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.
Through two games, the Chicago Bulls-Milwaukee Bucks first round playoff series has been pretty much what everyone has expected.
Partially, this series has been a war of attrition and featured some ugly overall play, but a deeper delve into the numbers reveals how appropriate the Bulls’ 2-0 lead is as well as how highly likely this series will end in the next couple games.
Three is More Effective Than Two
Through the series’ first two games, Milwaukee has shot 37.4 percent, this was expected to a certain degree. The Bucks’ offense maintained a top-ten field goal percentage throughout the regular season because they chose their shots wisely, not because they had an abundance of offensive weapons.
I decided that the determining factor in this postseason series would be the three-point line. Jason Kidd’s squad managed to shoot a higher 3-point percentage than the Bulls this year, but this is due to the fact that they took about four fewer three-pointers. If the Bulls could stay close to their regular season average of 35 percent I believed that the Bulls would beat the Bucks in a grind-it-out six game series.
Chicago has shot 42 percent in this series so far, not that much better than the Bucks but the effective field goal percentage (eFG) stat makes things a little bit clearer. The eFG stat takes into account that 3-pointers are more valuable shots and when looking at it through these first two games the Bulls have a nice advantage (49 percent to 39 percent for the Bucks).
The Bulls’ offensive resurgence this year has been mostly due to their “getting with the times” and chucking it from deep. Now, with the the 3-point line allowing the Bulls to take a +9.7 advantage in eFG it is hard to see the Bucks lasting six games in this series as I originally predicted. Unless the Bucks can cut into that deficit and somehow usurp Chicago’s +6 advantage in free throw attempts, they will get swept in this series.
Miro’, Miro’ on the wall…please don’t be seriously injured
The scary part about the playoffs is that every team knows they are one injury away from watching the Finals at home. One key player goes down and the momentum completely swings in the other team’s favor (see Bulls circa 2011).
So when sensational Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic got mugged by well-known NBA goon Zaza Pachulia throughout Game 2, I crumpled up in a ball on the floor. Mirotic didn’t even appear to get hurt on his final play (sound familiar?) but it was clear from the sound of things that some sort of leg injury had occurred while he scrambled for a loose ball with Pachulia randomly jumping on top of him.
Mirotic hasn’t been a huge factor in the postseason so far, but he is still uber-valuable to Chicago’s postseason hopes, he provides an excellent mix of scoring, rebounding and play-making and his ability to extend defenses as a traditional “stretch-four” allows the Bulls to really open up the lane for cutters. Mirotic isn’t going to play in Game 3, and his injury is officially listed as a “strained left quadriceps and swollen left knee.”
Here is to hoping for a speedy recovery for Mirotic, as the playoffs stands to be a perfect platform for him to show off his clutch antics to American fans unfamiliar with his history (fast-forward to 1:18 to see Mirotic hit a dagger to secure a EuroLeague victory).
D-Rose and His Butler
Preferred ending this on a super good note for all my Bulls fans out there, so here you go: Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are perfect back-court teammates. The reason the Bulls have a legitimate shot to win the title this year is because all the pieces finally came together.
Overtime Chicago Bulls management has proven ultimately that they understand how a team should be built around Rose. They’ve had a fair share of shooters come and go (Kyle Korver, John Salmons, Ben Gordon, etc.), they realized they messed up with Carlos Boozer and got a better post presence in Pau Gasol, but the one thing they had never been able to do was find a starter-level shooting guard.
After drafting Butler in 2011, Tom Thibodeau stashed him for a year before unleashing Butler upon the league in 2012. Since then Butler has consistently been an elite defender who played nearly a full 40 minutes every night. His transformation this season into a complete player has been illuminating.
A defensive-minded shooting guard who can play a lot and hit the outside shot literally covers all of Derrick Rose’s shortcomings, but now that Butler is getting to the free throw line seven or eight times a game, he is allowing Rose to take a backseat on offense as well.
This allows Rose to get back to what he does best, which is draw the defense’s attention towards himself so he can set up his teammates for easy buckets, or at the very least, shots in rhythm.
Pau Gasol (31%) and the bulk of the Bulls’ big men have shot very poorly against Milwaukee, which gives me hope that they will eventually do better, maybe in time for the potential mega-clash with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, but as of now Rose and Butler are carrying this team and it has been fun to watch.
If Rose can stay hovering around his current postseason average of eight assists per game then Butler will likely in turn continue to score at his current postseason rate of 28 points per game.
This dynamic duo is the kind of physical back court that followers of the Bulls have been dreaming of and after a few seasons derailed by injury that dream has now come true.
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