The Bulls scored only 14 points on 4-for-15 shooting in the third quarter and gave up 30 points in the fourth to make this game a little more “exciting” than it needed to be.
Luol Deng (31 minutes, 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) returned after missing five straight games with a hamstring injury and the Bulls managed to avoid losing at home to a lesser team…something that has happened six other times this season (including to the Bobcats).
While Luol Deng was out, Jimmy Butler started in his place, averaging about 45 minutes per game. With Deng back, Butler logged only 31 minutes of PT, but his performance sure didn’t suffer any. He scored a career-high 19 points on sizzling 7-for-10 shooting to go with 6 rebounds, 2 assists and a blocked shot. What’s more, Jimmy attempted a game-best seven free throws (and made five).
Butler also scored three clutch baskets as the Bobcats were making their final push:
5:16: Made a 21-footer to put the Bulls up 82-71
3:01: Hit a layup off an offensive rebound to put the Bulls up 84-74
1:53: Hit a layup off an offensive rebound to put the Bulls up 86-78
These three scores were huge for multiple reasons. The last two were big time hustle plays. They perfectly illustrated the persistence and desire that are powering Butler’s breakout. His final bucket was particularly amazing. Kirk Hinrich had missed a three-pointer and it looked like the Bobcats had come away with the board. Suddenly, the ball was in Jimmy’s hands, and he spun around hit a whirling layup (while, frankly, getting fouled without the call) and converted the dagger bucket (watch it here at around the 1:54 mark).
Now let’s talk about that long jumper. Going into the season, critics said Butler’s lack of shooting touch was going to hold back his development. In the opening weeks, Butler was incredibly hesitant to launch from distance, and his outside shooting stats aren’t great. According to Basketball-Reference, he’s only 7-for-29 on threes (24 percent) and 36-for-113 on jump shots (31 percent).
That said, Butler is 6-for-16 from 10-15 feet (37 percent) and 22-for-54 from 16-24 feet (40 percent), which aren’t terrible shooting percentages. What’s really holding him back is his three-point shooting.
Still, when you add his outstanding defense to the equation, Butler’s progress has been fantastic. He has become a dangerous weapon off the bench — now a clear and obvious upgrade from Ronnie Brewer — and might actually allow coach Tom Thibdodeau to get Deng a little rest now and then.
Said Deng: “Jimmy’s playing great. Jimmy’s playing great for us right now. We need that. It helps with the depth of our team. He’s just got to keep growing. He’s just got to keep growing, keep getting better — he plays so hard. This is what we’ve been doing all year. But he’s been patient, he’s been working on his game and I’m just so happy for him. I’m so happy for him that … sometimes it takes time to understand the game, the NBA, and what you can do. There’s a lot of areas he can get better at but what he’s shown so far is just his hard work and he’s going to keep on getting better.”
Added Butler: “I think it hit home the most whenever Lu came up to me and said, ‘You can do this. It’s your time. Step in and just keep playing the way you’ve been playing.’ When you hear that from an All-Star, from him, from Derrick [Rose], from [Joakim Noah], that’s big. And me only being here for almost two years now, I think that’s what I needed to hear. It’s not my play that gained confidence, it’s my teammates telling me that I can do it and that I’m out there producing. That’s what gains confidence more than my play.”
Player of the Game Runner Up:
If Butler was the player of the game — and he was — then Nate Robinson was the runner up. Little Nate’s packed a whole lot of performance into his 26 minutes off the bench: 15 points (6-for-12 from the field and 3-for-5 from downtown), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocked shots and only 1 turnover. Did you notice he had three blocked shots? The dude is four feet tall!
Nate also ignited Chicago’s offense to open the fourth quarter. He started things off with a three-pointer. Next he assisted on a breakaway dunk by Butler. Then he nailed another three. He followed that with a layup.
Considering Robinson is playing on a minimum contract, he is absolutely killing it. He leads the team in Assist Percentage (31.2), Steal Percentage (2.4) and Player Efficiency Rating (17.8). He’s second in Effective Field Goal Percentage (.501), True Shooting Percentage (.533), Offensive Rating (108 points per 100 possessions) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.152).
Chicago’s bench vastly outperformed their Charlotte counterparts, finishing with more points (45-29), rebounds (21-11), assists (7-4), steals (3-1) and blocked shots (7-2). Heck, based on the plus-minus stats, you could argue they vastly outplayed Chicago’s starters:
Joakim Noah (+7)
Kirk Hinrich (-1)
Rip Hamilton (-7)
Luol Deng (-7)
Carlos Boozer (-12)
Taj Gibson (+21)
Nate Robinson (+14)
Marco Belinelli (+12)
Jimmy Butler (+12)
Look, fans still miss the old Bench Mob, and that’s fair. But it may be time to give management some props. The combination of Butler Robinson, Belinelli and Gibson are starting to really gel. According to Hoopstats, the Bulls bench currently ranks 11th in Efficiency and sixth in Efficiency Differential.
Said Boozer: “Our chemistry with our second group now is awesome. They come in the game (with) great confidence, making big plays, important plays, and I think our whole group is growing.”
Added Noah: “It’s huge. And I think that to get to where we want to get to we need everybody. It’s not about starters or bench, it’s us as a team. I think that a lot of guys have stepped up throughout this year and that’s the strength of this team is any given night Nate [Robinson] can really go off, Marco, Rip, Jimmy, everybody, Taj. Everybody has a role and we just feel like we can even play better.”
Playing Like an All-Star:
Noah sure isn’t resting on his laurels now that he’s finally made the All-Star team. Last night’s line: 45 minutes, 18 rebounds, 13 points, 7 assists, 5 blocked shots and a steal. His defense and rebounding were huge. His passing was phenomenal…Noah is without question the best passing big man in the game.
Over the last four games, Noah has pulled down 18, 16, 17 and 18 rebounds. He’s also dished out 2, 4, 10 and 7 assists.
He’s also leading the league in Defensive Win Shares (3.6) and third in rebounds per game (11.3).
If I have any concerns with Noah this season, it’s his shooting. His field goal percentage (45.8) is lower than it should be when you consider 320 of his 432 field goal attempts have come inside of nine feet. Here’s his shooting broken down by zones (via Basketball-Reference):
At the Rim: 131-for-237 (55.3 percent)
3-9 feet: 27-for-83 (32.5 percent)
10-15 feet: 12-for-25 (48 percent)
16-23 feet: 28-for-84 (33.3 percent)
3-pt: 0-for-3 (zero percent)
And now broken down by shot type:
Dunks: 42-for-45 (93.3 percent)
Tip shot: 27-for-68 (39.7 percent)
Layup: 65-for-129 (50.4 percent)
Hook shot: 14-for-42 (33.3 percent)
Jump shot: 50-for-148 (33.8 percent)
Now Noah’s overall shooting percentage obviously takes a hit from all the missed tip shots. But still, he’s converting only 55 percent of his shots at the rim and only half his layups. Those aren’t good percentages for an elite center. And 33 percent on hook shots? Kareem isn’t happy with you, Jo.
Noah absolutely deserves to be an All-Star and I would rank his all-around skill set as high or higher than any other big man in the league. But it would be nice to see Noah put the ball in the basket with a higher rate of efficiency.
Key Stats Part 1:
The Bulls once again hit more shots at the rim (20) than their opponent even attempted (19). Unfortunately, Charlotte was 7-for-11 from 3-9 feet, so Chicago’s advantage in points in the paint (44-38) wasn’t as big as it probably should have been.
Key Stats Part 2:
The Bulls had 22 assists on 35 baskets. The Bobcats had 12 assists on 32 baskets.
Was that a Ben Gordon sighting? It sure was. Air Gordon lit up his former team by hitting four of his five three-point attempts and scoring 18 points in 28 minutes. That’s the kind of performance Bulls fans remember, although the Bobcat faithful isn’t seeing a lot of it.
Gordon’s actually playing well this season. He’s near career-highs in field goal percentage (.450) and three-point percentage (.425) and he’s averaging 21.7 points per 36 minutes. And his PER of 17.2 is the second-best mark of his career. But he’s playing only 22 minutes off the bench for an 11-33 team. And a lot of nights you can tell he’s not into it the way he used to be.
Speaking of flashbacks, there was Tyrus Thomas too, launching (and missing) three jumpers and finishing with zero points and a plus-minus of -11 in seven minutes. I can’t say I miss that.
Quote of the Night:
Deng on his return: “[The injured hamstring] felt great. It felt great. Honestly, I was a little worried. I haven’t gone full speed like that. With the game I was worried a little bit about the change of speed. So I’m happy that I was able to not have any setbacks or any problems … It felt a little tight but it didn’t feel like it felt before I (injured) it last time or how it felt when I first (injured) it in Toronto. It was definitely a different feeling.”