So I'll admit that I turned off last night's preseason opener about midway through the fourth quarter, as I had little use for a double-digit game featuring the likes of Kyle Weaver, Jerome Jordan, Michael Dunigan, Flip Murray and Ronald Dupree (!!!). Of course it would be during those final few minutes that the Bulls' new bench (they have to earn this so-called "Bench Mob 2.0" nickname from this blogger) almost choked away that double-digit lead, barely holding on for a nice but meaningless 92-88 win over the Grizzlies in front of a pretty packed house at the UC.
As Matt noted in his recap, there was some good, some bad and a whole heck of a lot of ugly in this one, which is to be expected from any preseason tilt. This is especially true when it pertains to the opener, and especially especially true when a team like the Bulls are acclimating so many new players to the system.
Bulls pushing the ball
I like to guard against any overreactions after just one measly exhibition, but there were a couple things that went down that at least seemed somewhat meaningful. What stood out the most was the way the Bulls looked to push the tempo, and they did it pretty much from the get-go. Whether it was off makes, misses, turnovers, whatever, the Bulls were looking to push the ball up the court. The catalyst of it all was surprisingly Kirk Hinrich, who showed a bit of a spring in his step that I certainly wasn't expecting. I've dogged the signing of Kurt all summer, but I have to admit that he showed some really nice things last night. While his jumper was broke as hell, he finished with seven assists and was a pest on the defensive end all night long. The whole video tribute and "he belongs here" crap was sort of nauseating, but I'll gladly eat my words if Hinrich can actually be more than just a barely competent point guard this season.
The Bulls penchant to push the ball and force the issue paid off, as they had 32 fast break points, including 12 in their big third quarter. Their aggressiveness also translated to a ton of free throw attempts, a whopping 39 to be exact. The parade to the free throw line in the first half (18-23) helped offset the dreadful 37.5 percent mark from the field, a number that did slowly get better as the game wore on.
These fast break/free throw numbers may be a bit shocking considering Derrick Rose is out of the lineup, but with him sidelined, it probably makes even more sense to make a concerted effort to push the tempo in order to create easy looks. The half-court offense, as we saw last night, is bound to have its share of struggles (it did even with Rose there), so why not look to speed up the pace and avoid those bogged down offensive sets?
The new-look bench
Next up, we have that aforementioned retooled bench. We here at Blog A Bull harped all summer on the dismantling of the old bench, and while I've warmed up a bit to the potential of the new guys, I'm still in "believe it when I see it" mode when it comes to actually labeling them as a strength.
Looking at the box score, Taj Gibson, Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler all played between 20-26 minutes. One has to imagine that Gibson and Belinelli (I love saying his name) will retain those type of minutes throughout the year, and that the other three will see somewhere between 10-15 per game (that could be a stretch). Vladimir Radmanovic played just five nondescript minutes, which tells me he'll barely be a rotation guy and may just be used situationally. And Marcus Teague was simply a disaster in his four minutes of work. That guy has D-League written all over him.
Overall, I liked the energy the bench brought, but the results just weren't there. A few of the guys were almost too hyper at times, which led to plenty of sloppiness and overall terrible basketball to watch. But again, it will take some time for these guys to get familiar with each other, so hopefully that chemistry can be built over the course of the rest of the preseason.
A few other random thoughts and some linkage:
- All the talk about Richard Hamilton looking good appears to be true, as he appeared quite spry running the floor en route to 13 points on 6-10 shooting. Rip was solid in transition and actually took the ball to the hole a few times, which was something he barely did last year. The key with him of course is actually staying in one piece.
- After Luol Deng bricked his first few jumpers, I began to prepare my "he should have had surgery speech." But Deng bounced back nicely, showing a lot of aggression offensively in getting to the line 11 times. He finished with 18 points on 4-8 shooting and took a step closer toward convincing me he's actually okay (we'll see how he does when the Thibs minutes plan comes into full effect).
- Don't recall any sky hooks from Mr. Noah. However, 10 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes is pretty stellar, and there were a few excellent moves thrown in there as well. We still saw some hesitation from Jo on that end, but overall, mostly positive night for the big man. And considering he had missed the past few days of practice due to the death of his grandmother, I'd say we should be very pleased.
- Carlos Boozer truly looks like he's in great shape. He also played like complete shit. Really nothing else to say.
- I sadly have to echo Matt's sentiments on Neil and Stacey. I generally like King (Funk I can do without), but last night was somewhat painful to listen to. The subtle shots at some of the ex-bench guys was quite annoying, and the hyperbole to describe the new guys (plus Kirk) was sort of ridiculous. Comparing Belinelli to Ginobili and saying Nazr played a big role in OKC last year was quite rich. But whatever, the guys are homers and I shouldn't expect much else. I'll still enjoy Stacey's enthusiasm.
- I really hope Fesenko gets signed in November or at some point during the year. That guy really sucks, but I got an absolute kick out of watching him "try" and play basketball. And I think NBA.com's John Schumann put it best, Fes looked like a YMCA player out there with his double-wristbands and shaggy hair.
- Bulls next play the Cavs on Friday at Assembly Hall in Champaign.