All posts by Jake Weiner

Jake is one of the founders of DRosesandThorns.com and a graduate of Vanderbilt University. He loves the NBA and MLB and is an avid Bulls, Cubs, and Bears fan. In his non-hoops obsessing time, he listens to hip-hop and watches high quality TV shows. You can also find his writing at TodaysFastbreak.com and BBALLBREAKDOWN.com

BULLet Points: Bulls deliver completely empty signature victory

The Bulls technically aren’t eliminated until they lose another game or Indiana wins one, so Saturday night’s matchup with LeBron James and the Cavaliers still mattered. As is often the case, the Bulls brought their A-game for LeBron and co., pulling out an impressive 105-102 victory. Of course, it’s far too little, too late, so plenty of Bulls fans are just annoyed by this type of performance. Let’s take a look at how they did it.

  • The Spring of Cristiano Felicio continues. Felicio was 7/7 with 16 points, five rebounds, and two blocks in 23 minutes. He provided a real defensive presence and was perfect from the field, slamming down several dunks. Fred Hoiberg rightfully rode Cristiano down the stretch, as he played nearly the entire fourth quarter. The Bulls were +12 in Felicio’s minutes and -9 in Pau Gasol‘s.
  • The Bulls’ success with Felicio in the game is classic addition by subtraction. Pau puts up gaudy rebounding and block numbers that largely amount to empty calories. His slowness getting back and moving defensively sink the unit. His offensive production is overvalued as his post-ups slow down the flow and he takes a high percentage of long mid-range shots. Felicio does all the little things defensively and stays out of the way for the most part on the other end. The Bulls will be a better team without Pau in the starting lineup.
  • Good news! The Bulls have the rights to Cristiano Felicio next season for under $900,000, making the 23-year-old Brazilian a legitimate find. The Bulls will also have matching rights after next year, so Felicio will be on the team for a long time if things go well. A fun silver lining to a season that’s been anything but.
  • Bobby Portis and Felicio made up the frontcourt for almost the entirety of the fourth quarter comeback. The Cavs led 82-79 after three, but the Bulls stormed ahead to a double-digit lead before a late flurry from LeBron James made things interesting.
  • Ultimately, the James-Kevin Love frontcourt didn’t get the job done, as Tyronn Lue elected to go small for that stretch. Tristan Thompson never came in throughout the Bulls’ onslaught, and I wonder if that would’ve stopped the bleeding.
  • Both LeBron and Love were phenomenal, though. James finished with 33 points and seven rebounds in 39 minutes. He nearly willed the Cavs all the way back at the end, drilling multiple three-pointers at critical times. He was 4/5 from distance on the night, a far cry from his 30.2% clip on the season. Kevin Love notched 20 points and 13 boards.
  • Jimmy Butler turned it up late to secure victory. He finished with 21 points, six boards, and three steals. Derrick Rose had a tough night, adding only 10 points while posting a -20 in 32 minutes.
  • Nikola Mirotic tallied 13 points and six rebounds in only 17 minutes. He’s really started to look like a valuable player since coming back from his appendicitis. He’s shot 43.7% on threes since the All-Star break and is up to 38.2% overall.
  • J.R. Smith was lights out, scoring 24 points with seven three pointers. He’s quietly been one of the most prolific three point shooters in NBA history, and some nights he’s just going to roast you from deep. The Bulls are lucky J.R.’s hot shooting didn’t sink them.
  • Mike Dunleavy still looks like a corpse, which is unfortunate.
  • Coming up: the Bulls head to New Orleans tomorrow night.
Advertisements

BULLet Points: Bulls handle Bucks, but is it too late?

The Bulls held on for a 102-98 victory over the Bucks on Sunday, but they still sit two games back of a playoff spot with only a handful to go. Their odds are long, but nothing is off the table yet. The Bulls just have to keep pushing and hope things fall their way. Let’s take a look at their win in Milwaukee.

  • Jimmy Butler followed up Saturday night’s massive triple double with another great performance. He notched 25 points, eight assists and five boards on 10/11 shooting, the first time a Bull had shot that well on 10+ shots since Scottie Pippen in 1990-91. Mentally, Jimmy looks to be all the way back from his knee issue after having some confidence issues in prior games.
  • While Butler was masterful against Detroit on Saturday, he dominated the ball; at one point late in the game, several possessions in a row were the same Butler-Pau Gasol two man game. Against Milwaukee, Jimmy still facilitated the offense but kept the ball moving much more. Everyone was able to get involved, and the offense looked much better. Granted, Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons defend a lot better than the Bucks.
  • Pau Gasol played pretty well for an old guy on a back-to-back. He scored 16 points to go along with eight rebounds and eight assists. Pau attempted four three pointers (making one), but his stroke is pretty sound from deep. Makes you wonder how things might’ve been different if the team made a conscious effort to have him out there more often from the start.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo was the player of the game. Now the Bucks point guard (at nearly seven feet tall!), Giannis was absolutely unstoppable unless Jimmy Butler was on him. The Greek Freak tallied a career-high 34 points on 14/22 shooting to go along with nine assists. His only weakness offensively is shooting, so putting the ball in his hands forces teams to play him close or cede a long-legged drive to the bucket. That defensive attention has unleashed Chicago-product Jabari Parker, who many were starting to wonder about. Jabari had 24 and 11.
  • After no-showing against Detroit, Nikola Mirotic played a big role on Sunday with 19 points and six rebounds. It seems pretty clear that Mirotic is most effective when given the freedom to go to work offensively. Sure, he’s gonna have some awful shooting nights, but forcing him to the margins of the offense just doesn’t fit his game. Hopefully Fred Hoiberg is able to find Niko’s sweet spot next season like he has for Doug McDermott this year.
  • Justin Holiday continues to get regular rotation minutes, but still hasn’t broken through in a meaningful way. He’s 27, so it’s hard to imagine him developing much more in the future. Regardless, he’ll be cheap as hell next year, so *shrug*.
  • E’Twaun Moore was solid in 27 minutes, and he’s been a real find this season. To a lesser degree, Cristiano Felicio was also a good spot, as he looks worthy of playing at the end of an NBA rotation. He doesn’t offer much offensively, but he’s a natural defensive center.
  • Derrick Rose missed his second straight game but is set to return on Tuesday against Memphis. Khris Middleton sat out for Milwaukee, a nice break for the Bulls.
  • Coming up: the Bulls head to Memphis on Tuesday night.

BULLet Points: Pack it up, the Bulls’ season is over

Yikes. The Bulls had an opportunity to assert themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff race with a back-to-back against the conference bottom-feeder New York Knicks. After getting played out of the gym in the third quarter yesterday, the Bulls came right back out and got smacked again. The Knicks took an eight point halftime lead and never looked back, winning 106-94.

  • The Bulls offered zero resistance defensively on Thursday night. Sasha Vujecic got the Knicks going nice and early with three long distances makes (his only three attempts from deep) in the first eight minutes of the game. The Knicks never looked back, drilling shot after shot to methodically put the Bulls away. The Bulls cut it do 47-45 as the first half dwindled down, but Kristaps Porzingis drained back-to-back threes to end any threat. At the end of the third quarter, Arron Afflalo made a contested pull-up mid-range shot to beat the buzzer. The Bulls just couldn’t get a stop all night.
  • The Knicks shot 51.3% overall on 43.3% from deep. While the Bulls forced more turnovers (17-12), Chicago shot just 41.6% and 24% from three. The bench unit that’s found much offensive success lately came up horrifically short. Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, and Doug McDermott combined for just nine points on 2/16 shooting. Mirotic dropped 35 himself the night before (and had eight of those nine points last night).
  • Derrick Rose had another superb offensive game, even turning in his first dunk of the season!

  • Rose finished with 30 points on 13/23 shooting in 39 minutes. The playing time is excessive, especially given that Rose was questionable with a back injury. Furthermore, the Bulls were never really in striking distance to complete a comeback. Regardless, it was so much fun to watch Derrick fly around the court and show off his athleticism. You should absolutely read Drew Hackman’s analysis of Rose’s season here.
  • Cristiano Felicio weirdly played 21 minutes, and I just don’t see the infatuation with the guy. He may well be worthy of an NBA roster spot, but Fred Hoiberg‘s decision to play the undrafted free agent more minutes than Bobby Portis is a head-scratcher. Especially in light of the heavy minutes Rose and Jimmy Butler (a nauseating 39 minutes himself) are continually being forced to play. It sure sounds like Butler needs knee surgery. The Bulls need to stop overlooking the importance of minutes management and health. In a lost season, it’s incredibly destructive.
  • After dropping both games with New York, the Bulls are now big underdogs to make the playoffs. They’re 1.5 games back of Detroit with Washington hot on their heels. More importantly, they’ve simply been a bad team for weeks at this point. It appears to be (well past) time to throw in the towel on 2015-16.
  • I absolutely adore Kristaps Porzingis‘ skillset/game. He’s 7’3″ with the silky athleticism of a much smaller wing player. Porzingis is unafraid to hoist long distance shots, a ridiculously dangerous weapon because literally no other NBA player can really contest his shot. He’s only hit 33.3% of his triples this year, but European players traditionally take at least a year to adjust to the NBA three. Porzingis’ natural feel for the game, excellent rebounding, and all-around positive nature all lead me to feel confident in saying that he will be a major star. He doesn’t turn 21 until August.
  • Coming up: the Bulls head to Orlando on Saturday night. Honestly, who cares though? This team probably doesn’t deserve your attention unless you’re a masochist.

BULLet Points: Efficient Bulls notch easy victory over Nets

The Bulls truly need every win they can get as they scrap for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They delivered a comfortable 118-102 victory against a Brooklyn Nets team lacking in talent. Let’s dive into the BULLets.

  • The Bulls went up huge early on, at one point doubling Brooklyn’s score with a 47-23 margin. They entered the half up 18, with great contributions coming from up and down the roster.
  • Unfortunately, the Nets came out firing to make the game close again in the third quarter. Bojan Bogdanovic finished with a scorching 26 points and five assists after somehow dropping 44 on Philadelphia on Tuesday.
  • Ultimately, the Bulls had built a big enough cushion to put the Nets away without too much anxiety. Doug McDermott continued shooting lights out, pouring in 25 points on 8/16 shooting and 5/8 from deep. Over his last five games, Doug is hitting 58.3% of his threes and averaging 17.6 points. He’s up to 42.9% from deep on the season, good for sixth in the NBA. McDermott has only shot below 40% on threes in one month this season, 37.3% in December. He is an elite shooter.
  • The Bulls bench contributed in a big way in this one. Bobby Portis snatched 14 rebounds to go along with 12 points and was +22 in 28 minutes. Cristiano Felicio was +20 in 21 minutes, tallying six points, 10 boards, two blocks, and a steal. With Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah out, the production of these two is critical for the Bulls. I’m skeptical of Felicio’s ability to stick in a legit rotation, but Portis continues to show signs of improvement. This was a ridiculously exciting play:

  • Jimmy Butler appears to be almost all the way back from his knee issues, leading the team with 22 points and seven assists. He hit 7/12 field goals and all eight of his free throws in 32 minutes. Derrick Rose looked good too, adding 12 points, five assists, and three rebounds in 29 minutes.
  • The injuries never stop. E’Twaun Moore played just two minutes after suffering a hamstring injury. On the bright side, Aaron Brooks added a crucial 12 points on 5/7 shots in just 16 minutes. A great performance, but the Bulls are much worse off if Brooks has to take Moore’s minutes for an extended period.
  • While Justin Holliday hasn’t played particularly well, he’s shown enough that Tony Snell is completely out of the rotation. Over his last five games, Holliday is averaging 9.8 points on 46.7% shooting overall and 50% from three in 23.8 minutes per game. His career shooting numbers are putrid, so it would be quite the development for these results to stick. The Bulls will continue seeing what they have with the lanky wing.
  • Brook Lopez is pretty clearly the best player on the Nets, but he was a complete no-show on Thursday night. He had nine points and just three rebounds in 31 minutes. To be fair, Lopez was +9, as Brooklyn’s YMCA-caliber bench got annihilated.
  • I’m a big fan of Thaddeus Young. He’s had an interesting career; as a young player, he was expected to evolve into a ball-dominant star that he was never suited to be. After Doug Collins left Philly, Young finally started shooting threes, taking 3.7 a night his last year there as he seemingly transitioned into being a stretch four. However, this season Thaddeus has once again eschewed the three point shot, and it’s hard to blame him. He’s averaging 15.1 points this year and a career high 9.1 rebounds. His herky-jerky game is perfectly suited for confusing defenders inside the arc. There are a ton of ways to be a good NBA player, and Thaddeus has found his own. He had 16 points, 14 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks against the Bulls.
  • Coming up: the Bulls host Utah on Saturday night.

Bulls Third Quarter Breakdown

The Bulls are currently 30-30, a perfectly average record. Unfortunately, they haven’t played quite as good as that record suggests, as a recent run of wretched play has dragged Chicago’s net rating down to -1.5, good for 18th in the NBA.  They now sit a half game out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, on the outside looking in for the first time in months. As we sit at the third quarter mark of the season, the DRaT crew decided to once again take stock of the franchise. (You can find the Quarter Season Breakdown here and the Midseason Breakdown here).

Fortunately for the Bulls (depending on your perspective), they should have plenty of juice to make a push as the team gets healthy. Jimmy Butler is set to return this weekend from a scary knee injury and should instantly boost the team on both offense and defense. Nikola Mirotic is still making his way back from a nightmare appendectomy, but all signs point to a return this month.

While the Bulls have been one of the league’s worst teams of late, there’s also been a few bright spots. Derrick Rose continues to look excellent, easily getting into the paint and converting a solid percentage around the rim. He’s also maintained strong efficiency on his newest weapon, the bank jump shot. While Rose’s inability to stay completely healthy can be quite frustrating, he’s on place to play in nearly 70 games this season. That’s awesome.

Jacob Bikshorn is going to tell you about Doug McDermott‘s surge; Jared Wyllys has the impact of Jimmy Butler’s absence; Drew Hackman digs into the return of DRaT favorite Mike Dunleavy; Jason Schwartz analyzes the emergence of E’Twaun Moore. Enjoy!

-Jake Weiner, (D)Roses and Thorns Editor

doug career night

Hot Doug — Jacob Bikshorn

Since we last checked in, things have not been going well. Injuries, lackadaisical defense and an improved Eastern Conference have the Chicago Bulls on the outside looking in to the playoff picture. But if you carefully sift through the rubble of this season, you will discover one glimmering ray of hope.

The Bulls front office pushed all their chips to the middle of the table on draft night in 2014, and over the last twenty games, it’s starting to look like that bet might pay off. After a disappointing rookie season and a discouraging start to his sophomore campaign, I was ready to throw in the towel on Doug McDermott. But the developments over the last twenty games have me believing that Doug can grow into a potent offensive weapon.

The absence of Jimmy Butler has forced everyone to shoulder a bigger offensive load, and Doug has answered the call. McDermott has scored double figures in each of the last seven games and nine of the last 10. Prior to the All-Star break, McDermott had a 16.1% usage rate. In the eight games since, McDermott has raised his usage to 20.1%.

An increase in usage is often accompanied by a decrease in efficiency, but thankfully that has not been the case with McDermott. For the season, McDermott’s true shooting percentage is 55.1%. In his last 10 games, Doug’s true shooting has jumped to 59.4%, a number that puts him in the upper echelon of NBA wings.

McDermott has actually seen his three point shooting slip just a bit during this prolonged stretch of effectiveness. He’s shooting over 41% for the season, but just 38% in his last ten games. So how has Doug managed to increase in true shooting percentage?

Before the month of February, only 28.5% of McDermott’s field goal attempts were dunks, layups, hook shots or bank shots. In that same time frame, Doug only shot 51% on these type of shots. But, per NBA Savant, 33.8% of Doug’s field goal attempts have fallen into these shot categories and the former Creighton star is scoring on 63% of these attempts.

I would be lying if I said that I watched much of Doug McDermott in college, but there’s no way he gained his reputation as a prolific scorer by standing in the corners for four years. Forcing McDermott to be nothing more than a floor spacer is an improper use of his skill set and severely limits the impact he can have on the game.

Doug already has a well established reputation of being a knock down shooter. Now, he’s using that reputation to open up other parts of his game. McDermott has become a smart and dangerous cutter and has greatly improved his finishing skills in the paint. This play in particular highlights the full Doug package. He notices his defender overplays the three point threat, makes a smart cut, catches the ball on the move and finishes a reverse and-1.

McDermott still has a long way to go in other aspects of the game. He is still a total defensive liability and is on pace to record the lowest block and steal total ever for a rotation player. But offensively, Doug is developing into a dynamic player able to hurt a defense multiple ways.

butler dribble

The Importance of Jimmy Butler — Jared Wyllys

I don’t think many of us had grand visions for the Bulls’ success this year, but missing the playoffs in a league where so many teams get in would be unexpected. Much can change in the next six weeks or so, but even if they ultimately sneak into the playoffs, it’s difficult to envision any kind of real success at that level.

A lot of this is just the natural consequence of a new coach with the same flawed roster of last year, but so much of the team’s philosophy seems to have shifted. Once known for its defense, they are routinely giving up over 100 points, and even allowing teams to shoot franchise records (nearly 70%!) from the field.

They haven’t been helped, though, by the recent absence of Jimmy Butler. In the grind of midseason, to lose Butler is very hard to recover from. They have gone 4-8 without him, but fortunately, Jimmy is expected to return for Saturday’s game.

Seeing them without Butler probably exposes one of the major flaws of this team as currently constructed: They lack depth. Gone, truly, are the days when the Bulls’ “bench mob” could come in and handle a game in lieu of the starters. We see perhaps flashes of what used to be there, but it’s ultimately gone. The Bulls now depend on Jimmy to be Jimmy for the most part. Butler leads the team in scoring and is just behind Derrick Rose in assists per game. He leads the team in steals per game. Even with his extended absence, Butler is tops in total scoring by over 100 points, and in total steals, it’s not even close. He and Pau Gasol lead the team in VORP, and Butler’s PER is second only to Gasol.

Jimmy Butler is just crucial to this team having any kind of success. He’s the team’s clear best player on both ends of the court, and they’ve been a legitimately awful squad in his absence. Let’s hope Jimmy’s return gets the Bulls back on track.

dunleavy

The Return of Dunl3avy — Drew Hackman

#THERETURN. It’s a moment Bulls fans have been waiting for all season long. (Nevermind the fact that #TheReturn has been overshadowed by injuries to Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic, sporadic Derrick Rose soreness, and a mediocre team…) IT’S #THERETURN OF MIKE DUNL3AVY! The man, the myth, the legend, the 35 year-old veteran who came to Chicago to win a championship and who found himself out for half of his second season with the Bulls recovering from back surgery. Now, he returns in the middle of a team fighting for the eighth playoff spot. Since Mike’s return, they have gone 3-8, have allowed 100 or more points in all of those contests, and have been sliding out of relevance. Fortunately, for him, and for Bulls fans, the correlation here does not translate to any meaningful relationship due to its coupling with decimating injuries to several of the top Bulls players.

Mike’s minutes have been understandably reduced, averaging just 21.6 MPG compared to an average of 30.3 over the last two seasons. With only 11 games under his belt this season, and in just about 200 minutes, we’re looking at a small sample size. Nonetheless, according to Basketball-Reference.com, Dunleavy is performing better than his career averages in a few important categories. Most notably, Mike is shooting 47.1% from three point range, compared to 37.7% career – lights out – and, he’s attempting a higher rate, at 5.1 per 36 minutes over his 4.5 career. He only gets to the line a couple times per game, but has hit 85%, over his 80% lifetime. In digging into some of the advanced stats, Mike’s PER is slightly up this year from last, along with ORB%, and USG%. His stats in other areas have suffered as a result of the lack of surrounding talent, but the numbers are encouraging for a player whose job is to provide spacing and a three point threat.

The things that Dunleavy brings to this Bulls team – grit, savvy veteran play, off-the-ball movement, and length on defense – are qualities that Bulls fans can enjoy night in and night out. And since his numbers are looking better this year than last in some key areas, the Dunleavy X-Factor will start to peak when Butler returns to the starting lineup on Saturday. It couldn’t come at a better time, as the Bulls make one final push for a good playoff spot and try to show the league that they’ll still be a relevant force come April 16th.

Etwaun

The Emergence of E’Twaun Moore — Jason Schwartz

With the Bulls free-falling out of the Eastern Conference playoffs and countless injuries to the first team, it has been hard to find positives in this mostly miserable season. However, over the past month, journeyman guard E’Twaun Moore has been just that, a ray of light trapped in a dark and gloomy cave.

Moore had himself his best month in his NBA career this past February, when he averaged 13 points per game on 48 percent shooting. Moore’s career average is just five points per game on 42 percent shooting. But he has found some confidence given the increased minutes he’s received. These minutes are due of course to injuries to the likes of Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, and Nikola Mirotic over the last month, but the reserve guard has taken his opportunity and ran with it. Moore is much smarter with the ball than Aaron Brooks, and is much more competent on the defensive side of the ball than his diminutive counterpart.

The Purdue alum will never be a star in this league, but the Bulls have needed consistent backcourt depth for quite some time now. With Brooks struggling with his shot and his other usual short-comings, Moore has been able to wrestle away some vital minutes from the veteran. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and GarPax would do well to bring him back at a bargain price. Finding a backup point guard that can take care of the ball and score on occasion is very important for a contending team (even if the Bulls aren’t exactly that at this point).

If nothing else, Moore is a good example of how Hoiball is supposed to be run. Moore pushes the pace when he sees the opportunity, and doesn’t pass up open looks, even if early in the shot clock. His ability to understand what Hoiberg wants is his best quality. In a rarity for the Bulls, they actually seem to run some semblance of an offense when he is in the game. As opposed to the chuck-it-up Brooks, or the drive at all cost Rose, Moore focuses on ball movement and finding empty space on the floor to attack.

Whether he sees significant playing time going forward once the Bulls get healthy remains to be seen, but they have to be thankful for the second round pick who kept them in playoff contention when so many others on the squad lacked energy and intensity.