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.