Well, I'm worried, folks. I'm worried about this Bulls team. I think I've reached the breaking point. I don't see them flipping the proverbial switch. Don't see a killer instinct. Don't see a team that's hungry. All of this worries me greatly. And it sucks because I'll be the first to admit that I was one of the people who bought into this team's hype entering the season. I saw them as a borderline 60-win team. I saw them coming out of the East. But after this weekend? I'm finding it difficult to remain positive, I even tried doing so after the Milwaukee game last week.
Ugh. This sucks. But hey, and maybe I'm being naive here, but what if the playoffs bring out a different Bulls team? Well, this Pau Gasol quote courtesy of ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell shoots that idea down pretty quickly:
"There's not a magic button here. What you see in the regular season is what you're going to get in the playoffs."
So, even though the mood is kind of somber, I'd still like to share six observations with you from this weekend.
1) Passing Log
I've done this once before, back when the Bulls played Charlotte a few weeks ago. In short, I chart every pass the Bulls make once they're within their half court offensive sets, and I try to interpret some deeper meaning out of their possessions. The numbers I compile aren't going to be 100 percent accurate -- for example, NBA.com's player tracking data tracked 304 total passes by the Bulls against Detroit, whereas I only counted 198 because I'm not classifying passes like inbounds or backcourt passes -- so think of my findings as a point of reference.
Anywho, the most important thing for you to know is that the Bulls only had six possessions containing five or more passes for the entire game. And here's how those six possessions break down: two open corner threes (both misses), one wide open wing three (miss), two made field goals and one possession ending in free throws. What this tells us is that on possessions which featured good ball movement, good outcomes were not far behind.
Chicago's shooting splits (38 percent from the field, 23 percent from three) and point total (88) indicate a bad offensive night, but then once we dug a little deeper and examined their ball movement -- or lack thereof -- it's implied they weren't making Detroit's defense rotate or work very hard, and that's when we start to scratch at the root of the problem. The Bulls were determined to post both Gasol and Jimmy Butler at will, which, wasn't the worst game plan in the world. But what's aggravating is the Bulls will show glimpses of great ball movement, and then just revert back to post ups for no real reason. It's like they need to hit a quota on post ups or something.
Although I understand what I ask is much easier said than done: I just want the Bulls to speed up defenses more often. They're fully capable of it! They have an abundance of willing passers and enough shooters to make it work.
2) Taj Gibson Ain't The Same
A number of BaB users noted this in the post game thread, but Gibson was getting blocked left and right Friday night. Perhaps one of the worst games Taj has ever played as a Bull? But speaking beyond Friday, Taj hasn't looked as explosive this season, he seemingly borrowed Omer Asik's hands as well, and now he has paper ankles. Are Taj's best days behind him? I don't know. But what I do know is that -- according to NBA.com/stats -- the Bulls are almost a point worse on defense with Gibson in the game and improve slightly while he's on the bench. And his net rating is the worst among the Bulls' frontcourt rotation.
Nobody has sacrificed more than Taj Gibson, and I respect the hell out of him for that -- but what does his future hold? And more importantly, do the Bulls want to be around to see it?
3) Joakim Noah Passing Out Of Shots
To this point, we all know Jo can't really score much at all. And that's mostly fine, except when he's passing his way out of layups:
The man contesting this would-be layup -- Anthony Tolliver, as highlighted by the arrows -- has blocked a total of 15 shots this season. Not even a trailing Andre Drummond -- who when watching this play transpire in real time doesn't appear he'll be able to erase Noah's shot -- should force Noah to throw a skip pass to E'Twaun Moore in the corner. Just go up with the shot, Jo. This should be a layup every time.
4) Jimmy Butler Ball-Watching
A little nitpicky? Sure. Yeah. Maybe. But I don't think this is as much an isolated event as it is occasional mishap:
Butler's man backdoors him for an easy two here because he's fixated on the ball, and maybe it's just me, but I feel this has happened a little too often to Jimmy. He's still an amazing defender, don't get me wrong. Just something that I've noticed throughout the course of the year.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a curious case. Now, full disclosure: I haven't read much on him or studied his game a whole hell of a lot. But I still think it's fair to wonder what / who is he, considering he was a top-ten pick in the 2013 draft. Because once you see this play, he grabs your attention pretty quickly:
But then you look at his Basketball Reference page and nothing really jumps out. So that's kind of a bummer. At least it'll be interesting to see his progression under Stan Van Gundy in Detroit because he seems like an ideal fit -- space-and-pace guy that can shoot -- to play alongside a lane-clogging big like Andre Drummond.
Don't really have a whole lot to give you on this game, to be honest. Weirdly enough, I felt better about the way the Bulls played this game than I did against Detroit. Like, if Cleveland is going to rely on J.R. Smith doing what he did on Sunday in the playoffs, good luck and so be it. And if the Bulls wouldn't have made SO MANY uncharacteristically crippling turnovers, that definitely changes things. Oh, and for the record, the Bulls haven't played Cleveland at full strength once all season. So there's that, too.
Only thing that was on my mind before, during and after this game: if Chicago gets Cleveland in the playoffs and Derrick Rose is playing (here's the latest on Rose's status), then Cleveland should be very concerned. Rose always seems to get the best of Kyrie Irving on both ends of the floor. To be sure, Irving's a great player, but he wants no part of Derrick Rose. In no other series can Rose make as big of an impact as he can against Cleveland. Like, if Aaron Brooks is guarding Irving then good job, good effort, good season, Bulls. If Rose is playing, the entire complexion of the series changes. However, the one area the Bulls do need to fix though...
6) Pau and Jo CANNOT Be Playing Together Against Cleveland
Exhibit A, B, and C. This exact screen-shot happened upwards of ten times:
Noah is forced to over-help Pau guarding a LeBron James-Timofey Mozgov pick-and-roll which leaves Kevin freaking Love wide open in the corner. This was problematic for the Bulls all game, which is to say, Cleveland's offense isn't easy to defend by any means. However, wouldn't putting Noah on Mozgov and sticking Nikola Mirotic on Love mend a dilemma like this? I mean, just look at Cleveland's shot chart for the game:
Pretty much all three-pointers and shots at the rim. Unacceptable.