What We Learned About the Chicago Bulls from Their 2nd-Round Playoff Series

Ernest Shepard@@ernestshepardAnalyst IIIMay 16, 2013

What We Learned About the Chicago Bulls from Their 2nd-Round Playoff Series

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    Never doubt the heart of the Chicago Bulls. Imagine if the Bulls were playing the Miami Heat at full strength. Think about how different the second-round playoff series would be.

    Instead of being eliminated in five games and going back to Chicago to clean out their lockers, both teams would have headed back for a decisive Game 6. The series could have been 3-2 in favor of the Bulls if they had all their hands on deck.

    Imagination can only go so far. The Bulls were not the victors, but at the same time, they are not losers. No other team could have done what they have with a patchwork outfit. The playoffs, especially the second round, ended up being a learning experience for the Bulls and the fans alike. 

The Bulls Never Give Up

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    Lose your best player and your team is done. Not the Bulls. They surely could have packed it in and tanked the season after knowing that there was a chance that Derrick Rose would not return.

    Giving up is not their style.

    Judging by the 45-37 regular-season finish, this team had as their head coach Tom Thibodeau puts it, “more than enough.”

    What followed was a miraculous first-round series win against Brooklyn. That came after the Bulls were absent Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng thanks to a calf injury and a spinal tap gone awry.

    This Bulls team handed the Heat a defeat in Game 1 and were competitive for two additional games. Taking the reigning NBA MVP LeBron James and the defending champs to the task is commendable. 

Richard Hamilton Should Have Played Sooner

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    When you have a player who has won an NBA title and lost another, the objective is to lean on his experience. Richard Hamilton fit that description; Coach Thibodeau failed at implementing him in the game plan early in the series.

    The Bulls needed scoring, and Hamilton could have added an offensive punch in two ways. His career scoring average is 17.1 points per game, plus he is adept at running off a screen.

    With the open shots that Hamilton works hard to obtain, it forces the opposition to battle defensively. This could have aided the Bulls in Games 2 and 3.

    Having Hamilton in the game also brings floor spacing and fluidity to a team that needs it. Without him, the Bulls were sloppy at times. That changed once he was inserted in Game 4, as the 14-year veteran put up 11 points in a losing effort.

    In the clincher, Game 5 Hamilton had 15 points. Those points could have come sooner.

Thibodeau Must Make Better Use of His Substitutions

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    The series with the Heat could have a different look if the substitution patterns were utilized differently. While it is understandable that the Bulls were short-handed, knowing when to sneak an extra minute or two of rest is paramount.

    Take the use of Jimmy Butler, for instance. In the 240 minutes from this second-round series, Butler played 231 minutes. If Coach Thibodeau decided to rest Butler, taking him out one minute before a mandatory television timeout would have been ideal.

    According to the NBA rules per NBA.com, television timeouts are 100 seconds in length. These timeouts occur at the sixth- and third-minute mark in the first and third quarter, then at the ninth minute in the second and fourth quarter.

    If Thibodeau were to sit Butler at a dead ball prior to the fourth-minute mark in the first period, he receives a rest that would last at least 160 seconds. That is over two minutes that he could sit, yet only lose one minute of playing time.

    Butler needed to have fresher legs when he attempted a potentially game-tying three-point shot in Game 5. Following the aforementioned substitution pattern might have made a difference.

The Bulls Need to Find a Way to Keep Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson

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    The Bulls were well accounted for in the playoffs even when the injuries kept piling up. The additions of Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson were shrewd moves that made it possible.

    The team needed depth. Both of them provided depth, scoring and a bevy of clutch performances. It is those reasons why general manager Gar Forman must do everything in his power to retain their services.

    NBA analysts and fans have all suggested that if the Bulls had a full complement of players, including Derrick Rose, they would have pushed the Heat to the brink, possibly eliminating them. The organization owes it to the players and fans to give it a go with Belinelli and Robinson.

    The best shooting guard Rose has played with was Ben Gordon, who currently plays for the Charlotte Bobcats. Hamilton was the most accomplished. The problem with both guards was their defensive limitations, and they could not create shots off the dribble.

    Belinelli’s defense improved as the regular season progressed. He is also an excellent ball-handler in a pick-and-roll offense. It would behoove the Bulls to convince him to re-sign with the team, as they will be hard pressed to find a better option on the open market.

    In Robinson’s case, he exceeded everyone’s expectations. He has proved to be a scoring maven in various situations. What he brought to the team was invaluable. If Robinson and Rose had played together in the regular season, the Bulls would have been tough to defend.

    Bulls management must look at creative ways to make Chicago Robinson’s permanent residence.         

The Bulls Need to Get Shooting and Become More Athletic Through the NBA Draft

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    When the Games 2-5 got away from the Bulls, Miami’s talent became the culprit. What makes Miami the superior team is its athleticism and shooting prowess.

    LeBron James is the NBA’s best player. On offense, he can dominate a game with his innate passing and timely scoring. Defensively, there are few players who can play aggressively without committing fouls, as he does.

    The Bulls cannot compete with that.

    As great as LeBron is, he is surrounded by jump shooters (i.e., Chris Bosh, Shane Battier and Ray Allen) and athletic players (Dwyane Wade, Chris Anderson and Norris Cole). The only chance the Bulls had to extend the series was to slow down the games with a precise half-court offense.

    In the upcoming NBA draft, the Bulls need to target a couple of players who can play on both ends of the floor. Duke’s Mason Plumlee and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. fits the description.

    With one pick, they have to address their shooting woes. Even if they can find a way to keep Belinelli and Robinson, shooting will be a problem.

    Lack of athleticism has hurt the Bulls the most.

    The Bulls will have to strike gold with their second-round selection. Ideally, they will have to trade up in order to enhance their odds.

    The NBA draft is a cost-efficient solution for the Bulls