Chicago Bulls Will Need Unlikely Heroes to Carry Their Offense

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2014

Chicago Bulls' Tony Snell (20), Joakim Noah (13) and Mike Dunleavy (34) stand on the court during a time out in the second half of an NBA basketball gam against the Miami Heate, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Miami. The Heat defeated the Bulls 93-79. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky

"It just feels good to get a win," said Chicago Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy after Game 3, according to the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein. "It's been a rough series. Whether I score 35 points or zero, I'm just happy to get a win and get into the series." 

The Bulls are definitely now into this series. 

And this series will increasingly be defined by unlikely heroes, by the Dunleavy types of the world.

Sometimes it's just a matter of having the opportunities, said Dunleavy: "I feel like I've been shooting the ball well; I just haven't had a ton of looks. (Head coach Tom Thibodeau) mentioned something about trying to get me more catch-and-shoot situations, and we did that."

The Bulls have struggled to find a hot hand to ride, but you wonder if it isn't just a matter of calling someone's number from time to time. The great coaches can sense when it's happening and ensure the ball gets to where it needs to.

None of this is possible without ball movement. D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich combined for 12 assists on Friday night. The "catch-and-shoot situations" Dunleavy mentions only come about when someone's making the right pass. Any pass to Dunleavy on Friday night pretty much seemed like the right pass. 's Michael Wilbon recaps the brilliant evening:

Dunleavy won this game for the Bulls. He won it by hitting 12-of-19 shots, including 8-of-10 3-point attempts. He scored a four-point play that Washington's John Wall said absolutely changed the flow and momentum of the game. He hit shots so deep it compromised the Wizards' defense, helped the Bulls hit 48 percent of their shots for the game, and allowed Chicago to survive and climb back into a series even though it committed 17 turnovers and unthinkably goofy mistakes right to the very end. 

The Bulls could certainly use more of Dunleavy. Even if he doesn't have another career performance, he's Chicago best outside threat in a series where three-pointers win games. Two came from forward Jimmy Butler in the fourth of Game 3. There were multiple heroes, including a strong first-quarter performance from Carlos Boozer and a combined 26 points from Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin off the bench.

Those two actually combined for 47 off the bench in Game 2. And Chicago almost pulled it off.

These are not superstar names, but they are the names of capable players. Players who've been getting it done for the Bulls all season long, and this series is no different.

The one name that has garnered attention is Joakim Noah. The 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year struggled to make an offensive impact in Game 3, but he also took just four shots. In the event Nene and/or Marcin Gortat are suspended for Game 4, that could create an opportunity for Noah to reassert himself. He had 20 points in Game 2.

But he'll also need plenty of help from a team comprised of "others." Will they be up to the task?


Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin

Whether Kirk scores or not, he's not going anywhere. Thibodeau keeps him in the rotation because he can help control the tempo, and he's a good defender. And yes, sometimes he can shoot. Hinrich had 16 points in Game 1 but just four points in Game 3.  

The 33-year-old may not go off for 35 points, but Chicago needs his help. He can create his own shot and, if the ball's moving, is good at catching and shooting, too. 

To Hinrich's credit, he knows when not to do too much. He only took four shots in that Game 3, so the low point total isn't terribly concerning. He also had five assists, understanding that Dunleavy had it going and the ball needed to get there.

All the same, you'd like to see him look for his shot a little more often. Hinrich's jumper can be maddeningly inconsistent, but it can add an important dimension to the Bulls offense.

So can Augustin.

The 26-year-old is quicker and more aggressive with his shot. He averaged 13.1 points per game this season and 18 per game through the first three playoff games. He's been the Bulls' most consistent scorer. But Chicago also needs him to be an efficient scorer, taking shots when they're there and keeping the ball moving when they aren't.


Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson

Boozer is certainly paid like a superstar, and he used to sort of be one.

But he's hampered by a rotation that gives equal time to backup power forward Taj Gibson. The Bulls were able to live without Boozer in the fourth quarter on Friday, but you have to wonder how much longer Thibodeau will stick to his guns on this one. 

Boozer's reliance on that mid-range jumper can be maddening, but it is effective from time to time. More importantly, if Nene and Gortat are missing in action for Game 4, Boozer should be able to do some work on the low block. Admittedly, that's a best-case scenario for Chicago, but Boozer has to be prepared to make quick contributions either way.

If nothing else, that means getting out to a quick start. Boozer had eight points in the first quarter of Game 3, but he had a forgettable Game 2. Those lapses can't happen.

Meanwhile, Gibson had a fantastic Game 2, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Like Boozer, he could be in store for a huge Game 4 if Washington is undermanned. Gibson has been a consistent option for the Bulls all season long, typically finishing out games in Boozer's stead.


Jimmy Butler

Butler scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3. He came up big at the right time after a slow start and a six-point Game 2.

The 24-year-old is crucial to Chicago's chances in these tight games. He's also one of the few Bulls who can get to the rim and finish. One of the big differences between Game 2 and Game 3 was getting to the line. After just two attempts in Game 2, Butler shot eight free throws in Game 3. He'll have to remain aggressive.

The Bulls don't have many options behind Butler. He's played an average of 45.7 minutes in this series, a testament both to his stamina and to Chicago's lack of bench solutions. Tony Snell will get a handful of minutes, primarily behind Dunleavy. 

But Chicago can't rely on guys like Jimmer Fredette and Ronnie Brewer to play significant roles. They're both one-way players. Fredette gives up too much defensively, and Brewer can't score. 

That means we'll be seeing a lot more of Butler. It would be nice to see his number get called a little more, too. He has arguably the highest ceiling of any of the Bulls and is kind of due for a big game. Now would be a good time to have one of those huge "I'm ready to star in the playoffs" kind of games. 

Don't put it past Butler. He can score from all over the place and thrives in the open court. 

Before long, Butler won't even be an "other" anymore. He has the potential to be a star in this league.

Now would be a good time to start being one.