HANG TIME, TEXAS – The Bulls won more games than any other team in the league a year ago. The Bulls have the second-best record in the NBA this season. The Bulls have the President of the United States talking about welcoming them to the White House next year to celebrate a championship. The Bulls have the reigning MVP Derrick Rose playing like he’s ready to go back-to-back.
So are there really any questions about the Bulls?
Well, as our good friend Sam Smith of Bulls.com points out, maybe just one:
But it would be nice, also, if someone could score some points.
Yes, Derrick Rose, despite increasing defensive pressure, had 22 points and eight assists. And Carlos Boozer had one of his best games as a Bull with 23 points on nine of 13 shooting and eight rebounds, including a dive on the floor for a loose ball and aggressive fronting the post on Greg Monroe, which we don’t often see from Boozer.
That sort of play enabled the Bulls not only never to trail in beating the Pistons for the 13th straight time, but with an 18-3 run to start the fourth quarter with mostly reserves playing the Bulls broke open a game they controlled but primarily with leads around 10 points.
The Bulls Monday started their lone three in three nights set and are about halfway through playing nine games in 12 nights with nine of the first 13 of the season on the road. Though everyone has scheduling like that to play through this season.
So it doesn’t fully answer whether this Bulls team can score enough to truly be taken seriously.
Call it the Kobe Syndrome. As good as one player might be, every superstar needs help. The belief was that the Bulls filled their most glaring need for a perimeter shooter when the addition of the veteran Richard Hamilton, as smooth fitting as a foot into a custom-made loafer. But Hamilton has now missed three games and five of the last six with a sore groin and at soon-to-be-34, there have to be concerns about how soon Rip can return and whether the problem will nag at him. C.J. Watson is also sidelined with an elbow injury, missing the last five games, leaving that role of supporting Rose to John Lucas III.
It is not just the backcourt where Bulls are a bit light on offense these days. Joakim Noah did NOT take a single shot in 25 minutes of Monday night’s win over the Pistons, Luol Deng has struggled with his shot and Omer Asik is not yet a force putting the ball into the basket.
Noah’s play has been something of a mystery, though his game seems altogether different. Perhaps the best running big man in the league, Noah hasn’t sprinted the court much and has been getting caught often out of position on defense. On one play Monday, he watched without moving as Jonas Jerebko drove from the wing for a layup. He’d tried shooting a rolling hook earlier this season, but that proved unsuccessful and he’s barely a threat again. Plus, he’s not making the usual defensive impact, though he did block two shots Monday with eight rebounds. Certainly not terrible, but the Bulls have come to expect so much more.
His backup, Omer Asik, has been more effective in position and help defense, but Asik, we know, has little offensive game yet.
Likewise, Deng has shot 15 of 47 the last four games. Take away his eight of 16 against Orlando and that’s 22 percent in the other three games.
“His lack of offense is going to happen,” said (coach Tom) Thibodeau of Deng. “The big thing about Luol is when he is not shooting well or scoring, he still helps you in so many ways because of his defense, the way he moves the ball, his hustle and activity. I’m not worried about Luol.”
Of course, as long as Thibodeau is pulling the strings, the Bulls are going to have a foundation of defense and if anything they seem to have turned it up a notch this season.
Still, in this compacted schedule of 66 games in four months, it would seem to be asking a bit much of even the indefatigable Rose to keep shouldering so much of the burden. Note that nine-game road trip lurking up ahead from Jan. 29 at Miami through Feb. 12 in Boston.
It’s nitpicking, we know. But when the expectations and the stakes are so high, it comes with the territory.
And didn’t that guy with the statue outside the United Center still need a dependable supporting cast to collect those rings and Presidential visits?