Tag Archives: Kemba Walker

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.
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BULLet Points: Hornets embarrass shorthanded Bulls to end road trip

This game felt over before it started. When Derrick Rose was scratched an hour before the tip the Bulls’ fate was sealed. Without Rose, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic (and of course Joakim Noah) the Bulls don’t have a chance against a half decent NBA team, which is precisely what the Charlotte Hornets are.

  • Things got out of hand twelve miserable minutes into the game. Charlotte hung 38 points in the first quarter to Chicago’s 20, and the Bulls never shrunk the deficit below 12. The Hornets were 5/9 from three in the quarter and shot 58% overall. The Hornets, without Al Jefferson, did a great job of creating space on offense. Smart passing and cutting led to many open shots from three and the rim.
  • Kemba Walker was the biggest contributor to the win Monday night. The former Husky scored 30 points, dished eight assists and grabbed seven rebounds. Walker was effective inside and out, knocking down 4/9 of his three point attempts and chipping in 10 points from the free throw line on 13 attempts.
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, back from shoulder injury, scored 20 points almost all through cuts and offensive boards. MKG gets no respect standing on the perimeter, clogging up lanes for his teammates. But with intelligent cutting and efficient finishing, Kidd-Gilchrist is enough of a weapon to not totally sink the offense.
  • Fred Hoiberg continues to make Thibs-like decisions without drawing Thibs-like criticism. Pau Gasol logged 33 meaningless minutes, staying in the game until just two minutes remained. Gasol was the only source of offense for the Bulls, but Hoiberg’s insistence on playing to keep the game close is not a good long-term decision. Pau filled the box score with 22 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three blocks. A great night to be a Pau fantasy owner, a bad night to be a Bulls fan.
  • If Hoiberg left Gasol in the fourth quarter to crawl back into the game, why not play him alongside Taj Gibson? Taj is the only big man capable of playing good defense, a vital part of mounting a comeback. Alas, Cameron Bairstow saw all 12 minutes of the fourth while Gibson played none.
  • I have no problem with Bairstow playing the entire fourth quarter. I have no problem with the Bulls believing they could make a push against a mediocre Hornets team. My problem is the half-in, half-out approach Hoiberg took in this game. Either bring your A-game or go full scrub.
  • E’Twaun Moore continues to make the best of his current opportunity. Moore was aggressive and effective on offense, scoring 12 points on 50% shooting. When Moore was first inserted into the starting lineup he sometimes seemed reluctant to shoot threes when he was open. Moore connected on 2/4 of his attempts tonight and will continue to increase his gravity.
  • Moore’s effort on defense cannot be questioned, but his effectiveness is held back by his size. Matched up against the 6’8″ Nicolas Batum, the 6’4″ Moore was unable to bother the Frenchman’s shot.
  • Doug McDermott was the Bulls second leading scorer with 14 points. Unfortunately, almost all of his production came with the game way out of reach. Doug was the victim of several MKG cuts and continues to be a net negative for this team.
  • Tony Snell was 1/4 from the field in an unremarkable 19 minutes. Tony Snell led the team in +/-. Tony Snell sold his soul to a wizard or something.
  • Coming up: the Bulls host Atlanta on Wednesday night before the All-Star break.

BULLet Points: Sloppy play in crunchtime costs Bulls a win against Hornets

Sometimes perception does not match reality. It had felt through the first 16 games that the Bulls’ record was not indicative of how well they had been playing. Before their 102-96 loss at the United Center last night, the Bulls were in first place in the East at a seemingly improbable 11-5. This was in spite of the fact that they looked subaverage and even mediocre in many of their games. Improbably, they kept winning, and the hope is that this game was not an indication of a trend in a different direction.

Though, for much of the game, it looked very well like the Bulls would avoid their sixth loss, poor shooting, bad defense, and a couple of untimely missed free throws in the final minutes cost them.

  • As a whole, after a 1/6 start from the field to go against 5/6 from Charlotte, the two teams shot almost exactly equally. Both were 37/89, but the difference came largely from the three pointers. The Bulls shot better (36%), but made one less than did the Hornets, who simply took more shots from beyond the arc, giving them an extra three points on the Bulls there. They were also 18/25 from the free throw line, compared to 13/19 for Chicago. No drastic differences in shooting, but greater opportunity yielded a higher number of shots for the Hornets.
  • Throughout the game, it felt like the Bulls were giving up the paint on both ends. Especially early in the game, the Charlotte defense was particularly effective in disrupting the Bulls’ post play. Namely, much of their scoring troubles early on came from the fact that they could not establish shots or passing lanes for Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol down low. To this end, Mirotic’s first points from the post came on a rebound when Marvin Williams tripped and left the rebound open to Mirotic. On the other end of the floor, the Bulls gave up a lot of relatively easy shots to the Hornets.
  • Speaking of Mirotic, he made his return after leaving Wednesday’s game with a concussion. Originally, he was not expected to suit up last night, but he was able to play 27 minutes and score seven points and grab seven rebounds. His +/- was -8 though, some of which came from his 1/6 shooting from three point range. He missed his two free throw attempts, both of which came at a very inopportune time, right when the Bulls had the chance in the waning minutes of the game.
  • Derrick Rose had one of his best games of the year. His three point stroke looked fine, draining three, and he converted on several of his patented twisty layups that we’ve been itching to see. He finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 8/17 shooting.
  • Tony Snell played just 12 minutes against Charlotte and offered little. He scored zero points and produced just one assist. His offensive production has completely disappeared.
  • In all, it seems so far that the Bulls have been playing up to some of their more challenging opponents like the Pacers, Spurs, and Cavs – and even the Warriors in spite of ultimately losing, and then playing down to the softer opponents. While the Hornets are a young and dynamic team, the Bulls should not be struggling to beat them like they have been.
  • I was begrudgingly a fan of Kemba Walker when he was in college, and last night he reminded me of why he was so frustrating to root against at times. As I mentioned earlier, the Bulls seemed to struggle to establish their post game, and much of the time, it was Walker who was the disruptive force. Like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte has a team stacked with young talent. Along with Kemba, you have Cody Zeller, Nicolas Batum, and rookie Frank Kaminsky.
  • Coming up: the Bulls will stay at the United Center to host the 8-12 Phoenix Suns on Monday.

BULLet Points: Bulls Beat Hornets in Butler’s Return

  • The story heading into Monday night’s game at the United Center was the much anticipated return of All-Star Jimmy Butler. Butler had not played in the last eleven games after injuring his elbow against the Clippers. The Bulls kept the ship afloat in his absence, going an impressive 5-6 considering all the other injuries the team was dealing with. While Butler showed some rust in his return to the court, it was great to have him back.
  • Butler shot only 30% from the field, connecting on six of his 20 attempts. Butler still managed to score 19 points thanks to his willingness to drive to the basket and draw contact as he visited the charity stripe ten times on the night. Butler looked fresh and explosive despite logging 40 minutes in his return. His dynamic offensive game will return soon once he rediscovers his groove. These last three weeks may prove to be a blessing in disguise as Jimmy will enter the postseason somewhat rested after being the league leader in minutes prior to his injury.
  • Pau Gasol had an impressive game by box score standards. He scored 27 points on 11-19 shooting, including a clutch three as time expired in the third quarter. Gasol also snagged twelve rebounds and swatted four shots in the game. But the box score does not tell the full story, as Gasol’s slow feet and inability to help in the pick and roll helped keep the Hornets in the game. Lightning quick guards, like Kemba Walker, have little fear going right at Gasol in the paint. While Gasol does manage to block a lot of shots – 1.9 a game for the season – I believe it is a direct result of opposing ball handlers having the confidence to go right at the lumbering Spaniard over and over. Per NBA.com, no player defends more field goal attempts in the paint as Pau Gasol (10.3/game)
  • Nikola Mirotic had himself a game. In 32 minutes off the bench, the former Spanish League MVP scored 28 points on 10-19 shooting. Niko shot only 1-6 from beyond the arc, missing a handful of wide open shots, but managed to score in a variety of different ways. At one point in the second half, as the Bulls were starting to pull away, Mirotic recognized he was being guarded by the smaller Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the premier wing defenders in the league. Mirotic calmly posted him up, made a nifty spin move towards the baseline and laid in an easy bucket. Considering the game situation and the personnel, this was one of my favorite plays of the game.
  • Of course, Niko was also responsible for this:

  •  Poor Jason Maxiell he probably should have stayed home. Maxiell, who played only eleven minutes, was 0-4 from the field, a -14 on the court, and fouled out. And he was  turned into poster fodder. Poor Jason Maxiell.
  • Kemba Walker is awesome to watch. I must admit, I didn’t expect anything of Walker when he entered the league as an undersized shoot-first point guard. But Walker is a magician with the ball, and several times throughout the game, especially during a very entertaining stretch of the third quarter, Kemba did things that elicited yelps from my couch.
  • Now the Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson have returned from injury and the Bulls are (nearly) full strength, it will be interesting to see how Coach Thibodeau adjusts his rotations. If Monday’s minute distributions are a sign of more things to come, than Bulls fans have a right to be frustrated. As Jake went into great length about over the weekend, Thibodeau’s stubborn attitude towards changing his rotation will ultimately sink the Bulls in the playoffs. Kirk Hinrich logged 30 minutes, while the hot shooting Tony Snell played only 16 and attempted just one shot, which he missed. E’Twaun Moore, who played admirably over the last month as Bulls began dropping like flies, did not step foot onto the floor. Joakim Noah sat out Monday’s game to give his body some rest, but when he returns it will be very interesting to see how having four healthy big men impacts the number of minutes Mirotic sees every night.
  • Overall, this was a nice win for the Bulls after a disheartening loss to the Pistons on Saturday. Charlotte has been the best defensive team in the league since January 1st and beat the Bulls convincingly just ten days ago. It was great to see the Bulls rise to the challenge. Hopefully, as guys return to the court and build more confidence in themselves and each other, games like this will again be the norm.
  • I’m gonna go buy a Mirotic jersey.

2014-15 League Pass Legends: Charlotte Hornets

Spending the better part of their existence as a completely irrelevant bottom feeder, the Charlotte Hornets (bye-bye Bobcats!) have finally put together a young, respectable core. Looking to capitalize on their playoff berth from a year ago, just the second in franchise history, the Hornets made some key additions through both free agency and the draft.

lance

The biggest (and perhaps most surprising) addition for Charlotte this summer was Lance Stephenson, the 24-year-old wing who developed into one of the more intriguing players in the league the last four seasons in Indiana. Lance brings a much needed creative ability to the Hornets this season, looking to inject some spacing and ball handling into a team that was 24th in offensive efficiency last season.

Charlotte’s struggles on offense last season are not hard to pinpoint. The (then) Bobcats took the fourth lowest percentage of three pointers in the NBA last season, and were about league average in creating points in the paint, pretty much all accounted for by Al Jefferson. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the league’s best offenses typically excel from behind the arc and at the rim, and the Hornets brought in Lance to address those needs.

kemba

Last year Lance averaged nearly 4.5 drives per game, a total that would rank second on this years Hornets squad only to Kemba Walker. Lance also scored 8.1 points in the paint per game, nearly three more a night than the undersized point guard. While Stephenson is not quite a dead eye shooter in the NBA, his 35% three point shooting will add range to a group of wings that desperately needs it.

The most notable departure from last year’s Bobcats team is Josh McRoberts, a member of Charlotte’s four most used five man lineups last season. McRoberts added an element of shooting and creative passing at the power forward spot that will be hard to replicate. But Stephenson, who averaged 4.6 assists last year, should be able to handle the distribution responsibilities admirably. And Marvin Williams, another offseason addition, will provide the floor spacing in the front court that Charlotte will need to open lanes for Lance and Kemba.

vonleh draft

Charlotte, despite not owning their own first round pick, had two other picks to work with. With the ninth pick in the draft, the Hornets grabbed Indiana freshmen Noah Vonleh. Vonleh may have trouble adjusting to the NBA game, but projects to be a physical freak. Standing at 6’9″ with a 7’4″ wingspan, Vonleh famously had the biggest hands of the much hyped 2014 draft class.

(Hilarious side note: The pick used on Vonleh was acquired from the Detroit Pistons in the infamous Ben Gordon-Corey Maggette swap. Joe Dumars!)

joe dumars

 

Vonleh, along with fellow Hoosier Cody Zeller, give the Hornets one of the deepest (and youngest) front lines in the Eastern Conference.

Charlotte’s other first round pick was PJ Hairston. The former Legend (no really he was a Legend!), could be a valuable shooter on the wing. He averaged just under 40% from deep before getting dismissed from UNC and shot 36% from three while in the D-League.

I thought it was strange when the Hornets drafted Hairston, considering his troubled past at UNC. While a lot of those issues can be chalked up to BS NCAA rule violations, there is something to be said of a program like North Carolina dismissing a player rather than appeal to the NCAA. Hopefully the wisdom he gained riding the bus for the Legends will help him make the choices he needs to in order to become an impact NBA player.

Last season the Bobcats finished 6th in defensive efficiency, a quantum leap from 2013 when they finished in dead last in the NBA.  The jump in efficiency is surprising considering the key addition the previous offseason was plodding big man Al Jefferson. Big Al, a feared and respected machine in the post, does not carry a similar reputation to the other side of the ball.

Before coaching the Hornets, Clifford raised Eric Forman
Before coaching the Hornets, Clifford raised Eric Forman

So where did this defensive improvement come from? That would be coach Steve Clifford, the first time head coach who spent about a decade working beneath both of the Van Gundys. Clifford’s conservative approach to pick and roll defense plays to the strengths of Jefferson, allowing him to hang back and defend the paint rather than try and run out on quick guards on the perimeter.

Charlotte, which only allowed 101.2 points/100 possessions, looks to improve upon that impressive mark in year two under Clifford. In addition to the natural comfort level of spending two years in a defensive system, progressions from former second overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in year three should add an element of nastiness to this team. MKG has quietly been establishing himself as one of the most athletic wing defenders in basketball, able to crash the paint and scramble out to find shooters in the blink of an eye. Whether or not his shot develops into a plus skill, Kidd-Gilchrist will have a positive impact on the basketball court.

Charlotte snuck into the playoffs as the seventh seed last year and pretty much served as a warm-up for the Heat on their way to the finals. It was more or less a cute story that nobody outside of hardcore NBA fans picked up on.

I imagine this year will be significantly different. The East is as weak as ever, especially with the Pacers looking incredibly thin at guard and on the wing. The Hornets, with added talent, natural growth from their young core and increased familiarity with Coach Clifford, might end up defending home court in the first round of the playoffs. They clearly are not on the same level as the Bulls or Cavaliers, but they will definitely be in the mix with the Washington-Toronto-Miami crowd.

No longer the doormats of the NBA, the Charlotte Hornets deserve to be a staple of everybody’s League Pass.