[Thanks to Alex for today's game preview -yfbb]
Tonight, the Bulls travel to the FedEx Forum to face the similarly offensively-challenged Memphis Grizzlies on their home turf. The Grizz, currently seeded 12th in the East under their new Dave Joerger-John Hollinger coaching/front office regime, are 13-16, a record that, in the East, would have them percentage points ahead of the Detroit Pistons in the 7th playoff seed. The qualitative disparity in the league across the two conferences is just unreal.
Memphis has played okay in the absence of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, but "playing okay" in a totally stacked West won't get it done. However, now that Gasol may return sooner than expected from his MCL injury, there is a chance that this Memphis team, still very thin in terms of their perimeter shooting depth (the bad-backed Mike Miller being their primary off-season gain in that department; their only real elite three-point gunning holdover from last season, Quincy Pondexter, is done for the season with a stress fracture in his right foot, although before he went down he had only been managing 32% from three), could make a move to get right back into the playoff mix. I love their "Grit 'n' Grind" mentality and the fact that they are a true, old-school inside-out team that runs their offense primarily through two beasts in All Star power forward Zach Randolph and All Star center Gasol, and I would hate for Hollinger to determine that the only way forward is moving Z-Bo's expiring contract for more scoring wings and possibly a draft pick or cap space. Were that to be the case, I guess Koufos or Ed Davis would become Gasol's new starting partner down low, and while both have shown flashes, neither looks like the second coming of 2011 Z-Bo. Randolph and the team's all-defense, very-little-offense starting SG Tony Allen are so beloved in Memphis that it's a really bummer both players are on the most reasonable/movable contracts this side of Mike Conley (who I would definitely not move if I were Hollinger, by the way).
PG - Mike Conley - After taking "the leap" in last season's playoffs, Conley, 26, has posted very good numbers thus far in the 2013-14 season, with averages of 17.9 points (a career best), 6.5 dimes, and 2.4 boards, while shooting 44.8% from the field (and a career-best 49.3% on two-point shots) and 82.6% from the free-throw line, while shouldering more of the offensive burden than ever before as well (15.2 shot attempts versus a prior career high of 12.3, not an insignificant difference). And he still has no prayer of making the All-Star team this year.
SG - Tony Allen - Fan favorite Tony Allen is actually averaging double digits in scoring for the first time in his career, at age 32! 10.5 points per game, to go along with a career-best 2 steals and 2.4 assists, along with a very-good-for-his-size 4.2 rebounds. The fact that Allen has absolutely no jump shot has always limited his time on the floor, and that continues to be the case this season, as he is only logging 26.4 minutes a night (which is, amazingly, the most minutes he has ever averaged aside from last season). It's too bad, because, at 6'4" and 213 lbs., Allen is fun as fuck to watch at his position, a great, scrappy guard who is probably still one of the best wing defenders in the league.
SF - Tayshaun Prince - I still don't like last season's Rudy Gay trade that essentially flipped Gay for Prince and some money. Not because they moved Rudy Gay, which was clearly the right thing to do (look at how quickly the Raptors improved after they traded him THIS season), but because they didn't get enough back. 2012-13 Tayshaun Prince was probably a half-decade removed from his sick Reggie Miller-blocking prime, and his abilities have only atrophied since then. Yes, he may have been a better fit than Rudy Gay on the Grizzlies' offense but, well, who isn't? He is not an elite three-point shooter, and in today's NBA, it's integral to have at least one starter that knocks down treys at a high level. Especially since Tony Allen is a great wing defender, nabbing a second defense-first wing (who is no longer elite on that end of the floor, either, having lost a few steps at 33) like Prince should not have been the team's priority. Oh well. Now he's one of the worst starters at his position in the NBA.
PF - Zach Randolph - I have some personal bias here because Z-Bo is one of my favorite players in the NBA. That being said, I think he is still pretty much worth his contract, averaging 17 points and 10 boards right now. At 6'9" and 253, Randolph can get positioning down low against pretty much any other 4 in the NBA on both offense and defense. His biggest detriment is the fact that he really cannot play much full-court basketball at all. Although, in the playoffs, that hardly matters. He is going to obliterate Boozer/Gibson tonight. I really, really wish he was on the Bulls instead of 'Los.
C - Kosta Koufos - Koufos is a placeholder for Marc Gasol, and he and Ed Davis have been pretty much splitting time alongside Randolph as Gasol recovers from his knee issues. I haven't been particularly impressed with Koufos this season, although his per-36 numbers are pretty cool (a line of 12.2 points and 12.2 rebounds).
Some Grizzlies Reads for today -yfbb
Some Grizzlies Reads for today -yfbb
Key Bench Players
SG/SF - Mike Miller - Whenever the Ghost of Mike Miller gets hot, he's still a sight to behold, averaging a stellar 45.7% from three point range this season. Unfortunately, at an old 33, he will always be an injury risk, and if he is now the team's only elite three-point shooter, they suddenly become one back tweak away from having very little firepower from deep (aside from Miller, Jon Leuer is their only consistent three-point threat at an unsustainable 55.6% a game -- James Johnson is shooting 43.8%, but there's no way that lasts). You can't win in the West this way.
The Bulls' Starting 5: Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah.
Overall Performance Outlook: After yet another massacre at the hands of a Western Conference also-ran on Saturday (in this case, the Dallas Mavericks, who killed the Bulls to the tune of a 105-83 ass-whooping), these Bulls may be able to make some noise against a mediocre Memphis squad missing their best player. However, their two best wings are a bit hobbled -- Luol Deng is a "game-time decision," but Jimmy Butler is apparently opting to play through his the right turf toe injury that he re-aggravated on Sunday for no explicable reason. Because it's a home game for the Grizz (and because the Bulls medical staff is probably lying about just how injured everybody is), however, I'm giving Memphis a slight edge here.
Random Thought: I don't know what to think anymore. I am stunned by the front office's inactivity in the wake of what is clearly a lost season; I figured we'd have made some trade noise now other than apparently vowing not to offload our biggest trade asset not named Jimmy Butler. It's nice from a pro-tanking fan's perspective that we've been able to generate so little offense, but I think if we stand absolutely pat on the trade front, this Bulls team will be able to rally and pointlessly make the playoffs this season (even though basically 12 or 13 Western Conference teams can kill us on any given night), a situation which will ultimately be frustrating for the anti-tanking fans too because we'd just get annihilated by the Heat or Pacers.
Tip at 7:00 CST/8:00 EST on WCIU/NBA TV (for Bulls fans not in the Chicagoland area)/ESPN-AM 1000.