Alright gang, we've reflected on a pretty neat regular season, but it's over. However, its legacy lives on in the form of this first-round matchup, as the Bulls get to entertain themselves with the lowest seed in the East, the 37-win Indiana Pacers.
As with any 37-win team (especially in contrast to the 62-win juggernaut they'll be opposing), the Pacers have their weaknesses. And it's mainly on the offensive end, as while they've had a defense ranked around where the Bulls offense is (slightly above average), they're one of the worst offenses in the league. And stopping teams is kinda the Bulls deal.
Some truly bright and dedicated bloggers have already put together immense and insightful previews, so I will shamelessly rely on them instead of reinventing the wheel. Lets go to the first dream-level with Pacers blog Eight Points, Nine Seconds and Tim Donahue's analysis of the 4-factors of each team. It all starts with this handy chart:
(courtesy of 8pts, 9secs. Go there now so I don't feel so bad lifting his graphic)
As you can see, it's tough to see many chances for the Pacers in any area. Before looking I'd think perhaps something could be made for the Bulls (and Rose) occasionally having high-turnover games, but that aspect of the Pacers defense turns out to be woeful.
Now what's interesting is that the midseason coaching change from Jim O'Brien to interim Frank Vogel did produce a statistical shift in how the Pacers play that may not be properly reflected in the full-season stats. As they note (and again, go there):
By focusing on the offensive backboard and by playing a more traditional lineup, the Pacers have become a top 10 rebounding team overall. They now grab over 51% of the rebounds available. This makes intuitive sense, given the personnel changes made (most notably, a lot more Hansbrough, no Granger at PF and no Posey at all). However, the Bulls have been the best rebounding team in the second half of the season, pulling down 54% of the available rebounds and rating 1st in DRB% and 2nd in ORB%. This match of strength on strength could be one of the most important areas for Indy in the series.
Indeed, while we've seen Joakim Noah's rebounding numbers tail off this season, as a team the Bulls are as dominant as ever on the glass (no doubt Noah is seeing some cannibalization of his boards). The Pacers have changed a bit for the better under Vogel, but likely not nearly enough.
Now on to dream-level 2 with friend of the program (and everyone's program, seemingly), Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook. His comprehensive offensive and defensive breakdowns of how the Bulls and Pacers make their hay on each end of the court (as well as the opposite of 'making hay'...'burning hair'?) go into not just the what, but the how. With videos!
It's worth a full read on your end (again, I'm stressing this), with a couple things really standing out to me. Once again, it doesn't look like the Bulls could be hurt much by their own turnovers: while Pruiti mentions that the Bulls do have a slight weakness (as in, being merely average instead of awesome) in transition defense, the Pacers turn out to be awful relative to the league in converting transition opportunities.
And what should be most scary to Pacers fans, but potentially orgasmic to Bulls fans and casual YouTubers alike, is that the Pacers are apparently very poor at defending isolation. And the Bulls have the highest productivity from such sets in the league. Makes sense, they have Derrick Rose, and he gets the ball alone a lot. Obtaining Darren Collison preseason was a huge deal for the Pacers in their seemingly never-ending quest for a PG, and he had a nice season (15.6 PER) for them, but he's just overmatched physically against Rose, and we will likely be seeing a lot that mismatch on its own island.
Or maybe not, if the games are never that close in the first place to where the Bulls are relying that much on isolation (though there's always the end-of-quarters...). I'm perhaps most excited for this series because the Pacers may figure their best shot is to ramp up the pace as it's more 'their game' (and as I typed this, Indy Cornrows suggested doing just that), and embrace their new found Vogel-bility of crashing the offensive glass and getting to the line (i.e., the Hansbrough plan). But the Bulls should not only hold their own in the paint, they can likely feel free to get into a high-paced affair without the fear of turnovers hurting them too much. Could be a fun series aesthetically before we get to the grind-it-out affairs in the next couple rounds. So expect a lot of Rose dunking, and maybe even a little of McRoberts dunking off a backdoor cut while Boozer's head turned (and mouth open). It should be not only a demolition, but a fun one too.
Some other links to get you further lathered up for this series:
- Ball Don't Lie's Kelly Dwyer knows that the Bulls so rarely have off nights, it's hard to see the Pacers stealing one.
- More from Eight Points, Nine Seconds: I suppose this could be another dream-level?
- And yet more, though this is a bit of a stretch: why the Bulls possibly could not win. Granted it's a tough case to make in the first place, but still disappointing that it relies on 'inexperience' mumbo-jumbo. It just doesn't seem like a factor to me, especially in this round. And if the Bulls fall short in a later round it will be because they aren't good enough, not because they didn't have the chance to be good enough before. For what it's worth, here's the Bulls roster when it comes to playoff experience. And as dismissive as I've been, I do think it was helpful that the Bulls didn't entertain going to the lottery instead of those lower seeds the past two seasons. We can at least say it's not their first time in the high-pressure environment, which seems more significant than saying they've never won there.
- The always-spammy (yet the helpful kind) Coach Nick gives his video breakdown of the series.
- Indy Cornrows has some interesting stuff from Indie Rock Enthusiast and part-time beat reporter KC Johnson about the Bulls expecting a physical series from the Pacers. Maybe not something you'd think initially, but Hibbert, Hansbrough, Foster and company are kinda goon-y. Maybe they'll dust off former object of BaB ire James Posey for old times sake. In case you forgot about that bastard. (I did.)
- Because they're the best, a link to The Basketball Jones' picks.
- And natually, check SBNation.com's story-stream on the series. Tom Ziller does a 4-Factors breakdown of his own, and runs a projection that is, um, pretty favorable.