The Chicago Bulls are an elite basketball team. But you already knew that. After delving into some advanced stats, I found that the Bulls are much better than I had possibly expected.
Their ubiquitous frontline — Omer Asik, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah — rebounds at an elite rate, especially on offense, which leads to more possessions for a proficient offensive team (3rd overall in offensive efficiency).
Because continuity has increased in importance during a condensed season, the Bulls have benefited from a roster left mostly in tact. Ultimately, the rapport that the Bulls have established this season — only Jimmy Butler and Richard Hamilton are new to the team — has been one of the primary reasons that they are one of the most complete offensive teams in basketball.
To put it simply, they embody the ideal offense. Chicago creates extra possessions, shoots well from the perimeter (8th in effective field goal percentage from three), takes care of the ball (5th in turnover rate) and — largely because the impetuous Derrick Rose — creates many easy opportunities at the rim (32.9% of their shots are at the rim) where they also convert an above-average rate.
For a mediocre defensive team like the Spurs, there is no definitive weak point to exploit in the Bulls offensive attack.
Did I mention that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau prides himself in his defensive scheme? In the mold of the Boston Celtics, the Bulls pick-and-roll coverage is unmatched and their rotations are seamless. The defensive sagacity of small forward Luol Deng, Gibson and Noah provide the Bulls with a nice foundation. The team, give immense credit to Thibodeau here, realizes that with effort and communication that anything on the defensive side of the court is attainable.
Unlike most teams, they have a keen belief that there actually is intrinsic value in causing the opposing offense to toil in a state of hopeless stupor rather than granting them easy access to any spot on the floor. According to Hoopdata, the Bulls defense ranks third in defensive eFG% (.452) largely because of their ability to close out on shooters.
I could mention how the Bulls play hard defense without fouling or their tendency to allow teams to shoot long 16-23 feet jumpers but I’ve probably gotten my point across. The Bulls defense won’t do the burgeoning Spurs offense any favors tonight.
What the Bulls do badly:
Well, I guess there is something that the Spurs defense doesn’t have to worry about. The Bulls, for all the defensive prowess from their frontline, lack that legitimate back-to-the-basket big man. Carlos Boozer was supposed to be that guy but then we found that he was just an above-average forward, undersized at six-foot-nine, that could step out and drain 16 foot jumpers rather than dominate the low block. Boozer’s PER sits at 20.5 so he’s certainly having a nice season but we can take solace with the notion that Tim Duncan won’t have to struggle tremendously defensively (although he might struggle in covering Rose-Noah pick-and-rolls). Tiago Splitter looks like a 50/50 bet to play so the lack of an interior presence like a Greg Monroe could help the Spurs out a little.
Getting to the free throw line and creating turnovers:
When I say that the Bulls are doing badly in these areas, I’m just being picky. No team can be perfect in every conceivable aspect. While the Bulls, as a whole, don’t get to the line they have this guy named Rose who I’m pretty sure can get to the bucket with impunity so, if anything, they will always have the threat of getting to the line.
Creating turnovers is nice and usually leads to easy transition points. But it’s not completely conducive to great defense. The Bulls are a prime example of this. As long as they are taking care of the ball and preventing good looks on defense, Chicago will still have an insurmountable edge (defensively) over just about any team.
I’m not feeling too confident about this one. To add insult to injury, Spurs beat writer Jeff McDonald reported that Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard will miss tonight’s game. Gary Neal and Splitter are questionable. But, hey, T.J. Ford could play! (Editor’s update: Ford, Neal and Splitter will play tonight.)
I’m just drawing at irrational conclusions now. The Spurs are great at home (13-1) but with a depleted roster against one of the best (if not the best) teams in the NBA isn’t a good formula for success. Bulls win convincingly and I curl up in the fetal position for the remainder of the 2nd half.
Topics: Boston Celtics, Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Gary Neal, Greg Monroe, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Kawhi Leonard, Luol Deng, Manu Ginobili, Omer Asik, Richard Hamilton, San Antonio Spurs, T.J. Ford, Taj Gibson, Tiago Splitter, Tom Thibodeau