[thanks to mormonfreeman for today's game preview -yfbb]
The Bulls roster is unbalanced. Much of the writing at this fine blog during the three-game skid has broken this down: our lack of production at key positions, our inability to put together a trade package that other teams would want, our illogical trust that Niko can succeed at SF. More troublingly, we're shorthanded: everyone's favorite Pau-ting Spaniard is out, Derrick Rose is questionable, and Jimmy is going to heroball through a worsening ankle injury.
Good news: in many ways, the 76ers aspire to be the Bulls. They, like us, have too many true centers and no fix in sight. (All of their best prospects play the 5! How?) They turn over the ball way too much. People speculate that the head coach can't call plays out of timeouts. Many of their players project to be poorer models of current frustrating Bulls. They try to play with pace.
Our front office isn't possibly going through a potential quiet coup d'etat, so there's that.
The Bulls unquestionably have more talent than the Sixers, so the pessimist in me notes the awesome opportunity for this to be a trap game. The Sixers are fresh - they haven't played since Sunday, and at this point they're just excited to hang in games. [We're playing four games in five days and are excited to keep things close for kicks.]
A confession: I watch the Philadelphia 76ers for fun. Since you probably don't, I'll break down their roster real quick so you know what to expect.
Ish Smith compares best to Derrick Rose: athletic, inconsistent, statistically a bit odd but necessary for the team to function. It's not just sample size this year: in Ish Smith starts, the Sixers are around a .500 team; without him, they fall apart. He can break down the defense and will probably embarrass Niko on switches a couple of times.
T.J. McConnell is younger Kirk Hinrich - generally smart, "gritty", can really pass, can shoot if necessary (but no one really wants to see that). If not for the resurgence of elder Captain Kirk, I would really be pining for some steady PG skills like this off the bench.
Isaiah Canaan is a poor man's Aaron Brooks - lower basketball IQ, worse handles, inferior shot selection. Might be cathartic to follow that matchup off the bench.
Kendall Marshall isn't healthy yet and is a very poor man's version of E'Twaun Moore right now.
Nik Stauskas is the inverse of Tony Snell - has handles and can beat you off the dribble once a week. He's lost his outside shooting entirely, can survive ball pressure, but defensively ends up in bad rotations and lacks the length or awareness to recover. [unrelated thought: every time Tony tries to make a ball handling move, have a drink ready. It makes things easier. Are there not dribbling coaches in the world?] ‘Sauce Castillo' is a great nickname, though.
Robert Covington is 2014 Doug McDermott, though the Sixers were really counting on him being GarPax's vision of McDermott on draft day and need him to be 2015 Doug McDermott. Right now, Lord Cov can't shoot and can't defend, and if were Fred I'd play Niko at the 3 against him and maybe eke out a positive plus-minus. This was supposed to be a clear rotation piece for a team who needs them, and so this year has been especially disheartening. [Also, like 2014 Doug McDermott, Covington is managing an injury poorly and is robbed of athleticism.]
Jerami Grant is very active defensively and blocks everything in sight. He rotates smartly. Does not have an outside shot but can make one every once in a while. Perhaps that makes him the inverse of Pau Gasol.
Richaun Holmes is Bobby Portis - rookie impacting early games and hyping up the fans. Small sample size, and blocked behind entrenched players that will likely leave the roster in a year or two. Watch this guy.
JaKarr Sampson and Hollis Thompson are Cameron Bairstow - filling roster spots right now and honest workers, but that's not really enough in the NBA.
Jahlil Okafor is going to be traded for a mid-lottery pick within two years, even if the Sixers don't know that yet. Right now, he's like Taj if Taj was worse at basketball in every conceivable way. His footwork is impressive, and he's young, but this is an atrocious fit for this roster, and the Bulls should appreciate every single moment he is in the game.
Nerlens Nel is Jakim Nah, which is to say that neither of them have any 'O' right now. These guys are beloved by their fanbases for good reasons, and thus have worse trade value than more cynical fans would like to admit. No one is coughing up a top-10 pick for Noel or Noah's expiring right now, and which physical gifts really defining these guys' defensive prowess, the market's not gonna get better.
Elton Brand and Carl Landry are both 6-9. So is Mike Dunleavy! Who's most likely to make it on the court today?
That's a lot of text, but a byproduct of watching the Sixers for fun is that you create narratives and pick your spots, because the whole win-loss thing isn't gonna help you that much. The Bulls need to win this game if for no other reason than to calm the media and comment sections, but that's never stopped the Bulls from dropping one before.
I hope that Jimmy plays 36 minutes or fewer, that the Bulls commit fewer than 12 turnovers, that E'Twaun and #freeBobbyPortis get some real burn, that we see some Taj/Niko, Taj/Portis, and Niko/Portis looks to better figure out what bigs we need to keep around, that Tony thinks it's summer league and drops 30 for no real reason, and that ball movement leads to some open 3s that the Bulls can can.
This is a real chance to get back on the right side of the seesaw and even things out, or to fall completely off and freak out afterwards.
We'll see what actually happens at 6.