Should they get steam rolled by the Jazz and Magic at home? Absolutely not. Should they let Washington walk all over them and let up 60 plus points in the second half in a statement Eastern Conference matchup? Unacceptable. Yes, the past five games (discounting the victory and a 46 and 18 outing from Pau against the Bucks) have been horrid for the Bulls.
The majority of their problems ironically consist of the things that Tom Thibodeau teams take pride in. They’ve now dropped to 14th in points allowed (99.3 PPG) where they usually stand in the top-5 in seasons past. In the recent skid, the Bulls have started games with very little energy and have allowed teams to shoot as high as 60% from the field in the second half of games (Orlando and Washington) and not even a season-high 32 points from Derrick Rose could save the Bulls against the Wizards Wednesday night.
To make matters worse, Joakim Noah is out with a sprained ankle as he continues to get back to last seasons MVP-like form after offseason knee surgery. His inconsistent presence in the lineup is major reason why the Bulls continue to slip in Defensive Efficiency Ratings (Now 11th via ESPN.com Hollinger Team Statistics) and also their recent slump overall. In the month of January, Jimmy Butler has been in a rut as well, only shooting 36% when the two previous months he had been shooting over 45%. Mike Dunleavy has been out of the lineup for the past few weeks, Rose is coming off his worst shooting slump of his career and the Bulls simply just look sluggish.
That’s a whole lot of bad news. Plus, for not-so-good measure, here are some notables teams they play leading into the All-Star Break which also includes a 2-week Western Conference road trip.
- Jan. 17: Atlanta (31-8) at home.
- Jan. 19 (MLK Day): At (20-20) Cleveland and Feb. 12: Cleveland at Home
- Jan. 22: San Antonio (24-16) at home
- Jan. 23: At Dallas (27-13)
- Jan. 27: At Golden State (31-5)
- Feb. 4: At Houston (28-13)
- Combined record (through January 16th): 162-74
January doesn’t get any easier for the Bulls, who should have been handling the Jazz and the Magic before this upcoming schedule. But the past is the past and after all that lousy news about them, here are five reasons why A) I’m telling you to relax and B) Still feeling upbeat and optimistic about this team.
Reason 1: Derrick Rose.
As mentioned before, I’m fully aware that Rose recently came off the worst string of shooting performances in his career before his 18 against Orlando and 32 against Washington. But why do I feel like I’m the only one that is grateful that the man is beginning to start and play games in consecutive fashion after the day-to-day fiasco of injuries to begin the season? For goodness sake he has been gone for two years, ending Chicago Bulls seasons before they began. Jimmy Butler/Pau Gasol have been the MVP for the Bulls thus far, but in the words of Kevin Durant, “You [still] the real MVP” Derrick.
Jimmy Butler’s emergence is crucial to the Bulls’ Championship aspirations, no doubt. And his improvement to the next level as one of the premier two-way guards in the league is due to plenty of hard work on his part. Im just saying…
Also, to anyone who has left the man out of the “Top Point Guards in the NBA” discussions the past two seasons, he’s taking note. Against the likes of Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard, Rose is averaging 25.6 PPG. His MVP year he averaged 25.0.
Coming off his best scoring performance of the year, expect him to keep on doing things like this as he continues to lead the Bulls to the promise land. Stay healthy, Derrick.
Reason 2: Long way to go.
It’s January 16th, folks. There is still half the season to be played. Every team goes through adversity and while yes they’re serious habits on the defensive end that need to be fixed, this isn’t a young, inexperienced team anymore. With the majority of the their core players either entering or in the prime of their careers, along with the resurgence of Pau, the Bulls have suffered far worse. If I told you six months ago the Bulls were 26-14 in the middle of January with Rose beginning to find his groove and Jimmy Butler finding himself in the midst of early MVP conversation and Nikola Mitoric the front-runner for Rookie of the Year, along with how bad the East is this season. You’d be dumb, drunk or all of the above to not take it.
Reason 3: The Power of the ‘Bench Mob’
In my preseason article previewing the Bulls, I foreshadowed the potential of this bench. Except, I didn’t think they would be this deep. Aaron Brooks has been a complete stud. No other way to put it. He is instant offense off the bench consists of knock down the three, driving to the hoop against bigger guards and finishing with a flurry of floaters and lay-ups of the glass and can also provide veteran leadership. Taj has been a rock, consistent all year. He gives Noah and Pau much-needed rest and is averaging a career-high 6.9 rebounds off the bench along with elite defense to close out games.
Tony Snell is coming into his own as of late, getting more playing time with Dunleavy out. When Hinrich misses time, E’Twaun Moore steps in offensively and defensively and the Bulls don’t miss a beat. And of course the “International Man of Mystery” himself, Nikola Mitoric. He’s already proven to be everything the Bulls had hoped for when they drafted him in 2011. He can knock down shots from anywhere on Madison Street, put the ball on the floor and get to the basket and the free throw line and his defense is starting to become less of a liability. After all, he is only a Rookie, the sky is the limit for ‘Three-Kola.”
Reason 4: Jimmy “G” Buckets and Pau
The ‘G’ stands for “gets buckets.” Soon It’ll stand for “Gets paid.” The obvious story for the Bulls all season has been the Shooting Guard out of Tomball, Texas. He has come along way from just being a shut-down defender to now becoming one of the best all-around guards in the Association. Shooting 46% from the field, averaging nearly 21 PPG. and 6 RPG, he is the front-runner Most Improved Player (if form continues) and will receive some MVP attention too. The Bulls have been searching for a running mate for Derrick for quite sometime, little did they know it would end up being the 30th pick in the 2011 draft.
As for Pau, the numbers speak for themselves. 18.8 PPG and 11.3 RPG to go along with a likely spot as an All-Star starter, the 34 year-old has carried the load for the Bulls in the post all season. When Jo is healthy, the Bulls have the best front court in the East and it will give teams nightmares in a 7-game series come April. Sure Cleveland got LeBron and Love, but Pau has delivered more.
Reason 5: They can actually score!
Why are we not celebrating this more? The Bulls are averaging 102 points a game compared to when they were averaging 93 a year ago and D.J. Augustin was their leading scorer. Sure their defense hasn’t been as good this season, but I have full faith in Tom Thibodeau in getting his team’s defense in line before the playoffs. Never before in his tenure have the Bulls had this many scoring options both starting and coming off the bench.
When I attended the Bulls vs. Pelicans game on December 27th, the Bulls closed out the game with a textbook 4th quarter. The combination of Rose and Butler bringing the ball up and taking turns feasting on opponents without the threat of double-teams simply because if teams do, they’re toast. If you double Rose or Bulter, odds are they’re bringing Noah’s man off of him, Jo is one of best passing big man who can feed the open man. Throw in Mirotic instead and it allows the freedom and space for Rose and Jimmy to attack the hoop or dish it out for an open shot. The Bulls offense has not been this prolific in quite some time and it’s only getting better.
In the coming month, we’re going to learn plenty more about how good this team can become. It starts tonight in Boston.