It had been a long time since a Bulls game in April meant absolutely nothing, making Monday’s viewing experience particularly bizarre. As much as I’ve loathed watching this team during this disappointing and infuriating season, I’ve always rooted for a positive outcome in their games. But when the Pacers officially eliminated the Bulls on Sunday, they also eliminated my ability to care about the outcome of the final two games. Alas, I still paid close attention to the festivities in New Orleans as the Bulls collection of scrubs outplayed the scrubs in Pelicans jerseys.
- More significant than who played for the Bulls in game 81 was who didn’t play. Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, E’Twaun Moore and of course Joakim Noah all sat due to injuries of varying degrees. Fred Hoiberg started Jimmy Butler at point guard and let the All-Star guard do pretty much whatever he pleased with the reins in his hands.
- Butler scored an efficient 23 points against the Pelicans, shooting 8/11 from the field and 6/7 from the line. Butler has struggled mightily with his three point shot all season and it was good to see him take – and make – just one shot from beyond the arc. Jimmy was able to waltz to the rim at will all night against a porous Pelicans defense and did not waste many possessions with bad jump shots.
- Butler managed to dominate the ball without over-hunting for his own shot. Jimmy tallied 11 assists in a game he was the primary ball handler in 28 of 29 of his minutes on the court. Aaron Brooks was the only true point guard available Monday night and he only shared the court with Butler for about 70 seconds at the end of the first half. Butler’s ability to penetrate and draw help – often from two defenders – led to easy kick outs to open shooters and cutters.
- Despite the high assist total, I would hardly categorize this game as strong support for the “Point Jimmy” argument. Yes, Butler recorded double-digit assists in a game the Bulls were desperate for offensive creation. But the reigning Most Improved Player still has a lot to learn about running a good pick and roll, a necessity for any lead ball handler. Butler has a tendency to peak around screens instead of jet past them, mucking up the offenses timing and limiting the effectiveness of the rolling screener. Butler attempted only one pass to the strong rolling Cristiano Felicio, a mistimed bounce pass that ended up as one of his four turnovers in the game.
- Speaking of Felicio, the Brazilian rookie continued to take advantage of his opportunity to impress the organization ahead of the fast-approaching off-season. Felicio scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in his third career start. Cristiano shot 6/8 from the field, with half of his attempts coming from 20 or more feet from the hoop. Felicio struggled on defense, often failing to rotate off Omer Asik to impede driving guards, but that type of timing and personnel knowledge comes with time and experience. I’d rather see the giant gummy bear splash some silky jumpers than make a few more hard rotations to the rim.
- Doug McDermott played just 24 minutes, shorter than the time Justin Holiday and Tony Snell spent on the court. McDermott has too often been relegated to decoy status down the stretch and attempted just one three pointer against New Orleans. In a game where the outcome truly did not matter, it was disappointing that Hoiberg did not make more of an effort to include the second year wing in the game plan. McDermott’s defense is and will continue to be very bad, and if the team isn’t going to maximize his offensive abilities, then I don’t know what they’re doing.
- Coming up: the Bulls finish off the season tomorrow night by hosting the 76ers.