One of the lesser anticipated Christmas Day matchups got even more lackluster when Kobe Bryant was scratched from the lineup this afternoon. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Lakers put up a solid fight without their Hall of Famer. In the end, Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol were too much and the Bulls won 113-93.
This was a great example of how dangerous the Bulls can be with all the weapons they now have. Without relying on one specific player to take the lead, the Bulls got contributions from everyone down the line (except Tony Snell!).
Pau Gasol seemed to relish the matchup with the team he won two NBA Finals with, putting in 23 points with 13 rebounds. It was just another day at the office for Pau, with hook shots, bankers and wet jumpers all falling for the big man. Pau is 3rd in All-Star voting for the Eastern Conference frontcourt, meaning he would start the game if the order holds. Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are 5th and 6th for guards, respectively.
Rose scored the first seven points of the game with a jumper, a floater, and a three. He didn’t explode in the 4th quarter quite like we saw the last couple times out, but he played an efficient game and moved the ball beautifully once again. And he still looked plenty explosive. It’s delightful watching Rose get back into a legitimate rhythm; there could be no better Christmas present than the fact that we got to watch Rose play on the holiday for the first time since 2011. He finished with 20 points on 7/14 shooting and six assists.
CarlosBoozer returned to Chicago for the first time since our collective nightmare ended. He was lustily booed throughout the night, but actually played really solid for his standards. Booz finished with 14 points and five boards in just 17 minutes.
Nikola Mirotic kept on cementing his place in our hearts with another stellar performance off the bench. He somehow compiled 13 points, seven rebounds and two assists in just 15 minutes. Bonkers.
Jimmy Butler shows no signs of slowing down. While I’m not sure I agree with Chris Webber that he’s the best “two-way” player in the NBA, he helped pace the team in scoring once again with 21 points in 42 minutes. Jimmy also chipped in six rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. Just a stud.
Wesley Johnson excelled in Kobe’s absence once again with 19 points and nine rebounds. He did miss 12 of 18 shots though, in true Mamba fashion.
E’Twaun Moore continued to make the most out of his spot in the rotation, scoring four points and adding a nifty block late in the game. He was +12 in just 14 minutes.
Big Men Minute Watch: Noah: 27, Gasol: 33, Taj Gibson: 20, Mirotic: 15.
The Bulls host Anthony Davis and the Pelicans on Saturday.
The Bulls were handed a devastating four point loss by the Wizards to end their 12 game preseason winning streak and crushing their preseason title aspirations. Just kidding. Although they did lose. However, it was a really positive opening game for Coach Thibs and co. Let’s break it down
Derrick Rose looked great. After last year’s extremely encouraging preseason and subsequently sloppy start to the regular season, I won’t be fooled. Still, this is much much preferred to a Rose who looks visibly rusty. Derrick was 4/7 for 11 points in his 14 minute first half stint. He even knocked down a nice three pointer to quell some of the doubt after his 1/19 performance from behind the line in Spain. Rose and Joakim Noah (coming off offseason knee surgery) both sat out the second half and are questionable for tonight (precautionary reasons).
The rookies are here. Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic got plenty of minutes in this one, and they made the most of it. McBuckets chipped in eight points on just four shots while Mirotic stole the show in the second half. First he drained two beautiful catch and shoot three pointers. To take thing to another level, Mirotic, a 6’9″ power forward, brought the ball up in transition and drained a three off the dribble. Simply put, it was fucking Dirk-esque.
Paul Pierce remains the best. I wanted to actually hate Paul Pierce, but it’s just too fun to enjoy hating him. Pierce clotheslined Jimmy Butler to stop a fast break and was relentlessly running his mouth to Butler during the break. Pierce then poked Joakim Noah in the face when he came over, causing an NBA brawl (no punches thrown). Then, later that night, I’m told from two different sources, Paul Pierce hit up the Horseshoe Casino after the game for some Omaha before finishing at the casino’s bar. I love Paul Pierce.
Pau Gasol > Carlos Boozer. Pau wasn’t spectacular, but his line in this game shows the potential he has to offer a lot more than Carlos Boozer. Gasol had eight points, eight rebounds, two steals and three blocks in limited minutes. Pau is pretty old, and Thibs could ride him hard. If he can stay healthy, the Bulls will love having the veteran Spaniard.
Gibson and Hinrich first off the bench. Shocker here. Thibs brought Taj and Kirk in for Jo and Derrick about midway through the first quarter. While Thibs “nine man rotation” is hardly set in stone at this point, you can expect these two to be the first guys off the bench pretty much all season.
Depth is crazy. The Bulls have generally had deep teams under Thibs, partly because he’s so good at turning scrubs into legit defenders and former valet drivers into back-up point guards. This year, however, may be the deepest. With a legit two players at each position, Thibs has an embarrassment of riches. With everyone healthy, Thibodeau has four legit big men. While it may be his preference to work Mirotic in slowly, Thibs will find the minutes for the 23 year old if he shoots like he did last night. Aaron Brooks will push for minutes as well as a legit scoring guard. Tony Snell, who last year was pressed into starting duty several times, barely sniffed the floor. I don’t see much of a future for him in Chicago.
The Bulls play the Pistons at 6:30 CT on NBATV tonight. Check it out. Stan Van Gundy is at the helm in Detroit now, so things are looking up. Rose should play, but even if he doesn’t, it’s surprisingly exciting to get a look at the new guys in the fold.
I was certainly disappointed when the Bulls missed out on Carmelo Anthony, offseason priority number one. Adding one of the three best scorers in the league is always something you want your team to do, especially when your team is as offensively challenged as last years Bulls squad was.
Thankfully, the Bulls’ front office did not sit around feeling sorry for themselves when Melo resigned in New York. They still had a big chunk of cap space to spend and rather than cash in on one mega superstar, they made a handful of moves that transformed what was already a strength of this team into an absolute powerhouse.
Harken back to 2012, when Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and an interested Carlos Boozer composed the front court rotation, striking constant fear into the hearts of soft big men everywhere. The Bulls had so much big man talent they were closing out games with the backups on the court and everyone was totally cool with it. But after that fateful season, cut short by Derrick Rose’s ACL injury in the first round, the Bulls let Asik leave in free agency. Shortly thereafter, Carlos Boozer became the bane of my existence and a truly frightening foursome of big men had been cut in half.
This summer, Bulls fans finally awoke from the Carlos Boozer nightmare to a reloaded group of tall gentlemen who, while perhaps not the defensive stalwarts who patrolled the paint in 2012, will give the Bulls a plethora of options that will cause coaches to lose sleep. With the amnesty of Carlos Boozer becoming official, the Bulls signed Pau Gasol to a three year, $22 million deal and European sensation Nikola Mirotic for 3 years and $18 million. If you don’t know much about Mirotic, I wrote about him last year. For those of you who don’t feel like clicking on that link but still are curious as to who this dude is, Mirotic is a 6’10” 22 year old who shot 46% from three point range for Real Madrid in the Spanish League, Europe’s most competitive pro circuit.
Gasol, age 34, is certainly not the offensive wizard of yesteryear who played second banana on two championship teams in Los Angeles. But he definitely has a lot left in the tank, possessing a sweet shooting stroke and incredible passing ability, skills that tend to age quite well. Injuries robbed Gasol of big chunks of the past two seasons (foot injuries in fact, injuries that are quite frightening for a man of that size) but they did not rob him of his offensive skills. Gasol put up per 36 and pace adjusted numbers that fell right in line with his career averages, sporting a 19.3 PER to boot. Hopefully the Bulls will rely on Gasol far less than the recent Lakers teams have, saving his feet for a deep playoff push.
The Bulls were already incredibly strong at center and power forward before these exciting moves, with the tandem of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson proving to be one of the toughest to score on in the league. Noah and Taj shared the floor for 1257 minutes this past season, allowing only 97.2 points per 100 possessions. Opposing offenses shot a laughable 41.2% against Taj and Jo, defensive field goal percentage that would have led the league by a wide margin.
While Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol are incredibly talented players, neither is exactly well known for their defense. It would be fairly surprising to see these two on the floor together much this year.
What will be interesting to see for the 2014-15 season is how Tom Thibodeau mixes and matches his big man rotations. While Coach Thibs is likely to play things close to the vest, I feel that I am qualified to at least make an educated guess at what fans should expect.
The Bulls starting lineup on opening night will probably be Rose-Butler-Dunleavy-Gasol-Noah (we can debate Dunleavy vs. McDermott but that’s a conversation for another day). While Taj is probably more impactful to a game at this point of his career than Gasol, I expect Thibodeau to keep Taj slotted in the 6th man spot, acting as the Jamal Crawford of defense.
Bench units headed by Gibson and Mirotic will provide the necessary rim protection to stymie opposing teams’ second units while giving the Bulls some much needed spacing offensively. Any combination of McBuckets, Dunleavy and Mirotic will have defenses thinking twice about packing the paint.
Noah, Gibson and Gasol, the three high profile guys, are unlikely to ever share the floor together. While all three are competent mid range shooters, none of them provide the amount of outside shooting necessary to unclog the paint on offense. But swap in Mirotic for Gasol, and that’s a trio that could prove to be lethal. With Mirotic’s ability to play out on the wing and Taj’s ability to stay with small forwards off the dribble, this could be a lineup I spend embarrassing amounts of time oogling over on stats.nba.com.
If you’ve been watching Bulls games the last couple of years, you’ll know that it does not matter who starts the game, but rather who finishes it. Carlos Boozer spent most fourth quarters banished to the bench as Taj Gibson cemented his role as the closer at power forward. I expect Thibs to lean heavily on these two to finish games again this season, leaving our pricey free agent pickup out of the home stretch, at least to begin the season.
But don’t be surprised if Thibodeau begins to switch things up as the season progresses depending on the situation. As the new additions become more comfortable in the Bulls’ system, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Pau finishing games where the Bulls trailed by a small margin. And in contests where the Bulls need a big comeback perhaps Pau and Mirotic will get some run together.
However the lineup combinations shake out, just be thankful that we have the personnel to make this debate worthwhile.