Preseason Game 4: Bulls 100, Bucks 94

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.

Before the game, Belinelli and Thibs talked about how Marco is just learning a new system and things will come together sooner or later (hopefully not later). Maybe it’s true. Bulls fans have to hope so. The three-point shooting is going to have to come from somewhere this season.

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.

Recap, Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.

3 Responses to Preseason Game 4: Bulls 100, Bucks 94

    BoppinBob October 18, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    What we are seeing during this preseason is the same thing we watched two years ago. Thibs is playing every possible combination so that players can get familiar with each other. He wants every players to focus on playing defense now, same is his first season. Once the defensive system becomes second nature, the offense will come. Thedefense will come faster this season than it did in ’10/11 because there are 8 guys on the roster that know the system now instead of 1 guy in ’10/11 (Scalibrine).

    All scorers are streaky. When you are learning a new system it effects the concentration in other areas of the game. The Bulls may get off to a rough start but will stablize much sooner than they did in ’10/11. The Bulls will stay close to the elite of the East until Rose comes back, if he does.

  2. Inception October 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    it looks like Taj Gibson is trying too hard…..or maybe that delayed extension is playing with his head.

  3. webwilliam October 19, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    I’m really hoping the bench comes together. I’m really missing Korver and with Stacie always saying that Belinelli is a better athlete, I don’t believe that for one second. I don’t want to dwell on the past, but Korver became a good defensive player last year, and he could always score.

    I’m really surprised with Nazi. The guy is much better than I anticipated. As for Nate, I was really looking forward to see him play, but have been extremely disappointed. Yeah they only played 4 games, but I’d much rather have Kurt playing backup to Rose.

    I believe Butler is getting better every game. Hopefully we see him guarding elite players like LeBron and Carmello. Last year he guarded both off the bench and really disrupted their games.

    FYI – I did like the comment posted by BoppinBob. It’s a relief to hear an opinion based on getting familiar with the system. Thibs is a great coach.

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