Bulls winning ugly but can they keep it up?

It's not pretty.  It's not efficient offensively, it's not high scoring basketball.   However, the Bulls stand at 3-2, and so far, everything we saw in preseason has been true in the regular season as well.   The Bulls offense is putrid, unwatchable, scary bad while their defense has been eye poppingly good.
Before the season started, I would have made the Bulls favorites in six of their first 20 games.    Out of their first five games, I would have made them favorites in one.    Can they keep knocking off teams we'd assumed would be better?   

The glass is half full approach:
So far, they've beaten really good teams.   This is a sign, that in fact, you are a good team.   Thus, the Bulls simply might play better than most people thought they would this season and come out with more wins.   

Also, despite a solid start, they really haven't played to their potential.   Be it injury or slump, Derrick Rose's offense hasn't come close to matching what last year, yet alone show the improvement we expect this year.   He's made strides on defense, but he has a lot of head room to play better, and I think all Bulls fans are expecting that down the stretch.

On top of that, Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons have not been able to shoot the three to save their lives, and they aren't doing much better inside the arc either.    This doesn't seem like a trend that's likely to continue all season.  

Offensively, the Bulls are the fourth worst team in the league in points per possession, but their most potent offensive players are all playing at career worst levels [okay Rose's career is short, but still] so far.   The offense simply has a ton of potential for internal improvement.

On top of the guard play, Luol Deng, one of the biggest question marks, is back.   There's no question about it.   We may never see 52% from the field Luol Deng again, but we're going to see active, productive, Luol Deng.  He's playing like a beast, killing guys for rebounds and defending at a very high level.  

Tyrus Thomas has also missed a game and played another while under the weather, and James Johnson hasn't seen the court yet.   There's still some pieces left on this roster which can contribute more than have had the opportunity to do so.

In the end, the Bulls are 3-2 in games we'd have predicted a 1-4 start to the season with the hope of getting one upset in the four losses giving us a 2-3 start.  They've showed they can defend some of the best teams in the league, and if it weren't for the Celtics game, the Bulls might be leading the league in defense.  

The glass is half empty approach:
On the other hand, there are signs that things may not be as peachy as we'd like. 

First, when you have a team that absolutely needs to grind out wins, then you're going to struggle whenever you aren't putting out 100% intensity all the time.   The Bulls lead the league in back to backs on the schedule, and they're going to really struggle on the second half of those when they can't lean on some great offense and need to play up in the faces of opponents with tons of hustle all the time.

Also, it's worth noting that hustle teams that lack firepower are destined to struggle in the playoffs. We'll get a lot of wins in the regular season because we can simply "want it more".  The NBA season is a grind, and we all know that not every team shows up every night.  In the playoffs, your opponent always wants it and always shows up though.  Even if the Bulls finish with 50 wins in this style of play they'd probably struggle in the playoffs.

Another problem is that when you're grinding out every team and mucking up the game, you can take down good teams, but you're also heavily susceptible to losing to bad teams as well.   Especially bad teams with a lot of three point shooters.   When the Bulls go up against teams like Golden State, where they should be favorites, can they contend with a team that fills up the box score offensively with a really fast and loose offense?

The Bulls defense has been great while the offense has been bad.   However, when you look at the floor spacing, you wonder if the offense can rectify itself while if the Bulls lose any mental edge the defense could fall apart.

My prediction:
Well, I like to be an optimistic realist.   In other words, if there are two views and both are reasonable, then I'll expect the one with the better outcome to happen.  It's just easier to get through life that way.   Besides which, I already picked the team for 45 wins this year, no reason to get off that bandwagon now.


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  • This is a good read and pretty on the ball I'd say. I'd love to be the glass is half full type of person, but I'm just not in most aspects of life...why change now?

    On the other hand, there's no question that this team is underperforming offensively. Salmons has started to show glimpses that he can get back to last season's form. He needs to drive to the basket, that is the key to getting him back on track. The jumpshot will fall once he's driven to the basket a few times and seen the ball go through the net. Deng has outperformed my wildest expectations thus far, enough said. Hinrich/Rose look awful. Though Hinrich has played pesky defense and Rose has decided to show up in the last 4-5 minutes of the 4th quarter the last two games (when we reallllllly need him to be aggressive) which may be some sliver of silver lining to this putrid offensive performance thus far.

    How about Noah's jumper from just to the side of the FT line??!?!?!?! Is it just me or is he like 6/6 on that shot thus far? And he's hitting his FT's. And he's actually been fairly effective in spurts working in the post. I'll be damned, he may turn out to be a guy who can score 12-15/night. That would exceed anyone's wildest expectations...but why the hell wasn't he on the floor more last night? Miller is Miller...integral to the front court's success. He has so many intangibles that stabilize the whim's of Noah/Thomas. I would hate to see him go but I think it has to happen for them to get a big time player.

    Let's face the reality...everyone hate's Reinsdorf. Who wants to come to a big, windy, cold city for less money and one less year to play for that asshole? As well, why does Wade want to step into Jordan's shoes? Anyway, I hope we can make a trade and come to an unwritten agreement with Miller to resign him for the veteran minimum. In the few interviews I've seen of him, he seems to really enjoy Chicago and this team and his role on this team.

    I've been rambling like an SOB but anyway. Defense has been pretty good so far. That outlier we call the Celtics game could be a foreshadowing to games against teams like GS who can really put the ball in the hole.

  • Fair assessment. This very well could be a the major theme of the season. I still see room for optimism, though. As you noted, Rose, Salmons and Hinrich all are likely to step up their offensive game. Yes, none are likely to suddenly eclipse Gordon's outside shooting, but Rose and Salmons will both make at a higher clip than they have this week.

    Bulls management has also shown they aren't shy about making these minor deadline roster tweaking deals. Who's to say they won't make a move for an outside shooter on an ending deal, using our own ending deals or even Tyrus Thomas, if he can't get himself out of their doghouse. There are a number of bench shooters on ending deals right now.

  • They are winning ugly, because their shooting has been ugly. As soon as that gets better, we should start seeing some prettier wins.

  • Really nice win yesterday regardless of how it was done. Im not sure you can refer to a win against CLEVELAND in thier house, where they lost 2 games all year, as ugly.

    My biggest frustration is, we need to have a clear cut end of the game scorer. This has been the same song and dance for years. How many times have we seen the Bulls marginal lead disappear in the last 2 minutes. Im not sure if Deng is the guy, but you need to have someone put the ball in the basket with a 4-6 point lead and 1:30 to go...

    They run WAY too many plays for Miller at the end of games...

  • Doug, in trying to come up with a way to find a role for Johnson I wondered if we could play him at the 4 and use him offensively in a two man game with Rose the way we did with Miller last night against the Cavs? He can handle the ball and pass it from up top the way Miller does, he has the face up jump shot and he can pump fake and take it to the rim with a much faster move than Miller has? Is this reasonable?

  • I think Salmons and Hinrich will. I don't think their shots are all that different from last year (Salmons has been pressing and forcing the issue a bit). We need to get more easier shots, and Derrick being fully healthy will drive that, but it comes down to Kirk and Fish will.

    I mean, we should've seen this coming with Kirk. He shot 65% from 3 during the preseason: given how prone to streaking he is, should've guessed he'd start the season cold. And Salmons, my pet theory is his wife just had a baby, so maybe that's thrown him off a bit?

  • I agree Doug just not sure how the rotation would work out that way. Basically Tyrus and Gibson are splitting the time at the 4 now so how do you work Johnson in?

  • Also, and I know you touched on this, but I cant believe the Cavs are complaining about that call at the end of the game, considering they should have never even had the ball....Deng's shot hit the rim...Is that something that cannot be reviewed? The ball clearly changed direction on the replay. Real time, it was a tough call though..

  • Doug, maybe the poor offense is because they are wasting a lot of energy on the defense part. Defense is very demanding for both, physical and mental. In order to recover for offense it will require to you be a natural on offense. Are Hinrich and Salmons are naturals? I guess not. We are asking these players to be like Kobe or Michael (defense and offense) and is not going to happend. So I believe that in the case of these Bulls, when the offense gets better, the defense will suffer. They will relax. Good offense + defense will not come from these players. It is one or the other. So let them be and bring someone via trade that can actually pull Ben Gordon type of scoring. (Hamilton, anyone?)

  • Just to be technical, while no one could disagree that Kirk has been awful from the 3 so far, he is shooting pretty decently from 2 - 46.9%, which is actually better than last season's 45.6% - and I've been happy to see him taking it inside more. Not trying to discount the issue with the 3s at all, but Kirk takes plenty of crap for his shooting so thought he deserved to at least have that noted.

  • Our defense has been amazing however eventually we will need our offense to get going. I feel bad for Kirk, he gets so much hate because we let Ben walk. Its not his fault and people should not be making it out to be. Kirk is our longest tenured Bull and we should really support him. He has played well but has struggled with his shot which eventually start falling.

  • My issue with Kirk is his sloppy ball handling. Other than that what you said Doug.

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