This is the first of something I will try to do for each game. Live events seem especially emphasized and prone to over-reaction thanks to social media, and once I developed the habit of re-watching the games, I felt like I was really getting a much better perspective of what actually goes on.
This particular re-watch will be extra long as it is for both the Detroit and Phoenix games from the weekend. In total, I've got 13 things to share with you.
Friday Night: Bulls lose to 100-91
1) Transition Defense, Anyone?
This was probably the most glaring thing people noticed as the game transpired. It was very un-Bulls-like in that communication was basically non-existent infloor. Whenever the Pistons looked to push the ball after a Bulls miss, Chicago really struggled with an elementary tenet of basketball: first stop the ball, then protect the basket, and then go find your assigned man. Ball, basket, man.
Look at this example, here:
John Lucas III actually doesn't make this shot, but in a game where the Bulls gave up 22 points in transition -- pretty much the deciding factor in the game -- we can look at this play independent from the result. The Bulls were bad all night in transition, and this screen shot just exemplifies as much.
2) MISSED LAYUPS
This was another thing that really pissed people off while the game was going on, and rightfully so. By my count, the Bulls blew nine layups -- Joakim Noah accounting for four. But keep in mind, when I say layup -- I mean like easy, makeable, bunnies. The types of layups that a professional basketball player should unequivocally be expected to make. To be fair, though, a weird thing like missing a bunch of easy layups probably doesn't happen if this weren't the first game back from the All-Star break for the Bulls. Having all that time off lends itself to wonky stuff happening, so I wouldn't consider this a huge issue going forward or anything like that.
However, there's a reason I singled-out Noah for his misses: it's been a problem all season. He's shooting a career-worst 51.4 percent at the rim and has dunked only 16 times all year. In shooting 43.7 percent from the field overall, the spacing (as you'll see from this shot of the Suns game) is often killed when he's out there.
Now, Noah's been playing injured all season after the team -- unsurprisingly -- downplayed the significance of the arthroscopic procedure Noah underwent in his left knee during the offseason. Fortunately, the Bulls don't need Noah to be much on the offensive end in order to win, but they do need him healthy if they expect to go anywhere in the postseason. So this, specifically, is absolutely something to keep an eye on moving forward.
3) Jimmy Butler Is For Real
I think we've reached the point where he is who he is. After a January where we saw some regression, he's gone back to being exceptional in February, and being far and away the Bulls' best player. Butler scored 30 points on 18 shots against Detroit, and of course, the story was about how poorly Derrick Rose played. It's like no one even noticed Butler's dominance, well, except for the Pistons. Oh, they noticed all right.
Take a look at this pass, which leads to a Nikola Mirotic wide-open three:
Couple of things at play here: first, this pass comes after a stretch where it became apparent Detroit could not guard Butler without sending help on post-ups. As you see in the clip, the Pistons adjust and do send help, but Butler makes them pay by making an impressive skip pass to Mirotic in the corner.
Second, this play just doesn't happen last year. In the past, a play like this wouldn't even of been imaginable. Butler's game has come so far that he's able to recognize added attention and still make the best possible basketball play. They say the best players are the ones who can adjust back to the league once the league figures them out, and folks -- it looks like Jimmy Butler's done just that.
For a bit more Butler praise, jumping ahead to Saturday night: here's a play that wouldn't find its way on a highlight reel, but this is just an incredible save of an easy two points for the opponent.
4) Stan Van Gundy Can Coach, People
Early on in this game, Stan Van Gundy's game plan became pretty clear. If Van Gundy knows what a Kobe Assist is, then I'm sure that's exactly what he told his guards to do: play to get Kobe Assists. If you're wondering what a Kobe Assist is, it's when a player takes a shot -- misses -- but the ball is ultimately recovered as an offensive rebound and scored. Kobe Bryant has mastered this skill, hence: Kobe Assist. So while the initial shot is missed, the end result is a positive because the shot drew attention from multiple defenders, freeing a teammate to score on the put-back.
Take a look at Detroit's shot chart for the game and you'll notice all the misses around the rim and in the painted area:
While Detroit didn't capitalize as much as they could have -- grabbing only 11 offensive rebounds in the game -- it was apparent Stan Van had no issue with any shot around the rim because he probably knew Pau Gasol doesn't box out. Like, ever.
Knowing this, the thinking was to allow Detroit's young monster, Andre Drummond, to go feast on the glass because Gasol was going to rely on his height to rebound rather than put a body on Drummond. And it worked, because Drummond grabbed nine of Detroit's 11 offensive boards and finished with 18 points and 20 rebounds in total.
5) Nifty Post Passing / Action
I liked this action the Bulls ran in the middle of the first quarter. Noah and Gasol are both remarkably talented passers for their size and positions, and this play illustrates how they can utilize one another instead of having to do the same tried and true: dump ball to Pau in the post, clear that side of the floor, and have everybody else stand around.
Gasol's posting .88 points per possessions on post-ups this season according to NBA.com/stats, which places him in the 58th percentile. Only slightly above average. The Bulls love to go to Gasol in the post, and I'm not saying that's necessarily the worst thing in the world or a bad option, but I am saying plays like this are a creative way to get Gasol touches around the rim. So I'd like to see action like this more often.
6) Bad Lobs
The Bulls unsuccessfully attempted five alley-oop passes in this game. Once or twice, and you let it slide. It happens. But five times is a bit excessive. Three resulted in turnovers and the other two were lucky to be deflected by Detroit before going out of bounds.
7) Funk Gonna Funk
This one, without a doubt, is my favorite thing to happen. Let me show you this picture, here:
Seems normal enough, right? Pau Gasol takes a jumper inside the lane. The result of the play matters none, however. What matters is that Neil Funk -- the Bulls' play-by-play man -- called this shot, and I kid you not, "A 15-footer."
The free throw line is exactly 15 feet from the basket. As you'll notice, Pau Gasol is in front of the free throw line. I mean, the charity stripe is a clear indicator of where a player is on the floor in relation to distance. So his depth perception is a solid foot off here, and this just further proves Neil Funk cannot see. I'd let this slide if Funk didn't reguarly make blunders like this.
Saturday Night: Bulls beat the 112-107
1) Tony Snell, not Mike Dunleavy, Playing In Fourth Quarters
I'm pretty sure I'm the only one at Blog a Bull who thought -- even before his outburst prior to the All-Star break -- that Tony Snell can be a real, competent NBA player. There is no better time for me to admit this, and I am pumped that Thibodeau closed with him in both games.
I realize, though, that it was odd Thibs doesn't play Dunleavy late in games. I couldn't fault him for this against Detroit because Dunleavy did not play well in that game. Against Phoenix, however, Dunleavy provided 15 points -- including 3-5 from three-point range -- in 28 strong minutes of action, yet recorded zero minutes in the fourth. Not playing Dunleavy late is something Thibodeau has done all season, and I can't quite figure out why that is. The best reasoning I can come up with is because Thibodeau trusts a defensive-oriented player like Kirk Hinrich late in the game over Dunleavy.
I can't have it both ways as Snell and Dunleavy cannot play at the same time. But what I'd like to see is Thibs playing more of either Snell or Dunleavy late in games, and less of Hinrich. That, of course, would be ideal.
2) Tom Thibodeau And The Minutes...Getting Better?
Pau Gasol, in particular, is playing a ton of minutes. He's getting around 35 minutes per game on the year. But in a pleasant turn of events, Gasol played 31 minutes against Detroit and 32 against Phoenix. What was especially interesting in the Detroit game was that Gasol returned later than usual -- at the 3:40 mark in the second quarter -- after playing his usual entire first quarter stint. Then, against Phoenix, Gasol didn't enter until 2:12 in the fourth quarter. Which is a big difference from where he usually checks in, around the six-minute mark. Although, it should be mentioned Taj Gibson's play and no whistle to break the action delayed Gasol's return against Phoenix.
But, more to the point, this is especially encouraging because the Phoenix game was a back-to-back, and nobody on the Bulls played more than 36 minutes. Eat your heart out, Thibs minutes police.
3) Lack of Late Game Defensive Subs
Tom Thibodeau has routinely messed this up with Pau Gasol this season. He did it again against Phoenix, leaving Gasol in the game on a defensive possession where Taj Gibson alongside Joakim Noah almost always is the better play. Granted, Gibson looked gassed after his stellar fourth quarter performance -- maybe the best ten minutes of basketball he's played all season -- which would justify leaving Gasol out there because a fresh Gasol is better than a tired Gibson. But this is something you should ultimately be aware of, because it happens a lot.
4) An Unlikely But Fun Lineup
Aaron Brooks, Snell, Mirotic, Gibson, and Noah have played all of 22 minutes together this season. They played 10:32 together against Phoenix and outscored the Suns 26-21 while on the floor, including a critical fourth quarter stint where the group was +11 which effectively created enough of a cushion for the Bulls to hang and eventually win. I'm definitely here for this lineup against second units.
5) A Really Good Phoenix Quick Hitter
I don't watch much Suns basketball, but I'm assuming they run this quick hitter quite a bit:
This play, particularly against the Bulls, is a nightmare to cover. The Bulls ‘ICE' ball-screens on the wing, which means the man guarding the ball is supposed to position himself above any on-coming screener, forcing the ball-handler baseline. As you can see in the picture above, Noah is in good ‘ICE' position, ready to stop Eric Bledsoe if he were to drive.
However, on this play, Brooks has a hard time navigating the two high screens set by Phoenix's big men, and the play results in a Bledsoe made three. This play works especially well against the Bulls because one of Phoenix's screeners -- Markieff Morris -- is a threat from three-point range, which draws the attention of both Noah and Gasol here. Basically, this kind of play opens up what the Bulls are afraid of giving up most: a clean look from deep.
6) Thibodeau Pulling Rose Early With Foul Trouble
Saving this one for last because I changed my stance after watching again. What happened was Rose picked up two early fouls in the first quarter, and Thibodeau pulled him instead of letting a player like Rose -- who is not very foul prone -- stay on the floor like he normally would sans foul trouble. At first, I thought Thibs should of left Rose in because, like I said, Rose doesn't foul a lot.
But then, once Rose only ended up playing 25 minutes for the game in total, which is awesome considering the game was a back-to-back, I liked the decision to yank him. I'll give Thibs credit for being conservative with Rose here, even if it wasn't his actual intention and the fouls forced his hand.
WHEW. Like I said, these won't always be as long. if you agree, disagree, or would like to add something -- drop a comment in the comment section below and we'll hash it out down there.