Interesting tidbit on the starting line-up from Sam Smith

Interesting tidbit on the starting line-up from Sam Smith

For months, Bulls fans have sighed heavily at the thought of pairing Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in the starting line-up. Therefore, this paragraph from Sam Smith should instil plenty of optimism:

Perhaps the biggest question coming into the season is who will start at center. The Bulls have two All-Star centers in Gasol and Joakim Noah, and starting both last season obviously didn’t work well. Though new coach Hoiberg has been circumspect about his plans, it seems likely Gasol and Noah will no longer both start.

He doesn't quite cement it, because how could he? Even if he got this bit of info directly from Fred Hoiberg, training camp is still months away, and no one really knows how Noah's knee will look by then, or if Gasol suits the system.

What's interesting are the pairings Smith offer later on in the piece. He includes Gasol/Mirotic, Gasol/Gibson, Noah/Gibson, and Noah/Mirotic, but leaves out one, which by sheer coincidence is my preferred line-up; Gibson/Mirotic. My best guess is benching both Noah and Gasol would wreck hell on locker room chemistry, so I get the reasoning if that's the idea.

Now it seems that at least one of Noah or Gasol will start. This was to be expected in the case of Gasol, but Noah's name being involved is slightly surprising given his season last year. Again, as mentioned above, his knee plays a vital role in his abilities, so if that's gotten better somehow, there's logic in pulling him into the debate. But even on a healthy knee, you have to wonder how Noah would fit into a spaced out offense, as Mark Karantzoulis touched on earlier this week.

You won't experience spacing issues with Gasol, Mirotic, and to some extent Taj Gibson. Hell, even Bobby Portis shot 43.5% on jump shots last season and projects as a perfectly suitable pick-and-pop option. The trade-off here, obviously, is that even on a bum knee, Noah is dimensions above everyone else when it comes to defensive communication and know-how. You could survive with Gibson mimicking Noah's role - which is why I prefer him - but you'd lose size.

At the end of the day, every single line-up mesh comes with significant trade-offs, which is less than optimal:

Noah: Regardless of who you pair him with, there will be spacing issues, and potential efficiency issues (TS% of .482 last year) if the knee proves difficult.

Gasol: The best high-volume scorer on the team, is also the worst defensive big and is forced near the rim so opponents can't abuse his lack of movement.

Gibson: The best two-way big on the team still isn't a high-volume scorer, and tends to get tunnel vision. Thus, he needs an offensive front-court partner at all times. Not the best rebounder, however.

Mirotic: Consistency issues, especially on defense. Is better than Gasol on the perimeter on both ends of the court, but doesn't provide much in the paint. Best shooter.

The age-old idea of having players who can cover for each other's deficiencies is outdated and generally a poor way of pairing players. For four years, the idea was to hide Carlos Boozer behind Joakim Noah. The Bulls' defense was awesome overall, but that didn't stop Boozer from clearly being the weakest link, and having to sit down for entire fourth quarters, as he couldn't be relied upon.

With Mirotic turning into a surprisingly clutch scorer last season, and with Gibson having experience in closing games for half a decade, it'd be worth a shot pairing those two at the end of games, even if they aren't going to start together. Their combined motors and explosiveness - they're the two quickest big men on the roster, and it's not even remotely close - could serve as huge factors in Hoiberg's screen and quick shots play. Gibson can hit jump shots, even if he did struggle with them last year (34.7% compared to the season before when he connected on 37.5%), and with Mirotic draining 99 triples last year, there's no denying that teams won't just let him stand out there unguarded, even if he shot well below league average from depth.

You could also make the point that Gibson and Mirotic are both quick enough to hedge hard, and Gibson in particular can switch onto smaller players for stretches. Mirotic isn't as savvy or strong, but his speed and annoyingly enthusiastic motor is enough to at least bother opponents. Additionally, I suspect having a year in the NBA under his belt will help prepare him better for what's to come.

But while Gibson and Mirotic may present the best all-around option, how does one justify benching an All-NBA player, and a former DPOY? You could maybe get away with Noah due to last year, but Gasol is the guy who's difficult to find a seat for. He's still be the best scorer of the group, still pulled in almost 12 rebounds a game, still sent back 147 blocks, and started in the bloody All-Star game.

My guess: Gasol starts with Gibson.

If Noah's knee is as bad as last year, you could make the case that Gibson leap-frogs him as the team's best defender and is the obvious choice to start not out of necessity to cover for Gasol, but because he'd flat-out be the second best big. For Gasol, even with his defensive issues, it's hard to argue that he isn't amongst the best two bigs on the roster, and he should have enough range on his jumper to fit into Hoiberg's system.

With Noah and Mirotic coming off the bench, you'd instantly have a duo who could benefit greatly from playing against inferior competition. If Noah's no longer a primetime player, he's at the least a solid one overall, who would be able to give the Bulls a significant boost as a defensive/rebounding/passing specialist off the pine, and with Mirotic flanking him in a sixth man scoring role.

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    This is assuming Taj Gibson is still on the roster next season. Taj has gone from most tradable asset in an overcrowded frontcourt to starter.

    If Noah's knee remains an issue, he might as well retire. He'll be no good as a starter nor a backup.

    What about Bobby Portis? Does he start? Does he come off of the bench? Does he sit the whole season watching like a season ticket holder? BP must receive ample amount of PT throughout the regular season to develop into a professional NBA player.

    The way I see it, there is no set starters and rotational players yet. Hoiberg has to decide which starting 5 can run best in his offensive system. My best guess though is Pau and Niko starts, and Portis and Noah comes off of the bench. Taj is traded as soon as he is physically able to play.

  • Pau the "worst defensive big?" Bulls defense being "awesome overall" during the Boozer years prior to the arrival of Pau? Consider this:

    In 2013-14, Noah was DPOY and Taj played in all 82 games- the Bulls best defensive big men.

    Opponents shot .443 against the Bulls front court. Bulls were 3rd best in the league;

    Bulls frontcourt averaged 24.4 defensive rebounds per game- 8th best in league;

    Bulls frontcourt averaged 4.2 blocks per game- 11th best in league.

    In 2014-25, Noah's defensive production dived as he was playing out of position and on one leg. Taj was hobbled by assorted leg injuries all year and played in only 62 games. His production suffered as well.

    Opponents shot .443 against the Bulls frontcourt. Bulls were 1st in the league;

    Bulls frontcourt averaged 25.7 defensive rebounds per game- 1st in the league;

    Bulls frontcourt averaged 4.8 blocks per game- 4th best in the league;

    Bulls held opponents to .580 shooting % from 0-3 feet out (at the rim)- Ist in league;

    As for Pau's contributions:

    Gasol had 4.4 Defensive Win Shares- 1st on team;

    Gasol had a Defensive Rating of 101- tied for 1st on team;

    Gasol had 10.4 Total Win Shares- second on team;

    Gasol's Value over Replacement player (VORP) was 3.2- tied for second on team.

    I would argue that Pau actually helped the defense last year considering Noah and Taj were clearly worse than the year before. Moreover, the Bulls backcourt players were in the aggregate below average (negative defensive RPM) and their best backcourt player, Butler, admittedly played worse than the previous season.

    Sources: Hoopstats.com, Basketball-Reference.com, and NBARealplusminus.

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    Correction: in 2013-14 opponents shot .447 against the Bulls frontcourt- 3rd best in league.

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    This is a situation where numbers tend to mislead what actually happened out there. Gasol couldn't hedge and recover to save his life, nor was he at any point sound at stepping out to cover guys at the mid-range area.

    Now, I agree Pau had a better defensive years than a lot of people are claiming, but that doesn't take away from the fact that of the four bigs, Pau is the most limited one.

    Additionally, it needs reminding that Pau was consequently up against the lesser big, at practically all times. Noah was running around on one leg like a mad man, trying to keep versatile big men in check, with Gasol being the last line of defense out of necessity, and frequently against non-scorers.

    He forced opponents to shoot 6.6% below their average from within six feet, and this percentage gradually worsened the longer out he moved. 4.9% less on shots within ten feet, and finally he allowed opponents to shoot 1.5% better when beyond 15 feet.

    Essentially, you had to play him near the hoop at pretty much all times to squeeze out his defensive potential, and to Thibs' credit, this happened. But in terms of versatility, picking up switches, hard-hedging and recovering, and all those now necessary defensive tools for bigs, are areas he doesn't posses.

    Even Mirotic showed flashes of being able to switch and do so effectively, which was somewhat unexpected to see given how most assumed he had slower feet than what he showed.

    Just to be clear, however, I'm not saying Pau is Damian Lillard or Kyrie Irving out there. He's got defensive intelligence, and knows positioning. But at 34 (35 now), his body wasn't always agile and quick enough to get to where he needed to go. His long arms helped at times, but gambling with your arms is always a recipe for disaster, and Pau relied on that more and more when he realized he'd be late.

    I'm curious to see if a fully healthy Taj could do a better job than one-leg Noah last year. As I stated, I don't think "covering for each other" is in any way a solution, but Taj is pretty good at funnelling players into certain directions. Funnelling players Pau's way near the hoop, and I'm actually not that concerned as he does remain a strong shot-blocker. Having Pau play isolation defense at the elbow? That's where trouble arises.

  • In reply to Morten Stig Jensen:

    Mort, as you know the Bulls drafted Bobby Portis. I have no problem with that as he was the best player available according to the draft cognoscenti. However, the Bulls have an absolutely glaring need at back-up point guard that has yet to be addressed. Especially, as to defense. Consider this:

    The Bulls backcourt went from 3rd to 17th in opponent FG% from 2013-14 to 2014-15. That is a huge drop-off. As indicated earlier, the Bulls frontcourt opponent FG% was solid- 1st in the league. Yet, whenever the Bulls fall-off in defense is the topic, the discussion turns to Gasol's slowness on the P&R as the culprit and he becomes the subject of ridicule by certain posters. The guy was 5th in the entire league in Defensive Win-Shares and a second team all-NBA!!

    However, but for Butler, the entire Bulls backcourt was below average on defense. This includes Rose, Hinrich, Brooks, Snell and Moore. Moreover, Brooks and Klank were atrocious- and the stats support it. And they both played major minutes. Yet this always takes a backseat in any analysis of the Bulls drop-off in defense from two years ago.

    What is more puzzling is why this glaring weakness has not been addressed by the FO. Frontcourt pairings, IMO, is less important.

  • Again citing the "What happened to the Bulls defense" article posted on BlogaBull by some guy who calls himself the Hungarian Jordan

    "For the first time last season, NBA.com's Stats page introduced information that tracked how well players defended shots. They also showed the shooting percentage a defensive player held an offensive player to, and what the difference was in percentage over that offensive player's average shooting percentage."

    Here is a link to a chart of the Bulls' tracked defensive numbers:

    https://cdn2.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/Tk379j0s5jQGN8pnSepRgPBMNsQ=/1600x0/filters:no_upscale()/cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/3906758/bulls_defender_percentages.0.png

    If you cannot view the chart it shows(those with an inane agenda might say proves) that Bairstow and Nazr were our best defenders by this metric holding their opponents 8 & 6 percentage points below their shooting against the rest of the league. So I guess these days there are stats that can "prove" just about anything, like "the fact" that Bairstow and Nazr are the Bulls best defensive players.

    Of the players that actually play, Taj and Noah were the Bulls best defenders by this metric, holding their individual opponent 5.3 & 5.2 percentage points below their shooting against the rest of the league. Taj held his guys to 40.5% shooting and Noah held his to 41.4%.

    Just in case anyone is interested, Pau Gasol allowed 46.3% shooting against, the third highest(otherwise known as worst) on the team, with McDNP not surprisingly the worst at 51.8% and Jimmy Butler somewhat surprisingly second worst at 48%.

    Again these are not my numbers, they come from NBA.com's official stats page as posted on BlogaBull by the Hungarian Jordan.

    Make of them what you will, open minded or each according to his own agenda.

  • Speaking of interesting tidbits, here's another one that is almost shocking.

    "A consistent storyline during last season (and seasons prior) was rest given to the Bulls and how they performed as a result. Ian Levy over at Nylon Calculus spells it out:

    The Bulls were outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions on back-to-backs, about the same as the Brooklyn Nets' scoring margin last season. One two days of rest, they outscored opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions, a margin that would have ranked second in the league behind the Golden State Warriors across the entire season. So at team level, two days of rest was worth about 13 points per 100 possessions in net performance."

    It would be interesting to see the league wide analysis of this, which would put the Bulls number into some kind of context. This also doesn't factor in the number of days rest that the opponent had which given the large variance in performance(at least for the Bulls) would seem to have an important impact on these raw numbers.

    It also seems to me that the Bulls played the vast majority of their second games of a back to back on the road, which league wide should be close to a 50/50 proposition. I suppose that there could be structural scheduling considerations which could tilt it one way or another for any given team.

    In any event a 13 point per 100 possessions swing should be shocking enough that the league would want to address the situation for the sake of the integrity of the game and the best interests of the fans as well as the players. Personally, I would have no problem extending the length of the regular season to eliminate back to backs altogether.

  • I think this is deliberate, the NBA wants the home team to sometimes have an advantage because the visiting team is playing a back-to-back. However, I do not have stats on that, it is just something I have felt for years.

    Anyway, your stats are very interesting and suggest, at the very least, that if Hoiberg gets his guys more rest, they will score more ppg. This should be possible with the deep bench the Bulls have.

    So, the SF position is the weakest and where the team could take a big jump up in talent if they trade for a strong SF. I thought the FO would be on that last season. I was wrong! Maybe this year?

  • In reply to rustyw:

    The starting SF and backup pg or combo guard/3rd guard is a weakness. Guess they have to ride it out and see if Snell or McDermott emerges. As for the starting Center, it could get ugly as both Noah and Gasol(opt out) are in contract year. With the cap rising, I think both of them want one last big payday and for that to happen, they have to start and play 30+ minutes a night. There's no doubt one of our bigs is going to want to be traded by deadline. Hoiberg likes to play small ball with bigs that can shoot. Guys that can't shoot or score( cough cough Noah Hinrich) are probably not the best fits in the Hoiberg system.

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    I agree. Besides, guys that can't shoot or score are probably not the best fits in anyone's system! Unless, like Rodman, they are Allstar caliber defenders and rebounders.

    Hope Noah recovers from his knee injury by October. I doubt any team will want his $10+ million salary.

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    Noah gasol dunlevey bulter rose same lineup that was last year the cemersrty will be there this year to win a championship real shit

  • i think people have written Noah off to quickly. His knee condition might improve quite a bit. There is a lot of speculation about the degree of cartilage degeneration and the "bone on bone" status. But lots of players have played with similar conditions over the years once they strengthen the rest of the knee and get their range of motion back. I actually thought he moved pretty well in the playoffs once Pau went down and he was back playing center 30 minutes per night. I think there is a good chance that last year was his worst, which is often the case with a guy in his first few months post surgery. Let's hope that a summer of rest and rehab can get him back in shape to be a great center and great part of this team

  • By the way since its August and their isn't much to talk about. How about getting involved in Shaq's feud with Scottie Pippen.

    While I don't think that any individual team could beat the Lakers all time greatest team, heck, a team comprised of the best players in NBA history would have a hard time beating the Lakers all time greatest team, they are not beating the Bulls by 50 as Shaq keeps saying. The Lakers could easily field 2 teams that could compete for the best ever, and Shaq might not be the starting center on either one.

    As for the Bulls, my all time Bulls starting lineup would be Rose, Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Artis Gilmore at center not Horace Grant as Shaq suggested. Gilmore was a mountain of a man. One of the few guys who could actually match up with Kareem, Wilt and even Shaq physically. Gilmore would never have backed down to Shaq and probably gotten under Shaq's skin without the antics that Rodman used. Grant would likely make the squad(as a backup PF, not a center) along with Van Lier and Sloan, Walker and Love (or do you go with Elton Brand), Kukoc, Noah(over Cartwright) and maybe at this point Jimmy Butler. That's a squad of 13(or 15 if you take them all) that would be very tough defensively, but struggle to match up with the offensive firepower of any Lakers team.

    I suppose that many if not most people would say that the argument shouldn't even be Lakers vs Bulls, but rather Lakers vs Celtics. Obviously, if it weren't for Jordan the Bulls wouldn't even be in the discussion at all.

  • How does it feel to be get called into the boss's office and come out with a more than $14-million-per-year raise? Just ask Jimmy Butler.

    Here are the 10 biggest pay raises this past offseason:

    •Jimmy Butler, Bulls — $14,398,752 ($2,008,748 to $16,407,500)

    •Khris Middleton, Bucks — $13,784,757 ($915,243 to $14,700,000)

    •Tobias Harris, Magic — $13,619,406 ($2,380,594 to $16,000,000)

    •Kawhi Leonard, Spurs — $13,513,441 ($2,894,059 to $16,407,500)

    •Draymond Green, Warriors — $13,345,627 ($915,243 to $14,260,870)

    •Klay Thompson, Warriors — $12,425,120 ($3,075,880 to $15,501,000)

    •Reggie Jackson, Pistons — $11,708,675 ($2,204,369 to $13,913,044)

    •DeMarre Carroll, Raptors — $11,157,545 ($2,442,455 to $13,600,000)

    •Greg Monroe, Bucks — $10,927,565 ($5,479,935 to $16,407,500)

    •Enes Kanter, Thunder — $10,712,826 ($5,694,674 to $16,407,500)

    Source: NBA Rumors - HoopsRumors.com.

  • Mirotic emerging as an offensive quality starter/sixth man would help the bigs situation a ton. And if Portis can look like a future talent or better that will bode well for the team going forward. Noah not being awful would help too.

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