While the Chicago Bulls were expected to take a leap and potentially compete for a middle seed in this year’s playoffs, they’ve spent this fall wilting like autumn foliage. The Bulls’ 101-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers revealed their three biggest reasons why they haven’t reared their horns this season.
Let’s examine them one by one.
Despite heaps of praise lavished on Derrick Rose’s natural athletic gifts and abilities, he hasn’t been able to refine those skills and become a next-level player. He had a very difficult time putting the ball in the hoop against Cleveland, as his stat line will show—5-16 FG, 3-3 FT, 7 AST, 1 TO, 13 PTS.
The main culprit for Rose’s offensive struggles is his jump shot. He was only 2-8 on shots outside of 15 feet against the Cavaliers. Rose’s jump shot is a line drive with little arc and no backspin, and it’s clear that his mechanics haven’t improved after last season.
Rose also missed two of his three layups and two of his four floaters, and tended to look to avoid contact rather than explode through defenders.
Because Rose’s jump shot is so spotty, the Cavs generally went under his screens and prevented him free access to the paint. When he was able to get penetration, Cleveland funneled his passes to Chicago’s power forwards 14 feet away. While Taj Gibson responded with a fine shooting game—7-14 FG, 14 PTS—Rose wasn’t able to dissect Cleveland’s offense to the point where he would create layups or shots for Luol Deng or John Salmons.
Also, while Rose didn’t throw a single pass that was a turnover—his lone turnover came when he took his eye off his dribble and Mo Williams poached it—a couple of his passes were a touch wide or a touch too low, causing his teammates to take a split second to field the ball instead of catching it in attack mode.
Defensively, Rose generally gave Williams too much room to shoot, but did an almost adequate job guarding him. However, while Rose scored 13 points, and dished off seven assists with only a solitary turnover, he allowed Williams to score 15 points with seven assists and two turnovers.
While the extra two points and turnover may cancel each other out, since Rose is more instrumental to his team’s success, he generally needs to outplay his opposing counterpart. Rose didn’t against Williams and the Bulls were soundly beaten.
Ever since Eddy Curry, the Bulls have been lacking any semblance of frontcourt post offense. Brad Miller strictly plays on the perimeter. Taj Gibson is nothing more than a mid-range jump shooter. Joakim Noah’s points come on broken plays, execution, and sometimes a 16-foot side-spinning jumper. The only Bulls who measured any degree of success in the post were John Salmons who scored two points on two post ups, and Aaron Gray who contributed a drop step layup, and a fadeaway jumper from the pivot.
With no interior post player, the Bulls got destroyed by points in the paint, 46-20. With Derrick Rose struggling, the Bulls offense can’t generate easy scores because they don’t have a player they can dump the ball into and create double teams.
Defensively, Noah and Gibson were overwhelmed by Cleveland’s size on the backboards, and Miller may be the slowest jumper in the league. As a result, the Bulls allowed 17 offensive rebounds, including three off missed rebounds.
Noah did a yeoman’s job defending Shaq. In six post ups against Noah, Noah held his ground and allowed three harmless passes, a missed hook, a drop-spin slam to the baseline, and a foul where Shaq missed both free throws.
However, Gibson and Miller were late on multiple interior rotations, and either weren’t strong enough or tall enough to play meaningful interior defense.
The Bulls still need a double-commanding post player and another defender with strength and athleticism to augment Noah. Perhaps the tantalizingly talented, but still immature Tyrus Thomas can be dangled to acquire such a piece?
The assumption was that after letting Ben Gordon go this offseason, John Salmons would continue his standout play from last year, while Luol Deng would return to his 2006-2007 form.
In the game at hand, Deng was guilty of overhandling, and had difficulty making plays against severe pressure, hence his three turnovers. He had difficulty creating his own shot, and only recorded his first field goal over 19 minutes into the game. In truth, unless one were truly looking, he wouldn’t have been able to notice Deng on the floor.
Salmons massages the ball too long before going into his attacks, and hasn’t shown the ability to go on hot stretches like he did last season. He posted with some success, had no problems driving into a crowd, and hit two of his four shots from behind the arc, but he too had trouble creating open looks against Cleveland’s staunch defense.
It says here that Salmons and Deng are each fine complimentary players, but aren’t talented enough to be first options on great teams.
This is why it’s imperative that Rose pick up his play. If Rose can improve his jump shot and be more willing to attack the rim, defenses will have to do more collapsing on penetration, and may have to pinch their wings on screens, opening up the perimeter and the baseline for Deng and Salmons. A post scorer would have a similar impact.
Since the Bulls don’t have many ways of generating easy offense, they’ll live and die by Rose’s jump shot, one that will need to bloom for the Bulls to survive the oncoming winter.