[Thanks to illinifey for today's game preview -yfbb]
It was just five days ago the Bulls were about to embark on their annual "circus trip" and things were on the upswing. Five straight wins, including four by double digits, had the Bulls beginning to look a little like the pre-torn ACL juggernaut they were in April 2012
Four consecutive losses and more importantly, one very important torn meniscus later, the Bulls world, both short and long term, has been turned upside down. A near 40-point loss to the Clippers and an overtime loss against the lowly Jazz when the Bulls made scoring 83 points look like brain surgery has the Bulls set for a precipitous decline. There is no irrational confidence guy like Nate Robinson available to create offense in the wake of Rose’s injury so the difficulty generating points will likely continue. The core of the team will not get any younger as the season goes along and the mileage on guys like Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler will be tested by Thibodeau’s reluctance to understand playing time and the fact the season is 82 games long.
Where the Bulls go from here is up in the air as the public perception of how the front office should reconstruct the team and the actual response of the front office (holding steady as we go) are clashing.
Why the 219 words to point out what most hard core Bulls fans already knew? Because I can’t believe the Pistons, the lowly Darko Milicic-drafting, Ben Gordon-overpaying, Pistons, are potentially set up better in the long-term and short-term than the Bulls are.
As the Eastern Conference is currently constructed, the Pistons should be able to make the playoffs. A solid starting 5 and 5 veterans off the bench with starting experience make this one of the top 5 most talented teams in the East, but it's the discipline on defense and shot selection on offense that will ultimately determine how far they go.
There were quite a few eyebrows raised this off-season when Josh Smith was signed and Brandon Jennings was acquired in exchange for a young and promising PG with less baggage in Brandon Knight. The Pistons were taking a risk by surrounding the best, young frontcourt in the league with a ballhog of a tweener in Smith and a shoot first PG In Jennings. And as expected Smith is to doing very "Josh Smith" things (blocking shots, getting steals, taking bad perimeter shots) and Brandon Jennings is doing very "Brandon Jennings" things (being aggressive running the offense posting a career high thus far with 8.7 APG, hoisting up bad shots). The volatility of these two players often outweighs the talent each player possesses. When they're on, they can be scary good. When they're off, the team will look scary bad. Harnessing that potential is a different story and one head coach Maurice Cheeks will have to figure out soon to have the Pistons really playing at their max.
But don’t confuse volatility as ineffectiveness In the weak Eastern Conference. The Pistons are stronger than teams of recent vintage, Smith and Jennings will probably get better as the season progresses and the young frontcourt of Drummond and Monroe will continue to give the opposition fits. Both are rebounding machines, compliment each other well (Drummond cleaning up on the weak side, working in the low post, Monroe skilled enough to work the high post and get to the basket from there in a similar way to Al Horford), and are growing as offensive players. That is of course with the exception of Drummond's free throw shooting (26%).
With Rose out and very few players on the Bulls, if any, that can create their own shot, the focus of the Bulls will be:
1) Limit second chance points for the Pistons which I'm confident they can do with Noah, Boozer and Gibson patrolling the interior.
2) Catch the Pistons being undisciplined on defense by effectively using screens to force Detroit to switch or fight through an actual offensive set. The Bulls are not going to be able to create off of one-on-one opportunities because of the Pistons superior athletic ability and they're going to have a difficult time grinding it out with the Pistons front line. Confusing the Pistons will be the only real option.
Their shot selection may be bad and their defense may be too reliant on forcing turnovers (30th in eFG% Def and 2nd in TOV %), but the Pistons will hit the boards, get their second chances and bring out enough legit basketball ability that on their good nights, even the best teams in the league will be tested. Let's hope this is one of those bad nights.
Early start: gametime at 6:30 on CSN Chicago