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.
Picking up from where we last left off, the Chicago Bulls have gone 2-3 on the West Coast leg of their annual Circus Road Trip, including their first three road losses of the season.
Derrick Rose’s sporadic availability for games has been the main lingering issue for the Bulls, but there are new issues on the periphery that can give Bulls followers ideas of what the team needs to improve on to fully play out this season as championship-caliber team.
About two weeks ago I broke down and finally bought NBA League Pass, this all-access pass to all the games of the NBA regular season has helped me greatly in predicting the outcome of Bulls games due to my new found knowledge of the defensive and offensive systems we’re seeing in the NBA currently.
The Bulls’ newest issues — new because we really haven’t seen these things plague Chicago under Tom Thibodeau — have been their declining defense and rebounding. Specifically, the the Bulls have suffered a huge setback to their interior defense.
Noah Not Going
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is actually being scored on this year. As of this writing, opposing players are shooting 52 percent at the rim against Joakim Noah, which puts him in a “Carlos Boozer-level” of rim protectors.
If Noah is playing hurt then the Bulls organization needs to take further take advantage of its depth and maybe coax more quality minutes out of rookie bruiser Cameron Bairstow. Over this recent tough five-game stretch the Bulls have been dominated by quality big men, including some impressive games from DeMarcus Cousins, Luis Scola and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Getting Derrick Rose healthy is obviously priority number one, but if the Bulls can’t find some way to shore up their interior defense they will be in serious trouble come June, if they make it that far.
Derrick Rose: Passivity a Plus?
Some critics have argued that Rose isn’t and won’t ever be the player he once was because of his newly-established passivity. In Rose’s return Monday against the Utah Jazz he scored 18 points and had five assists while only taking 10 shots, but he shot 50% from the field, including 60% from three-point range.
Is it possible that a passive Rose is a productive Rose? Yes…..and no.
Yes, Rose has been productive every time he has stepped on the floor this year, but Bulls fans have to cringe at the fact the he seems to have a VIP spot on the injured reserve list. On a night-to-night basis we don’t know if Rose will play or not, and with Rose only lasting 10 minutes tonight in a disappointing loss to the Denver Nuggets, there is no telling what his future holds.
There is no question that Rose should continue to defer to his teammates and take it easy throughout this regular season, he is simply too important to the Bulls long-term plan. And in the end what is most important is if Rose can play back-to-back games in June.
Jimmy “Buckets” Lives Up to Nickname
One of the most fun things about this current NBA season has been watching Jimmy Butler develop his offensive game. Butler almost instantly became one of the premier defenders in the League upon his being drafted, but fans of his knew for Butler to make the leap to superstardom he would have to stop bricking jump shots and show some productive aggressiveness on offense.
Through his first 14 games, we have seen Butler evolve as Thibodeau let the reigns loose on him. Coach Thibs has shown a willingness to run plays specifically for Butler in order to get him warmed up early on offense. Explosions have resulted from this approach, such as Butler’s career-high 32-point game (on 50% shooting!!!!) in a brutal loss to Indiana and his matching that career high again Tuesday night in a disappointing loss against the Denver Nuggets.
This new agreement between Thibs and Butler to let Butler be the lead dog on offense has resulted in Butler ranking in the top 25 in estimated win shares. For those who don’t know, win shares is a stat that estimates a player’s contribution in the number of wins he is expected to provide a team.
Trade Time in Chicago?
Solving the Derrick Rose issue will be perhaps the most difficult problem to solve in modern Bulls history.
The Bulls were tasked during the off-season with finding a starter-level point guard to come off the bench, which they did with their acquisition of Aaron Brooks, but Brooks’ ineptitude on defense has allowed opposing guards to penetrate the Chicago defense; the defensive breakdowns have made life harder than it should beon Noah and the Bulls front court.
This all results in open men, and that would explain why Chicago is allowing opponents to shoot 35.6% from three-point range.
The Bulls’ defense is slowly returning to its normal and dominant state, but perhaps a trade for a guard with some defensive skill could improve the efficiency of the Bulls D.
With more available trade chips than most, the Bulls could definitely muster up a quality player in a deal, though guard options are slim at the time.
Lance Stephenson in my opinion would be a dream fit, and a perfect defense-first guy for Thibs’ system — a few weeks ago Stephenson was still Charlotte’s prize jewel free agent signing as the season was just getting started, but as the Hornets have struggled this early season things have gotten complicated — who knows what discussions may arise by February’s trade deadline?
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