Tonight, the Chicago Bulls try to right the ship, following a lackluster 95-91 Wednesday vanquishing at the hands of likely first-round opponents the Milwaukee Bucks. I blame our point guard corps' defense, or lack thereof, in covering 6'6" Bucks starting floor general Michael Carter Williams. The chucker, shooting 39.5% from the field this season (that's near-Kirk Hinrich levels of offensive futility), somehow tore us up to the tune of 21 points and 10 dishes on the night. For the record, the Captain is shooting 37.1% from the field. FROM THE FIELD. And that's AFTER shooting a fantastic 52.2% from deep in March (across only 23 attempts, but still), although that did bring his 3-point shooting average to a pretty-good 34.5%(the league average this season is 35.0%). Honestly, and I'm surprised I'm saying this, it'd be nice to have him healthy to cover for Brooks. Get well soon Kirk! Brooks is just not a good defender. That's not entirely his fault, since he's tiny, BUT among the Bulls' Thibs-era pantheon of back-up PG's, I'd rank him after super-athlete Nate Robinson, CJ Watson, and Kirk Hinrich as a defender (DJ Augustin and John Lucas III were probably worse).
That being said, Brooks has thus far proven to be a better decision-maker than all those PG's save Augustin. Robinson was probably my personal favorite, at a least, a guy who gave great effort on both sides of the ball, and who always took on the opposing defense at full gallop, which is saying something, because 2012-2013 Nate Robinson had blistering quickness. He was also a great 3-point shooter during his year with us (actually, the only back-up PG during the Thibs era who hasn't been a 39%+ 3-point shooter on the Bulls was... Kirk Hinrich), a spectacular finisher (he made 60.1% of all shots taken within 3 feet of the basket, a great mark, vs. an average of 44% for CJ Watson across his two years and 53.1% for Brooks thus far this season), AND the most clutch of the PG's thus far.
Here's my big takeaway from Wednesday night's miserable game: are we sure E'Twaun Moore isn't the best point guard not named Derrick Rose on our roster? Now don't get me wrong, I think I kind of agree with Chris Terzic that it would've been nice to see NO point guards on the floor to close out the Milwaukee game, instead letting Jimmy Buckets go to work running the offense. He, Noah, and Niko have really solid handles relative to their positions. But among the guys we have available (I'm including Kirk in this tally, even though he's actually out for a bit with that hyper-extended knee), you can't genuinely convince me that Aaron Brooks should be our full-time go-to point till Rose gets right. He may be the best scorer, but the guy got bullied in the post on Wednesday, at one point (as Chris points out) allowing MCW to score a whopping 15 POINTS against Brooks in the 2nd quarter alone. Carter-Williams got to wherever he wanted in the paint, it was kind of embarrassing. And this is even with JoNo eventually helping off Ilyasova. Part of that's not his fault, since he's probably not even 6' tall (I know that's what he's listed as, but that's a lie) and Carter-Williams is 6'6".
But hey, size is a part of the game, and the reason why Brooks came so cheap for us last summer. E'Twaun Moore, on the other hand, is 6'4" and has looked like a markedly better defender when he's gotten any time. Yes, the sample size, outside of a big uptick in minutes in mid-March, is fairly slim. He's averaging 9.1 minutes a game on the season, but shooting a good 34.3% from deep and 45.2% from the field overall. He played double-digit minutes through seven games from the 5th (that OKC bout where he went 9-for-10 from the field, including that game-clinching corner 3 with 2 seconds left in regulation -- he also logged an insane +20 in +/-) through the 15th. In that span, Moore averaged just about 21 minutes per game (20.98, to be precise); 7.6 points a game, albeit on 53.7% shooting with just 5.9 shot attempts per game; 0.85 dimes per game (but really, Brooks and Joakim Noah took care of primary ball-handling duties then; and 2.1 boards per game. His impressive stats during that time frame, really, were his 1.4 steals per and his sweet shooting stroke (again, 53.7% overall, plus 40% on treys).
The numbers don't tell the whole story, of course. His penetration is a bit wanting. Check out this frustrating play, where after a good cut Moore takes too much time gathering the ball, enabling Antetokounmpo to stuff his layup attempt. Even if he hadn't converted the shot, if he had just run with the ball directly to the hoop, he could have elevated quicker and perhaps drawn a free throw. Actually, Moore's trouble getting to the line has been the biggest drawback with him in extended playing time. Well, that and failing to convert when he does get there. He was only able to get to the line twice over that 7-game run of double-digit minutes, and only shot 62.5% on 8 attempts, and logged a middling cumulative +6 in +/- over that span. I don't want to rule out the OKC game as being an entire fluke without seeing him get more playing time. It's not like he's a great defender or anything, BUT he's faster than Kirk and bigger/more in control than Brooks on D. With Kirk going down and Rose probably still a week-ish away (nice to hear that he's taking full contact in practice, though), we'll definitely be seeing way more Moore (had to). Let's see what he can do with the opportunity.
Let's hope that our Chicago Bulls (45-30) can correct their momentum as they head into the final two weeks of the regular season, returning to the United Center to host the Detroit Pistons (29-46). Detroit, by the way, is amazingly still in the hunt for for the last two spots in the playoffs now that Dwyane Wade suffered a knee bruise. That being said, the Pistons are 5 games behind both the 7-seed, Brooklyn, and the 8-seed, Miami, who have identical records at present. It's kind of insane that as many as three Eastern Conference playoff teams will have sub-.500 records. Damn it, Silver, do something! We all remember that confounding defeat Chicago suffered the last time they battled the pesky Motor City squad.
The Pistons went on a 54-19 tear to close that game out, a game the Bulls had led by as much as 19 points. We really should win tonight, but then again, we really should have won on Wednesday night. I don't know what to expect, but it would be nice to see the Bulls beat a team that basically only starts two starter-caliber players in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. I'm not trying to throw shade on Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, or the 106 year-old Caron Butler, but, I mean, come on. And Greg Monroe's out tonight! The Pistons are so inscrutably erratic that trying to forecast which Pistons team will show up on any given night is a tall task in its own right. Will it be the Pistons team that beat a very good Atlanta Hawks team by 13 points on Monday? Or the Pistons team that lost to a middling (to put it politely) Charlotte Hornets combo by 24 on Wednesday? ONLY TIME WILL TELL. But let's get into it.
PG - Reggie Jackson - Looks like Reggie is playing himself down from the $48 million contract the Thunder offered him before the start of this season. Now, he's hitting restricted free agency in an uncertain market. While Jackson has been putting up a sweet stat line of 16.8 points, 8.6 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game in his 20 games as a starter for Detroit, the Pistons have lost 13 of those 20 games, including 10 defeats in a row. His probably-deserved reputation as a locker room dissenter also hurts his case in free agency, where his inconsistent shooting (41.5% from the field) and the Pistons' losing down the stretch are costing him despite those good stats.
Jackson's chances of starting somewhere for max money is probably over, BUT he might still start in Detroit if the price is right (probably in the $10 million range now). If Brandon Jennings returns from his Achilles tear early next season, the Pistons may try to pull a Phoenix and start the 6'1" Jennings at the 1 and the 6'3" Jackson at the 2. Jennings is a better scorer, Jackson the superior defender. Neither looks like they're going to be an All-Star any time soon. Jackson injured his ankle during their 24-point beat down at the hands of the Hornets on Wednesday, but is suiting up tonight. It'd be nice if Aaron Brooks could exploit this a bit when Jackson guards him.
SG - Kentavious Caldwell Pope - The 6'5", 22 year-old second-year shooting guard out of U Georgia has shown flashes of the sharpshooting he was supposed to give the Pistons last year (people expected him to be good out of the gate as the 8th pick in the 2013 draft), but has been very erratic. And I should know, I have him on my fantasy basketball team right now. He's kind of a heart breaker in a fantasy context, at least in a points league (DON'T JUDGE ME). KCP is averaging an okay 12.8 points per game (more than doubling his 5.9 points per game last season, although he played about 12 fewer minutes), a not-okay 39.8% from the field, and putting up mediocre percentages of 33.4% from deep and 70.3% from the charity stripe. It's too soon to figure out exactly what his future in the league is going to look like, but I'm guardedly optimistic for him. Jimmy is going to murder him tonight, though.
SF - Caron Butler (no, really) - I mean... I can't believe he's not retired. And I can't believe he's now Detroit's starting 3-guard, after the Pistons sent Kyle Singler to the Thunder and Tayshaun Prince (I know, I know) couldn't cut it after Detroit got Prince back. Just.. wow. MDJ should slaughter him, too.
PF - Anthony Tolliver - Tolliver is filling in for another Detroit restricted free agent with an ambiguous future, Greg Monroe. Monroe and Stan Van couldn't come to terms on a contract extension before the start of the season, so instead he just signed his qualifying offer for this year. Monroe had been filling up the stat sheet ever since Van Gundy sagely dropped Josh Smith, here's hoping he comes back soon. Oh, so now you want to talk about Tolliver too? Okay fine. Since being traded to Detroit from Phoenix earlier this season, he's been averaging 7.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, and shooting a really-bad-for-a-big 42.4% from the field in 21.7 minutes per. Tolliver's also tiny for his position (6'8"), but doesn't have the awesomeness of a super-athlete like Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Smith in his prime, Dennis Rodman, etc. to compensate for the height deficiency. Should be schooled by Taj/Niko/Jo.
C - Andre Drummond - Drummond, the 6'10", 270-lb. double-double machine who was THE reason Stan Van Gundy decided to throw his hat in with Detroit, is at this point more famous for some of the ladies he's dated (and some of the ladies he hasn't) than for any of his on-court exploits. He has yet to take the offensive leap many expected him to make this season, but hey, he's still only 21, there's time left for him to reach the next level. He's averaging 13.6 points (up just a hair from his 13.5 points per last season), 13.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. He will be a monster. He just has to figure out how to form a fucking wall with Monroe in the paint on a more consistent basis. Anyway, against our Bulls he's still a legitimate force, the kind of player that our four key big men loathe: a mobile, athletic big, who makes multiple efforts on the glass and is great at creating contact with slower players. Just look at what he did to us last time. In his prior two games against us this season, the "Big Penguin" (not a bad nickname, really) is averaging 16 rebounds against our front line.
Key Bench Players:
Do you really want to talk about this? Do you know who's on Detroit's bench right now, getting actual, meaningful minutes? Okay, but be ready to (and I can't believe I'm saying this) empathize with Pistons fans. Tayshaun Prince is playing 25.1 minutes a night (not a typo), the hilariously overpaid Jodie Meeks is playing 24.5 minutes (he was hired for his shooting and is making... 39.5% of his shots overall), John Lucas III (!) is playing 12.9 minutes a night for some reason (he had a nice game against the Charlotte Hornets, but so what?), and the immortal Joel Anthony is actually a rotation player on this team (averaging 7.1 minutes a night, but still, that's about 7.1 minutes too many). I feel unclean even discussing this.
The Bulls' Starting 5: Aaron Brooks, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah.
Overall Performance Outlook: You know what? I'm just going to say that Chicago wins this game. They have to. I mean, if they can't beat a Pistons team that's starting Caron Butler and Anthony Tolliver (ANTHONY TOLLIVER!), then what's the point of living, you know? I just.. man, I can't get over that stupid Bucks game. We fucking HAD that.
Tip at 7:00 CST/8:00 EST on WGN-TV/ESPN AM-1000