On the night of December 21st, all hope of the Bulls living up to any expectations was seemingly lost. Coming off a lackluster losing performance against the uninspiring Brooklyn Nets, and only days removed from Jimmy Butler publicly calling out Fred Hoiberg, the Bulls were a chaotic mess.
Then Joakim Noah was ruled out with a shoulder injury for four weeks, and the trade rumors to break up this core that has been together since 2009, began to swirl.
That night I wrote 2,200 words on why the Bulls should start from scratch. Exhaust every outlet to trade everyone besides Butler. Yes, even Rose. Though, realistically, nobody wants to take on $40 million of a Derrick Rose still trying to figure his game out.
Regardless, I was ready to call it on these Chicago Bulls. They were brutal to watch, looked like they hated playing with each other, and were heading into the most difficult stretch of their schedule to date.
And I’m beyond thankful I didn’t hit the publish button.
I’m willing to call out myself when I’m wrong about the Bulls. But it’s hard to imagine the Bulls would turn it around this quickly.
Winners of six in a row, and seven of their last eight. Christmas day marks the resurgence of the Chicago Bulls we all expected to see this season. A convincing victory against a streaking Oklahoma City team on national television, the Bulls are now hitting a their stride.
Yet, there isn’t a single point to say what turned the Bulls around. Many reports about Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson’s speech to the team prior to the OKC game, seem to have certainly got to the team.
The 22nd overall pick, the divine gift of Bobby Portis being implemented into the lineup in place of the injured Noah brought youth and energy back to the United Center.
Since dropping 18 points and 10 rebounds in New York, Portis has proven his first game with legitimate minutes wasn’t a fluke. The crazy-eyed kid is a walking double-double and has a modern day NBA skill set for a power forward.
Portis gets the majority of his buckets from running the fast-break and running the pick-and-roll like a ten-year veteran.
But it doesn’t just stop with his hardhat mentality that has given this veteran team a boost, Portis also pairs his junkyard-dog skills with his ability to knock down shots from 20-feet plus, as well as calmly step into three-point shots, and bury them.
He has all but solidified his spot in the front-court rotation, even when Joakim Noah returns next week.
Then there is the obvious answer, it’s the play of Jimmy Butler.
Sometimes actions speak louder than words, and the old cliché holds true for the all-star shooting guard who is playing like he’s best two-way player in the league.
His last 10 games are without a doubt the best stretch of his five-year career. Averaging 22.5 ppg. 6.1 rebs. 3.8 apg. for the season and in his last four games he’s avg. 29.0 ppg. and 7.8 apg. to go along with his ongoing steal streak, which sits at 42 games, second best to Michael Jordan’s franchise record of 77.
Speaking of the G.O.A.T, Butler’s franchise record-breaking half against the Raptors last Sunday was one of the greatest individual performances in a half I’ve seen since Kobe put up 55 in a half during his historic 81-point game a decade ago.
And maybe the best part of the game? Butler held the Raptors best player, DeMar DeRozan, to just seven points on the opposite end.
After that game, the Bulls looked like a team that has found their chemistry again. A group that was once smashed by the national media for ratting out Thibodeau, they now look like a team.
And maybe most important of all, the chemistry between Rose and Butler seems to be at an all-time high.
Here’s a quote from Hoiberg after the win against the Celtics Thursday:
“You can see those guys sharing the ball with one another,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy did a nice job making sure Derrick had the ball in his hands (after Butler’s one for seven first half shooting). The last couple of games Derrick did a nice job getting the ball to Jimmy. Those guys have a nice little chemistry going on now.”
After going through an entire summer where the chemistry between the two was questioned at seemingly every turn, the two most important players to the Chicago Bulls’ success are no longer just taking turns watching one another shoot, but are playing to what the defense is giving them as well as going off of who has the hot hand.
In turn, both are playing the best basketball of the season.
And now it is time to give the man who probably deserves the most credit for the turnaround, coach Fred Hoiberg.
He didn’t walk into a the easiest of situations, and many fans, including myself don’t recognize that. It’s difficult to get an accomplished group of veterans to buy into a completely different system from a first time NBA coach.
After being called out for not coaching the Bulls hard enough according to Butler, the Bulls look like a team I’ve never seen before.
Nine straight games with at least 100 points, a streak that goes back to the Dynasty era (1995) and have boosted their points per game from 98.8 to 102.2, third best in the East.
They’re now 7-1 against the top four teams in the East, with wins against Oklahoma City (twice), San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers.
It’s still obvious that the ghost of Tom Thibodeau has not left this team as they still lead the league in rebounds per game (49.0) and opponent field goal percentage (41.6%), staples during the Thibs era.
The Hoiberg effect has been felt on the offensive end, and while it took two and a half months to get it into gear, the Bulls are finally experiencing the benefits.
A season ago, the Bulls ranked 21st in pace, they now are 8th and climbing, according to ESPN Hollinger Team Statistics.
In turn, it has allowed guys like Derrick Rose to get out in transition, where he has thrived his entire career, to score easy buckets early in the shot clock.
They currently rank 4th in field goals made when the shot clock is between 18-15 seconds, per SportsUV Player Tracking.
Just a month ago, the Bulls offensive efficiency rating was in the bottom dweller of the NBA, now it ranks 7th, barely outside the top five in the league, per ESPN Hollinger Team Statistics.
Hoiberg has finally found the right lineups that mesh, and he isn’t afraid to use anyone on his bench, as they go ten deep every night.
The run-and-gun has lead to an easy-on-the-eye style of play that Bulls fans have really never been accustomed to this century. With a plethora of three-point shooters at his disposal, and stretch-four’s like Mirotic and Portis, the Bulls depth is almost second to none in the NBA, even without Dunleavy and Noah.
On one night it can be Aaron Brooks coming on and scoring 29 points in place of Rose, the next it can be Tony Snell coming out of nowhere to score 22 against Toronto.
When Rose is driving to the basket, Butler’s creating plays and Pau getting his 18 and 10 a night, the Bulls are hard to beat, as we are learning right now.
And yes of course, none of it really matters unless the Bulls can challenge LeBron and the Cavaliers in the playoffs (they sit 3.0 back of them for first in the East) it has been nothing short of enjoyable to watch a team finally coming into fruition.
Now it’s January 9th, and here I am talking about a Bulls team finally finding it’s potential on both ends of the floor, celebrating every bucket, and hold the 2nd longest win streak in the NBA.
Winning certainly cures everything.