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.
Scoring on the rise?
In yesterday’s post, I made note of Chicago’s many offensive inadequacies. But maybe the offense is picking up a little bit. No, really. After scoring 100 or more only three times in their first 28 games, the Bulls have scored 100+ four times in the last seven games. Plus they came close (98 points) in Detroit against the Pistons. And although two of those 100-plus-point efforts were against lousy teams (the Pacers and Timberwolves), the other two were against the Bobcats and Magic. Those teams rank third and fifth in Defensive Efficiency.
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.