Culture of Hoops

Chicago Bulls Weekly Review

Image courtesy of Shinya Suzuki/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Shinya Suzuki/Flickr.

Welcome to your new Chicago Bulls week-in-review! For the rest of this season, I will take you through the week that was for all-things-Bulls, plus a heads up on a few things to look out for in the coming week. Without further ado…

The Games

The Bulls went 2-2 this week, picking up big wins against Miami and Houston while dropping a couple of games to Memphis and San Antonio. It’s hard to say what can be made of either the wins or losses.

At this point, we know what to expect from the Bulls on a nightly basis: execution, energy, effort. Usually, that’s enough to overwhelm opponents, as the Bulls did in a win against a streaky Miami Heat team last Sunday and a lazy Houston Rockets team Thursday night. Facing Memphis and San Antonio, though their effort and intensity was matched. Thus, they fell.

  • Against Memphis, Chicago met their mirror image from the Western Conference: size down low, intense defense, mediocre guard-play. Bulls-West got a little more out of their bench (Mike Miller and Kosta Koufos combined for 26 of the Grizzlies’ 39 bench points) than Bulls-East did from theirs (32 total points split between D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson), which proved to be the difference. The lesson: as always, size kills. The Bulls aren’t likely to face Memphis in the NBA Finals, but if they face a similarly-sized team in the East like Indiana, they’ll have to figure out how to make up for the lost advantage they hold over most teams.

  • Against Miami, Chicago found a team at the beginning of a slump. Although the overtime win, especially over such a hated rival, was great, the Heat have gone on to lose five of their last six games. Given that, it’s probably a bad idea to read too much into this win. But there is one takeaway: Jimmy Butler continues to be one of the few players to consistently confound LeBron James. LeBron shot just 8-23 in the overtime loss, plus Butler stripped the ball from him more than once in the clutch. This is a matchup to watch if these two end up facing off in the postseason.

  • Versus San Antonio, Chicago fell behind by 24 after the first quarter and never got close. The bench came roaring back in the fourth, but by then, it was already over. The blowout-that-would-have-been just reaffirmed a few things we already know about Chicago that were already evidenced in the Memphis game: when teams can match their size and effort, they don’t have much else to go off of. Add in the fact that San Antonio’s backcourt (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) far outmatches what the Grizzlies had to offer (Mike Conley, Courtney Lee) and it’s no surprise the Spurs ran away with this one.

  • Finally, in facing Houston, the Bulls took on a team that has generally underachieved all season long, particularly on defense. As you might expect, Chicago bullied the Rockets into shooting 35% as a team, including a combined 12 for 42 performance from the starters, while shooting 50% from the floor themselves en route to a blowout victory.

The 2-2 record brought the Bulls to 36-29 entering the weekend, good enough for fourth place in the East. If the playoffs started today, they would face the fifth place Brooklyn Nets.

The Players

  • Joakim Noah continues to impress this season. Despite the .500 finish to the week as a team, Noah had at least 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in every game and shooting over fifty percent from the floor and averaging over two blocks per game. Noah is an honorable mention for MVP at this point and is gaining some much-deserved recognition for Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-NBA as well. The Bulls’ blowout of the Rockets with Noah coming just one assist shy of a triple double against Dwight Howard only helped his case all the more.

  • Jimmy Butler has struggled offensively all season, but he finally seems to be finding his shot, shooting over fifty percent in seven of his last 13 games, including in two of four games last week. He continues to be excellent defensively, as he proved against Miami, If he can continue his all-around game, Chicago may go further in the postseason than anyone thought even just a month ago.

  • Jimmer Fredette is the name on every Bulls’ fans lips. As Chicago waits for Tom Thibodeau to work his magic with Jimmer like he has with so many other Chicago point guards (Derrick Rose, John Lucas III, C.J. Watson, Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin), Fredette has managed to pick up a few minutes in this week’s two blowouts (vs. San Antonio and Houston). Some initial thoughts: Jimmer has great energy, solid ballhandling skills, high basketball IQ, and is still learning the defense. It shouldn’t take much longer before we see him get a few more meaningful minutes, especially with Tony Snell playing as tentatively as he is these days. Snell took just nine shots in a combine 69 minutes of play last week. Fredette? Seven shots in 11 minutes.

What To Watch For

  • The coming week gives Chicago another great shot at at least breaking .500, what with a home-and-away against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, plus a home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and road game at the Indiana Pacers.

  • As I mentioned before, keep an eye on whether more of Tony Snell’s minutes start to go to Jimmer Fredette as Jimmer learns the offense and defense. With Chicago’s limited offense, Fredette is a very sexy prospect to Bulls fans. Considering how well D.J. Augustin has played since coming to Chicago, there is certainly an expectation that Jimmer will experience similar success once he settles in. Here’s hoping.

  • The playoffs are a mere month away, so it’s time to start thinking about seeding. Entering Saturday, the Bulls were in fourth place in the East, just a game and a half behind Toronto for third and just two games ahead of Brooklyn and Washington. Chicago could face any of the aforementioned teams in the first round of the playoffs. It seems as though Washington would be the prefered opponent, given how hot Toronto and Brooklyn have been in 2014.

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