With Carmelo Anthony and his Denver Nuggets coming to town, this could be one of those classic “look what you (supposedly) could’ve had” games.
There was a lot of buzz about whether the Bulls should (or, rather, could) trade for Anthony during the offseason. ‘Melo apparently wanted out of Denver…although you wonder whether he still feels that way right now. The Nuggets are 4-2 — and they could be 5-1 if not for a one-point loss to the Mavericks last week — and Anthony is having what may be his best season to date: 24.7 PPG on 51.4 percent shooting to go with 7.7 RPG, 3.7 APG and 1.3 SPG.
And check out his advanced stats: A Player Efficiency Rating of 24.3, a True Shooting Percentage of 60.1, an Offensive Rating of 119 and a Defensive Rating of 102.
What’s more, he’s been on fire in recent games, having scored a season-high 30 points two games ago (although it was against the Clippers) and then 27 points in a 103-92 win in Denver’s rematch with the Mavs. In the Dallas win, ‘Melo went 4-for-4 from downtown, hitting three of the four in the final 3:47. He’s shooting 23-for-37 in his last two games.
Inevitably, Bulls fans will probably compare ‘Melo’s hot start to Luol Deng’s…not-as-hot start. Deng is averaging 19.8 PPG on 46 percent shooting, including 50 percent accuracy from downtown. Not bad. However, his rebounding is down (3.6 RPG) and let’s not even talk about his PER (13.7), O-Rating (103) or D-Rating (110).
But hey, Denver wasn’t going to trade ‘Melo for Deng straight up. They wanted Joakim Noah…and that wasn’t going to happen. And with good reason. Noah is averaging 16.2 PPG on 54.5 percent shooting to go with 14.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.2 SPG and 1.8 BPG. He leads the team in Defensive Rating (103), ranks 2nd in PER (20.8), and is right there in Offensive Rating (118).
Then too, a lot of people wanted the Bulls to offer the Nuggets a combination of Deng and Taj Gibson, but Gibson is giving the Bulls 15.0 PPG on a crazy-hot 64.2 percent shooting. Taj has a PER of 19.4 and leads the starting unit in O-Rating at 123 points per 100 possessions.
And honestly, if the Bulls are going to win tonight, Noah and Gibson are going to have to keep doing what they’ve been doing. Chicago’s biggest advantage is in the frontcourt. After all, Denver is still without Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin — both of whom are recovering from offseason knee surgeries — and have been missing Nene for the last three games because of a groin injury. No word on whether Nene will play tonight.
Still, the Nuggets have been getting it done with a small lineup. They’re currently ranked 5th in Offensive Rating (110.9) and 7th in Defensive Rating (102.7). The Bulls are ranked 11th and 18th, respectively. Those rankings are a bit disappointing, especially the D-Rating. Did anybody think a Tom Thibodeau team would be in the bottom half of the league in Defensive Rating this early in the season? I sure didn’t.
Thanks primarily to Noah and Gibson, the Bulls are the second-best shooting team in the league (49 percent). Unfortunately, they’re struggling from three (33.8 percent) and from the line (69.2 percent). The Nuggets are closer to the league average in FGP (45.4), but they’re a better three-point shooting team (38 percent) and they’re near the top of the league in free throw percentage (82.5).
To win, the Bulls are going to have to:
1. Contain ‘Melo (obviously).
2.Take advantage of their frontcourt edge. The Nuggets rank 17th in Defensive Rebound Percentage. The Bulls rank 8th in Offensive Rebound Percentage. Noah and Gibson (and everybody else) need to crash the offensive glass. Every extra shot opportunity could be huge.
3. Limit Denver’s transition opportunities, which starts with…
4.Taking care of the ball. The Bulls have 40 TOs in their last two games. That’s not going to get it done. Chicago ranks 26th in Turnover Percentage. And Denver ranks 4th in Opponents Turnover Percentage. The Nuggets will hawk the ball if the Bulls aren’t careful.
5. It might also help if the Bulls figured out a way to score during the second quarter. As I noted after the Celtics game, Chicago has been outscored 160-113 during the second quarter of their first five games. This is due mostly to the fact that Thibs hasn’t settled on a rotation. Of course, he doesn’t really have a consistent scoring threat off the bench.