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Barak Won… So Here’s How the Bulls are Doing

Barak won, but he was playing basketball on the West Side of Chicago before the polls closed.  Hmmm… the Bulls play on the West Side.  Must be time to look at the Bulls after their first week of action. 

The 2008-09 edition of the Chicago Bulls sure is a strange group coming out of the gate. Blame it on pre-season injuries (likely). Blame it on a rookie coach (possible). Blame it on the rain (Milli Vanilli).

Overall, the leading scorer 4 games into the season is rookie point guard Derrick Rose at 17.3 points for game. Rose led the team in a win against Memphis and a loss against Boston. Luol Deng led in a win against the Bucks. Drew Gooden led in a loss to the Magic. You don’t really know who’s going to do the scoring on a given night and there really doesn’t seem like there’s anyone who’s definitely taking charge on offense. Sometimes Rose asserts himself. Sometimes Gordon. Sometimes Hinrich. You don’t necessarily need to have a designated scorer. Back when Isiah Thomas was hated for winning games, his Pistons teams would feed the hot man on a given night. His 1989-1990 had 5 players averaging at least 10 points a game and nobody averaged 20. Guess what? The current Bulls have 6 players averaging at least 10 points a game. (So far.) Of course, the similarities to the Bad Boys probably end there.

It is interesting, however, that the best finisher the Bulls have around the rim is a 6’3” point guard. While Rose doesn’t have the most consistent jump shot, he attacks the rim a whole lot more like Dr. J than John Paxson, and he dunks with two hands.

Statistically, the Bulls are largely a middle of the pack team:

#6: Rebounds
#6: Blocks
#7: Free Throw %
#8: 3pt %
#10: Rebounding differential
#12: Steals
#14: Scoring (defense)
#14: Point differential
#15: Opponent’s field goal%
#19: Opponent’s rebounding
#19: Scoring (offense)
#23: Opponent’s 3pt %
#24: Assists
#28: Field goal%

Surprisingly, they’re doing well in rebounding and blocks, but they’re otherwise rather average on rebounding, and outside of take the three-point shot, they can’t shoot a lick. Of course, Tyrus Thomas and his amazing disappearing jump shot play a large part in that field goal percentage. Thomas is shooting an ice cold .256 from the floor, including a mind-numbingly bad 2-22 combined against the Celtics and Grizzlies. That jump shot that looked much improved in preseason has not proved terribly consistent when the games count. It also doesn’t help the team’s number of assists.

The relative lack of assists reflects both missed jumpers and the necessity of Rose taking it to the hole on his own, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It also reflects the apparent discomfort the team feels in the new offense. Nobody looks like they’re in rhythm. Ben Gordon, in particular, seems to need the first half to get his breath so he can start scoring in the second half (and indeed, he has emerged as their second leading scorer).

There, as expected, isn’t much of a post game. Gooden shoots more jumpers in an endeavor to lure the opposing center out of the paint. And sometimes that works. Aaron Gray has only gotten 8 shots in 3 games, and that’s too few for the only true post threat. But, even with plenty of slashing, a jump shooting team will live and die by the jump shots, hence a .500 record and an awful field goal percentage.

Defensively, Thomas is blocking more shots than you’d think and Thabo Sefolosha is averaging 1.75 steals in limited minutes. Alas, the Bulls still aren’t defending the three-point line well, and when confronted by dominant front court players (Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard), they have problems. Let’s face it, if Stan Van Gundy had decided to feed Howard the ball a little more, that Orlando game wouldn’t even have been close. The Bulls don’t have that many fouls to give.

A week in, the Bulls still look like a team that’s not quite at the .500 level, but close. With two games against the Cav’s and a visit from the Suns before the weekend is out, we’ll continue to see what the Bulls are made of. A little more comfort in the offense and a better sense of who the situational scorers are supposed to be would help the Bulls out quite a bit. The problems defending better front court players will be a little harder. Taking up space in the middle with Gray and Noah would help a bit. Noah isn’t necessarily a bigger offensive liability than Thomas if Thomas has another 2-22 streak. Frankly, Gooden getting some of those jump shots Thomas is taking would be a good thing.

Still, we’re talking about a very young team, a green coach and only four games of data. Call it a work in progress. They have three rough games before a visit from the Hawks next Tuesday and the Hawks have started 2-0. We’ll find out what the Bulls are made of in what’s a really rough November.  4-9 for the rest of November would be a moral victory with that nasty West Coast trip at the end of the month. They’ll have their days against weaker Eastern Conference opponents later in the season.

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