I don’t want to put too much emphasis on preseason stats. After all, preseason games are like lab experiments. Coaches tinker with various lineups and try to test the reserves, and players test new moves and try to ratchet up their games for the upcoming 82-game (plus playoffs hopefully) grind.
Still, what happens in the preseason can sometimes hint at what to expect in the early part of the regular season. And here’s what happened during the Bulls’ preseason:
Scoring, rebounding and ball handling were problems:
Chicago averaged only 95.8 PPG while shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc.
The team’s 2009-10 averages: 97.5 PPG, 45.1 and 33.0.
Furthermore, the Bulls were outrebounded by a slim margin (40.4 RPG to 39.9 RPG) and turned the ball over. A lot (17.4 TOs per game).
Of course, team stats in the preseason are deceiving because the bench gets a lot more PT than usual. I mean, does anybody really expect Brian Scalabrine to average 20 MPG once the regular season starts?
Of course not.
Additionally, the Bulls have nine new players and a new coaching staff. As if the personnel turnover wasn’t enough, the team’s best new player — Carlos Boozer — played exactly zero preseason minutes. What’s more, C.J. Watson, Joakim Noah, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson all missed games due to minor injury or illness.
Under those circumstances, it would have been silly to expect too much from eight relatively meaningless games.
Still, the numbers may be a sign that the chemistry and continuity aren’t quite there.
But not all was doom and gloom:
By and large, the Bulls were unselfish with the ball, compiling 181 assists on 274 field goals. That means that 66 percent of the team’s made shots were assisted. For comparison’s sake, the 2009-10 Utah Jazz led the league in assist ratio, and 67 percent of their buckets were assisted.
Furthermore, the defense was reasonably strong, holding opponents to 94.6 PPG on 45 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from the land of three. The Bulls also averaged 7.9 SPG and 5.6 BPG.
Derrick Rose shot poorly:
Over the summer, there was a lot of buzz about Rose’s improved jumper and how he had been working on his three-point shooting. It didn’t show during the preseason. Rose hit 43.4 percent of his field goals and went 5-for-21 from downtown (23.8 percent).
This probably isn’t a huge deal. However, Rose is the foundation of this team on offense. And since he tends to be more of a shoot-first point guard, the consistency and reliability of his shooting is paramount.
Joakim Noah was Joakim Noah:
Other than missing two games with flu-like symptoms, Noah had a very Noah-like preseason: 10.8 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.8 BPG and 1.3 SPG in 28 minutes a night. His shooting was a little off (45.1 percent) and he turned the ball over (2.6 TOs per game), but he was second on the team with 4.2 APG.
Trust me, Jo’s going to be worth every penny of that $60 million contract extension.
Luol Deng may have been the team’s best player:
Deng had a strong preseason, averaging 16.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.8 APG and 1.1 SPG in 28 MPG. His shooting was even more impressive: 50.6 percent from the field and 51.7 percent on threes.
And how’s this for unexpected: Lu not only led the team in three-point field goal attempts — Deng launched 29 treys, with Keith Bogans coming in second at 20 attempts — he also finished first in free throw attempts (48 to Rose’s 39). For his game to improve, Deng needed to reduce his reliance on long-range twos (check), take more threes (check) and attack the rim (check).
This could be quite a season for Deng. Assuming he stays healthy.
Keith Bogans was better than expected:
Going into training camp, everybody figured it was a two-man race for the starting shooting guard spot. Those two men being Ronnie Brewer (the presumed starter) and Kyle Korver (the challenger). Only Bogans started all eight games. And although it may only have been because Brewer was injured, Bogans delivered by shooting 51.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.
Bogans didn’t do a lot of scoring (5.5 PPG) or log a lot of time (16.8 MPG), but he was more consistent than Korver (43 percent from the field, 33 on threes) or Brewer (28 percent from the field, 0-for-1 on threes). Maybe I was wrong to sleep on Bogans.
C.J. Watson was worse than expected:
There were times during the preseason when coach Tom Thibodeau played Rose and Watson at the same time, and that could make the Bulls a terrifying transition team. But don’t get too excited about that prospect: I doubt we’ll see much of that tandem during the season.
Watson was brought in for two reasons: 1) to back up Rose at the point and 2) provide another shooter.
Regarding reason number one: Watson was looking to shoot (59 field goal attempts) more than he was looking to pass (22 assists). Plus, he had 16 turnovers to those 22 dimes.
Regarding reason number two: C.J. connected on only 32 percent of his shot attempts and went 4-for-16 from downtown (25 percent).
I’m willing to cut Watson some slack. After all, he came from Don Nelson’s gunslinger offense, and he now has to adjust to new teammates, a new coach, and a very new and different playing style.
Omer Asik made quick progress:
When the preseason began, Asik looked marshmallow soft. By the final preseason game, he looked a little more prepared to mix things up. In eight games — including four starts — Asik played 19.6 MPG and averaged 5.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG and 1.1 BPG while hitting nearly 52 percent of his shots. His free throw shooting (14-for-28) was an issue, but his effort was not.
I’m not saying Asik is ready to overtake veteran Kurt Thomas as the first center off the bench, but from what we saw in the preseason, Omer may be ready to contribute early on. Which will be necessary with Boozer out.
James Johnson may be ready:
JJ continues to be something of an enigma, but he did score 8.5 PPG off the bench while hitting 50 percent of his shots. And he showed some of his very first signs of basketball IQ.
Maybe I should give Brian Scalabrine a break:
After all, Scal made the absolute most of the minutes he was given, averaging 6.0 PPG on 56 percent shooting (including 43 percent on threes). Not bad for an end-of-the-bench guy.