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It’s finally here. A game more than four months in the making.
In a way, it both feels like forever ago and like it was just yesterday that the Chicago Bulls traded away Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks. It was earth-shattering news that drew mixed reviews from all corners of the fanbase. Then less than a week later, things got weirder. While it was a foregone conclusion that Joakim Noah would be leaving the Bulls, no one expected Noah to reach a decision as quickly as reported, nor did anyone expect him to go to a team that wasn’t a title contender. Instead, Noah followed Rose to New York, and now here we all are.
Coming into tonight, the Knicks haven’t had the best start to their season. According to Hollinger’s team stats, New York ranks in the bottom third of the league in every major statistical category except for pace and turnover ratio. Particularly bad are all of their rebounding rates (their defensive rate is worst in the NBA at only 71.2%) and their offensive efficiency (96.1 points per 100 possessions, 4th worst overall). The latter is particularly concerning for a team that knew going in that it was going to have trouble stopping other teams from scoring given their lack of defensive talent and depth.
A quick examination of their statistical leaders through four games shows that most of these problems can be traced back to Joakim Noah. Not to say that it’s Noah’s fault the Knicks are bad, but rather that this team simply cannot be expected to succeed while Noah leads them in both rebounding and assists despite playing only 22.5 minutes per game thus far. The only other player on the Knicks that averages more than five rebounds per game is Kristaps Porzingis. In contrast, five Bulls players (four of them starters) all pull down more rebounds per game thus far this season.
Passing-wise, the Knicks have an equally bad problem. The next leading assister on the Knicks after Noah is not Derrick Rose. It’s Brandon Jennings, whom averages a full assist more per game than Rose despite playing over an entire quarter less per game. That’s not going to cut it on a team that already has enough ball-stopping issues trying to fill Carmelo Anthony’s field goal quota. Part of this can be traced to the fact that Rose is running 13% less pick & roll plays than last year according to NBA.com, and he’s also currently 22nd among qualified point guards in assist ratio. Rose has to be the key to getting his new team back on track, and he’s got a great opportunity to do so tonight as the entire basketball world will have their eyes squarely fixed on his return to his hometown.
However, in all honesty, I wouldn’t be too terrified. A little over a week ago on my new podcast with BaB contributors Tyler Pleiss, Jacob Bikshorn, and Jake Weiner; I said I was afraid that Noah would come into this game pissed off and would emotionally drive his team towards a victory. However, after seeing how well the Bulls played at home last week, and after seeing how lackluster the Knicks are in almost all areas, I’m definitely not on upset alert anymore. Right now, the Bulls are the best rebounding team in the NBA and appear to be figuring out what they have to do to succeed consistently on offense. They are going to absolutely eviscerate the Knicks on the glass tonight, and I believe that will go a long way towards this game being a blowout.
I sincerely hope that Derrick Rose does not get booed when the Knicks’ lineup is announced (he already expressed concern about that happening), but I do expect Noah will get a bigger roar from the crowd. Further than that, prepare yourself for the inevitable weird feeling you’ll get seeing Rajon Rondo in a Bulls jersey guarding Derrick Rose on the other team. Once you’re over that, sit back and enjoy what should be a Bulls’ victory. Hope you got all your drinking in for the Cubs’ World Series Parade today, because it won’t be necessary tonight!
Tip is at 7:00 PM CT on ESPN. Doug McDermott is questionable with a concussion and Michael Carter-Williams is still out.