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.
Since the last time I wrote specifically about the Chicago Bulls on WARR, a lot has happened. A depleted Bulls roster has mostly stayed afloat in the Eastern Conference despite winning only four of their last ten games. The poor timing of recent injuries has forced Tom Thibodeau to adjust more than typical of him this late in the season.
That last development gives Bulls fans a reason to remain optimistic as these injuries have forced Thibs to open up his rotation just a bit, thus aiding in the development of the Bulls’ younger players, but more can be done — the Bulls still have an woefully unimpressive 5-6 record without its ideal Jimmy Butler-Derrick Rose backcourt.
Butler returned to the lineup Monday night against the Charlotte Hornets but showed obvious signs of rust, shooting 30 percent from the field, but he did manage to get to the free throw line 10 times while also playing his usual great defense and throwing in nine rebounds as well.
For all of his hard work, Butler earned the highest +/- rating (plus/minus rating denotes team’s net points while player is on the court) at +13, and the Bulls earned a 98-86 victory. Still alarming is the fact that in his first game back from injury, Tom Thibodeau played Butler 40 minutes (!!!). The more things change, the more they stay the same I suppose.
Since Rose went down with a second meniscus tear on February 24th, Bulls rookie extraordinaire Nikola Mirotic has taken it upon himself to feel the scoring void. In the month of March, Mirotic has averaged 21 points per game, in the Bulls’ last three wins he has averaged 27.3 points per game. And so far on the year he has outperformed his SCHOENE projections.
With per 40 minute numbers of 19.7 points and 10.1 rebounds you can see that Mirotic could very well become a double-double machine, much like his front-court mate Pau Gasol. Upon his first coming to the US, there were jokes going around about Mirotic having the ceiling of a more athletic Dirk Nowitzki. Now, several 25+ point games later, there is no telling what Mirotic’s true offensive ceiling is.
In the near future, I will post a follow-up to my 23 predictions piece that focused on the second half of the NBA season at large. For now I will re-visit the predictions that focused on the Bulls:
- Andrew Wiggins will win Rookie of the Year, and he will have Tom Thibodeau to thank
As of March 24th, Andrew Wiggins is still the clear leader in the Rookie of the Year race, but Nikola Mirotic has at least made it interesting. Thibodeau has actually started to play Mirotic quite a bit, but mostly out of necessity. While Taj Gibson worked his way back into shape in recent weeks, Mirotic has averaged 31.4 minutes per game so far in the month of March.
Now that Gibson and Butler have returned, Thibs may revert back to his old ways and old rotation. Still, Mirotic was fighting an uphill battle from the start in regards to this award. Wiggins will win Rookie of the Year due to his 35+ minutes per game and his consistent two-way play, the only way this prediction could not come true is if Thibs ramps up his trust in his new-found scoring threat and that Mirotic rewards his coach by winning several more big games to come like he won against Charlotte.
- Thibodeau won’t switch up his starting lineup even though it is obvious that he should
This prediction goes hand-in-hand with the one above. When I wrote this I decided that Thibs was simply too stuck in his ways to ever switch up his rotations, but I think Thibodeau is a guy who has to “see it to believe it” in regards to his players. After this most recent rash of injuries, he has actually experimented with some nice offense-defense lineups that some writers (*cough cough*) suggested he should have relied on earlier in the season.
Specifically, the Gasol-Mirotic and Joakim Noah-Gibson front court combos have led to the Bulls’ resurgent defense, which has held opponents to 91 points per game over their last five. Looks like to the delight of many Chicago fans — as of now — Thibs is proving me wrong when it comes to his coaching flexibility.
- Derrick Rose will be the Chicago Bulls points per game leader by the season’s end
This prediction was the one that hurt the most, as we all know Derrick Rose suffered another tear in his right meniscus that will put him out of action for an unknown amount of time. The original idea was that he would be back before the playoffs, but at this point I think rushing him back is pointless. If the Bulls are going to truly contend for a title this year they need Derrick Rose, even if it is D-Rose at 50%.
This Bulls squad is that talented and well-coached. The most shocking part of this prediction is the fact that it is still feasible. Rose is actually the Bulls third-leading scorer at 18.4 points per game, only 0.2 points behind Gasol for second. Jimmy Butler’s offensive emergence mostly coincides with his team-leading 7.2 foul shot attempts per game. On top of that Butler is a 84% shooter from the charity stripe, this has led to his career high 20.2 points per game scoring average.
However, if Rose returns before the playoffs start, rest assured Thibodeau will want him to gain back some of that killer-instinct. This means Rose dominating the ball late in close games to show that Thibs still has confidence in his ability. I don’t see this prediction coming true as I think the Bulls will still try to play it safe with Rose, but part of me sees Thibs playing Rose 35+ minutes in the last five games to see if he can still get you 28 points in a big match-up.
Stay tuned with WARR for my next column, which will provide a second look at my NBA second-half predictions!
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