All posts by schwaeb2

Year in Review: Bulls stuck in crossroads, face difficult decisions moving forward

If there is one thing I will take away from this season, it is that this team is not ready to accept defeat and start over. Given the acquisition of Rondo, Wade, and Lopez, Gar Forman and John Paxson made it clear they want to remain a competitive team, despite prior indicating that they want to get younger as a team.

Being a franchise with one of the most prestigious histories in the league, these past few seasons have been strange for the Chicago Bulls. While their reemergence atop the East is in the rearview mirror, the Bulls have still been able to limp into the playoff race these past few years.

Now, however, the direction of their franchise is unclear. With Rondo, Wade, and Lopez’s best days likely gone, the front office has to decide whether to replace them with young players on the rise, players who could make the team instantly competitive, or to rid themselves of their large financial obligations (Butler, Wade, etc.) and start from a clean slate. The first question though, is whether or not Fred Hoiberg will continue to lead next year’s team.

Between having to start backup PG’s, splitting starting minutes between Mirotic and Zipser, and defensive struggles, there is a lot of growing room for Fred Hoiberg as a coach moving forward. If the front office’s biggest inclination is to remain competitive, I believe that Hoiberg should be given another year to grow this team, as he showed flashes of success with the personnel he was given.

Looking forward to next year, keeping Fred Hoiberg could offer promising improvements from many players on this team. For one thing, we saw guys like Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser show the ability to be competitive players, maybe not immediate starters albeit, but competitive nonetheless. Additionally, Hoiberg’s offensive wisdom may help Portis or Denzel Valentine develop into the scoring threat the Bulls need.

That being said, it would be foolish to expect significant improvement from the aging veteran starters that snuck this team into the postseason. It is only fair to Fred Hoiberg, or whoever else coaches this team next year, that the front office gives them more rising talent. As of right now, Rondo and Wade are on the wrong side of 30 and Lopez is approaching there as well. The Bulls, and their fans, are in dire need of players who can improve and thrive alongside Jimmy Butler. While improvements from their younger players may help keep the Bulls in the playoff picture for another year or two, this team does not have a foundation that is built to succeed in the Eastern Conference as is. Moving forward, I would expect and hope that the Bulls front office makes a bit of a splash this offseason in order to shake things up. Given the relatively low ceiling this current group has, it is probably also in Forman and Paxson’s best interest to make some significant changes.

Note-A-Bulls: The Bulls battle back against Milwaukee, win 109-94, to get back in playoff picture

Looking to forget about a loss to the 76’ers in their last game, the Bulls drove up the road to take on the Bucks in Milwaukee Sunday. On the outside looking in, the Bulls looked to pick up a win over a team on the other side of the playoff bubble.

Working what he was dealt, Hoiberg went tall with Rondo, Butler, Zipser, Miortic, and Lopez. For the Hornets, it was Middleton, Brogdon, former Bull Tony Snell, Maker, and Antetokounmpo. The first quarter was an action packed one, with both teams scoring back and forth. Despite the 60 points scored in the quarter, the lead was never larger than four points for either team.

Down 31-29 to start the 2nd quarter, the Bucks began with a 12-2 run, to lead 43-31, just three minutes into the new quarter. After slowly chipping away at the Milwaukee lead, the Bulls made their move by scoring 9 straight in the final minutes of the half to even things at 52-52. From there, two Rondo assists to Lopez and Mirotic gave the Bulls a surprising halftime lead, 56-55.

Similar to the 1st quarter, the 3rd was competitive and close. Each team held small leads over one another, before the Bulls extended the margin to six points halfway six minutes into the half. For the final half of the quarter, the Bulls dominated, extending Milwaukee’s margin and ultimately grabbing a 91-79 lead for the final 12 minutes. Nikola Mirotic was extremely productive in the quarter, grabbing four rebounds and showing off his long-distance shooting. The Bucks looked to squander the Bulls’ lead in the quarter, but Chicago would have none of it. A quick 7-2 run put the Bulls up 98-81, continuing the offensive success. The Bulls would later grab a 20-point lead and never look back, finishing off the Bucks 109-94 on a solid offensive night.

  • As far as offense goes, the Bulls’ starting lineup illustrated their success; every player scored in double digits, with Zipser being the only one tallying less than 18. Here were the FG makes and attempts per player: Mirotic (6/9), Butler (8/13), Zipser (3/7), Lopez (9/13), and Rondo (8/11).
  • Once again, Rondo showed his value by grabbing 9 rebounds, dishing out 9 assists, and finishing the night with 18 points.
  • Off the bench, the reserves couldn’t quite emulate what the starters were doing. No one scored more than four points, and no player shot better than 33.33% from the field. Valentine played a very quiet 24 minutes, while Lauvergne saw 18 minuts of action.
  • Despite a little more help from the bench, the Bucks starters failed to knock down shots from the field. The team shot just 44%, despite a solid night from Greg Monroe and Antetokounmpo, 16 and 22 points respectively.
  • Despite starting, the young big man, Thon Maker, was given just nine minutes of action. Malcolm Brodgon logged 14 points in 30 minutes of action, continuing to show an ability to compete at the NBA level.
  • Next up: the Bulls host the Cavaliers on Thursday. Given their recent history, the matchup should be more promising than the stats would suggest.

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls secure much-needed win over Hornets 115-109

Playing back-to-back road games, the Bulls entered Charlotte on a sore note after getting thrashed the day before by Brad Stevens’ Celtics to extend the losing streak to five games. Yet despite their struggles, the Bulls had every right to come out hungry Monday night, wanting to keep the Milwaukee Bucks and the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference within grasp.

Hoiberg would give Rondo the start over Grant, accompanied by Wade, Butler, Portis, and Lopez. For the Hornets, it was Kemba, Lamb, Zeller, Williams, and Kidd-Gilchrist. Starting off the game, the Bulls looked ready to move on from a miserable preceding week. Just halfway into the quarter, they managed to net 20 points and jump out to an early lead.

Up 20-15, the Bulls surrendered eight straight points to the Hornets. Unexpectedly though, they finished the quarter on a 16-1 run, up 36-24 after 12 minutes. With the Hornets ready to rally, the Bulls were able to respond to defensive errors, maintaining a 10-point lead through the first five minutes of the 2nd. After some back-and-forth action, the Bulls kept the Hornets in check, taking their earlier 10-point lead with them into the locker rooms at halftime, up 58-48.

Predictable as always, the Bulls started off the 2nd half looking as if the teams’ roles had reversed. Within three minutes, the Hornets had cut the lead to three points and had it down to one point less than 60 seconds later. Despite the Hornets’ momentum, the Bulls continued to hold them off. After again letting them get to within a point of tying the game, the Bulls were able to stay up four by the six-minute mark in the 3rd. After two Zeller free-throws and a Frank Kaminsky lay-in, things were squared up 69-69 with just over five left in the quarter. From there on out though, the Bulls would take over and pull ahead 87-77 with three quarters in the books.

Again, the Hornets fought back in the final quarter, pulling to within four by the six-minute mark, looking poised to finally take the lead back. However, the Bulls would maintain their poise on this night. Ahead just three in the closing minutes, Jimmy Butler and Denzel Valentine made their free throws to put the game out of reach and give Chicago the 115-109 win in Charlotte.

  • Wade and Butler were each 8-15 from the field, each making all but one of their free throws. Both men finished the night with 23 points, while Butler helped the cause with 11 assists to get the double-double.
  • Taking advantage of the opportunity, Rondo scored a much-needed 20 points, also 8-15 from the field. Along with Butler’s impressive passing, Rondo was able to get six assists of his own and seven boards.
  • Off the bench, Mirotic turned in a much-needed performance. Going 8-16 from the field (5-12) from downtown, the big man netted 24 points in 29 minutes of action, while also grabbing 11 rebounds to get a double-double.
  • In 28 minutes of playing time, the rookie Valentine was able to add 11 points and five rebounds. Cameron Payne was 0-6 from the field in limited playing time, including 0-4 from downtown.
  • While the Hornets did shoot slightly better from the field, just 7-29 from beyond the arc didn’t help their cause. Losing the rebound and assist battle didn’t help, as the Bulls were able to match their impressive free-throw shooting.
  • Kidd-Gilchrist and Lamb and Walker all scored 20+ points, while Williams dominated the glass with 18 rebounds. The bench, however, could only contribute 16 points with some poor shooting efforts.
  • Next Up: the Bulls host the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, looking to squeeze back into the playoff picture.

Note-A-Bulls: Herculean Efforts from Wade and Butler can’t save the Bulls from the Hawks

Coming off two wins in a row, the Bulls looked to keep things going Wednesday night, taking on the Atlanta Hawks for the second time this week. After dropping their first game in Atlanta, this time the Bulls hosted the Hawks in Chicago, hoping to be above .500 at the end of the night.

Tonight, Hoiberg’s lineup was Grant, Wade, Butler, Gibson and Lopez. For the Hawks, it was their normal lineup: Schroder, Sefolosha, Bazemore, Millsap, and Howard. Starting off the game, the Bulls looked ready to pick up where they had left off in their previous game. They jumped out to an early lead, holding the Hawks to three points for the first four minutes.

Amidst rallies from Atlanta, the Bulls continuously responded to go up as much as 10 points as the 1st quarter winded down. Even after the Hawks put up a seven-point rally at the end of the quarter, the Bulls closed out with a quick six points to lead 29-22 after 12 minutes. Learning from the Bulls’ 1st quarter, the Hawks decided to up the ante offensively. They scored seven points in less than two minutes to start the 2nd.

By the six-minute mark in the quarter, the Hawks pulled into three points of the Bulls lead, 39-42. Again, the Bulls battled off a Hawks rally, outscoring them 17-9 to finish off the quarter. Chicago went into the half up 59-51, outscoring the Hawks 30-29 in the 2nd.As I have said about too many Bulls games this year, this one was a tale of two halves.

Despite Atlanta’s continuous persistence, the Bulls held off multiple rallies to stay up 10 halfway through the quarter. However, in less than two minutes, the Hawks went on a 9-2 run to pull within three points, and would tie on the next possession. The Bulls, barely hanging on, had one last gasp to outscore the Hawks by five points, leading 83-78.

Unlike previous quarters, the wheels finally began to fall off, as the Hawks would no longer be denied. Despite going up nine points early in the 4th and pushing their lead to 11 with just over five minutes in the game, they would completely collapse. Down 100-110 with three (yes, just three minutes left), the Hawks went on an abysmal 19-4 run to finish off the game and win 119-114. The Hawks scored eight points in the final minute, including six free-throws.

  • To say Wade and Butler carried the team would be an understatement. Butler, who scored a game-high 40 points, was 13-22 from the field. Wade, who turned in a 33-point performance, was 14-24 from the field.
  • The rest of the Bulls lineup from the field? 6-21 from the field, scoring 13 total points. While Taj Gibson grabbed 10 rebounds, there was nothing else to be satisfied with from the lineup. Surely, this performance will have Bulls fans particularly upset
  • Off the bench, Mirotic continued to frustrate. Despite shooting 3-11 in 18 minutes, the worst part may have been his four fouls, which would add up to be a big difference maker in the end. Once again, Felicio added some needed help on the boards, racking up six in 20 minutes of action. Paul Zipser registered a quiet 23 minutes, with no field goals but two blocks.
  • Not only did the Hawks get at least 15 points from each starter, but they also received 17 from Hardaway Jr. off the bench. After a shaky 1st quarter offensively, the group finished shooting over 51% on the night. Defensively, 13 turnovers and 20 fouls still gave the Bulls 26 opportunities at the line, where the Bulls shot 77%
  • Understandably, Bulls fans will be upset at this untimely loss. After a “good Bulls, bad Bulls” narrative has seemed to follow them all season, a three-game win streak and over .500 record would be a big step in the right direction. Despite maintaining their composure for 45+ minutes, the final collapse showed that this team will need more consistency if to finish games out in the future.
  • Up Next: The Bulls play host to Dwyane Wade’s former team the Miami Heat on Friday night.

Hoiberg’s worst enemy? Time

Last year, Fred Hoiberg became one of the less experienced college basketball coaches to ever be hired as an NBA coach. If history is any indication, that may not be a bad thing. This season though, the question is whether or not the Bulls will be as generous as other franchises have been in affording adjustment time for coaches who are new to the NBA.

For those unfamiliar with the fate of Hoiberg’s college predecessors moving to the NBA, the history is rather bleak. Here’s a rundown of the history since 1993, when hiring college coaches into the NBA started to increase, up until 2015 when he was hired.

From 1993-2005, college coaches hired to the NBA:

  • Have gone a combined 624-999 as head coaches
  • Are a combined 3-16 in the playoffs
  • Six of nine coaches never made the playoffs
  • Average less than 2.5 seasons before being fired

If not for Brad Stevens’ success in Boston, those numbers would be even worse.

Many Bulls fans have blamed Hoiberg’s relative inexperience as a reason for his struggles both on the court and with player relationships. However, with seven Final Fours between the nine college-turned-NBA coaches since 1993, college experience hasn’t been that indicative of NBA success, as shown by guys like Rick Pitino (192-220), John Calipari (72-112), or Mike Montgomery (68-96).

If any Final Four coach has exceeded expectations in the NBA, it would be Brad Stevens, who had just seven years of college head coaching experience before being hired by the Boston Celtics in 2013. Young and well regarded like Stevens, Fred Hoiberg was hired with just six years of college coaching experience. It goes without saying that the Bulls would be happy if Hoiberg progresses as well as Stevens has thus far. However, before getting carried away with comparisons, it should be noted that Hoiberg actually started off his NBA coaching career doing something Stevens and other predecessors couldn’t do: finish a season above .500.

Now, 20-21 at the halfway mark, most couldn’t have expected Hoiberg to adjust any smoother given the odds history says he’s up against. Also given that Stevens’ second season win percentage was the same as Hoiberg’s thus far, the numbers give hope that Hoiberg could be the next in a line of coaches who have changed the stigma of hiring college coaches in the NBA.

But while Hoiberg may be meeting reasonable goals for a second-year coach, patience will be hard to come by until growth is imminent. After going above .500 last year and acquiring Dwyane Wade, many question how the Bulls can be an effective if Hoiberg can’t lead a successful offense. For Gar Forman and the front office, the belief may be that Hoiberg needs a change of personnel for the Bulls to be effective. Others may look at Hoiberg’s 5-1 record against the Cavaliers and believe that he has everything he needs to succeed. And yet despite the reasonable expectation that things would take time, very few seem content with chalking up Hoiberg’s struggles to growing pains. 

Amidst rumors of shopping the team’s best scorer, it’s clear that the standard Hoiberg will be held to is increasingly shaped by his team’s present standing. With pressure mounting as Dwyane Wade celebrates his 35th birthday on Tuesday, the Bulls have thrust Fred Hoiberg into a “win now,” scenario. If he can’t adapt to the urgency of the situation, the Chicago Bulls may not have more patience, even if Hoiberg deserves more time.