Michael Walton II writes about the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for We Are Regal Radio.
Michael is a student, freelance writer and high school basketball scout based in Chicago. He’s previously been published in TrueStar Magazine, the Redeye Chicago and thelyricallab.com.
After a great first week for this fresh NBA season, we are now left with a little bit of a clearer picture of what to expect this year. Though a range of several games is too small a sample to resolve anything, we can now see what teams need to work on and what new trends may be developing.
The NBA’s most intriguing storyline involves the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that everyone expects to make the Eastern Conference finals has had a rough start. At the time of this writing their record stands at 3-3.
Kevin Love has been dominant, averaging a double-double while shooting 40 percent from three-point range. LeBron is finally rounding into form too as the younger Cavs players are starting to learn how to play with James…on offense at least. Many critics (including this one) predicted the Cavs’ new-look offense to absolutely shatter records.
The offense hasn’t reached its full potential yet, which is scary considering that head coach David Blatt has his team scoring 102 points per game. And while that is cool beans, Cleveland surely isn’t happy to be allowing 103 points per game. This complete ineptitude on defense is what has led to the Cavs poor start. They simply don’t have any rim-protection, and two of their “big three” players still don’t try hard enough on defense (which isn’t good considering LeBron has regressed on D).
What’s sadder than all that? The Cleveland Cavaliers will still meet the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, they’re that good and there’s that much season left.
Meanwhile, the rest of the NBA is looking like bizarro world. The Sacramento Kings are 5-3 and have legitimately beat some great NBA squads due to the all-star level play of (BOOGIE!!!!!) DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. Out in L.A., Kobe Bryant looks like he plans to break the record for field-goal attempts in a season.
Among the best-starting teams, the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards have all lost three or less games. The Miami Heat have revamped their pace-and-space offense in a post-LeBron era with great success. And finally, there are only two teams left in the league with undefeated road records: the Houston Rockets and [insert drum roll] your very own Chicago Bulls.
50% of Derrick Rose > 0% of Derrick Rose
The big storyline in Chicago for the foreseeable future will be Derrick Rose’s health, this week solidified that.
Rose has only played in 50% of the Bulls games so far, but he has performed well when on the floor. His defense looks good, though it is sad that his three-point shooting has seemed to have plateaued.
Rose is averaging 17.5 points and 5.8 assists a game and looks to have regained his trademark explosiveness to the rim. A new wrinkle that I enjoy is the D-Rose post-up. At the end of the Bulls game against the Detroit Pistons on Monday, Chicago was up by six with about a minute left when Rose turned his isolation against DJ Augustin into a post up opportunity. He backed the much smaller Augustin down and converted a nice hump-hook.
The whole sequence was particularly Dwyane Wade-esque and shows that maybe all that talk of Rose maturing his game was actually true. As long as Rose plays at least 50% of the regular season games, the Bulls will be fine.
Aaron Brooks and the loss of Thib’s Defense: Does correlation imply causation?
The Chicago Bulls have had one of the most interesting role reversals in the NBA this young season. Their trademark strengths have been defense and rebounding while offense was an obvious weakness.
This year the Bulls are establishing themselves as a top-10 scoring offense with a middle of the pack defense. Part of this reversal is due to the Bulls acquiring multiple offense-first players. The most explosive of this group is Aaron Brooks, the journeyman guard who seems to have found his confidence again in Chicago. Brooks is averaging 12.6 points and 4.4 assists starting games from the bench, but his per 36 minute statistics indicate that he has been playing just as well if not better than DRose.
In a close-call game against the Boston Celtics this past Saturday — which stands as the Bulls most horrendous loss so far and should remain so throughout much of the year, hopefully — Brooks scored 26 points, exploding for 19 in the fourth quarter alone.
It was a performance that reminded many Chicagoans of Nate “The Great” Robinson, but a difference is clear with Brooks, his shooting percentages are ridiculous: 52% from the field and 57% from the three-point line. Brooks’ efficiency combined with his scoring makes him a possible 6th Man of the Year candidate, but the other side of the story is Brooks’ ranking in the bottom three in terms of defensive +/- rating. His defensive shortcomings set the Bulls back a bit, but all the blame can’t be placed on Brooks…right?
Can Pau Gasol get some MVP love?!
My last storyline may be looked at by some as a joke, but by no means am I kidding. Pau Gasol was looked at as a decent acquisition by the Bulls, but many people joked that signing Gasol was like signing Boozer all over again. Yet Gasol has outperformed expectations so far, averaging 18 points, 11 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
It will be interesting to see if Gasol can keep up the block output since he is playing for a coach that demands defensive effort, but that number will likely drop. In the meantime, Gasol is legitimately the first (or second) scoring option on the Bulls, his presence in the low- and high-post areas have helped the Bulls craft this beautiful offense that blossoming so far.
Tell me there is no chance Pau Gasol wins league MVP in a Bulls uniform and I’ll say: if Gasol maintains a double-double and the Bulls capture the number one seed in the East….Por qué no?
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