With 3:49 left in the game and the Bulls down 106-99, head coach Fred Hoiberg - in a move he said he was going to try soon - trotted out a lineup featuring Nikola Mirotic, Lauri Markkanen, David Nwaba, Justin Holiday, and Kris Dunn that proceeded to go on a 13-0 run and lift the Bulls to victory. They were a +10 in those 3:49 of work together.
Why is this lineup so lethal? One reason is floor spacing.
Mirotic is on a tear from 3-point land, shooting 50 percent from this range this season. Markkanen’s shooting has slumped, but defenses always have to respect his range. He hit a big 3-point field goal with 3:10 remaining last night that cut the Sixers lead to three points. Holiday is shooting 35.4 percent from 3-point land, but last night he was 5-for-7 from this range, so again the Sixers had to respect his shooting.
This lineup also benefits from having Dunn at the point guard. Over the last ten games, he’s become a bonafide playmaker, averaging 6.9 assists per game to just 2.3 turnovers. Scoring-wise, this floor spacing gave Dunn room to operate in isolation and is a big reason why he was able to pour in seven points in the last 3:49 of the game.
This lineup is also intriguing defensively. Dunn and Nwaba are the Bulls best backcourt combination defensively, while Holiday is at least average on that end of the floor. Mirotic has suddenly started making plays on the defensive end too. This group (small sample size alert) has a 104.9 defensive rating together which is better than the Bulls overall 107.0 defensive rating as a group for the season.
Since Mirotic has been playing so well, it isn’t surprising that he’s created a number of new, effective frontcourt combinations for Hoiberg to play with.
Ironically, Mirotic and his assailant Bobby Portis have a net rating of 18.8 in 74 minutes sharing the court together which is the highest net rating among two-man lineups on the Bulls that have played at least 50 minutes together. The Mirotic/Markkanen combination that was crucial for securing the Bulls a win last night against the Sixers has a net rating of 12.8 in six minutes.
The key for all of these combinations is the high-low action; rolling off screens to the basket, popping out for shots, and posting up; that all three players are providing right now. Per ESPN writer Nick Friedell.
"Just going out there and playing off each other," Bobby Portis said. "Both of us can pick and pop. That's always been a big thing with Fred's offense, us being able to make shots. When you make shots his offense looks great. And both of us can make shots and take and make good shots. Also, me being at the 5 has also helped, too, because I can roll and I can pop, too, and I can just mix it up."
While Portis literally flexes on his haters, Mirotic has metaphorically flexed on his critics with his trash talking while his play has completely backed up everything he has said.