Chicago Bulls vs. New Orleans Hornets: Postgame Grades and Analysis for Chicago
Though they started off sloppy against the New Orleans Hornets, the Bulls regrouped in time to secure a 96-87 victory.
Early in the first half, it appeared as if Chicago was about to allow the Hornets to have run of the court, but it made some adjustments and cut off New Orleans in transition.
It was a dogfight for the Bulls in the second half as well, but they were able to overcome strong performances from Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis and run away with the win in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer all led the way for Chicago, putting forth stellar performances and gaudy stat lines on both ends of the floor.
This was victory No. 31 for the Bulls, as they improved to 16-10 on the road, the best record away from home in the NBA.
As has become the norm in the Windy City, the Bulls' lockdown defense helped keep most of the Hornets' young guns in check. It it was their ability to hit some big shots down the stretch, however, that allowed Chicago to end a two-game losing streak and begin the unofficial second half of the season on a high note.
Point Guard: Kirk Hinrich
Kirk Hinrich really had the pick-and-roll going for Chicago in this one.
Recognizing that New Orleans wasn't rotating properly, he kept feeding Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer off of screens, resulting in some easy baskets.
The point guard didn't score much (five points), but he dished out 10 assists while committing just two turnovers.
His ball control in this one (and on the season) cannot be touted enough. That he coughed it up just once in a game when the Bulls had 16 is representative of his heightened offensive composure.
Defensively, Hinrich played excellent as well. He came up with three steals and hounded just about every member of the Hornets backcourt.
Personally, I would like to see Hinrich look for his shot more on offense. There were times when he was inside the arc and had a relatively open path to the basket or enough space to take a shot, and he deferred instead.
A point guard's job is to pass off first, obviously, but some added aggression and dribble penetration would have created some additional opportunities for both himself and his teammates.
Shooting Guard: Richard Hamilton
Richard Hamilton has a tendency to start hot and finish cold. He wasn't a source of fire early on in this one, but his jump shot got progressively worse as the game went on.
He didn't play a lot of minutes (17), but managed to hoist up seven shot attempts, connecting on only three for seven points.
Somewhat surprisingly, Hamilton played the part of distributor on a number of possessions. Not known as a passer, he dropped the rock off for a few sweet dimes, racking up three assists.
Chicago also had to be surprised with some of the things he did on defense. His efforts come in spurts and he cheats right much too often, but he came up with a block and rotated fairly well off screens and the like.
We would love to see Hamilton regain the streaky shooting touch that seems to have failed him of late. His quick release was a valuable commodity coming off screens.
When playing a limited role like Hamilton does, though, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to develop any kind of offensive rhythm.
One needn't look any further than his topsy-turvy performance here to see that.
Small Forward: Luol Deng
I wanted to give Luol Deng a higher grade, I really did. But when he wasn't shooting and scoring, he wasn't taking care of the ball either.
Deng committed five turnovers in this one, most of which seem to come as a result of him not looking to assert his dominance as a star-caliber scorer. There are just times when he seems averse to shooting, even in one-on-one situations, as was the case here.
Despite struggling to hold on to the ball, though, Deng managed to pitch in 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the floor to go along with three assists.
Nearly a decade into his career, I hardly need to tell you how consistent a defensive player Deng is on a nightly basis, but I'm going to anyway. He went hard after rebounds, hassled New Orleans' perimeter scorers and provided some nice help defense in the post as well.
That Deng was able to have such a positive impact in spite of his turnover woes is impressive and a testament to how consistent he is in every other facet of the game.
Credit him for not losing his cool and continuing to lead the Bulls even when everything isn't going his way.
Actually, strike that, adore him for not allowing his turnovers to prevent him from willing everything else to go his way.
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer
Carlos Boozer's stock continues to rise, as much as it possibly can while being owed more than $32 million over the next two years at least.
The power forward posted yet another double-double en route to a strong performance on both ends of the floor. Boozer scored 17 points on 50 percent shooting to go along with his 10 rebounds.
After watching Boozer leave the paint prior to shot releases or fail to box out on a number of occasions, I'm left wondering if he could grab 20 rebounds a night if he wanted.
You wouldn't know it by looking at his rebounding totals, but his effort isn't constant. He either doesn't care at certain points or just has that much trust in Joakim Noah. Following a rounded performance like this one, let's just go with the latter.
Normally a lackluster defender, Boozer was noticeably aware of his surroundings in this one. He didn't contest many shot attempts and his rotations bordered on terrible, but he came up with four steals, so we have to hand it to him there.
Moving back to the offensive side of the ball, I thought he did an excellent job moving the ball. Not only did he have three assists, but he didn't try to force the action more than he should have against Anthony Davis.
Usually, I'd finish this out by saying something along the lines of "if only all of Boozer's performances were as stellar as this one."
Penning that here, though, would have little meaning, since displays like these are more of a commonality than a rarity now.
Center: Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah is the man.
Chicago's tower scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field while hauling in 17 rebounds. While that would be enough work for most, Noah added five assists and three blocks.
Watching the bushy-haired center, I can't help but marvel at his energy. We've seen it before, because he's an unyielding force every night, yet it remains incredible.
Few players in the NBA hustle or play with as much tenacity as Noah. In this one, it wasn't so much his skill that helped beat Robin Lopez into submission as it was his commitment to staying with plays and keeping him more than nine or 10 feet away from the basket.
I was actually surprised to see that Anthony Davis grabbed 10 boards when all was said and done. Noah was so aggressive at the rim and did a phenomenal job at limiting the opportunities of those around him, I would have expected it to be less.
Rest assured, Noah's impact was still felt. He helped the Bulls outscore the Hornets 44-40 in the paint, fueled in part by both his aggression under the basket and his five offensive rebounds.
Noah also helped restore order early in the game. New Orleans started by pushing the tempo and running the break, but by him getting back in transition, he helped slow them down, allowing Chicago to control the pace of this game.
I know we say this all the time, but I never tire of it: The Bulls don't win this one without Noah.
Sixth Man: Nate Robinson
This was just one of those games for Nate Robinson.
A dark-horse candidate for Sixth Man of the Year (I'm not kidding), Robinson shot just 2-of 9 from the field, totaling a mere six points and one assist.
The ever active guard did come up with one nice steal, but he never established any sort of continuity on either side of the ball, the driving force behind him seeing just 17 minutes of action.
Perhaps it was Robinson's return to the bench after an extended stay in the starting lineup, but he just didn't seem all there. There was little to no rotation on his jumpers, and the shots he was attempting were of an even lower percentage than usual.
With Derrick Rose's return still shrouded in ambiguity, Chicago can only hope that this was just a minor blip in Robinson's otherwise fairy tale season.
My infatuation with Jimmy Butler continues.
The second-year small forward dropped nine points on 50 percent shooting, grabbed a handful of rebounds (three) and played some suffocating defense, both on and off the ball.
Hardly considered a scorer upon entering the league, Butler continues to do a nice job honing his inside-out game. He attacked the rim on a number of occasions, catching the Hornets off guard.
I can't say enough about his court vision either. He'll go up for what appears to be a shot sometimes, only to pass the ball off at the last possible second. He had just one assist in this one, but sloppy ball handles and unfortunate misses prevented him from getting any more.
Marco Belinelli pitched in nine points as well. He too shot 50 percent from the field and contributed four assists, proving to be more of a passing threat than we're used to seeing.
I expected so much more from Taj Gibson in this one, though. He took just five shots in 23 minutes for four points and struggled to maintain control of the ball (like some of his teammates), ultimately giving it up three times.
That said, he did play some stellar defense, coming up with a block and a steal. He harassed opponents on every shot and did a nice job of chasing down some loose balls.
Those four fouls he used in limited time are of some concern, but again, we can't fault him too much for being overly aggressive. He just has to be smarter.
The prevailing theme in Chicago is that its bench is hardly as deep or formidable as it was last season, and I'm inclined to agree.
Still, the one they have is pretty damn good.