two very good teams that will be a great way to judge where the Bulls are. The Timberwolves are hurting right now, so the Bulls should take care of them rather easily.
After three consecutive offensive performances that put the “lack” in “lackluster,” the Bulls finally reached the century mark and notched their second preseason victory. Here’s what I noticed:
Nate Robinson has energy:
How many Red Bulls do you suppose Little Nate chugged down before the game? Five? Six? Robinson started at point guard because Kirk Hinrich was sitting out with a minor thumb injury…and Nate flat out blew it up to the tune of 24 points (7-for-16 overall and 4-for-8 on threes) and 13 assists (versus zero turnovers!) in 37 high-octane minutes. Of course, 37 minutes is a lot of PT for a preseason game…but more on that later.
This is the Nate Robinson package. He will almost always play hard and can absolutely explode on offense, but you simply cannot always count on this level of efficiency and production from him. Still, this game served as a sign that Nate really is an upgrade over his former Bench Mob counterpart John Lucas III.
Said Robinson: “I was kind of hard on myself (about) making shots and guys are just like, ‘Just play, have fun. It will come back. I worked on my jump shot a lot and I was kind of disappointed in myself. But I talked to my kids the other day and they were like, ‘It’s OK, daddy. We still love you no matter what.’ So that kind of helped me out today just having happy thoughts and just going out there playing and having fun and I did that.”
Joakim Noah is having a solid preseason:
Somewhat overlooked thus far — in part because of the lousy shooting and heretofore shoddy offense — has been Noah’s strong play. He had 10 points (4-for-6), 7 rebounds and 4 assists in 18 minutes against the Grizzlies. His game against the Cavaliers was so-so (4 points, 8 boards, 2 assists, 2 blocks), but he brought it the next night in Minnesota (14 points, 13 rebounds).
Against the Bucks, Noah put up another double-double (16 points and 12 boards) while dishing out a couple assists without turning the ball over. Good stuff. That said, I would have liked to see more free throw attempts (he went 2-for-3 from the line) and better shooting efficiency (it took him 15 shots to score those 16 points). Seven of Jo’s nine misses were in the paint. That’s troubling. But overall, Noah is moving and playing well, easing any lingering concerns about his ankle.
The backup center is playing pretty well too:
Nazr Mohammed won’t put opponents in the same kind of defensive torture chamber Omer Asik did. That said…he’s been a solid and very pleasant surprise so far. Last night, he chipped in 9 points on 4-for-6 shooting to go with a couple rebounds and a steal. Unlike Asik, opposing players have to, you know, guard him. He can stick jumpers and still finish around the basket well enough. The one-two, Noah-Mohammed center punch might not work out too badly for the Bulls.
One up and one down:
Rip Hamilton had one of those “this is why the Bulls signed him” games last night, scoring 23 points on 14 shots. He moved well without the ball, knocked down shots from a variety of locations, and went 5-for-5 from the line. In many ways, it was a classic Hamilton game, similar to how he performed during his glory days in Detroit. The Bulls would love it if Rip could stay healthy and play this way for close to 82 games. Can he? Time will tell.
While Hamilton was in vintage form, Carlos Boozer was not. Despite a double-double (10 points, 10 boards) and a decent plus-minus score (+13), Boozer could not wake up from his preseason shooting nightmare. His 3-for-9 effort puts him at a cringe-worthy 13-for-37 over four games.
Look, we all know Boozer has, shall we say, defensive limitations. Which means he’s here to score and rebound. The rebounding component is there. The scoring? Not so much. To be of real worth to the team, Boozer needs to shoot a high percentage and score around the basket. Right now, he’s 0-for-2 on that count. He looks completely out of rhythm. Of course, it doesn’t help that Chicago’s offense doesn’t really play to his strengths.
I’ve watched Boozer for a long time, going back to his Utah days. He needs a high degree of involvement offensively. Lots of pick and rolls, posts and re-posts. He doesn’t need to shoot it every time, but Booz needs to feel the ball to develop a rhythm. That really doesn’t happen in Tom Thibodeau’s offense, not consistently anyway.
Another problem is spacing. Frankly, the Bulls don’t have the kind of spacing that Boozer used to have in Utah. Part of the problem being the Bulls are a zero threat in the long-distance shooting department right now.
Anyway, it remains to be seen whether Carlos can rediscover his touch or Thibs can work him into the flow a little better. But if this brick-fest continues, the townsfolk are going to start screaming for Boozer’s head on a stick.
Taj Gibson isn’t lighting it up either:
Boozer isn’t the only Bulls power forward who’s struggling to put the ball in the basket. Taj was 1-for-7 against the Grizzlies, 4-for-8 against the Cavs, 1-for-5 against the T-Wolves and now 3-for-8 against the Bucks. He’s missing from the outside. He’s missing from the inside.
His plus-minus scores also tell a grim tale: -6 against Memphis, -4 against Cleveland, -9 against Minnesota, and -7 against Milwaukee. Part of this is that the bench productivity — both offensively and defensively — is down. But Taj isn’t lighting it up, either.
Speaking of bad shooting:
Another night of despair for Marco Belinelli, who went 1-for-3 from the field and 0-for-1 from downtown. The team’s designated shooter, the man who was to replace Kyle Korver, is now 0-for-7 on threes. He looks confused on defense and often unsure or even scared on offense.
The starters were also the finishers:
It’s a given that preseason games are meaningless. Wins and losses don’t carry over. These contests are simply a way to shake off the rust while testing out the new or unproven players. Yet all the starters except Boozer logged 30 or more minutes: 30 for Hamilton, 31 for Deng, 33 for Noah and 37 for Robinson.
What’s more, after the Bucks used a 14-4 run to pull within 94-91, Thibs brought the starters back in. I know Thibodeau wants to win every game possible. It’s part of what has made him a great coach. But I was a little stunned nonetheless.
The invisible man:
Someone in a Luol Deng suit played 31 minutes, finishing with 5 points on 1-for-4 shooting with 2 rebounds and 2 assists. Maybe he was taking it easy because of the minor groin injury he’s dealing with.
I didn’t get to watch the last Bulls game against the Timberwolves. Once again it didn’t look like I missed much. The bench continued to struggle. Chicago didn’t have Luol Deng or Rip Hamilton. And they lost.
It’s good that the Bulls are getting used to playing without Rip in the preseason, so they won’t be shocked when he plays 15 games all year.
Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli started in place of Deng and Rip, and based purely on the stat sheet, Butler had an alright game, with nine points and eight rebounds, while Belinelli struggled, going 3-7 from the field and not adding much else to the box score.
Kirk Hinrich (15 points) and Joakim Noah (14 points, 13 rebounds) played well. Noah taking on a bigger scoring role will be key for the Bulls this season. And since I didn’t see the game I can imagine Jo’s six field goals were all beautiful skyhooks he learned this summer, rather than ugly jumpers.
Nazr Mohammed once again scored in double digits. Omer Asik scored in double digits six times as a Bull. Six. The question is whether or not Nazr’s defense can make those ten points worthwhile. Although I’m sure that extra cash in Reinsdorf’s pocket is nice.
Nate Robinson scored 9 points but was just 3-11 from the field and 0-5 from deep. He is going to have those types of games, just as John Lucas had those types of games. But the Bulls are counting on him for some points so he needs to start putting together some good games. Or even solid games.
But the person that continues to be the biggest problem is Carlos Boozer. He was just 2-7 for five points. It’s a scary thought that Boozer is supposed to be the Bulls top scorer and best offensive player.
The Bulls get another division opponent tonight in Milwaukee. Hinrich gets another tough test in Brandon Jennings (Rose used to own the Bucks). Boozer should have an easier time, going up against Drew Gooden, and maybe can start getting some sort of rhythm.