“Great, great, terrific,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday about the latest and greatest reserve point guard to enter into the Bulls system, Aaron Brooks. “He and Kirk (Hinrich) have great chemistry together in our second unit. They’ve played very, very well.” It’s a rare thing, a Thibs compliment, but he’s been gushing of late. Brooks has stepped right into the Bulls scheme, with the same fluidity of those before him: DJ Augustin, CJ Watson, Nate Robinson and John Lucas III. Brooks has averaged 13.3 points and 4.3 assists on 58.3 percent shooting and 60 percent on threes in 22.3 minutes per game. This past Saturday, with Rose sitting due to the sprained ankle, Brooks scored 16 points with five assists off the bench and has been a formidable spark plug to lead the reserves, who have kept the Bulls in games by providing several productive quarters.
The Bulls offense has been firing on (most) cylinders in three games so far, as they stand at 2-1 after a tough loss to LeBron’s Cavs and a tight win over the Timberwolves in Minnesota. They’ve averaged 106 points per game, and stand at 4th in the league in that category. Of course, there isn’t much data to draw on, but it’s a nice change of pace for a team that is typically sub-100 in scoring. As a stark contrast, the Bulls were last in points per game last year, averaging just 93.7 ppg, the next closest team being Utah at 95.0 ppg.
But in years’ past, Bulls defense and rebounding has been good enough to overcome its offensive struggles, last year allowing a league-best 91.8 points per game, coupled with a rebounding differential of +2.8. In fact, in the last four years, under Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls have been in the top ten in the league in rebounding differential, peaking at a league-best +6.7 in 2011-2012.
This year, however, the Bulls have a -1.8 rebounding differential, at 18th in the league. It’s not a surprising statistic, as we’ve seen their opponents pull in more offensive rebounds and second chances than we’re used to. This is also ostensibly contributing to their middle-of-the-pack points allowed per game, at 16th with 99.7. Although the numbers aren’t of much statistical significance at this point in the season, they do complement what we’ve seen – some holes on defense, too many rebounds for the opponent, and a slight dip in hustle and alertness.
Those areas could yield some surprising results over the next five games in what is a very soft schedule:
- 11/4 vs Magic (0-3)
- 11/5 @ Milwaukee (1-2)
- 11/7 @ Philadelphia (0-4)
- 11/8 vs Celtics (1-2)
- 11/10 vs Pistons (0-3)
In theory, the Bulls should go 5-0, especially with Gibson and Rose expected to return Tuesday against the Magic, and Butler’s thumb clearly not causing any problems. He had an impressive game against the Timberwolves, including a veteran pump fake to draw a foul from #1 overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, resulting in game-winning free throws. It’s always fun to win on a rookie mistake (literally).
But there’s always some parity in the early goings of the season, and there are a couple trap games. Here’s my quick breakdown:
-The Magic are dreadful, giving up nearly 105 points per game, and only scoring 92 points per game. With Rose and Gibson coming back, and after an exciting win in Minnesota, this *should* be an easy win.
-The Bulls then travel to Milwaukee in a back-to-back. Although it’s technically an away game, Bulls fans will be at the Harris Bradley Center in full force, as is regularly the case. This is essentially a home game for the Bulls, as the Bucks are 0-4 in the last two seasons at home against the Bulls, but the margin of victory is not terribly large, at about an eight point differential in those four games. They just can’t seem to pull it off on their home court. They do have Jabari Parker now (a Chicago native), but they don’t have much to go with him. This team was 15-67 last year.
-A day of rest, then the Bulls travel to Philadelphia to play the tanking Sixers, who are arguably worse off this year than last year. But Philadelphia stole a game from the Bulls early last season to move to an impressive (not really) 3-0. They came back down to earth, losing the next two meetings with the Bulls later on in the season and finished at 19-63.
-In their second back-to-back in five days, the Bulls face a trap game at home against Boston. Although they’re 1-2 and not expected to do much this year, they beat the Nets and made a huge comeback against the Mavs on Monday night, though eventually losing. But they can put up points, averaging 105.5 points per game thus far, with Jeff Green and Avery Bradley leading the way. They also have a slew of young players, like Marcus Smart, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, and Phil Pressey, who might actually think they’re supposed to win games. And as long as Rajon Rondo is in the lineup, the Celtics have a chance of beating you.
-Finally, the Bulls return home to play the Pistons. It will be a welcome homecoming for the beloved former Bull, DJ Augustin, who almost single-handedly revived the Bulls in the 2013-14 season and bolstered their efforts to make the playoffs. The Pistons are a sleeper team this year and will surprise a lot of opponents. Here’s to hoping the Bulls won’t be one of them.
In these five games, the Bulls will go 4-1 or 3-2, despite the weak opponents, since five games in seven nights is never easy. It also doesn’t help that opponents will be gunning for the Bulls, trying to put forth their best performance to take down the top dog. It will be something the Bulls will have to deal with all season, but may be harder to fend off early on, when teams still have hope and fire, playing with a nothing-to-lose, everything-to-prove mentality.
No matter the Bulls’ record after this stretch, it’ll be interesting to see how Thibs works in the reserves. He’s shown confidence in Aaron Brooks, but next up will be Nikola and Douggie McD, who have both shown sparks of greatness when given the opportunity. Mirotic had a nice game against the Wolves, with 12 points, 8 rebounds, a steal and a block in 28 minutes, and McDermott had 12 points and 5 rebounds against the Knicks. Neither played much against the Cavs, but if any of the games in the next five are blowouts, they’ll see more minutes. Let’s hope they do.