The Circus Trip is often a nightmare for the Bulls, and I still wish there was a way it could be eliminated. I mean, who the hell still goes to the circus, anyway?! If anything, just move it the heck away from the United Center. But that probably won't happen anytime soon.
The 2014 Circus Trip had some of the usual awfulness, with more injuries, a few ugly losses and some Derrick Rose drama. However, the Bulls managed to make it mostly a success by going 4-3 despite the injuries thanks to two victories on the East Coast. This was just the second time since the Michael Jordan era that Chicago managed a winning record on the trip.
Let's take a look at what happened on the trip.
Jimmy Butler The God
I wrote about the #JimmyButlerMaxContractPush before the trip, and his superb play continued throughout the time away on the road. Butler capped off the trip with another uber-efficient performance against the Nets, scoring 26 points on just 12 shots. He attempted 13 free throws in the win, marking the third straight game he attempted double-digit free throws. In those three games, he took 45 free throws and made 39 of them.
Butler averaged 22.7 points on the trip, and that includes a nine-point clunker in the debacle in Portland. Throw out the Blazers game and that average is 25.0 points. Ridiculous.
For the season, Butler is averaging 21.9 points and has an absurd free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of .632. That's better than every other guard in the NBA, including James Harden. Butler is also averaging 3.1 assists on the season, which would be a career high. And he's doing all this while playing elite defense and leading the league in minutes per game at 39.3:
Derrick Rose Drama
The whole thing with Rose getting pulled after 10 minutes against the Nuggets was just weird considering the explanations given afterward, but hopefully we're past that. Rose played and finished the two games out east, which is the first time all season he has been able to start and finish two straight games. Baby steps.
When Rose was on the court, his play was rather uneven. He had stretches of excellent play (start of the Jazz game, start of second half of Celtics game), but there was also plenty of bad. He's still taking too many threes despite not shooting a good percentage, and there are some issues with turnovers as well.
It's going to take Rose stringing games together for him to round into form individually, but even when he's not playing great himself, his mere presence is huge for Chicago. The Bulls have outscored opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions in his 228 minutes on the floor, per NBA.com, and the starting lineup has outscored opponents by 22.6 points per 100 possessions in 99 minutes. One caveat is that Rose missed the toughest games on this trip, but these numbers are still really impressive.
Pau Gasol putting in work
Gasol missed the first three games of the trip with a strained calf, but he was great when he returned for the last four games. He averaged 21.3 points and 12.0 rebounds while shooting 50.7 percent in the four games, and that includes a 6-of-19 effort in Boston. The Bulls big man nearly matched Butler with 25 points on 12 shots in Brooklyn.
One concern is the minutes load he has taken on, especially the fact that he played 73 minutes combined on a back-to-back immediately after returning from injury. (Injuries to others played a part in this.) That's asking for trouble, although he showed no ill effects in the final two games of the trip.
What's up with Joakim Noah?
Considering his slow recovery from offseason knee surgery and general penchant for slow starts, many figured Noah would struggle at the outset of the season. That's turning out to be bit of an understatement. His numbers are down all across the board, and while some of that has to do with less playing time and improved teammates, there's no doubt a shooting percentage of 43.3 percent is troubling. The defense also simply hasn't been up to his standards.
The real concern is whether Noah's knee is getting better. He missed a game during the trip because of effusion in his surgically repaired knee, which just sounds painful. He returned to have a major impact against the Celtics despite poor shooting numbers, but he was quiet in Brooklyn. The energy has been rather hit-or-miss this season, and I thought his performance against Portland was one of the worst of his in recent memory.
Nikola Mirotic is developing, Doug McDermott is not
The silver lining to all the injuries in the frontcourt is that Mirotic has gotten extended minutes. The rookie has taken advantage of those minutes, and he's made it nearly impossible for Tom Thibodeau to keep him out of the rotation once Taj Gibson returns. Mirotic averaged 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 49.1 percent overall and 41.7 percent from three on the trip.
Meanwhile, McDermott is giving Thibodeau no reason to play him. The supposed sharpshooter hasn't made a three in two weeks and has just eight points total during that span. It's certainly tough to find a rhythm while playing so little (10.0 minutes per game on trip), but at some point he has to knock down the open looks he's afforded. He's shooting just 9.1 percent on wide open threes, per SportVU. While I would still like to see Thibs have a longer leash on the rook, I get why he doesn't.
Taj Gibson on the mend
Gibson sprained his left ankle for the second time this season and third time going back to last postseason. He talked about being smart and not rushing back to play through it, and he missed the last four games of the trip. The power forward re-joined his teammates on Thursday after flying back to Chicago to get checked out by Dr. Brian Cole, but there's still no timetable for a return to the court, per ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell.
Swoon x 2
Video via @DawkinsMTA