Tag Archives: Niko Mirotic

BULLet Points: Joakim Noah turns back the clock in Bulls victory

You know the story by now: the Bulls play terribly for most of the game, yet somehow find themselves in a close one, and this time they were able to hold on for a 98-94 victory. This against a Pelicans team that has not won on the second night of a back-to-back this season and are now 1-11 away from New Orleans. Once again, what should have been a relatively easy victory was a grind-it-out game. Attending this game in person at the UC left me feeling detached for three quarters, as the Bulls maintained their habit of giving a low energy performance (see: Exhibit A), looking clueless on offense, settling for bad shots, hanging out around the three point line with bad spacing (see: Exhibit B), and clearly having no understanding of, nor buy-in for, the Hoiberg offense.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

But the fourth quarter looked and felt different (read: good):

  • The Bulls started with a lineup of Brooks, Hinrich, Mirotic, Noah, McDermott, who actually looked like they were having fun, and gave the Bulls their first lead of the game at 73-70 since the first quarter with a combination of good ball movement, spacing, and energy.
  • Rose was out from mid-way through the third until 4:28 to go in the game, which was probably a good thing. On defense, he’s able to lock down his defender in one-on-one situations, but lacks a team defense concept which leaves the defense vulnerable, he goes through screens lazily and nonchalantly, and offensively he is extremely predictable. Even his step-back over the outstretched monster hands of Anthony Davis to ice the game was totally unsurprising. But it did give me chills.
  • In perhaps his best performance of the season, both statistically and visually, Joakim Noah turned back the clock. Although he *only* posted ten points and nine rebounds in just under 30 minutes, he had four blocks, was 4/4 from the line, and had an incredible unmatched energy that undoubtedly kept Chicago in the game and sparked a comeback. Compared to last year, he looks so much healthier, is much better at finishing around the rim, and can actually jump more than two inches off the ground. It felt so good seeing him do this:

  • Hoiberg finished the game with Rose, Brooks, Butler, Noah, Gasol, and although I don’t like Noah and Gasol on the floor at the same time, which was way overused last year, Noah is more mobile than before and was able to make this work, despite Anthony Davis having his way down low. This was the right lineup to end the game, and I’ll be looking for Hoiberg to utilize Noah more down the stretch and start to play him more than the typical 20 minutes per game.
  • The bench play was outstanding with 52 points, and Brooks put up 15 of his 17 in the fourth quarter. Doug McDermott added 12 points on 5/10 shooting, and Nikola Mirotic finished with 10 points on 3/6.
  • Overall, the Bulls did a better job attacking, going 24/29 from the free throw line, whereas the Pelicans were just 8/11. Of the few things Derrick Rose did well in this game, this was one of them – he was in attack mode all night with a combination of layups and floaters, keeping the defense on their heels, even though he did not convert on many of them, which may have kept Davis at bay just enough to hit the step-back.
  • Quotables
    • Hoiberg on the fourth quarter: “The second unit’s movement, pace, that’s how we want to play…. This is what happens when we play the right way.”
    • Hoiberg on Noah after the dunk over Davis: “I thought he was going to run into the crowd and start chest bumping people.”
    • Noah, when asked about the Davis dunk; is being aggressive something he would like to do more of: “Yes, dunking is something I want to do as much as possible.”
    • Rose on the mask: “It might be over with.”
  • Coming up: the Bulls host the hapless 76ers on Monday. Philadelphia will likely be hunting its second victory of the entire season.

BULLet Points: Butler’s 32 leads Bulls to victory in Phoenix

  • The Bulls got off to a fantastic start in this one,  at one point going up nearly 20 in the first half. Eric Bledsoe and the Suns made things interesting, but the Bulls led virtually the entire game en route to a 103-97 victory.
  • Jimmy Butler had a season-high 32 points and really took over late. He played the entire fourth quarter and a Thibs-ian 43 minutes. He finished with six rebounds, two assists and a steal on 11/23 shooting. He’s now averaging 20.4 points on the season with extremely similar shooting splits to last season’s breakout campaign.
  • With Derrick Rose out due to an ankle injury, Fred Hoiberg went with Kirk Hinrich as a starter. Captain Kirk (the #gritgod) came up big, scoring 14 points on absurd 6/7 shooting with six assists in 24 minutes. In classic Kirk fashion, though, this was his only missed shot:

  • Aaron Brooks had a solid 12 points and five dimes in 20 minutes off the bench, but he pulled his hamstring pretty badly and eventually had to leave the game. I don’t love that the Bulls brought Brooks back after he clearly suffered a fairly serious muscle pull; he had to leave the game again for good and is now out for tomorrow’s matchup with Golden State. The Bulls deserve credit for safely handling Rose’s ankle injury in game, but this was a mistake.
  • Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson both had good nights and once again closed the game together. Gasol scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 28 minutes while Gibson had six points and seven boards in 27 minutes. If Gibson is going to continue seeing crunchtime minutes over Niko Mirotic, you have to wonder if we’ll see another shake-up to the starting lineup soon. Seemingly everyone outside the Bulls organization is clamoring for Niko and Joakim Noah to play together, which could be easily managed by moving Gibson into the starting group.
  • Speaking of Mirotic, he continues to badly struggle on the offensive end. He went 4/12 with 10 points in 21 minutes, though he did knock down 2/5 from long range. His presence is still providing the Bulls with acres of floor space–most noticeable in his +6.9 on floor net rating. Opponents are struggling to figure out his game, falling for pump fakes and committing too many fouls. Soon, though, teams will figure his shtick out if the shots aren’t falling consistently. Mirotic’s value is derived from his ability to stretch the floor from a frontcourt position; I’m starting to worry that his highly unconventional shot mechanics may never yield a consistent shooter.
  • Doug McDermott had a pretty solid game off the bench, adding eight points and a +5 in 25 minutes. He also provided the funniest highlight of the game:

  • While Tony Snell has struggled to make any impact on the offensive end this season, the Bulls have played far better with him on the court. He led the team with a +9 despite missing all three of his shots. Now in his third season, Snell has gotten better at using his length to disrupt opponents defensively. The Butler-Snell combination could yield Chicago its strongest defensive wing pairing since Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer were at their peaks.
  • Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe combined for 44 points and 11 assists. They’re an entertaining backcourt pairing, and the Suns look like a solid threat for the bottom of the West playoff bracket. PJ Tucker annoyingly had his best game of the season, scoring 20 points with seven boards. A lot of fun bench guys got run, including Mirza Teletovic, Alex Len, Devin Booker, and Archie Goodwin.
  • Coming up: the Bulls continue the circus road trip on Friday night as big underdogs in Golden State against the defending champions, who are 12-0. If you recall, the Bulls handed the Warriors one of their two home losses last season. Quick note: Golden State is insanely, mind-bogglingly good on both ends of the floor. Steph Curry is one of the most unique players in NBA history and a joy to watch. Do yourself a favor and watch this next game, even if the Warriors win big. They could win 73 games.

BULLet Points: Bulls survive late game scare against Pacers

In what was their last game at the United Center before the customary November “circus” road trip across the country, the Bulls avoided letting tonight’s game slip away in the final minutes and improved to 7-3 with a 96-95 victory. Let’s start with the negative before digging into some positive notes.

  • The alternate jerseys. Apparently these were supposed to be a symbol of Chicago pride, but the connection wasn’t clear. Instead, what we had were oddly colored gray t-shirts that just looked weird. To me, the only alternate jerseys the Bulls need are the black ones. Those are about as good as they come.
  • Nikola Mirotic’s shooting. Excluding last Monday’s game, he’s not had a game in which he’s shot above 30% from the three point line since November 1st against the Magic. That stretch includes three games in which he missed all of his three point attempts, going 0/10 in those games. He has been hardly better from the field otherwise, with last Monday’s game again being the exception since late October. Really, since the first three games of the season, he’s had just the one game in which he’s shot particularly well. I do have to give credit to Mirotic in one way, however, he led the team’s +/- with a +6 tonight.
  • Doug McDermott on defense. It’s bad. Not only is he slow, but he very often looks lost and out of place. Much of the time, he doesn’t look like he knows where he should be, and by the time he’s figured it out, it’s too late. On one play in the second quarter, he allowed an easy basket from the post because he was late on help defense, and when he got there, he was crossed over with ease and went to the ground. His shooting is generally pretty good, but as has been documented here already, he is usually more harm than good when he’s on the floor. His defense will have to improve, or otherwise I would expect that his minutes will start to dwindle.
  • On a more positive note, Derrick Rose shot awfully well for someone who will apparently be dealing with double vision for a large chunk of the season. He was 9/18 from the field and 2/2 from three point range tonight. He led the team in scoring tonight with 23. Unfortunately, he sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter and did not return.
  • As a whole, the Bulls offense did a nice job of driving to the basket early on and did nicely at keeping Indiana out of the paint during much of the first half. The Pacers’ lack of success there was the main contributing factor to their halftime deficit.
  • Even though Pau Gasol only mustered five points, he was an absolute workhorse on the boards, especially on defense. Though the Bulls were outrebounded 50-48, Gasol and Taj Gibson both had double-digit rebounds.
  • Gibson finished with nine points, 11 boards, five assists (!), and four rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench. He could start seeing more of Mirotic’s minutes.
  • Chicago survived a late game scare. The Pacers are not a team to take for granted, no matter what kind of lead you have, and we saw that tonight. Paul George is fully back from injury and looks fantastic. I made the mistake of thinking this one was in the bag with about half of the fourth quarter left, and instead spent the final minutes nervously hoping we wouldn’t fall victim to a last second shot from the Pacers. Thankfully, that did not happen and the Bulls left with a 96-95 victory.
  • Coming up: the Bulls head west for three games, the first of which is Wednesday in Phoenix.

BULLet Points: Bulls get a little revenge against Hornets

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” – Klingon Proverb

The Bulls didn’t exactly get the “you stomped us, we’ll stomp you” flavor of revenge they were hoping for, but they did get the win, 102-97. They entered tonight with a 5-3 record, besting the Cavs and the Thunder, but losing to lesser teams in the Pistons, Timberwolves, and Hornets. They were out rebounded 52-33 in their last contest against Charlotte, and they had another crack at them tonight:

  • The Bulls were active on the glass this time, determined not to get beat on the boards again, winning that battle 57-45. Joakim was a huge contributor to this, posting 18 rebounds and six assists in the most active game he’s had all year. He’s the first player with 16 plus boards and six plus assists off the bench since Dennis Rodman for the Spurs in December 1994; it was fitting that he had the final rebound of the game on Charlotte’s last shot. His energy was great and the knee doesn’t seem to be bothering him. His offensive activity both with and without the ball was enough to make me a believer that he’s going to cause defenses some problems this year, which is a great sign going forward.
  • Pau was a big factor too, adding 13 rebounds to complement his 19 points in a very productive game, posting his third double-double in the last four games (and the one miss was a 16 point, nine rebound effort against Philadelphia); however, it should be noted he was -8 for the game, and wasn’t as productive with Niko on the floor, who was -6.
  • Rose had another decent game, again playing more of a facilitating role with 10 points and eight assists (to three turnovers) in 35 minutes. When the floor was spaced with shooters, Rose was able to penetrate and make decisions between finishing, finding a shooter, or hitting the diving big man on the roll. Unfortunately, he still thinks he can make threes for some reason, missing two more tonight. He’s now 1/18 on the season. Here’s his shot chart, just to rub salt in the wound:

Shotchart_1447473640201

  • While we’re on the subject of three-point shooting, the Bulls averaged 25 of them coming into this game, having a streak of 11 straight games with at least seven made threes. That ended tonight, shooting just 4/16 from deep, while the Hornets were 15/33, which is really what kept the game close.
  • Doug McDermott continues to shoot well, 3/6 on field goals and 1/2 from downtown. He’s at 57.1% overall from deep for the season and he moves well without the ball. Here’s what a really great shot chart is supposed to look like (*cough* Derrick take notes *cough* notice how it’s green and not red *cough*):

Shotchart_1447474781181

  • Early on, the Bulls ran most of their offensive sets through Pau Gasol after a series of dribble hand-offs rather than setting the drag screens we’re more accustomed to seeing with Hoiball. This remained to be prominent in their offense throughout the game as they struggled with reversing the ball and not doing a good job of kicking it out on their drives. The Hornets got their hands on too many passes in the second quarter, but the Bulls found more success as the game went on by pushing the ball in transition and being more aggressive on their drives.
  • Jimmy got a little too comfortable settling for isolation fade aways early on in the game, but hit his stride in the third quarter and through the rest of the game, ending with 27 points, five rebounds, and four assists with 11/14 from the line, hitting what was the clinching jump shot in the final seconds of the game. If it weren’t for Jimmy’s short take over, Charlotte might have done more damage, outscoring the bulls 18-0 from three point range in the third quarter.

  • The second unit showed up to play tonight, all posting positive plus minuses (except Aaron Brooks, who was even); E’Twaun Moore was a big boost off the bench, going 5/6 with 11 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes. Taj also played well, with 12 points on 6/10 from the field.
  • Kirk returned from a sore toe on a 10-minute restriction and surprisingly wasn’t terrible; let’s just keep his minutes down. But the most activity around Kirk was in the two minutes he decided to play without his goggles – the Twittersphere went a little nuts:

Kirk 1Kirk 2Kirk 3

  • As for the Hornets: Al Jefferson was a surprising non factor in this game, scoring just six points on 3/9 shooting with only five rebounds. He normally causes the Bulls more issues but wasn’t able to gain any kind of consistency in the post. Nicolas Batum went crazy with 28 points on 10/17, including 5/6 from three (though one was a bank shot that he very clearly did not call bank on). He also had eight rebounds in just under 35 minutes.
  • Jeremy Lin played pretty terrible tonight (-15, four points on 2/7), but he shockingly has a top 10 PER in the league for qualified point guards (Rose isn’t even in the top 50) at 21.09. And by the way, Steph Curry is at a ridiculous 10-game PER of 37.12 with the Westbrook the next closest guy at 29.77. Remember when I talked about WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne’s absurd PER of 32.7 this past year, and Wilt’s all-time single season NBA record of 31.82? Obviously Steph will regress (right?!), but you can see why 37.12 is just flat out nasty. I don’t care if it’s only through 10 games.
  • Up Next: The Bulls host Indiana on Monday; Charlotte hosts the Trail Blazers on Sunday
  • On a more somber note, we try to focus on basketball on a day when the attacks in Paris are heavy on our hearts and our minds. With some of Joakim Noah’s family in Paris, we are even more keenly aware that these attacks strike closer to home than we may think.

BULLet Points: Bulls take care of business in Philly

  • The most exciting part of Monday’s Bulls-76ers matchup was the mystery surrounding who would start in Chicago’s frontcourt. Joakim Noah was announced alongside Pau Gasol, but an apparent tweak to his surgically-repaired left knee had Niko Mirotic on the floor at tip-off. The Bulls managed against a winless 76ers team, winning 111-88.
  • The first half was full of runs by both teams. After a 12-11 start by Philadelphia, Tony Snell checked in and the Bulls went on a huge run. It was fairly predictable, given the on/off court splits of Snell and Doug McDermott thus far:

  • The Sixers fought back to start the second quarter, though, and it took a late Chicago run to notch a 52-43 halftime lead. At one point in the half, Derrick Rose scored on three straight possessions, craftily converting around the basket. He finished with 12 points, seven assists, and five rebounds in 28 minutes, a very solid performance.
  • The Bulls maintained a healthy lead throughout the third quarter and Philly never threatened again. Niko Mirotic caught fire in the second half and tallied 20 points and ten rebounds overall. It was an encouraging night after three straight duds from the young power forward. Most importantly, Mirotic found his groove once again from distance, knocking down three of seven. It remains to be seen if Fred Hoiberg inserts Joakim Noah into the starting lineup when he’s available again.
  • Jimmy Butler had a quiet scoring night with just seven points, and none after halftime. He still contributed across the board, though, adding six rebounds, five assists and a team high +29 in only 26 minutes.
  • Doug McDermott continues to shoot lights out. He knocked down seven of 15 shots for 18 points in 28 minutes in his third straight start. While McBuckets has actually been worthy of his nickname this season, he is still completely lost on the defensive end. Even today, the Bulls only outscored Philadelphia by five points in his minutes; the other four starters were between +14 and +29, with Tony Snell at +18 off the bench.
  • Pau Gasol had a very nice game, posting 16 points, nine rebounds and six blocks. He had his way with rookie Jahlil Okafor for most of the night on both ends. Still, there were plenty of possessions where Gasol was a statue under the basket. His defense has nearly completely eroded outside of one-on-one matchups; the Bulls need to figure out what to do with the future Hall of Famer.
  • Bobby Portis saw his first (scant) rotation minutes of the season with Noah out. He failed to make much of an impact and was yanked amidst a fervent 76ers run in the second quarter.
  • The 76ers are easily the least talented team in the league, but they play admirably hard under third-year coach Brett Brown. The ball is constantly moving on offense, which is pretty impressive given the dearth of NBA-level guards on the roster. Defensively, I thought they did a good job with their positioning to slow down the Bulls. With only nine players available–Nerlens Noel sat out with a wrist injury–they just ran out of gas.
  • Jahlil Okafor had an impressive stat-line with 21 points and 15 rebounds in 31 minutes, but I thought it was fairly empty production. He needed 25 attempts to get there and doesn’t quite have a grasp of good shot selection yet. It’s understandable given Philly’s roster, but Okafor was often overmatched by the Bulls’ underwhelming defense. Still, he also showed some amazingly mature touch and post moves around the basket. I’m confident he’ll be a good shooter eventually too.
  • Coming up: the Bulls get to take most of the week off as they don’t play again until Friday, when they’ll take on Charlotte at the UC. They’ll hope to avenge last week’s embarrassing blowout loss.