Let's Be Honest - It's Been A Weird Season

Let's Be Honest - It's Been A Weird Season

First and foremost, thank you to Doug for the introduction, and secondly, I'm pretty jealous about the Cancun thing.

Anyway, hi! I'm Morten. Danish fellow. Been here before, though it's been a while. I'll be playing the role of Doug next week, but figured I'd introduce myself beforehand.

So. The Bulls. This season has been a bit upside down from where I'm sitting. Derrick coming back and struggling for a good chunk was expected, but even so, I thought they'd have a better handle on the season. When Jimmy Butler began doing Jimmy Butler things (included, but not limited to, scoring at an elite level, becoming a playmaker, maintaining a defensive approach, making the All-Star team, and so on) it was widely believed these Bulls were on their way.

And yet, despite seeing both Butler and Pau Gasol in All-Star jerseys, things are just off somehow. Injuries have piled up, but when has that ever not been the case? Fingers are pointed towards Thibodeau, but at no point does it look like he's lost the ears of the players out there, not when the entire team seems to be holding itself accountable. Even Gasol's defense, though worrisome and shaky, isn't the catalyst for the uneven production that's going on out there. Thibodeau isn't beyond fault however, which I'll touch on later.

If you're holding your breath for an answer, I'm afraid I can't provide one. I'm seeing the same Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde version of the Bulls out there like you, and while the numbers and eye-test most certainly point to defensive issues, a thought lingers in the back of my mind that says this is somehow deeper.

Back in 2007, after a promising playoffs the year before, the team upgraded with Joakim Noah and Joe Smith, but produced one of the most puzzling seasons in franchise history. Granted, Ben Wallace was around which was never a good thing from a Chicago perspective (he never really wanted to leave Detroit) but even so, the supposed upgrades were for naught. This isn't entirely the same situation here, as both Mirotic and McDermott have futures in Chicago, but going from a somewhat shallow roster to the deepest Thibodeau has had since being hired, has yet to result in satisfied play on a consistent level.

Over the first two or three months of the season, I was convinced it was about a lack of familiarity. Lately however, I'm not so sure. The whole Boozer-to-Gasol thing was always unfair to Taj Gibson, and now you have a rookie coming in, who you cannot justify not starting full time next year. That's harsh, even for a pro like Gibson who really needs to receive a medal for patience of some sort. At the same time, I'm not overly fond of the idea of having Noah coming back after knee surgery, and having him play power forward defensively. Yes, he won DPOY last year by being able to switch onto smaller players, even guards, but that was never on a consistent basis. Asking him to modify his defense to primarily roam around the high post defensively, while taking him away from the basket, even on a healthy knee, would be asking too much. But on a bad knee? Let's just say that's a philosophy I'm not buying into. Looking at you, Tom.

Some of this has been, admittedly, self-inflicted from a coaching perspective. With a roster like that, there's no reason for Kirk Hinrich to average 25+ minutes a game. Nor is there any particularly need for burning a 34-year old Gasol for near 35 minutes nightly, when Gibson and Mirotic are right there behind him. I'm not requesting that the Bulls adopt a fully blown "Popovich model" overall, most of the core is too young for that, but for the older guys? Absolutely.

Moving forward, I'm conflicted as to what I wish to see happen. I'm a firm believer that rookie experience can only be a valuable asset going into the post-season, should injuries occur. But while that part of me wants to see McDermott get 25 minutes a game, there's a stronger need to get the current core on the same page as they re-integrate Rose, Butler and Gibson at some point in the near future.

One thing the Bulls, as a team, has going for themselves is the fact that total minutes played for each player, is at a nice area. While Butler's 38.9 minutes is a load, he'll top out at 68 games played (and that's if he, and the players who follow, re-joins the team tomorrow against Toronto) and in the 2,600 minutes range. For Rose, it'll be 57 games and about 1,800 minutes. Noah is looking at 70 games and around 2,100 minutes. The only guy with some concern, as I mentioned previously, is Gasol who's missed only four games and is looking at 2,700 minutes at an advanced age.

Is that enough fresh legs to make up for a lack of continuity? That remains to be seen. But it may play a factor down the line in a seven-game series.

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    Whassup Morten: Glad to have you aboard. Good opening piece.
    Yes, it has been a strange and unusual season, where regular season wins and losses mean very little, yet the team remains focused on winning a championship. Where Coach and management feuds dominate the headlines and rumors of college coach Fred Hoiberg taking over as Head Coach for the Bulls next season regardless of the team's success. It's been a head scratching season to say the least.
    However, there are patterns to this season which will be useful for the team to maximize its' potential during a long playoff push, and it starts with managing each players mins appropriately. I won't go through them all but here it goes...
    Derrick Rose plays best when he it playing between 21 - 29 mpg. He mentioned how he strained his knee ligament during the GS gm, and coincidentally he played 43 mins that game and 37 mins the game before. He scored 30 pts and dished 7 asst against the Warriors, but also had 11 turnovers. Derrick's playoff mins should be limited to 27 - 30 mpg. in order to keep him healthy for the next game.
    If Niko doesn't start, then he should continue to log starters mins. Niko has been playing his best basketball while playing between 31- 35 mpg, and this isn't just in the month of March, but for most of the season. It may seem unlikely that he plays so many mins once Taj Gibson returns, but Taj is no where near the offensive force that Niko has been, and both grab around the same amount of rebounds. Reduce Taj's mins between 20 -25 mpg, and rotated between the two depending on the matchup for the playoffs.
    All Pau Gasol needs is a week off before the playoffs begin. Even if he wants to return have him sit it out the last week of the regular season. Pau has been Mr. Consistent all season long, and I find it odd that the 2nd oldest player on the team has been the one who's in the best shape. Continue to play Pau 35 mpg in the playoffs.
    I don't care what Noah has said about his mins, but management has nailed it with him. His game is all about energy, and 31 mpg has been when he is most effective. He has logged heavier mins this season, but when he's played a couple of 35 min games in a row he tails off stat wise.
    If Pau is Mr. Consistent then Mike Dunleavy is Mr Inconsistent. Geesh! When he's on the team usually wins, but when he's off he's useless to the team, and his stats back it up. Once the playoffs start, Thibs should start Niko @ SF and bring Dunleavy off the bench, but that's unlikely to happen, so just limit his mins to 20-25 pg and hope for the best from him. One half he's a Kyle Korver clone, and the next he's ghost.
    Hopefully the emergence of Tony Snell and E'twaun Moore would spell relief for Jimmy Butler, assuming they are on the playoff roster.
    Depth is the key, and both of these guys should play in spurts.
    I noticed these patterns by checking out each player's game by game stats on ESPN.com. The mins they played vs how they performed stat wise, and whether the team won or loss when they exceeded their normal amount of mins.
    So there it is... An estimated pattern of production. Good Day!

  • I'd have to say there were certainly signs of Thibodeau losing the team early.

    He had that whole "get back into the circle" thing going on in December I think it was.

    There was the point where Taj and Joakim both said the defensive issues were lack of trust and Thibodeau said that's bullshit and kind of went off on both of them.

    There was also the point where he appeared to be calling out how long it was taking Derrick Rose to recover from injury.

    Those stories all seem like distant memories now because the front office/thibs thing is such a bigger story. The thing I wonder about with that is whether things are really any worse now than they were this past summer or whether it's just a story in the press now.

    I think probably the latter.

  • If Derrick Rose plays just 27 MPG, or even 30, sorry, but this team has little to no chance of a finals appearance. He needs to be playing normal superstar playoff minutes.. If he's not healthy enough for that, it's wait til next year again. If that is the case then Derrick is not worth $20M per and we aren't going anywhere unless he is at least close to being a superstar. Then it becomes, wait until that huge block of salary is cleared and can be spent on reasonable production/dollar.

  • In reply to direwolf:

    27 minutes of star performance still gives the Bulls a chance. 38 minutes of pedestrian performance doesn't.

  • In reply to direwolf:

    Just to clarify: My minute projection was for the regular season. Rose, and others, would undoubtedly have to increase their minute volume in the playoffs.

  • In reply to Morten Stig Jensen:

    Which is less of a problem since there are no back to backs.

  • In reply to direwolf:

    I think it's more important how he closes out games. 27 minutes would be ok as long as he's dominant in the 4th quarter like he's done for the most part this season even on a minutes restriction. Gasol and Jimmy can carry the team to the 4th, but we need Rose to win it.

  • In reply to ajaychitown:

    We need more than Rose to close. Any/every team will/can just put their best wing defender with length on Rose(i.e. Lebron, Leonard) and pretty much shut down our offense.

    Hopefully, Butler and especially Mirotic will make teams pay for that tactic this time. and of course Thibs has to find the stones to bench Gasoline in the closing minutes so that we can actually get enough stops to win a game.

  • I think we're deluding ourselves at this point by assuming that Derrick can be a big, positive factor in the playoffs. It seems extremely unlikely based upon the history of the game when players receive repeat serious injuries in their prime and based on Derrick's regular season play this season, that he's ever going to be a great player in this league again. While I don't have confidence that they will, I hope the FO takes the necessary steps to stop trying to build around Derrick and ultimately decouples him from being a major factor in the planning for a championship run. The odds are long either way, but I'd rather be proactive than reactive the next time Derrick can't be counted on. It's a tough break for a tough kid. He had the right DNA before the injury. His body just isn't there.

  • In reply to Hunter:

    I look at it this way, he's still the best option we have at point guard. And even though he was inconsistent this year he still showed the ability to close out games. Unlike previous years there's no expectation for him to do it on his own. This time he has help. All we can do is hope he stays healthy and maintain the belief that the Bulls can pull out an upset.

  • I really question the bulls ability to integrate rose, butler and Gibson before playoffs. Rose and Gibson need to play within themselves and within the system. Rose will destroy our prospects in the post season with his brand of apathetic hero
    ball. I like how our team is gellin right now and we dont need rose messing that up. And turnovers, arbitrary threes and lack of defensive communication will take this team completely out of whack. The scenario I dont want to see play out is rose comes back, we live and die based on how he plays, he becomes excuse for early playoff elimination and next year becomes rebuilding year. Derrick Rose becomes worlds worst business man, the end.

  • In reply to Villageworker2:

    Honestly I think if Rose can just chill out on the threes he'll be alright. I have a hard time believing he'll do the same in the playoffs but that's just me.

  • With Rose, Butler and Taj back the hopes are still high of a deep playoff run if the Bulls remain at 4/5 seed. A mediocre Rose is better than Brooks or Kirk, so regardless, Rose will give the Bulls a better chance than without him. However, winning 4 games against the Cavs seems to be a stretch, even if Rose was playing at a near MVP level, so my expectations are that the Bulls make the ECF but eliminated by Cavs. Or, worst yet, the Bulls finish at 3rd and face the Cavs on the second round.

  • Welcome back, Morten!

  • This team can win a championship with Rose at a productive 27 +/- mpg. Besides Rose, the Bulls have 2 current All-stars (Butler and Gasol), and they have 2 bench guys who start for many teams (Taj and Nikola, and he should be the ROY).

    And Snell has become a really nice G off the bench. Brooks can carry a team when he gets hot. Even Kirk, if he plays only limited minutes and stays within his abilities (which means avoiding all the stupid stuff he is capable of), can help. Moore can contribute too.

    If the Bulls can beat Indy, with 3 key guys out and Noah on limited minutes, they can beat Cleveland with everyone healthy. Remember, the Cavs do not really have a lot of D. And anyway the Bulls have to beat both Atlanta and Cleveland to get to the Finals.

    More than anything else they can control, all, especially Thibs and Rose, need to be smart! And when they are not, someone needs to have a friendly little chat with them - tho I do not know who could fill that role.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    rustyw, I would like to have the same optimism you have, but any time with Lebron James is a team to beat. Remember, we never beat him when he was on Cavs earlier, nor Miami. And it looks like this Cavs team has no apparent flaws. They have bigs, shooters, 3 guys who can create for themselves (James, Irving and J.R Smith). So, I think the Bulls will be an underdog against the Cavs regardless. What we may be able to count is on the playoff experience and depth.

  • In reply to BullsDynasty:

    I agree with you that the Cavs have to be the favorite and that I do not have the optimism about the Bulls chances of winning a championship. Yet, I do think that the Cavaliers have flaws as well and the likely champion will come from the West.

    Much like the first Miami team that lost to Dallas, the Cavs won't be able to beat the Western champ. And that is probably more due to flaws with their defense and having a consistent person step up in the playoffs. Kyrie is a huge talent but this will be his first test in major playoffs unlike DWade who already had a trophy. And Bosh had been to the playoffs before unlike Love.

    Now regarding the Bulls I do tend to be optimistic and usually agree with rustyw on most things except for maybe I'm more willing to not blame Thibs as much. But I don't feel comfortable that this Bulls team can win a championship this year. I agree that they have the potential parts and players. But there are just too many uncertainties.

    I cannot think of a team that won a championship with so many uncertainties. Its arguably two best players are out for many games leading up to the playoffs. They all have never played together for an extended time this year. Managing Niko's time with a healthy Taj, Pao, and Noah are just too many moving variables. I think the Bulls can go far and cause damage this post-season. I just think hoping for a championship is too much.

    I hope they can get everybody back and playing on the same page for a whole season to build up to a championship run next year. Although the Cavs will be a better contender then, too. I just worry that all the uncertainties including DRose's abilities even if he is healthy just don't make this a championship caliber team right now.

  • I saw that Jack Haley, member of the 91 Bulls championship team, passed away at the age of 51 of heart disease.

  • A perfect example of the sheer brickheaded moronic assholiness of Thibs stuborn refusal to recognize reality. With a tad over 8 minute to go in the third Snell (who has been torched all night by DeRozan to the tune of 19 points in just the first half) picks up his 4rth foul. So what does our resident genius in training do, of course he brings in the corpsedog(because everyone knows that Kirk is our first guard off the bench no matter what the circumstances are) to play SG instead of the bigger, younger, better more athletic Moore. So what happens within the first 4 seconds, the Raps isolate DeRozan on the POSdog and he takes him to the rim like he was playing against himself in the practice gym. Sometimes Thibs just makes you want to hate him, or dive through your TV screen and strangle him. Honestly, I don't think hangdog could guard me, and I'm 55 with multiple knee, back and shoulder surgeries.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Nevermind that Hangdog has to play the backup PG minutes when Brooks gets are rest, so whats Thibs going to do now play Brooks every minute of the second half or play hangdog 12 minutes straight so he looks like an even bigger piece of shit than he does when hes fresh. Brilliant, as always.

  • Gotta give the Bulls some credit, they took care of business with the Raptors. I'm also a little shocked that Thibs kept Gasol on the bench in 4th and stayed with Niko. To be honest I thought he did a good job with the minutes in this game. I didn't even mind Hinrich getting 28 because he's been playing well lately and I just personally don't like Brooks style of play all that much.

    Noah was magnificent. I think even when Rose comes back the offense should still run through Noah. He knows how to get the team more involved and I actually think Rose would be better off playing off the ball as it takes attention a way from him and opens up lanes more for him to attack.

    I can't say enough good things about Mirotic. My only gripe with him is he's taking too many threes but that's also a testament of how confident he's become. It really is something seeing how wide the gap is between him and McDermott just in terms of confidence. McD passed off on a couple wide open looks so my feelings for him is about the same as they were for Snell last year and early this year. McD just needs to gain some confidence hopefully he comes back as a better player with a fresh start next season.

  • In reply to ajaychitown:

    Its scary to think how good Mirotic would be if he could actually make 3's rather than just shoot them. He was a Rose like 3-11 last night and still looked kind of awesome. I believe that he is shooting under 30% from 3 this month.

    In addition to strength training, he is going to have to work hard on his 3 point stroke this offseason, or rework it all together. I would love to beg borrow or steal that shot guru coach from the Spurs to work with him, or maybe he can just work with McDNP, who apparently can't miss them in practice.

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