Well, that was a pretty miserable weekend for the Bulls. I fully expected a loss in Los Angeles, but I honestly did not expect a game that was never really competitive. However, those kinds of games do happen, and they have happened even with Derrick Rose around.
Unfortunately, the Bulls did not atone for their pathetic showing when they played the Blazers on Sunday, as they lost a game I truly thought they should have won going in. Yes, it was the second of a back-to-back, and yes the Bulls often stink in Portland, but Tom Thibodeau's teams usually rebound well after a loss, and the Blazers really aren't all that good. Instead, we saw another fourth quarter collapse and the Bulls give up over 100 points for an almost unheard of fourth straight game.
I was unable to watch most of the Blazers' loss, but I do have to comment on the oddity of a hot Richard Hamilton sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of a mostly worthless Marco Belinelli. Hamilton was apparently pretty awful on defense, but since when did Belinelli become a defensive maven? (hint: he's not). The Bulls need all the offense they can get in these tight fourth quarter games, so on the surface, there's little reason to not have Hamilton in the game (even though he's struggled in crunch time this year). However, Thibs apparently stated last week that he's got Rip on a minutes limit, so that could explain the "benching."
The Bulls did score 26 points in last night's fourth quarter, but much of that was Nate Robinson going crazy at the end when the game was out of hand. There was about a six-minute stretch in the quarter that saw the Bulls make one basket. This has obviously been an issue so far this season with Rose on the shelf, and just because I was curious, I decided to take a look at some of the data. Here's the Bulls' total shooting numbers for every fourth quarter and overtime this season:
Overall, the Bulls are shooting 83-of-204 in the fourth quarter and overtime this season, good for a 40.7 shooting percentage. Overall the Bulls are shooting 44.4 percent, so that's a somewhat significant dip. It's not a surprise that Robinson leads the team in shots in the fourth quarter, and honestly, his percentages are somewhat respectable. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are also posting really solid numbers here. Taj Gibson has been okay as well, despite his bad start. The rest? Mostly awful, and it sure is great to see a goose egg next to Kirk Hinrich's name.
Next, I wanted to see what types of shots the Bulls were getting late in games. The next two tables are all fourth quarter jump shots and then just fourth quarter jumpers over 15 feet:
As you can see, quite a few jumpers here, especially from Robinson. Deng has been pretty successful, especially on the long twos, and amusingly, so has Noah. It really is remarkable how much Jo has improved that jump shot, no matter how ugly it may look. Hamilton has been pretty brutal, but so has Belinelli outside of that one game where he hit a slew of late threes.
Finally, I wanted to look at the Bulls' "clutch" numbers. "Clutch" is defined as five minutes or less in the quarter and the margin within five points:
So total, the Bulls are 17-of-47 (36.2 percent) in these situations. One thing I really notice here is how low Deng's attempts are. He's getting plenty of shots up throughout most of the fourth quarter, but when it's late and close, he's not doing all that much. And all three of his attempts have been assisted, which means he's not really creating anything for himself.
Once again though, I have to give Noah credit for performing well in these situations. He's not really cut out for this sort of thing, but I don't mind him trying to be more of a "closer," because nobody else is really all that good at it.
Another huge issue, and one that has been lamented on plenty, is the current putrid play of the Bulls' bench. There have been some nice individual performances, but this group simply can't be counted on right now to play together and do good things. It was especially ugly against the Clippers on Saturday, when L.A.'s solid bench group took the Bulls' crew out behind the woodshed.
After yesterday, the lineup of Robinson/Belinelli/Deng/Gibson/Mohammed (aka the group that usually starts second quarters), is getting outscored by almost 24 points per 100 possessions according to Basketball-Reference.com. That's in over 38 minutes of action. The lineup of Robinson/Belinelli/Butler/Gibson/Mohammed is doing even worse, but that's in a MUCH smaller sample size.
And when looking at some of the on/off court numbers on NBA.com, things are just as ugly:
These numbers pretty much speak for themselves. We knew the Bulls' new bench would have some growing pains, but they've been really darn lousy so far. The loss of Omer Asik has been especially bad, because Nazr Mohammed is one of the worst players in the NBA right now. The guy can't be trusted to play more than a few minutes at a time, because it usually turns into a disaster. And without Asik, Gibson has seemed lost. It's pretty crazy that the Bulls have been BETTER defensively with Gibson on the bench. It's also interesting to note that the Bulls have been bad defensively with Butler on the court, even though he's considered a defensive specialist.
The wretched play of the Bulls' bench has not gone unnoticed by the beat guys, as both Nick Friedell and Sam Smith have written recently about the group's shortcomings. It was kind of funny to see Friedell lament the loss of the Bench Mob after some of the stuff he said this summer, but at least he realizes now how much the organization screwed the pooch on that front.
As for Smith, he notes that changes could be coming to the rotations, and even offers some suggestions for mixing things up:
Though perhaps the biggest issue, and the one where Thibodeau suggested some change is in order, is what to do about his first major substitution, which usually is to start the second quarter with four reserves and Deng. Thibodeau acknowledged how badly the Bulls have been falling behind at that point in the game, like Sunday after leading 30-23 in the first quarter but being tied before midway through the second.
All Thibodeau would say about that issue is, "We've got to figure it out."
Thibodeau could substitute earlier in the first, though he's wanted to get leads early. He may come off using Nazr Mohammed and Marco Belinelli, who have struggled with Belinelli zero for three in 19 minutes against Portland. Gibson did show some more life with 11 points in 22 minutes and five trips to the free throw line as he got away from shooting the longer jump shots he's been attempting this season. And Robinson did come on late with a surge of shots, which is his tendency to play in streaks. With that early second quarter group, which generally doesn't feature much defense, it hasn't been a good mixture.
Thibodeau figures to change that mix, though that produces sort of a Catch-22 as well, one he's been dealing with in trying to adjust to this roster. By tinkering with different rotations and players in changing situations, it's difficult for the players to grow comfortable with one another. Yet Thibodeau apparently feels he has to search to find who will play well with one another.
Whatever Thibs tries, I'm not going to completely write this bench off yet. They do need more time, although as Smith says, constantly having to change things may make it tough for some guys to find a rhythm. I still think Belinelli will start playing a little better, and Mohammed can't play THIS poorly the whole season, can he? If anything, maybe we should start seeing some more Butler and Marquis Teague. Who knows if that actually does anything. What I do know is that this new group has been bad and needs to start playing better so Deng and Noah don't die by the end of the season.