Chicago defeated the reeling Washington Wizards 97-92 last night. It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty fun. It was a game that featured everything a modern NBA rivalry should -- flagrant fouls, tough talk on the court and in the media, late game drama -- yep, it was all there. Bulls-Wizards, by today's standards, is probably the best ongoing rivalry in the NBA. But if not, then at the very least, the dynamic between Nenê and Joakim Noah is the best player rivalry in the game today. Without question.
But beyond the theatrics, plenty else happened in Bulls-Wiz, and I'd like to share six observations with you.
Note: I'm not sure how I feel about 'The-Re-Watch' as the name for these things. So if any of you have a name suggestion, I'd love to hear it.
1) Point Noah
First and foremost, Joakim Noah played a great game last night. It was a vintage chest-pounding, leave-it-all-out-on-the-floor performance. His stat line looks pristine: 14 points (on five shots), 12 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals. And the best part of it all was that he held Nenê scoreless and clearly got under the burly Brazilian's skin. In fact, last night marked the first time in Nenê's career that he fouled out and went scoreless in the same game. Score this round to Jo.
However, having said all that, running the offense through Joakim Noah -- otherwise known as Point Noah or the Point Center role -- often creates more problems than it does open looks. Putting Noah in the high post can produce some of the most unorthodox looking highlights you'll ever see, which is why there tends to be such a fascination with it. But when it doesn't work -- which is often, as evidenced by the 97.3 points per 100 possessions the team is scoring in the five games since Derrick Rose has been out of the lineup -- Point Noah can produce situations like this:
The Bulls try and set up an action on the far wing with Mike Dunleavy, but after Washington successfully defends the screens -- the offense turns into a ‘now what?' moment. In the past, Noah's improvisational skills might've been able to salvage something out of this play. Perhaps one of those clever little running flip shots he's had in his bag of trick for years. But on this play, Noah's doesn't beat his man and a missed Pau Gasol three-pointer is the end result.
The thing is, though, is that Noah shouldn't even be put in this position in the first place. Like, what's the rationale on offense here? Washington defends a pretty simplistic screen action along the wing, and then Plan B is to just let Noah go freestyle? I don't fault Noah as much as I do the coaching, here.
So, okay, that's just one example of a failed play gone worst-case-scenario wrong. But then look at this screen-shot, here:
Eight (!!!) of the ten players on the floor here are below the free throw line. This is anti-spacing and a lot of the blame goes to Doug McDermott and Kirk Hinrich being too close together and/or wasting space. But also, Noah's man is actually guarding Mirotic, which shows Point Noah can be stopped without having to play air-tight defense on him -- as you'll see again, here:
Washington forces a turnover here by anticipating the baseline backdoor play that Chicago loves to run with Jo. If you're wondering what else Chicago can do for offense, I realize, the options in general are fairly limited. So...
2) Chicago's Big Man Trifecta
A big reason why I don't like Point Noah is because Pau Gasol is automatic in pick-and-pop. Last night, Gasol was 5-6 on shots 15-feet and out, and he's been great from midrange all season. When Gasol and Noah are in the game together, the primary offense should be centered on getting Gasol touches around the elbow. Which can happen if Noah is prowling along the baseline ready to rebound and not in the high post.
However, when Nikola Mirotic is paired with Noah in the game, run wild with Point Noah! Teams have been trying to go small on Mirotic lately, and he's proving why he's such a matchup nightmare. Teams don't want to risk going big on him because Chicago can simply place him on the perimeter, thus allowing Niko to do what he does best: shoot or drive.
So far, Mirotic has clearly been the biggest benefactor from the slew of injuries the Bulls have suffered. And wouldn't you know, the Bulls are 13-3 this season in games when he plays 25 or more minutes. I'm not saying it's easy to make happen or the right call because Pau's played so well on offense, but I'll say it again: Noah and Mirotic need to be on the floor together more often and they are the best big tandem the Bulls have.
3) Washington's Offensive Game Plan
For the life of me, I simply could not understand why Washington used John Wall in high pick-and-roll so infrequently last night. Like, they did it in spurts -- notably late in the first and third quarters -- and then they'd just all of a sudden scrap it and look for offense elsewhere, on down screens and such. Chicago wasn't doing anything Washington shouldn't have expected in their high screen coverage, either. The Bulls were switching and trailing like they normally do, and it wasn't like they were having great success defending it.
I thought Wall -- aside from a few too many bailout passes where he probably should have taken the shot instead -- played a really good game. But there was real opportunity for Washington to take advantage of Aaron Brooks more than they did, and I didn't understand the plan of attack.
For example, take a look at this, here:
Although this is Bradley Beal and not Wall, doesn't this look eerily similar to the Clipper game? Washington could have had this look all night long if they wanted, but instead this was one of the few.
4) Randy Wittman Leaving In Ramon Sessions
I'm not sure if there's some sort of minutes restriction (again?) on Bradley Beal or something to that effect -- although, he did play 35 minutes -- because Wittman left Sessions in the game for about a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter which allowed the Bulls to guard John Wall with Tony Snell. Also, more importantly, Tom Thibodeau was able to hide Aaron Brooks on Sessions. Hiding Brooks on Sessions was huge as he was the fourth option on the floor for Washington. Like I said, maybe Washington is trying to monitor Beal -- who has suffered from lower body injuries this season -- and that'd better explain why Wittman went with Sessions for too long.
5) Aaron Brooks And Clock / Game Management
Last night was Brooks' best game as a starter, so I'll give him that much. But man oh man, he damn near cost the Bulls the game by making a number of questionable decisions late. All with less than three minutes remaining and Chicago trying to nurse a lead, Brooks decided to take three shots -- making one -- with 14 or more seconds left on the shot clock. Oh, and he also committed two turnovers. Effectively, though, four turnovers. Brooks was giving Washington every chance to hang around and luckily it didn't cost the Bulls this time.
6) Tony Snell and Fighting Through Screens
Here's something Kevin pointed out last night in real time:
Tony Snell needs to get in the weight room. He SUCKS at navigating / getting through screens. Gets pasted all the time.— Kevin Ferrigan (@NBAcouchside) March 4, 2015
It almost cost the Bulls last night as Snell got tangled up on multiple possessions late in the game which resulted in wide open Bradley Beal three-pointers. I'm high on Snell as an individual defender, but he must improve as a team defender undoubtedly. We might have to revisit this area again.
Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Drop a comment below and we'll hash it out down there.