Last night had to be one of the worst games of the season for the Chicago Bulls.
I wouldn’t go as far as to call it one of the worst losses, because the team obviously goes as far as Jimmy Butler takes them and was also missing one of its most critical bench pieces and its first round draft pick due to the flu. But my goodness, it was a hard game to watch as a Bulls fan on a variety of fronts. Here’s why that was the case:
The Good: They Had No Dunks
Not really (see Sec. 26 of the BaB Meme Glossary). Not only did Joakim Noah score the very first points of the game on a dunk, but the Bulls got outplayed in almost every conceivable category in this contest, even the ones that they normally dominate in.
Perimeter shooting? It continued to stink. The team shot a total of 3-18 (16.7%) from beyond-the-arc, which is worse than what Michael Carter-Williams shoots by himself from that distance. What about from the rest of the field? Yet again, the Bulls had a game in which they shot under 40% as a team while their counterparts managed to hit nine more shots than they did on only four more attempts. From the line? The Bulls shot ten more freethrows, but the Knicks still managed to shoot a better percentage.
The Bulls were also out-assisted, out-blocked, committed more turnovers, and surrendered eight more points off of said turnovers than what the Knicks conceded. But perhaps worst of all was that the Bulls lost the battle of the boards on both ends of the court. Noah pulled down fifteen rebounds (nine of them offensive) while Kyle O’Quinn added eleven off the bench and Carmelo Anthony contributed nine of his own. Conversely, no Bull other than Taj Gibson managed to secure more than seven rebounds for the game, and as yfBB noted in the recap, the Knicks had an offensive rebounding rate of over 40% at one point during the second half. If the Bulls have trouble out-performing any given team in the one area they’ve traditionally dominated in this season, it’s going to be hard for them to find success against anyone.
Speaking of the recap, it bears repeating that Dwyane Wade had arguably the dunk of the Bulls’ season thus far last night, so I suppose there was one lone positive:
The Bad: Vintage Bulls (for Both Teams)
Here’s what really twisted the knife for the Bulls faithful in last night’s game: Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah both played very good games. Rose scored fifteen points in the first half and finished the game shooting 7-15 from the field while making a variety of dazzling shots around the rim that undoubtedly harkened Bulls fans back to the glory days of 2010-11. Meanwhile, as previously detailed, Noah absolutely punished the Bulls on both ends of the glass all night while also shooting an efficient 6/10 from the field and protecting the paint down low. The commentators—as well as I’m sure many New Yorkers—were quick to proclaim that the performance was one of Noah’s best as a Knick. He also drew a non-malicious techinical foul on Taj Gibson early on in the game.
But the vintage-ness for the Bulls didn’t just extend to the Chicagoans of old, as last night saw a hilariously old tradition continue for this current Bulls squad. For the umpteenth time in as many seasons, the Bulls gave up to a career high to a rotation player most fans have never heard of. Twenty-seven year-old NBA rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas out-scored every Bulls player not named Dwyane Wade last night with 19 points in 30 minutes off the bench. Yes, even on a night where Kristaps Porzingis was unavailable due to achilles soreness, Lithuania still found a way to terrorize Chicago.
Wild Card: What’s the Plan for Zipser?
Paul Zipser has potential to be a solid rotation player particularly because of his defensive ability, but Fred Hoiberg had no business giving him his first start last night against frickin’ Carmelo Anthony. Hoiberg gave 34 minutes to a player that previously had logged 47 total minutes all season and came into the game shooting 1-16 from the field for his NBA career (with no makes from three). He finished the game with seven points on 2-6 shooting to go along with five rebounds and two assists (he also did manage to knock in his first NBA triple).
I understand Doug McDermott has been quite putrid over the last week and would have had Carmelo licking his chops even moreso than usual, but forcing Zipser to start under the lame guise that Hoiberg likes McDermott better coming off the bench really doesn’t help anyone. Did Hoiberg really think playing a rookie with not even a full game-worth of NBA minutes would make much of a difference towards stopping a perennial offensive juggernaut? Melo still lead the Knicks in scoring with 23 points on 10-19 shooting and also dished out six assists. I’d hardly call that an encouraging night for Zipser, even though he did make a handful of great decisions on offense.
When Jimmy Butler comes back, those 34 minutes Zipser played this evening will all go back to Officer Buckets, and McDermott’s bench duties will presumably remain unchanged. That means Zipser is likely going to be out of the rotation again, and if that’s the case, then the Bulls have to be doing a better job of developing him than just letting him ride pine all season and then throwing him to the dogs when the flu bug rears its ugly head. The organization has already proven this year it is not afraid to use the Windy City Bulls to help get players such as McDermott and Bobby Portis back on track. As long as Zipser isn’t going to be used, he could be gaining valuable playing experience down in the D-League while getting more accustomed to the faster pace and higher level of athleticism that comes with basketball in the United States. He’s certainly not going to get any better while sitting on the bench for almost the entirety of his rookie season.