The Bulls are struggling mightily right now. After Jimmy Butler went to the media to air his grievances with both Fred Hoiberg and his teammates, the Bulls had an opportunity to drown out some of the noise with an easy matchup at home against the Nets. They were unsuccessful, as the Nets prevailed 105-102.
While I think Hoiberg has generally done the best job we could reasonably expect–the Bulls are still 15-11–this game was perhaps lost the moment Fred announced the starting lineup. Moving Tony Snell to the bench was arguably overdue, but starting Niko Mirotic at small forward is simply a disastrous decision.
Mirotic has had a rough season, especially on the offensive end. Too often the Bulls have relied on him as a spot up shooter, even though he’s never shown the ability to consistently knock down the NBA three. Instead, the Bulls need to work to utilize Mirotic’s undeniable talent at keeping defenders off guard and out of position with his unorthodox, herky-jerky style. Playing Niko as a small forward is asking him to solely stand on the perimeter and provide “spacing”, the exact action that he has struggled so much with this season. Furthermore, he’s not as equipped to guard wings, eliminating any sort of advantage.
Starting Doug McDermott makes sense, but I understand why Hoiberg likes his offense as part of the bench group. What doesn’t really make sense is completely removing Tony Snell from the rotation after starting him in nearly every game this season. Snell has been awful inside the arc on offense, but he still plays solid to good defense on the wings. Hoiberg made it clear that Bobby Portis would get more playing time in the wake of his 20-11 double double, but I hardly expected it to come at the expense of Tony Snell. The Bulls just aren’t going to get better by playing super big; their defense has been incredible–second in the NBA. It’s the offense that’s been the problem, and benching Snell to play Mirotic at small forward just isn’t a real solution.
Let's just say I'm not shocked that making Tony Snell the fall guy didn't work.
Joakim Noah was fantastic once again with four points, eight rebounds, eight assists and two blocks in just 16 minutes off the bench. Unfortunately, he popped his shoulder out on an ugly collision and is set to miss a few weeks with a sprain. It’s extremely disappointing after Noah had just finally started looking like a version of himself. At the very least, his absence should provide Bobby Portis with a real opportunity. Conversely, Niko Mirotic and Tony Snell should get good chances to break out of their respective slumps.
Pau Gasol continues to pace the Bulls offense (alongside Jimmy Butler). He scored 20 points and added nine boards. Pau has taken a lot of crap around these parts, mostly for his defense and old man effort at times. Still, many nights his offense is a critical part of the Bulls already pathetic attack; without him, I don’t want to know how much further they’re capable of dipping. Defensively, Gasol deserves credit for improving his positioning and effort. I still believe signing Gasol last year was a misstep, but he should not be solely blamed for the team’s struggles, as I see so often among truly smart people in the Bulls community.
Butler has had a rocky week in the media, but his play speaks for itself. He added 24 points on 11/20 shooting and at times looks like the only guy even trying to score. I’m sure there is something to the idea that he needs to facilitate more for his teammates, but it’s not hard to understand why Jimmy feels like he has to do it all for the NBA’s 27th-best offense. He’s making a little over one third of his three pointers this year, right on line with his career mark. That’s fine, but it’s not good enough to alleviate the issues inherent to a starting backcourt that includes Derrick Rose. The offense is starving for spacing. (Paging Mike Dunleavy…)
It wasn’t the best game for Rose, who scored eight points on 3/11 shooting. He’s undoubtedly been better lately as he shot 42.9% in the nine previous games. While I’m hopeful that he’ll continue to improve his efficiency as the season progresses, it is getting hard to bank on the Rose from last year’s playoffs showing up consistently. Some nights it absolutely seems like he’s uninterested in attacking, so I suppose we won’t really know what Derrick is thinking until the playoffs. I’m hoping, perhaps irrationally, that many nights he’s just been saving himself. It should go without saying that neither Rose nor the Bulls are really good enough to coast through games like this.
The Nets are quite bad, but they’re probably friskier than many realize. Brook Lopez is a legitimately good center, and it’s really great to see him finally healthy again. Few defenders can check him around the basket. Thaddeus Young is also quite underrated. His unusual, shifty style around the paint is extremely hard for opponents to keep track of. Young scored several difficult baskets within 12-15 feet that undoubtedly helped contribute to the narrow Brooklyn victory.
Coming up: the Bulls travel to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder on Christmas Day. Merry Christmas, everyone!