On the heels of ending one the very weird Raptors winning streak, the Bulls reversed another long term trend by laying the smack down against the Detroit Pistons. The Bulls have struggled against the Pistons in recent seasons, but tonight evened the season series 2-2 and pulled even with Detroit for 9th place in the east at 34-38.
The deck was stacked against the Bulls going into Wednesday’s game against the Pistons. The second half of a back to back is always challenging, and even more so with a depleted roster. The Bulls were without Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio due to suspension and injury, and were forced to start Joffrey Lauvergne at center. Matched up against one of the most athletic players in the league, Lauvergne did not seem to stand a chance.
Of course, none of it mattered at all as the Bulls coasted to a 22 point victory.
Nikola Mirotic, versatile scorer
Remember when Nikola Mirotic inexplicably fell out of the rotation two weeks ago? Since returning from the inactive list six games ago, Mirotic has averaged 15.7 points per game on 46.6% from the field and 37% from three, making his benching an even more puzzling decision. The Bulls are +21.3 points per 100 possessions with Mirotic on the court in this stretch.
Mirotic was fantastic scoring the ball against Detroit. He led all scorers with 28 points, making 12/15 of his field goals and 4/6 of his threes. His aggression on offense is greatly needed with the absence of Dwyane Wade, and on Wednesday night he carried the Bulls.
Mirotic’s shot chart was a thing of beauty, more exquisite than a Van Gogh for basketball geeks.
Mirotic is never shy about letting deep three pointers fly, but in this game he did a good job of taking them in the normal flow of the offense. His two really deep makes were shots that he walked into in semi-transition. He was able to set his feet and launch before a defender could bother the attempt.
With the jumper falling, Mirotic took advantage of Detroit’s overzealous closeouts. Several times Niko waited for his defender to fly past him and took advantage of driving lanes to the hoop, finishing with a variety of crafty moves at the rim.
My personal favorite bucket that Niko scored happened in the first quarter. After grabbing a defensive rebound, Mirotic never gave up the ball and glided from coast to coast and finished before the Pistons could set their defense.
Pistons let Nikola Mirotic go the length of the court and score. pic.twitter.com/IWy5BnPlqP— ⓂarcusD2.0 (@_MarcusD2_) March 23, 2017
Mirotic played this game completely in control, something that can be said more and more often as this season has progressed. The wild pump fakes have been curbed, the over-exaggeration of contact has been toned down. When Niko just plays, he is quite the player.
Point Jimmy 2.0
Jimmy Butler scored 16 points on a perfect 6/6 from the field. Even more impressive than a perfect shooting night were Butler’s game-high 12 assists.
Butler has struggled on offense lately and has had a difficult time adjusting to being the primary focal point of opposing defenses. Jimmy’s tendency to survey the floor after catching the ball allows the defense time to load up to stop the All-Star. A variety of traps and double teams have stymied Butler in the second half of the season.
Wednesday’s 12 assists were an encouraging sign that Butler is learning to adjust his game so that he can impact the offense, even on nights he only takes six shots. Butler demonstrated a high level of decisiveness and quickness in his decision making against he Pistons.
Butler did a great job of anticipating the defensive coverage and acting before the defense could set up. He recognized the attention he was drawing and found open teammates before the passing lanes closed up.
Reverse psychology, I guess
I predicted before the game that Andre Drummond would destroy the Bulls completely on his own. Drummond is a phenomenal rebounder and finisher, and the Bulls were without their two primary options at center. But the perceived mismatch actually worked out in the Bulls favor, as the Pistons attempted to force the ball to Drummond early on, preventing them from developing any sort of offensive rhythm.
Drummond scored just eight points on 33% shooting in his 26 minutes on the court. On many of those minutes, he was guarded by Joffrey Lauvergne, one of the least athletic NBA players I have ever seen. How is that possible?
Andre Drummond averages just .74 points per post-up possession, ranking in the 17th percentile in the NBA, per NBA.com. He truly lacks any sort of touch around the basket, relying on volleying the ball on offensive rebounds to score. Drummond has the athletic advantage on his opponent almost every time he takes the court, so while Lauvergne is far from an ideal Drummond stopper, there are very few players who can match him physically. But because Lauvergne seems so incapable of slowing Drummond in the post, the Pistons felt compelled to feed him the ball.
Smart move, Fred, I guess
Point guard roulette update
Jerian Grant is back in action! After an unexplained benching the last few games (what a lovely common theme the roster can bond over), Grant came out in the second quarter and looked like a useful player to slot in next to Jimmy Butler.
Grant scored seven points, made a three, didn’t turn the ball over, and made good decisions in his 15 minute return to the court.
Michael Carter-Williams played 17 minutes that were not very impressive. MCW has a good first step and is good at penetrating the defense. However, he gets wild once he’s near the hoop, and he rarely looks to pass off his drives.
Cameron Payne, back from Hoffman Estates, did not play.