The Bulls beat the Milwaukee Bucks 87-86 at the UC last night. I’ll take it. After all, Chicago was playing without three of its big guns. Oh, and it’s the preseason.
Guys who looked good:
Okay, Joakim Noah was the Player of the Game…but first let me say a few words about Taj Gibson. I’ve been trying to temper my enthusiasm, because it’s only the preseason. Gibson hasn’t yet seen real NBA action or faced a real NBA defense. That won’t happen until the regular season. That said…I like this kid. I really do. It’s not just the raw numbers, which were impressive (15 points, 7-for-11 from the field, 10 rebounds and a couple blocks). It’s not just the fact that his jumper (not that I want Bulls big men popping too many Js) looks pretty sweet. It’s his feel for the game coupled with some serious enthusiasm. The rookie is juiced to be playing. Regarding his first game in the United Center, Gibson said: “My heart was beating 100 miles a minute. When you look up and see those banners and think about Scottie Pippen and some of the other guys who played here, you’re bound to get a little nervous. I’m a city kid from New York who really loves basketball and follows basketball so it was definitely special to play here tonight.”
Okay, enough man love for Gibson. Onto my other man crush, Noah, who went Jo-Wild on the Bucks. He ripped down a game-high 16 rebounds. He had more offensive boards (6) than the rest of the Bulls and Milwaukee’s starting five combined (5). He scored a surprising 20 points on an even more surprising 8-for-12 shooting (plus, ugh, 4-for-9 from the line). And, of course, he had a game-high 3 blocked shots. Forget the points and rebound totals. When a guy crashes the offensive glass, almost finishes with double-digit free throw attempts, and swats shots…he’s being wacky-aggressive. And being wacky-aggressive, that’s Noah’s thing. It’s what he does, what the Bulls need him to do. And he knows it. Said Noah: “I’m trying to be more aggressive, but at the same time, not do too much. I understand my role is always going to be the energy guy, try to get offensive rebounds, try to get extra possessions for my team. If I can add like a hook shot or something, especially at end-of-the-clock situations, I think that can help the team.” In case you’re wondering, Noah hit three hooks last night. Three! A Bulls big with an actual inside move?!
James Johnson, the other rookie, didn’t finish with overwhelming stats (11 points, 4-for-5, 3 rebounds, 2 steals), but he scored 10 of the team’s 22 fourth-quarter points. Not bad for a rookie. Note that 7 of those 10 points were scored off jumpers from 20, 23 and 24 feet out. What is it about Chicago that makes big men want to chuck jump shots? Come to think of it, isn’t Antoine Walker from Chicago? Hmm, I wonder…
Guys who looked baaaaaad:
John Salmons had his second consecutive 2-for-8 shooting performance. He missed all three of his three-point attempts and finished with only 6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. That line is bound to stir the fans who miss Ben Gordon into near-rebellion. But I’m still giving Salmons a free pass because he’s still awaiting his newborn. I have friends who have spent two, three, even four years recovering from pre and post-child birth. And I’m talking about the men.
So I’m not worried about Salmons. Yet. I am, however, a bit concerned about Luol Deng, who seemed nearly invisible in his 27 minutes of PT. Deng shot 3-for-10 (including two shots that were fed back to him) and didn’t have much of an impact anywhere else either. He’s only looked good in one preseason game, and that was in his adopted homeland. Deng missed games last season. He was injured. I know he needs time to get back into the swing of things. But I’d be lying if I said that part of me wanted, maybe even needed, Deng to kick some butt in the preseason…just to assuage the totally justifiable fears that he’s never going to be what fans and management thought he would be.
It took Kirk Hinrich 14 shots to score 13 points, which isn’t good. He also dished out a mere 2 assists in 24 minutes…as the team’s starting point guard. I still maintain the Kirk is going to be one of the best backup combo guards in the league. But there’s a reason Derrick Rose bogarted Hinrich’s starting spot almost immediately last season.
Finally, there was Jannero Pargo, gun for hire. He went 3-for-11, missed three of four from downtown, and offset his team-best 6 assists with a game-high 5 turnovers. It was Pargo’s second straight 5-turnover game, and it matched the turnover total of Chicago’s entire starting lineup. Not good. Worse yet was Pargo’s plus-minus score. Exactly three Bulls finished with a negative plus-minus last night: Derrick Byars (-1), Chris Richard (-3) and Pargo (-10). Only Carlos Delfino of the Bucks finished with a worse plus-minus score (-15).
Guys who didn’t play:
Derrick Rose (right ankle sprain), Tyrus Thomas (right hip injury), Brad Miller (flu-like symptoms).
Reasons for concern:
Last season, the Bulls struggled to protect their defensive glass. Sure enough, the Bucks grabbed 13 offensive boards last night, including 6 from Dan Gadzuric. They also struggled to contain opposing big men. Sure enough, Bucks power forward Hakim Warrick went of for 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting and backup center Dan Gadzuric almost had a double-double (8 points, 10 boards) in 13 minutes.
Reasons for hope:
Did I mention that Noah and Gibson played really well last night?