[whenever the Bulls play in Brooklyn, we usually get these special posts from Zach. -yfbb]
Until you've been to the Barclays Center to watch literally anyone play the Brooklyn Nets, depressing NBA action must be graded on a curve. From the outset of the Bulls 115-100 victory on Wednesday evening, it felt like that pickup game you agree to play in because god knows you need the exercise and there's no one else in the gym to run with. At the end of the day you have a sweat and make a few shots but it's hard to revel in the pleasure of victory when your opponents show up to the game wearing pleated Dockers and drinking a flask full of birthday cake-flavored vodka.
I'm probably being too hard on the Nets, a team that will spend the entire 2015-2016 season trying their damndest not to convey the number one pick in the 2016 draft to the Boston Celtics in recompense for the atrocious Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade. Still, any team starting a Wayne Ellington/Shane Larkin backcourt deserves at the very least a figurative whooping, and possibly a literal one in front of "17,000" wholly apathetic fans.
On their way to taking care of a roll-over opponent in their first back-to-back of the season, the Bulls seemed demonstrably different than the team I left behind at my first and only game at the United Center during game 6 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals last May. The truth of it is that I was excited to see new things on the court after the Thibodeau regime, which fair or not, appeared ever-ensconced in injury and hardheaded skullduggery.
- Derrick Rose, aka Drose (all one word in this household), moved the ball well and for the most part drove aggressively when given the chance. His 15 points belie the real truth of what is, at least for now, a secondary role that occasionally transmogrifies into slashes to the hoop. That is to say he seems much more reluctant to hoist shitty off-the-dribble three pointers early in the shot clock, a most-welcome development in this new age of aquarius. However given the blurred vision, mask and the fact that the entire team feels like a work in progress, it's hard to say whether this is a new Derrick or merely the present circumstances. Either way, his willingness to seek out Jimmy in the flow of the offense should set Joe Cowley's pants afire and that's enough to make everyone happy in this early stage of the season.
- Jimmy was a giant bag of 16 penny nails, going 9-11 from the floor and making Joe Johnson look depressingly ancient. He took a number of long twos that happened to fall tonight but if one's great complaint is that a player took less than ideal long shots that went in between stints of lockdown defense then you might want to get tested for being a spoiled bastard of a basketball fan. These are first world NBA problems of the highest order.
- Niko. This is the thing I guess I'm here to discuss. First of all, Mirotic is a wonderful talent. A blend of length and size and shooting ability that doesn't come around that often in the NBA. The Bulls are extremely lucky to have him. But I guess I'll be the first one to go out on the ledge and say that Niko still makes some puzzlingly bad decisions on the basketball court, primarily on the defensive end. If you're going by the numbers (he was a team-best +30 on the night and his offensive/defensive ratings are through the roof) it would be easy to say I'm a moron and haven't got a clue what I'm talking about. But taking in an entire game you see little things that aren't quantified. Lazy switches. Forgetting a player's obvious tendencies (Bargnani likes to shoot because it's literally all he can do!) Sequences where he lets go of the rope defensively by trying to draw offensive foul calls and removing himself from the play. As long as his shot is falling this will remain an entitled gripe and I'll probably look stupid, but Niko needs to find a way to stay engaged every time down the court. Right now hee's giving away a half dozen points a game trying to draw a yellow card.
- I sat about 15 rows from the Bulls bench and delighted in watching Noah and Bobby Portis pass comments under their breath while giggling during timeouts. Noah is objectively the coolest older brother in NBA history. I am desperate to know what nickname he gives Portis before this season is through. Portabobby is my personal favorite but if I know Jo he'll go for something weird and keep at it until it sticks. *Snelly Cat nods vigorously*
- Taj is definitely still working his way into shape. He did have enough juice for one nice finish at the rim but was just as emphatically rejected for his second such opportunity. It's just going to be a while before he's entirely right if Wednesday night was any indication. He remains an ironman and a tone setter for the Bulls and I'd likely employ the mail-a-poop service if GarPax dealt him away for anything less than an impact backcourt player.
- Pau, Niko and Doug McDermott should never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever see the floor together. Ever. Let it be decreed from this day forth: Whereupon the Bulls, otherwise dominating the landscape of the eve of Wednesday October 29th in the year of our lord 2016, allowed one Andrea Bargnani to score 17 points in myriad fashion and thus angered the lord as such to never allow this unholy triumvirate to "defend" the realm evermore. I remember back in grade school when somebody told me that if you ate Pop Rocks and drank Coke at the same time that your head would explode. Well take that and add an M-80 dipped in gasoline and you may get an inkling of what might be possible should those three be tasked with getting stops together this year. McDermott in particular has a maddening habit of making boneheaded help defense plays and allowing easy continuation fouls for opponents. I do appreciate that he pantomimes the same disdain for the call to the referees that I feel in my heart for him in those moments, but he simply must find a way to play passable team defense if he is to become a dependable contributor for the Bulls this season. Kyle Korver, may his trade exception rest in peace, figured out a long time ago that if he could just at least stay scheme-effective, his individual athletic deficiencies were completely acceptable. I hope that day comes soon for McD. You can tell how bad he wants it but it isn't translating to success up to this point.
- Thank god for beer. I'm not saying go to NBA games to get drunk by any means, but just the slight dulling of the senses to quiet the onslaught of T-SHIRT GIVEAWAY OPENING LINEUPS BY JADAKISS CRAZY CHEERLEADERS ON STILTS ALL SPONSORED BY S24 SECURITY is enough to make the ludicrous price tag of NBA booze worth it. In fact, that's somewhat genius co-marketing now that I think about it. Hmm......
- I have no idea how the Bulls allowed the Nets to score 36 points in the second quarter, but it nearly requires a Game of Thrones naked SHAME walk to atone for what was done. Nets rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson showed some pluck, and Brook Lopez can fill it up when he gets going, but it was really just a stunningly careless stretch of basketball for the Bulls. It's game two of a long season and no team crushes it for four quarters straight on any night, but if you're looking for icky trends to pay attention to, the fact that the Bulls can let D-League flotsam put up more points than they did in the 1st and 3rd periods combined does not bode well moving forward. Again, long road ahead, but the Bulls have carried over a habit of thinking they can outscore opponents from last year's team. And while that may be true many nights in this new era of Hoiball, there are going to be times where it burns the Bulls' ass in extremely painful ways. At some point you have to think that Joakim Noah will be a part of the crunchtime 5, as long as he doesn't throw sugar in the offensive gas tank.
- Much to YFBB and many others' disappointment, Kirk Hinrich made his glorious season debut late in the third quarter. He was in the game five measly minutes. He made one nice pass to McD for a three and somehow still exited a -7. You can cut his minutes all you want but life finds a way.
- On the way out of our section after the final buzzer, I was lucky enough to spot (it wasn't hard) Bill Wennington talking to a couple of guys. I liked Wennington when he played for the late 90's championship teams. Nice baseline jumper, good bench big. I like him as a radio guy for the Bulls at present. But the truth is I don't follow the guy at all and have no earthly idea why I walked up to him and decided to say "Hey Bill, big fan" and extend my arm for a handshake. Never, in my entire existence have I thought to myself, "I am a big fan of Bill Wennington". But goddamn if I didn't tell him I was. Why do in-person meetings make me do stupid things like that? Anyways, he was kind enough to shake my hand with a paw big enough to make me question my manhood. Well deserved, if you ask me.