All posts by Joey Gelman

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls Fail To Spread Around Scoring, Fall To Pistons 102-91, Dropping Their 3rd Straight Game.

The Bulls were looking to turn the tide against their conference rival Detroit Pistons Tuesday night, after suffering 2 losses in a row to the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers. The Bulls welcomed the return of Rajon Rondo to the lineup tonight after his one game suspension. However it was not enough, as the Bulls again became one-dimensional, relying on Jimmy Butler to carry the team. This common narrative has bitten the Bulls over the last few years, as their lack of a diverse group of players who can score at will and create their own shots, has cost them a chance at truly competing in the Eastern Conference. NBA experts continue to say you need more than one star on a team to win a championship, and while Wade and Butler can “play” those roles, the inconsistency and unreliability of the two every night has Bulls fans frustrated.

  • The Bulls struggled out of the gate to create efficient scoring opportunities, as they we unable to penetrate the paint early. Once the ball reached the elbow; it was quickly kicked back out for an ill-advised 3-point or long-range 2 attempt that missed consistently.
  • Because the Bulls were unable to produce scoring from different areas of the court, they tried again to feed the ball to Nikola Mirotic. In 23 minutes of playing time, Mirotic only totaled 5 points, and was 2 of 7 from the field, 1 for 4 from behind the arc. The Montenegro native has been getting extended opportunities with the injury to Doug McDermott’s and off-nights for Dwyane Wade and has not been able to deliver on the promise of a scoring threat the Bulls were sold on when they drafted him in 2011. It may be time for Fred Hoiberg to give another scoring option a chance, as Mirotic has not been able to deliver so far this season.
  • The #3 ranked defense of the Detroit Pistons showed its muscle tonight, forcing the Bulls to shoot contested shots every chance they had.
  • When the Bulls were, however, able to break through the Pistons’ defense, the big-man game of Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and Cristiano Felicio, yes, Felicio was efficient and impressive. The trio combined for 22 points and 24 rebounds and showed Bulls fans what it looks like to have a post presence, especially going up against one of the premiere centers in the league, Andre Drummond. Bulls’ fans that were used to watching Joakim Noah on offense have gotten a pleasant surprise from this “new” trio down low.
  • Gibson continued to impress tonight, recording a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds.
  • As halftime approached, the Pistons offense slowed, as the Bulls cut into the lead and trailed 51-44 at the break.
  • The Bulls started the second half strong and were able to score 7 unanswered points. At the 5:19 mark in the 3rd, the Bulls, who once trailed by 17, took their first lead of the night 62-61.
  • But as I wrote in the recap of the Bulls vs. Mavericks game, turnovers were the story again tonight. The Bulls ended the game “leading” the category 14-9, and midway through the 3rd, they had already given up 20 points on 11 turnovers.
  • The Bulls comeback was riding on the shoulders of their premier scoring option, and only scoring option of the night, Jimmy Butler. While Wade had a quiet 19 points, it was Butler who emerged as tonight’s star, totaling 32 points. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Bulls have been plagued by this “single-scoring option” offensive approach. While Hoiberg does not try to implement the “Butler-only” game plan each night, it is what the Bulls are left with, based on the talent they have, at this point in the season. Wade can contribute when needed, but it is not consistent. The only true shot-creating, constant scoring threat is Butler, and if the Bulls are going to advance in the Eastern Conference, they need more than one scoring weapon.
  • The Bulls continued to chip away but to no avail. Tobias Harris lead the way for the Pistons with 22 points, and Andre Drummond held his own in the paint with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
  • The story from 3-point land tonight showed again the lack of diverse scoring options for the Bulls. While the Pistons weren’t anything to write home about, shooting only 38.1 % from behind the arc, the Bulls shot a forgettable 13.3%, going 2 for 15.
  • With a healthy Dwyane Wade, Jerian Grant only saw 4 minutes of playing tonight, and Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine did not play. Hoiberg’s use of a shorter bench tonight proved ineffective, as the Bulls were unable to get enough scoring from their starters and role players that entered the game.
  • Up Next: The Bulls try to snap their 3-game losing streak as they square off against the San Antonio Spurs at home on Thursday night.

Note-A-Bulls: Wheels Come Off, Bulls fall in trap game 107-82 to Dallas Mavericks

After one of their most important wins this season with a 111-105 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, the Bulls traveled to Dallas to take on the 3-15 Mavericks. In what was supposed to be an easy road win for the Bulls, this game turned into the harsh reality of a “trap” game. The Bulls struggled in the 1st quarter to get their offense going and an energized Dallas team took full advantage with some unlikely help from Wesley Matthews.

  • Because of the back-to-back games, the Bulls gave Dwyane Wade the night off. Hoiberg went with Lopez, Mirotic, Rondo, Gibson and Butler to start the game. The quick turn around from last night left the offense out of sync, as Mirotic missed many of his shots early, leaving him 0-4 from the field with only 14 minutes of playing time total. The Bulls were down 23-6 in the 1st quarter with 3:17 left, and with 2 fouls already, Hoiberg sent Butler back into the game, desperate for an offensive spark.
  • The one bright spot of the 1st quarter and into the 2nd was the offensive play of Robin Lopez. Lopez has been seeing his best offensive numbers as a member of the Bulls, and registered his 11th straight game in double digits early in the contest. He finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds.
  • After putting up 15 points and 12 assists against Cleveland last night, Bulls Point Guard Rajon Rondo was absent in this game. He finished the night with just 2 points and a costly 5 turnovers, 2 of those off of his own leg. A night to forget for Rondo in a Bulls uniform.
  • At the Half, the Mavericks lead 57-45, but the story of the first half and throughout the rest of the game was second chance points. While the rebounding numbers were even at 43 a piece to end the game and Dallas only out-rebounded the Bulls 14-11 on the Offensive Glass, it seemed like the Mavs continued to secure offensive boards and out-hustle and out-box out the Bulls every chance they had.
  • While sloppy play and an out of sync offense was the theme in this game for the Bulls, the chance of recovery was small, as turnovers killed any chance of a comeback. The Bulls had 20 total turnovers to the Mavericks’ 10.
  • Over the past few years, the Bulls have always struggled in finding consistent scoring options. The disappearance of Nikola Mirotic tonight coupled with Wade’s night off did not leave the Bulls with many options. Jimmy Butler finished the night with 26 points, but he was truly the only scoring option, in his 13th straight game with 20 + points. The most difficult way to score for the Bulls tonight was from behind the arc, as they shot only 23.1% to the Mavs’ 41.9%. The Bulls tried to ride the 3-point game early, but to no avail. Switching their tactic to a more inside-scoring mentality helped boost Lopez’s numbers, but did not do enough to bring the Bulls back.
  • Defensively the Bulls had a very tough time switching on defense. Possession after possession the Bulls appeared late to cover their man on a pick leaving Dallas wide open to widen their lead over the Bulls.
  • The defensive lapses allowed Mavs to take advantage in both halves. The first half star was Harrison Barnes, as he scored 17 out of his total 22 points in the first half.  Wesley Matthews picked up the slack in the second half, scoring 20 of his 26 total points, finishing 7 from 11 from 3-point land.  In his last game against Charlotte, Matthews only went 4 -15 from the field giving him a surprising turnaround against the Bulls tonight going 9-15. Helping the Mavericks was the career high scoring nights for both Dwight Powell, who finished with 17 points, and rookie Dorian Finney-Smith, who finished with 11 points. Deron Williams finished with a season high of 15 assists.
  • The now 4-15 Mavericks showed scoring depth that the Bulls continue to lack. While Michael Carter-Williams and Doug McDermott remain out with injury, Hoiberg looked to the rest of his bench for new scoring options, and they could not deliver.
  • The end of the 4th quarter was the “let the kids play!” quarter. The Bulls sent out Denzel Valentine, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, RJ Hunter and Cristiano Felicio. While they added some energy to the game, their combined 14 points, left little to show for the Bulls performance against Dallas.
  • Up next: The Bulls will try to re-group as they return home to play the Portland Trailblazers on Monday night.

Stuck in a rut

The Chicago Bulls sit in one of the NBA’s most feared places; “Basketball Purgatory.”

The NBA is a weird sport in that we already know who is likely to make the NBA Finals, and know it now, even before a single team has played a regular season game. The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers sit atop each conference and as a Bulls fan you ask yourself, where do I fit in?

The Bulls will finish in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference, sporting a team that would have been great in 2010, but one that cannot even scratch the surface of NBA glory in 2016. They will have their moments, and have a playoff run that mirrors the Ben Gordon Bulls run in 2009 against the Celtics or the Nate Robinson Highlight Reel in 2013 against the Nets, but will inevitably end with an early exit, giving way to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Cavaliers once again.

This early pessimism is not how anyone wants to start the season, but the way in which Gar Forman and John Paxson have structured this team leaves little hope, and an uncertain future. The team has names in Wade, Rondo, Lopez and Butler, but besides Butler, all they are, are names.

Wade’s Chicago ties will fill the seats, Rondo will be electric at times, and Butler will always be your primary scoring option. But what happens after this year?

In the last 4 years, the Bulls have finished 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 9th in the Eastern Conference; in other words, “basketball purgatory”. While last year was nothing short than an embarrassing season, the three previous playoff teams could not get over the hump, stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference. 

Because of these “bad” teams making the playoffs, the team has not been able to stockpile high draft picks and rebuild. They have continued to piece-meal the team together, and sell fans on the idea that Jimmy Butler and a supporting cast of Rondo, Lopez and of course Wade, will bring the team to the top. But everyone knows that is almost impossible to believe.

So the question becomes, are the Bulls committed to winning an NBA title? Or is the unsustainable piece-meal model, consistent revenue-generating approach acceptable to Bulls management, and therefore supposed to be acceptable to the fan base? The Bulls need to tear down and rebuild, but Bulls management would never cave to that reality. Instead, they have chosen to sell you on an aging roster, that again has the right names, but they don’t go hand and hand with the players they truly are.

In my eyes, the tear down would have begun by trading Jimmy Butler at the trade deadline or this past offseason. Butler has proven to be one of the biggest surprises (including being an All-Star) in the recent history of the Bulls drafts and because of that, he would have given you the most return as a trade piece.  By holding onto Butler, this team has not gotten any closer to competing for a title. While I am a fan of loyalty in sports in regards to players staying longer with the teams that drafted them, the Bulls have to be realistic and know that if and when they do become NBA contenders again, it will probably be after Butler has already moved on from Chicago. As long as he is there, they cannot move forward with both his large salary and his skill-set making the team just good enough to keep them out of the Top 10 in the draft. This team has to get younger and more athletic, which the front office has preached, yet they are now older and slower with the additions they made. Along with a departure of Butler, I am also still not sold yet on Doug McDermott nor Nikola Mirotic, and they too could have been prospect pieces sent away to stockpile draft picks, and take flyers on young developing players in return that could have been included in the deal.

I understand that unlike baseball and football, stockpiling draft picks is difficult in basketball. Just ask the 76ers. There are only two rounds to play with every year, and it is always a huge gamble. But as the Bulls front office, what do you have to lose? Use your biggest trade piece to build for a sustained successful future. The Bulls too often look at the current make-up of their team, when a well-organized organization would invest more into the future then a make-shift quick-fix solution for the now, with no guarantees.

The 1996 Spurs knew that an aging roster (and an injured David Robinson) would not allow them to be any better three years down the road, so what did they do? They tanked and drafted Tim Duncan and won the 1999 NBA Title and 4 more after that. The 1996 season (20-62) was the worst in its 50 year franchise history, but they have made the playoffs for the last 19 years ever since. So was that one awful season worth it? The Spurs and I would argue a resounding yes.

If the Bulls continue to follow their current model and don’t look at stories like the Spurs, they will have a very hard time scratching the surface to compete for a title in the near future. While the flashes may be there this year in a short playoff-run that management will enjoy due to ticket revenue, there is no development of young exciting players to make Bulls fans confident moving forward.

Rookie Denzel Valentine may turn out to be a nice compliment player, but with probable 5th place finishes this year and next, Rondo and Wade will be gone, and what do you have to show for it in 2018? It will be time again to sign another “Big Name” of yesteryear to sell tickets on a promise that only would have been valid 3 or 4 years ago when their new roster of Paul, Harden and Griffin is sold to the fan base.

The Bulls need a complete rebuild to sustain success moving forward but Bulls management seems too scared to do it in fear of losing money on ticket sales and fan interest for the current season.

Even if the rebuild takes a few years of last-place basketball to stockpile draft picks so be it. Staying in the middle of the pack will get this team no closer to competing for an NBA title.  More and more Bulls fans seem open to this idea. But, with a management team that tells its fans that 36-year old free agent-to-be Pau Gasol is part of the future of the team and will not be traded at the deadline, it leaves a lot to worry about in terms of the future of the franchise.