The Chicago Bulls continue to be one of the weirdest teams in the NBA. Two days after getting whooped by the Philadelphia 76ers, the Bulls bounced back with a 109-94 victory over a red-hot Milwaukee Bucks team. The Bulls had a great afternoon offensively, shooting 54.1% from the field and shot 46.1% from three. All five starters scored double digits and it was definitely one of those games where the Bulls couldn’t miss. Jimmy Butler got a double-double with 28 points and 14 assists but it was Nikola Mirotic who stole the show. Niko was on fire in this game, scoring 28 points on 11-14 shooting including 6 three’s to go along with 8 rebounds. After being a DNP-CD for a while, Mirotic has averaged 15.6 points on 46.4% shooting in his last 10 games. He’s scored 28,15,28 in his last three games respectively and is certainly adding to the theory that March is the month where his talents shine.
Throughout his whole career, March has been the best month for Mirotic. He has averaged 15.9 points in March throughout his whole career, the highest average when you split his scoring by month. It definitely showed in this game and it was also due to the Bulls overall offense.
Good Ball Movement Get Niko A 3 pic.twitter.com/khRdW5abqx— Gustavo Vega (@iamvega1982) March 26, 2017
This play showed something that we usually don’t see from this team: ball movement. The first action is Jimmy Butler’s spin move on Khris Middleton in the post. Butler did a great job of posting up the forward and when Middleton reached over to try and steal the pass from Robin Lopez, he just spun around to get open. When the pass came, Butler was under the basket but Giannis Antetokounmpo had come down to help out with no big man in near sight. The Greek Freak had to leave his man, Paul Zipser, to come over and help on the Butler post-up and that is exactly where the ball went as soon as he came down. With the pass going to Zipser then, it set off a chain reaction of help defense. Zipser did a good job of swinging it to Mirotic, who was able to get the shot off just as Matthew Dellavedova was coming over to help cover him. It was smart of Butler to take advantage of the Bucks coming down to double him in the paint and it resulted in a made three. This type of ball movement isn’t something that you see from Chicago often with the Bulls choosing to go more iso-ball than anything but it was good to see them swing the ball like that in this possession. Especially one where it got them a quality three-point look from their best three-point shooter.
But it wasn’t just from three where Mirotic was able to do damage to the Bucks defense.
Here this was a simple 1-4 pick with Mirotic barely setting a screen on Malcolm Brogdon if anything before rolling straight to the basket. Antetokounmpo, who is guarding Mirotic on the play, is off-balance to begin with and stumbles towards Rajon Rondo. That allows Rondo to get a full head of steam to the basket. Tony Snell comes in to help as well but with him covering Jimmy Butler, he had to retreat. Rondo heading towards the basket with both Brogdon and Antetokounmpo behind him caused Spencer Hawes to step up in the paint (and make Khris Middleton come cover Robin Lopez on the right block). Now that set up Rondo with two options. The first being he dishes it out to Mirotic, who has now slipped behind Hawes right next to the basket and the second option being he can kick it out to Zipser in the corner. Here Rondo chooses the first (and wiser) option and gives it to Niko, who makes an easy layup.
With the Bulls making a playoff push (yes, it’s actually happening), Mirotic is going to be a big part of their success. He is their best three-point shooter left and is still an X-factor heading into many of the games Chicago plays. His inconsistency has been an obvious problem throughout his whole career but in this game against a division rival, we saw how good Mirotic can be when he is engaged and making shots.
Rajon Rondo has another good game
Mirotic is not the only Bull having a good month of March. Rajon Rondo is having one too. He has had a good stretch of game as of late including this game where he nearly notched a triple double: scoring 18 points with 9 rebounds and assists as well. Like Mirotic, Rondo playing well will only help the Bulls while also helping him to self to another new contract or in hopes of team that is willing to trade for him. But this could also convince the Bulls front office that he is worth keeping around for another year. Yikes.
No production from the bench, especially from the point guard spot
While the Bulls starters were great, their bench was terrible. Everyone on the bench but Anthony Morrow played today and still they only scored a combined 15 points with three players (Grant, Canaan, and Payne) going scoreless. It was extremely worrying to see none of the point guards coming off the bench do anything, which caused Hoiberg to play Rondo 34 minutes. If Chicago was to have some hope at having a good bench next season, it all starts with the play of the backup point guard and they have yet to find a consistent one.