- From the start, last night’s game against Detroit felt like one that would come down to the wire, and it did not disappoint. Unfortunately, the Bulls never seemed to make shots when it mattered, even though they ultimately shot better from the field (40.5%) than the Pistons (37.5%). However, Detroit had 20 offensive rebounds, leading to 20 more shot attempts than the Bulls.
- First quarter: Both teams entered the night 2-0, and though the Bulls scored first on a Pau Gasol basket, the Pistons responded with a three pointer almost immediately from Marcus Morris. This proved to be a microcosm of how the rest of the game would turn out, as Detroit never really shrunk from any sort of lead the Bulls put up. Tony Snell got into early foul trouble, drawing two within the first three minutes and E’Twuan Moore had to come in earlier than normal. From there, the Pistons capitalized on some poor Chicago shooting in the first quarter and took a 23-19 lead.
- Second quarter: This time it was the Pistons’ opportunity to look a little sloppy, and after the Bulls went on a 7-0 run, Stan Van Gundy called a timeout that ended up stalling the scoring on both ends for several minutes. The second quarter was the lowest scoring overall, with the two teams combining for just 32 points. Eventually, baskets from Aron Baynes and Anthony Tolliver ignited the action again. With 2:50 left in the half, Jimmy Butler tied it at 35, and shortly after Chicago had a chance to take the lead. Shortly after, Butler stole the ball just after Detroit brought the ball past half court, and a Tony Snell tap-in from Butler’s missed shot gave the Bulls the edge. They added another basket before the half, going up 39-35.
- Third quarter: The Pistons fought back and tied the game at 41 with 9:26 remaining in the quarter. Just a minute later, Reggie Jackson put them up by a basket. By the 6:37 mark, they were up by 8 points, and Fred Hoiberg had to call a time out to try and right the ship. This seemed to do the trick, because a Pau Gasol pass to Nikola Mirotic for a bucket brought the Bulls within three. A few minutes later, a pair of free throws from Butler put the Bulls up by one. But, once again, Detroit would not be stymied. They responded with an immediate basket and took back the lead. This was the catalyst for several lead changes that would continue for the remainder of the quarter until a beautiful dunk by Taj Gibson left the score tied at 64 to end the quarter.
- Fourth quarter: Though Doug McDermott provided a rallying three pointer a minute into the last quarter, the Pistons surged ahead by five points. The Bulls kept responding themselves, though, and a classic Derrick Rose drive to the basket set up a basket by Taj Gibson. This preceded a Mirotic three pointer that tied the game at 72. Andre Drummond and Butler exchanged free throws near the end of the quarter to swap the lead back and forth, but regulation ended with a tie at 83.
- Overtime: The overtime was just hard to watch. The Bulls came out looking sloppy and never really got it together. Detroit went on a 7-0 run and things just never really changed from there. Hoiberg called a timeout after that, but even that didn’t do it. The Bulls shot really poorly at the worst possible time, and that left the game in Detroit’s hands. They won it, 98-94. The Bulls shot three for ten in overtime compared to five of eight for Detroit.
- Though the Bulls outshot the Pistons last night, they couldn’t quite hit the ones they needed to prevail. From here, the Pistons take a break until Tuesday when they will host the Pacers. The Bulls return to the United Center to host Orlando on Sunday night before hitting the road next Tuesday against the Charlotte Hornets.
- After defeating the dreadful Nets, the Bulls are now 2-0 for the first time since 2012-2013 season (and ’02 before that).
- This year’s two wins thus far are a little more impressive, not only knocking off LeBron’s NBA Finals Cavs, but traveling to Brooklyn for a back-to-back, which is never easy, no matter how pitiful the opponent may be.
- Hoiberg’s up-tempo, dynamic offense continues to look like it’s going to be a lot of fun, as this team gets the hang of pushing the pace, utilizing wing weave action and dribble hand-offs, early drag screens, and more weak side low posts, among others. This is in stark contrast to last year where the Bulls would take 6-8 seconds to walk the ball up, run set plays, and often feed strong side low posts with Pau, dishing for a three, and/or re-posting if the initial move wasn’t there, too often resulting in a poor shot, trying to beat the shot clock.
- Being just the second game of the season, offensive efficiency and pace are statistically meaningless, but it will be interesting to monitor as the season progresses. Last year, the Bulls ranked 20th in pace and 10th in offensive efficiency. I would look for the Bulls to be in the top five in both of these categories after the first 20 games.
- The Bulls continue their balanced attack, getting double-digit production from six players, including all five starters (Butler, Rose, Gasol, Mirotic, Snell, and Brooks off the bench)
- Jimmy Butler is a god, going nine of 11 from the field, including 3/3 from beyond the arc. He turned in an efficient 24 points, six assists, four rebounds, and two steals.
- They don’t call him Threekola for nothing – Nikola Mirotic had 18 points and nine rebounds (+30 in his 30 minutes), hitting some big three pointers in the 3rd quarter to help balloon the lead from three at the half to 19 towards the end of the third. The Bulls shot 50% from three (14-28) while the Nets … the Nets didn’t make any (0-9).
- The Bulls might get by playing average defense, but if they want to be title contenders they’ll have to be better. Asking Pau to suddenly be a good lateral and help defender is like asking a sieve to not be… well… a sieve. At least he can block a shot or two once in a while.
- Derrick had some good flashes tonight going five of 11 with 15 points – most importantly, he was a pretty good distributor, keeping the offense flowing, ball moving, and not taking threes when better options were available. He only attempted one.
- Noah and Gibson are still struggling when on the floor together, diminishing the Bulls’ lead and forcing Hoiberg to put starters back in; still, the minutes were down in a good way tonight, Butler leading the way with 34, and the rest of the starters hovering around 30 (Snell, the exception, at 22). With minutes management being the flavor of the day in the NBA, we’ll keep our eye on this metric going forward
- Dougie McBuckets McDermott can’t play defense on more than two consecutive possessions. He’s a student of the game, so he may improve on sheer effort and team defense concept, but his quickness probably won’t improve much and will continue to be a liability defensively.
- The Nets don’t have a real NY fan base. I sat in the last row of the nosebleeds with all the other Bulls fans (most of whom were international), looking down at the lower bowl, which was nearly empty. It seems most of their attendees are the product of circumstance (“We’re in America! In New York City! Let’s go to a sporting event!”). It’s great for the game of basketball – not so great if you’re a Nets fan who’s hoping to commiserate with other Nets fans about how hopeless your season (franchise) looks.
- If you missed Jared’s debut BULLets on the Opening Night victory over the Cavs, you can find them here.
- Up Next: The Bulls take on Detroit in the Palace on Friday night.
- The beginning of the Fred Hoiberg era started pretty nicely, with a close win over the Cavaliers, who I had feared would be a particularly tough draw for the first game of the season. Though the Bulls ultimately kept them at bay, I think we saw the kind of battle that the Bulls and Cavs are likely to have all year, and potentially into the playoffs when the time comes. After years of watching the Tom Thibodeau Bulls, this felt like a largely different team.
- Notably, Hoiberg showed a greater willingness to use his whole roster, giving Doug McDermott the opportunity he lacked last season. Not to draw any sort of long term conclusions, but McDermott spent 16 minutes on the floor against Cleveland, and he had averaged just 8.9 per game last year. In that time, he scored 8 points and had 4 rebounds, and by comparison, last year he averaged 3 points and 1.2 rebounds.
- I liked the way Derrick Rose played and how much he played. He clocked 32 minutes, second only to Jimmy Butler at 36. I had pretty low expectations for Rose after the almost complete lack of a preseason that he had because of his eye injury, but he looked pretty good. If you can look past the eight for 22 that he shot from the floor, he found a way to put up 18 points and had the second most to Nikola Mirotic, who had 19. Rose also only attempted two three-pointers.
- I’m having a hard time making sense of the night that Joakim Noah had. He played 17 minutes and did not take a single shot. Though I never expect him to score a lot of points, it was a bit of a surprise not to see him shoot the ball at all. He did manage to contribute in some way, grabbing 9 rebounds, a steal, and dishing out 4 assists. With Mirotic starting and playing like he did (19 points and nine rebounds on only 25 minutes), Noah’s role may be increasingly diminished as the season progresses. (Editor’s note: the Bulls later announced that Noah was held out of the fourth quarter with a right knee contusion).
- Jimmy Butler is the leader of this team. He played excellently against Cleveland, and while he did not score the most points (he had 17), he performed in a balanced array of ways, going five of five from the free throw line and six for 14 from the floor. He added five rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Of course, his perimeter defense on LeBron James was superb.
- Balanced attack. The Bulls had five players with double digit points, including E’Twaun Moore with 11 off of the bench. Tony Snell, Rose, Mirotic, and Butler all scored at least 10 points. A multitude of threats offensively will serve the Bulls well if it can continue as the season progresses.
- Even in a close game, I would liked to have seen rookie Bobby Portis make his debut, but he did not get any time against the Cavs. Perhaps because the game was too close, or perhaps because Hoiberg didn’t see the right opportunity for him to go out there.
- Up next: The Bulls hit the road immediately, with a game in Brooklyn on Wednesday night. This I expect will be a very tough challenge, as playing on back to back nights with the second game on the road nearly always presents a very difficult situation. The Bulls won’t see Cleveland again until January 23 in Cleveland.
In the aftermath of Chicago’s disappointing loss to the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers this postseason, many wanted to point fingers. Tom Thibodeau took the brunt of the blame and was fired. Joakim Noah, who looked like a Walking Dead zombie for much of the season, has taken heat from fans and analysts alike who worry he’ll never return to his Defensive Player of the Year form. Yet from the rubble of the horrific Game Six loss to the Cavs arose a story I never saw coming.
According to Dan Bernstein of CBS Chicago, a rift had formed between Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Bernstein argued that the body language displayed during the final 24 minutes of the Bulls’ season was indicative of a growing feud between the two All-Stars.
Making such a claim based on a single evening of poorly played basketball is very silly. Chris Terzic wrote a great piece for Blog-a-Bull refuting Bernstein’s aggressive assertion that Rose checked out of Game Six for personal reasons. He used this crazy concept called “visual evidence” to show that Rose’s low number of field goal attempts was not due to indifference, but rather him taking what the defense was giving and trying to make the best play for the team.
But what if Bernstein was on to something? Derrick Rose has been the unquestioned alpha dog in Chicago ever since his arrival. He’d never played alongside anyone who deserved to dominate the ball for stretches, especially not another guard. The argument could be made that Rose was simply not accustomed or prepared to turn over as much offensive responsibility as Butler had earned last season. What I set out to do is parse through some statistics to figure out how the Butler and Rose duo fared last summer, and determine if there’s any statistical evidence to support a rift.
The Rose Effect on Butler
Jimmy Butler took huge strides on the offensive end last season. He set career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists. His improved three point shooting was a vital addition to his game and turned Jimmy into a major threat. After shooting just 28% on threes in 2014, Butler increased his average to 37.8%. There’s no doubt he put in countless hours in the gym improving his stroke from all around the perimeter, but there may have been a hidden reason for Butler’s massive one year improvement.
Jimmy played just over 2500 minutes last season. For 1216 of those minutes, roughly half of Butler’s court time, Derrick Rose was also on the court. According to NBAwowy, in the minutes that Butler played without Rose, his three point shooting fell to 31.6%. When Butler and Rose shared the floor, Butler’s three point shooting skyrocketed up to over 41%. Butler clearly seems to have benefited from the extra attention defenses pay to Rose and was able to find open threes that weren’t available when Aaron Brooks or Kirk Hinrich manned the point.
Having Rose on the court may have helped free up open shots, but it hampered other aspects of Butler’s game. Jimmy Butler was quietly one of the more effective pick and roll ball handlers in the NBA last season. His high efficiency on these plays can be attributed to his ability to barrel through the paint and draw fouls on the way to the basket. On the season, Butler posted a free throw rate (FTr) of .508. According to NBAwowy, when Butler was playing without Rose his FTr increased to .530. But with the ball dominant Rose on the court, that number fell to .410. While Rose definitely had a positive influence on Butler’s shooting, he also curbed Butler’s aggressive play by turning him into a second banana waiting for kickouts on the perimeter.
Rose Just Isn’t The Same Player Anymore
For all the excitement surrounding Derrick Rose’s first (somewhat) healthy season in two years, the truth is that he was not good enough the justify how much he dominated the ball. Rose shot just 40% from the field and 28% from three on an absurd 5.3 attempts per game. He was often reluctant to drive to the basket and draw contact. He averaged under four free throw attempts per game and a FTr of just .224, his lowest since his rookie season. Rose was ineffective shooting the ball and initiating the offense, but it never stopped him from trying. Rose posted a usage rate of 31.7% last year, the fifth highest in the NBA–a higher rate than James Harden, a guy who basically ran an entire offense on his own at times.
If there is truly any bad blood between Butler and Rose, the source of it is Rose’s inefficient play and wild overconfidence in his three point stroke. When Butler played without the former MVP on the court, he posted a healthy usage rate of 24.6%. But with both starting guards on the court, Butler’s usage dropped to 21.8%, around league average. With both guys on the court, Rose still soaked up 30.6% of offensive possessions.
I can’t blame Jimmy for being frustrated with his teammate looking at these numbers. After spending countless grueling hours to improve his game, Butler was still being treated like a complimentary piece in the Derrick Rose show. Anyone who watched the Bulls last season could tell that Butler was the best all-around player on the team. The only person who might not have realized it was Derrick Rose.
Why It Doesn’t Matter
Some of the usage imbalance will hopefully be cleared up by new coach Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system. Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams were great about whipping the ball around the court in an effort to create open looks for everybody. Far too many Bulls possessions last season resulted in the ball sticking on one side of the floor. The basic offensive scheme the Bulls used last year was too often snuffed out and forced Chicago to take bad shots as the shot clock ticked down. With a more uptempo offense in place, Rose and Butler will both be able to put themselves in better position to score without having to force the issue. A more free flowing offense with better ball distribution should keep everyone happy.
Jimmy Butler knows this better than anyone. It’s why he agreed to return to Chicago for at least four more years when he could have fought to re-enter free agency after three. He knows that this group has a championship window right now, and should he and Derrick learn to use each other more effectively that window could stay open for years to come. There may have been some tension at the close of last season, but any “beef” has certainly been squashed.
Let me start this out by making it clear that I’m a Tom Thibodeau fan. If I ran the Bulls, Thibs wouldn’t be halfway out the door right now. However, given the loud and clear signals that only a Finals appearance would save (read: not sever) this relationship, it’s time for Bulls fans to wrap their heads around a divorce.
As great as Thibodeau has coached the Bulls, he undoubtedly has shown major flaws within his coaching philosophy. The area where Thibs is criticized the most loudly is ironically the one where I would argue he’s improved the most: minutes management.
Thibs is still woefully behind the times, routinely making Pau Gasol play entire quarters and running Jimmy Butler up for 40 minutes a night whenever he has the chance. Still, he’s shown a better willingness to manage the playing time of injured players. Much has been made about Joakim Noah’s minutes restriction, but I haven’t had a huge problem with Thibodeau’s handling of it. First of all, 32 minutes is a kind of arbitrary number. While it’s clear Noah can’t handle a 36+ minutes per night workload, establishing a baseline of around 32 seems perfectly reasonable for a stubborn coach like Thibodeau. Noah’s played 30.8 minutes per game on the season and about the same in March. The limit has again become a talking point because the front office is more likely than not just running a smear campaign on the embattled coach.
Thibs did an admirable job with Rose’s minutes as well. Derrick averaged under 33 minutes in every month of the season besides January, when he felt great and scored over 20 points per game in 16 matchups. For the season, he sits at 31 minutes per game. Given the Bulls other options at point guard, it’s understandable why Rose wouldn’t be averaging 25 minutes a night, especially because everyone thought he had successfully rehabbed his meniscus injury.
Again, Thibs is not good at managing his players’ minutes. Luol Deng’s body was wrecked by Thibodeau and he’s traveling down the same path with Jimmy Butler if he doesn’t reduce his minutes. But to argue that Thibs should be fired now because of this is playing into exactly what the Bulls’ immature front office desires. This is the same organization that routinely pushed its players to return too quickly from injury until it became a national embarrassment. Twice in Luol Deng’s career, he received medical treatment that was shockingly below standards.
Given the team’s injury issues, you would hope that Gar Forman and John Paxson are ready to turn over a new leaf with minutes management. Additionally, there are other areas where Thibodeau has failed to meet expectations. The most glaring this season has been his rotations.
Kirk Hinrich is probably the least productive rotation player in the entire NBA. He’s dropped to career lows of 36.9% overall and 34% from deep. He’s only averaging 3.4 assists per 36 minutes. Yet Thibodeau insists that the team plays better when Kirk is in and that Hinrich excels at “running the offense”. This is just not true. And while Hinrich can occasionally succeed defensively, considering him a plus player on that end is questionable. Yet Thibodeau has played Hinrich for more than 25 minutes per game this season. Aaron Brooks is at 21.8, Tony Snell 19.8, and E’Twaun Moore just 9.3 minutes a game. Hinrich has only played 39% of his minutes at point guard, destroying any semblance of floor-spacing. This is entirely indefensible.
As the greater NBA community is coming to realize, Nikola Mirotic is a future All-Star. In fact, he’s been the Bulls’ best player this season by net rating. Per NBA.com/stats, the Bulls are +2.6 points per 100 possessions overall. When Niko plays, they’re +5.4, highest on the team. When he sits, they’re +0.7, lowest on the team. Even though Joakim Noah is on the highly publicized minutes limit, Pau Gasol is playing his highest minutes in a half decade, and Taj Gibson has been injured all year, Thibodeau waited until Gibson’s fourth ankle sprain to unleash Mirotic.
Niko is a dynamic power forward and Joakim Noah is an equally unique center. Together they’ve been ridiculously good, yet Thibodeau doesn’t prioritize this combination. He remains staunchly committed to Pau Gasol playing center, even though it’s Thibodeau’s famous defense that Gasol’s inability to force turnovers is derailing. Pau’s net rating is +1.8 and when he’s off the floor the Bulls jump to +4.1. Niko is the only Bull with a defensive rating under 100, at 99.6 points per 100 possessions.
While I’ve never been high on Doug McDermott, most would agree Thibodeau just hasn’t given him a chance. What’s odder than that is Thibodeau’s general aversion to playing Mike Dunleavy in the fourth quarter. Thibs routinely prioritizes having two ball-handlers in the game, whether it’s Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich or Aaron Brooks and E’Twaun Moore. It just doesn’t make a sense for a team with one quality point guard that can’t even stay on the floor. Even last night against Detroit, Hinrich stayed in for most of the fourth quarter alongside Aaron Brooks (Dunleavy did get some minutes though).
Tom Thibodeau is an undoubtedly great NBA coach, but his relationship with a hard-to-work-with front office is beyond repair. Furthermore, Thibodeau’s shortcomings can’t be ignored much longer and the Bulls might be best served to part ways with his hard-driving attitude and bizarre rotations.
When this basketball marriage (lord knows Thibs doesn’t have a traditional one) does come to an end, you can expect the Bulls to go hard after Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State’s coach. Marc Stein reports:
It is widely — and I mean widely — believed throughout the league that Fred Hoiberg, whose Iowa State Cyclones were bounced in the first round of the tournament Thursday by UAB, is the top choice of the Chicago Bulls to replace Tom Thibodeau in the event that the Bulls and Thibs indeed part company at season’s end.
Hoiberg’s first interview didn’t go so well when his touted Iowa State team was shocked in the first round of the tournament, ruining many brackets. Let’s hope he finds more success when he inevitably winds up in the Windy City.