Wow, I haven't seen much of the Lakers this season before last night, but damn do they look old and uninterested. It's easy to see why Dwight Howard isn't having any fun. The Lakers made it close at one point, but even when coming back they were never really playing that well, the Bulls just temporarily played worse.
Kirk Hinrich turns in his best performance of the season
It's somewhat amazing that this is the first time this year Kirk broke the 20 point barrier (22) and the third time he's broken 15. It shows how much his game/role have changed relative to his first stint here. While his shooting percentages are lousy, he doesn't shoot so frequently that it makes a big impact on the game.
Instead, he's focused keeping everyone involved, crisp ball movement, and playing defense. He's done those three things excellently all season long. I know I was skeptical of the signing myself, but half a season into it and I think Kirk was the best choice for Chicago to maximize wins rather than just a hometown favorite.
Against the Lakers, he dropped the game manager role he's had all season and looked more like 2004 Kirk Hinrich. He knocked down his open threes and hit dribble drive step back mid range jumpers all night long. He still racked up seven boards and eight assists to go along with his 22 points falling just shy of a triple double.
On top of his best offensive play of the season, he defended excellently as well, breaking up numerous plays, getting his hands on the ball constantly and went a long way towards keeping the Lakers out of sync.
Timely three point shooting rules the day
The Bulls shot over 50% from the three point line, and I'd normally say that qualifies as making this a somewhat lucky win with unsustainable shooting rates. However, the vast majority of their makes were wide open threes that I'd expect the team to make on a regular basis. It was lousy, lazy defense by the Lakers that gave Chicago opportunity after opportunity for Chicago to bury them from beyond the arc.
Every time L.A. brought the game close it felt like Chicago would bury another three. Nate Robinson exploded the lead in the second period with back to back bombs. Marco Belinelli basically ended the game by knocking down two threes in under a minute late in the fourth. Kirk Hinrich drilled one when L.A. was mounting their final comeback bid.
However, all of these looks were defensive breakdowns by the Lakers. They weren't situations where the Bulls shot better than average, but situations where the Bulls were consistently afforded better than average opportunities.
How good can Jimmy Butler be?
In the past two games, Butler has started for Luol Deng, and the Butler bandwagon is gaining momentum. Butler looks better than his numbers on the floor, he's athletic, disruptive, and draws plenty of contact at the rim to get to the line. Many of his mistakes are due to lack of experience and playing time and would get cleaned up by a regular consistent role.
The question Chicago will be asking themselves in a couple of years is whether or not they want to go with Jimmy Butler or Luol Deng for the future. Butler is wrapped up for two more years on his cheap rookie deal. If Chicago wants to utilize cap room in 2014, they can amnesty Boozer and let Luol Deng walk.
If Jimmy Butler continues to progress as a scorer then this might be the out Chicago needs to let Deng walk away. Luol Will be 29-32 during the years of his next extension assuming he gets a four year deal. There's typically around a two point decline in PER in the years between 25-28 and 29-32, thus Luol, who likely still commands 12 mil+ per year, is most likely to drop to around a 13 PER player.
People will say Deng's game doesn't rely on athleticism, but for guys who are only moderately athletic relative to their peers and make half their worth by playing excellent defense, I'm skeptical about how true this is. When Deng loses a step is he still going to stick guys regularly defensively? Is his body, which has been racked by lower body injuries (including one he's suffering now) and still has a torn ligament in his wrist going to hold up for five more years? (next year plus a four year extension?)
The Bulls are in a lose/lose with Deng, because if they let him go, it's unlikely they'll be able to reuse his salary cap room to effectively help the team, but if they keep him he'll likely be an albatross after two seasons. It's similar to the situation they were in with Boozer. Overpay and complain about the contract, or don't bid and get no one useful at all.
Jimmy Butler's development provides the out clause for this catch 22. We'll see if he can prove himself over the rest of this season and next to allow the Bulls to make that decision.
Would you still give Dwight Howard a max deal?
Yes, he drew probably 10 fouls on the Bulls front court, but he scored eight points, had nine boards on just two of five shooting with four turnovers. He doesn't look even remotely close to the superstar he was in Orlando, and it's clear that he's either as disinterested as the rest of the Lakers or (more likely) his body is no where near 100% following back surgery this off-season.
Will Dwight Howard ever be the same? Would you give up say Joakim Noah and Luol Deng in a trade with the Lakers to find out? At one point, such a suggestion would have seemed outlandish. Right now, I'm not sure I'd want the privilege of paying Dwight Howard over 20 million a season for the next four years the way he's playing and with the health concerns he has.
Granted, the Lakers have a horrible roster to fit his abilities and a coach that has no idea how to use a big man trying to run the team, but even so, it's scary how much Howard has regressed, how much salary you'd need to commit, and the odds of colossal failure are fairly high in a move that brings in Dwight Howard.
Nice work Joakim
Joakim Noah blew off bench-gate and brought the fire against Howard. He scored just six points, but as noted above Dwight Howard had nothing going on, and Noah actually pulled down a bunch of offensive rebounds on Howard and really outworked him all game long.
Howard's a tough matchup for anyone, and as I noted in the pregame, he can easily take advantage of Noah's weaknesses while making it difficult for Noah to display his strengths. That wasn't the case last night where Noah outplayed Howard IMO and gave the Bulls the advantage at the center position.
Bulls on a 49 win pace
Nick Friedell took plenty of heat for predicting the Bulls would win 50 this season, but Chicago's on track for 49 wins now without Derrick Rose. Now there's a significant chance that the Bulls actually struggle when Rose comes back adjusting to how he fits into the offense as well as waiting to see how well he plays.
However, if Rose comes back strong, then Chicago's certainly got plenty of room to grow beyond that 50 win total this season. Whether he'll get it or not, Tom Thibodeau deserves some serious coach of the year consideration if he breaks the 50 win barrier with a team that's best shot creator for the majority of the season might be Nate Robinson.