BULLet Points: Rockets Blast Off On Bulls

  • Wednesday night’s drubbing in Houston was business as usual for the 2015 version of the Bulls, a team that is frankly not even average. Since the calendar turned over, the Bulls have scored 103.7 points per 100 possessions but have given up 104.1. It doesn’t take an NBA expert to understand that giving up more points than you score is a bad thing. While that offensive efficiency is good for 11th in the league, their defense ranks 22nd. The Knicks are in 23rd. THE KNICKS!
  • The bad defense was out in full force in Houston, as the Rockets hung 101 points on the Bulls. Chicago did hold Houston to just 41% shooting from the floor and 29% from three, but a lot of those misses were wide open looks that the Rockets typically splash in their sleep. Houston’s shot chart was predictably all shots in the paint or shots from beyond the arc.
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via ESPN

 

  • The Rockets went an uncharacteristic 2-6 from the corners in this game, and missed a slew of point blank shots in the paint. In many ways, the Bulls were lucky to have only lost by 11. This one could (and maybe should) have been even uglier.
  • Houston used the excellent penetration ability of James Harden to create all of these great opportunities. Harden, who at one point scored 11 consecutive points for the Rockets, was 5-6 in the second quarter and really messed with the basic principles that the Bulls employ in defending perimeter players. In pick and roll situations, the Bulls typically have the man guarding the screener drop back a few steps in an attempt to coral the ball handler. Unfortunately, Harden was so good getting through the teeth of the defense that the typical drop-back scheme wasn’t enough to slow him down. So the Bulls adjusted, blitzing Harden with double teams 27 feet from the basket. Harden, one of the best passers in the league, was able to use the Bulls’ pressure against them, making nifty passes to open players, who made more nifty passes to more open players.

pau-gasol

  • The lack of success in slowing down Harden with their typical defensive strategy is very concerning. Tom Thibodeau literally wrote the book on this system that a large number of teams have adapted as their own, and to see the Bulls execute it poorly enough that they abandoned it is a huge issue going forward. Against a team like the Warriors, where the slightest amount of breathing room is all Steph Curry needs to launch a great shot, it’s not unusual for the Bulls to alter their strategy. But Harden, who was only 9-20 in this game, wasn’t bending the Bulls out of shape with long range shooting. He was just driving past the man tasked with slowing him down.
  • The men who were tasked with dropping back in coverage were Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol. Gasol in particular was hard to watch in this game:

  • Gasol played like the Tin Man on a rainy day, seemingly stuck in place on several defensive possessions where they Bulls desperately needed him to rotate into position. Whether it was on plays where he was directly responsible for slowing down the ball handler, or he was guarding the big not involved in the pick and roll action, Gasol was a step slow and a second late on pretty much everything.
  • The bench Wednesday night was atrocious. Nikola Mirotic looked physically outmatched by the athletic rockets in his 12 minutes of court time. Mirotic was one for eight from the floor and was a minus 17. IN 12 MINUTES. Taj Gibson, who managed a double-double in 30 minutes off the bench, was a -10 for the game. Aaron Brooks, who committed two very costly turnovers to start the fourth quarter (when the Bulls were down just five points!) was a -15 in 15 minutes. Jeff Van Gundy pointed this out on the broadcast, but it’s worth restating here: the depth of the Bulls was a perceived strength going into the season and for much of the first two months. Lately, this has been a shallow squad. McDermott hasn’t found the floor for real minutes since his injury. Tony Snell has not played at a level that Thibs deems worthy of a rotation spot. And Mirotic seems to have slammed into the rookie wall like a Porche with a brick on the accelerator.
  • Rose had a typical game for what he is these days. 9-22 from the field, 2-9 from three, only four attempts at the free throw line. Should Rose be shooting more than twice as many triples as free throws? Should I eat fewer Sour Patch Kids and more salad? Sometimes things are easier said than done.
  •  The lone bright spot in this otherwise lackluster game was Jimmy Butler, who managed to play with intensity on offense despite the nearly impossible task of defending James Harden on the other end. Butler was 9-18 from the field and forced the issue off the dribble, getting to the line eight times. Butler wasn’t just bulldozing his way to the basket, as he made a fair number of difficult jump shots. According to NBA.com, Butler was 4-7 on contested shots Wednesday night. Butler was a -1 overall, but considering he played all but seven minutes of an 11 point loss, he clearly cannot be blamed.
  • Kirk Hinrich somehow played more than 30 minutes again. He shot 1-6 from the field, and passed up a slew of open looks, including one with the shot clock winding down that led to a 24 second violation and a turnover. Hinrich’s presence on the floor isn’t just personally humiliating for Hinrich. He’s also absolutely destroying the spacing for his teammates. Houston, a well coached team that understands how to play the percentages, was more than comfortable ignoring Hinrich on the perimeter, sending his man crashing into the paint to clog up whatever action the Bulls tried to run. The absence of Mike Dunleavy has forced Hinrich into a role he hasn’t been able to handle since 2009.
  • Things can only get better…I think.
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