[Thanks to Alex for today's game preview. Maybe possibly a lineup change tonight? -yfbb]
Tonight, your erratic Chicago Bulls travel to Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center as they try to right the ship against the 76ers, a bad team that sports their biggest weakness: two young, mobile big men. Well, fine, big men in general are kind of a massive weakness. It's quietly been a problem for the past two seasons. Much as the 4-3 Bulls' front court depth has been lauded as an old-school advantage, their lackluster defense is really, really starting to show now.
Bobby Portis, the Bulls' well-regarded first-round draft pick this summer out of Arkansas, had a very good Summer League. Then he had a very good pre-season. Now, he's logged time in exactly one game, that embarrassment in Charlotte versus the HornBobcats. In his NBA regular season debut, he put up 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 2 rebounds, in just about 10 minutes of game time. In the pre-season, playing just 21.4 minutes per contest, Portis averaged 11.14 points (on a mediocre 44.1% from the field, but still), 9.14 rebounds, 0.71 blocks, and a quite legit 21.63 PER. He shot 50% from deep and 72.2% from the charity stripe. As Tyler Pleiss's great pre-Charlotte plea for Portis explained, young Crazy Eyes averaged 15.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is absolutely insane. 5.2 of those boards per 36 minutes were offensive (netting a decent 13.38% percentage of all potential offensive boards) and 10 defensive (on a very good percentage of 30.6%).
Yes, I know we should take this with a grain of salt. But the kid can move, the kid can guard, the kid has a motor, the kid has a knack for following the ball off the glass and off the rim, and the kid has SHOOTING RANGE. At the very least, it'd be nice to see him taking some minutes from Pau and the erratic Taj. Jo has been coming on lately, to the point that he is quite possibly starting tonight. The current front court rotations have clearly struggled with bigs like Andre Drummond (who went off for a 20-20+ night against us, finishing with a line of 20 points, 20 boards, 2 steals and 2 blocks), and #1 rookie draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns (17 points, 13 boards, 4 blocks, 1 steal) in 2 of our 3 losing efforts. We haven't been much better in our W's -- Brook Lopez went off for 26 points (6 above his season average) and 7 rebounds (right in line with his 7.7 per season average) during our defeat of the Nets and Nikola Vucevic nabbed a double-double of 15 points (right in line with his 15.8 ppg season average) and 11 rebounds (3 above his season average) when we barely eked out that victory over Michael Chiklis's Orlando Magic. So... something needs to change in the make-up of our big men, and plugging in an Energizer Bunny off the bench who can shoot from all over the floor could be just what the doctor ordered, even in just an 8- or 10-minute burst. Damn it, Hoiberg said himself that Portis was making his rotational decisions tough! I mean, come on, HE DOESN'T PLAY LIKE A ROOKIE.
On the rest of our big-man rotation, which has already been blanketed in coverage here on Blog-A-Bull -- I'm happy seeing about 25 minutes each from Pau and Jo, and I'm fine with them starting together, because thus far they have been our two best big men. Both are centers, yes, and their minutes should definitely be staggered (I think we'd all like to see way more Jo/Niko), but they deserve to be there at the opening tip. I really, really think Bulls fans have forgotten just how fantastic JoNo was as the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, and even if he won't necessarily be that again, he's shown flashes this year of having some lift again! Thanks, P3!
To the wing and the 1-spot: Jimmy G. Buckets's offensive game has been good, and his D has been less-than-stellar. All the stats still look pretty, though: 20.1 points on an OK 43.8% shooting from the field and 42.9% shooting from 3-point range (top 30 in the league right now, but LOOK WHO CRACKED THE TOP 10 THOUGH); 5.3 rebounds; 2.1 steals; 2.6 assists, 78.7% free throw shooting. I expect his variability on D to correct itself over time, and so does he. Also, he's going to be starting against, uh, Nik Stauskas tonight, so there's that. And yes, I know Stauskas is averaging 14.6 ppg for Philly, but somebody on the wing has to score for them, you know. He still looks like he'd have trouble cracking a 10-man rotation on a decent team -- and currently sports a -3.6 box +/- and is shooting 40% from the field (and only 31% from three). Our starting small forward as of two games ago, Doug McDermott is clearly more of a 'tweener than a true 3, and he moves like molasses, but at least he can shoot. And Derrick Rose is... a mystery wrapped inside an enigma. But hey, at least he's starting against someone called T.J. O'Connell (who's averaging a lackluster 5.5 ppg in 36.8 minutes, albeit with 7.5 apg). Philly fans are pretty pumped on O'Connell, for what it's worth. I have zero confidence in the pu-pu bench PG platter of E'Twaun Moore(the best of our middling-to-bad back-up options for Rose), Aaron Brooks (ugh), and The Artist Formerly Known As Captain Kirk.
So tonight's opposition, the 0-5 Philadelphia 76ers, on paper look like the exact kind of team the Bulls need to pad their win total and get a little confidence back. But that's on paper. Granted, they may only possess three (fine, fine, maaaaybe four if you count the injured Robert Covington) actual NBA players, but unfortunately for the Bulls, all three occupy the front court. That would be Jerami Grant (nephew of this man, and son of Harvey) at small forward; the ascendant star of "House Party 6," Nerlens Noel, at power forward, and rookie beast Jahlil Okafor. Noel and Okafor are no joke. The former is averaging 12.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.7 steals this season; the latter 19.9 points, 5.5 boards, and 1.2 stuffs. They're going to be good, and, as they face an 0-6 hole and a sort of generous Chicago interior defense, they'll be pretty damn hungry for their first win.
Prognosis: Bulls win, but it's uncomfortably close, say within 8 points. And Okafor/Noel get their numbers.
Tip: 6 p.m. CST, broadcasting on Comcast Sports Net/NBA TV for non-locals, ESPN AM-1000 on the radio.