As March Madness comes to a close, the clock struck midnight on the Bulls recent Cinderella surge up the Eastern conference standings. Winners of their last four contests, the Bulls turned full pumpkin Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden. The Knicks, 12th in the East and playing without Kristaps Porzingis, controlled the game for all 48 minutes and played with the energy you would expect from a team vying for a playoff seed.
Second unit responsible for second quarter collapse
The Bulls spent the first four minutes and thirty seconds of the quarter with a lineup of Michael Carter-Williams, Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser, Bobby Portis, and Joffrey Lauvergne. A five point first quarter deficit ballooned to 14 before Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez could check back in the game. It was a stretch the Bulls never recovered from.
The Bulls did not manage to score a single point with that five man unit on the floor, which shouldn’t be all that surprising. Fred Hoiberg put three power forwards on the court along with a pair of guards incapable of creating open shots. The ball movement wasn’t bad, but every time someone found the rock in their hands, they did not have the ability to do anything with it.
I understand that the Bulls don’t exactly have great depth up and down the roster, but the utilization of talent tonight was sub-optimal to say the least.
Why not keep Rondo on the court to run the second unit, a role he’s excelled in throughout the season? How about getting Mirotic in with the bench mob and give him some playmaking duties? What’s happened to Cristiano Felicio, recovered from his tail bone injury, but mysteriously absent from the rotation?
Seriously though, why is Lauvergne playing backup center minutes ahead of Felicio? Joffrey has no athleticism, and found himself caught up in no-man’s land on this disaster of a sequence in the third quarter.
Lauvergne one of the least athletic NBA players I've ever seen pic.twitter.com/AqgzNOx0pX— Jacob Bikshorn (@OldManBikshorn) April 5, 2017
I’m confident Felicio would have made a strong effort to grab the long rebound. Even if he came up empty, he would have been in position to prevent the outlet pass and subsequent dunk.
The Bulls have not handed their coach the ideal roster, but Fred Hoiberg consistently fails to maximize his imperfect squad.
Have you heard about the disappearing honeybees?
Seriously, have you? Is it possible that whatever is causing this decline in the bee population may be connected to the decline of the Zipser Hive?
Paul Zipser turned in another lackluster performance Tuesday night. The rookie did not score a point in his 17 minutes on the floor, missing all five of his mostly wide open shot attempts. Zipser has shown flashes of competence at time during the year, but offensively he still has a long way to go. He’s shooting below 40% from the field, and is making just 31% of his threes point attempts.
Zipser’s shot selection is sound, and he has the peripheral statistics of an efficient piece. Per basketball reference, 44% of Zipser’s shots attempts come from three point land, and he sports a free throw rate of .215, solid for someone who takes so many jumpers. Of course, if the shots aren’t falling, it doesn’t matter where they come from.
Fred Hoiberg has done Zipser no favors by starting him at small forward. The Bulls, starved for wings, do not have many better options than the German second rounder. Zipser is just not athletic enough to create any space off the dribble against opposing wing defenders, and is reduced to a stand-still shooter. On defense, Zipser struggles to chase shooters through screens along the perimeter.
Zipser is a pleasant surprise, as the typical 48th pick in the draft will be lucky to ever crack a rotation. But in reality he is maybe the third best power forward on the team and should not be considered a true building block for the future.
Jimmy Butler, awesome regardless
This loss cannot be blamed on Jimmy Butler. Butler led all scorers with 26 points on 50% shooting and made a couple of eye-popping plays.
In the first quarter, Jimmy faked like he was going to use a flare screen from Nikola Mirotic and instead cut behind Courtney Lee. It looked at first as if Rajon Rondo had overthrown the alley-oop pass, but Butler did his best Julio Jones impersonation as he corralled the ball with one hand and slammed it home.
Driving to the rim is incredibly hard for Jimmy when the entire defense is geared up to stop him.
But in the third quarter, Butler finished a layup through heavy contact, a play that displayed Butler’s rare combination of power and finesse. Even in a 1-on-5 situation, Jimmy is a difficult guy to stop.
Jimmy Butler and 1. Jimmy was not happy with Joffrey Lauvergne. Stacey King has a good time with it. pic.twitter.com/62WgsZFvPd— ⓂarcusD2.0 (@_MarcusD2_) April 5, 2017
Butler rounded out his stat line with three rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. It’s a shame when his supporting cast does not provide enough help to defeat a team they have no business losing to.