How does this team get beaten by the Golden State Warriors D-League roster one night, the Clippers two nights later, and then come back and beat Phoenix and Houston in back to backs while missing Joakim Noah in the second game?
These Bulls have had some great wins and some terrible losses. They lost to the Nets at home, gave up a 35 point lead to Sacramento, lost to the D-League Golden State roster, but at the same time beat Cleveland, Boston, and Phoenix on the road.
How can this team be so inconsistent? It really comes down to a few things.
First and foremost the Bulls are an energy based team. They don't have superior talent to most of their opponents, and they really need to play harder than them to win. If you look at the Bulls record when they are on the tail end of a back to back and their opponent isn't, the Bulls have one win. Against lowly Washington, and required overtime to pull that off.
If you look at the games where the Bulls were rested and their opponent was on a back to back they only have one loss, to Denver in Denver [with signature wins against San Antonio, Cleveland on the road, Boston on the road among others].
How hard the Bulls play vs how hard their opponent plays makes a bigger difference for the Bulls than most teams, because they don't have the star powered offensive players that can just throw in big points in isolation while everyone else rests. They have to work so hard for their offense, and their defensive scheme is also demanding.
Throw in the fact that the Bulls are typically light weights in the front court, and it's easy to see why our big men would get worn down quickly when they aren't well rested given that they're typically giving up 20-30 lbs to opponents.
Just accounting for rest clears up many of the anomalies on the Bulls schedule, but it's clearly not the only factor in this inconsistent team. The other major factor is the shooting.
The Bulls are not blessed with a good offense [I know, you are shocked]. They're 27th in the league in offensive efficiency. They're 10th in defensive efficiency. Combine these facts, and you get a team that's probably trending a bit below .500 which is exactly where the Bulls are.
However, any given night your shooters can catch fire or you can run into an opponent who's shooter's catch fire. When the Bulls get those big shooting nights out of Hinrich and Salmons, particularly from the 3 point line, then they elevate their play to a much higher level. Suddenly everything in the offense works better once teams are punished for shutting down the paint.
This is what happened in the last two games against Phoenix and Houston.
So what can the Bulls do to play at a higher level with more consistency? With the current roster, not a whole lot sadly. The rest / non-rest issue is what it is. It's just a function of the schedule which the Bulls have no control over.
The shooting is also something they have little control over. You can't simply will Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons to shoot at a high percentage on a consistent basis. They're just not good enough to do it.
The few factors that could help the Bulls significantly at the trade deadline would be the following:
1) A consistent three point shooter.
2) A method of increasing depth, so the team wouldn't be so prone to rest issues
3) A player who can create their own offense and allow guys to rest for full possessions at a time
Nothing on that list is particularly surprising, but it's unlikely we're going to get any of those things at the deadline either.
The Bulls can't take on short term money unless they get some type of monster player that convinces them to pay the tax. That's awfully unlikely. They can't take on long term money unless they want to give up on their 2010 dreams which would be crazy given how close they are.
They're left trying to make salary neutral trades that improve the talent or improve the fit. Since no one wants to make a salary neutral trade where they give you more talent than they get, the Bulls are left hoping to find a team who has a player that fits us well for a player we have that fits them well.
That's always a tough one to pull off. Typically teams value their own players more than other teams' players. As such, expect the Bulls to remain relatively silent at the trade deadline and expect the team to remain relatively inconsistent going forward.