All things considered a pretty solid week for Fred Hoiberg's crew. They won three out of four games to take over second place in the Eastern Conference. Only problem is, Cleveland went 3-0 to pick up a half game in the standings over that stretch.
We've seen some positive signs in the on-going Jimmy Butler-Derrick Rose dynamic. I've noticed those two players talking more coming out of timeouts and during dead-ball periods, and it looks like Rose has accepted Butler being the main option in the offense and is doing what he can to get Butler the ball in his favorite scoring areas.
Rose also picked up right where he left off before the hamstring/knee strain in terms of attacking the basket, and not shooting too many long jumpers. Butler is unquestionably the Bulls' best offensive player, but Rose's ability to get past the initial defender and draw help defense in the paint is one of the keys to the team's long-term (playoffs) success. He even shot eight free throws in Atlanta on Saturday, hopefully the sign of getting more respect from officials as the season rolls on.
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
Still questions remain about the ever-changing rotation. Who's the back-up point guard? Is it Kirk Hinrich? Aaron Brooks? Or, even E'Twaun Moore?
And, what will Hoiberg do when Joakim Noah returns, perhaps as early as Monday's home game against Washington? Who loses minutes or falls out of the rotation completely? After an impressive start, rookie Bobby Portis struggled in his last two games against the Celtics and Hawks, so will Hoiberg give Portis fewer minutes now?
With the Bulls playing much better lately, including 10 straight games scoring 100 or more points, speculation about possible trades has quieted. But Hoiberg's job might be a little easier with fewer players looking for rotation minutes. The trade market is pretty quiet right now, but a 2-for-1 deal for a small forward starter might be a good option for the Bulls, especially with all the uncertainty about Mike Dunleavy's return.
Around the Association
Speaking of trades, several teams out West might be looking to make changes after getting off to disappointing starts. Word out of Houston is that always-aggressive GM Darryl Morey is looking to shake things up with his team floundering around the .500 mark. Former All-Star center Dwight Howard has a player option to leave after this season, and the Rockets might be looking to re-shuffle the deck around high-scoring guard James Harden. The Bulls saw first-hand how valuable veteran Trevor Ariza can be in a playoff series. The question is, would the price be too high (think Niko Mirotic or Taj Gibson) to get a deal done?
Another team looking to make changes is the New Orleans Pelicans, who were hoping to take a step forward after earning the eighth seed a year ago, but instead they've plummeted near the bottom of the West standings with Chicago native Anthony Davis suffering through an injury-plagued season. Veterans like Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon (both free agents this summer), and Tyreke Evans (owed 10.2 million next season) can all be had as the Pels once again look to the future in trying to build a contending team around Davis.
Out East, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov finally had seen enough of his dysfunctional group, and fired head coach Lionel Hollins on Sunday while also re-assigning GM Billy King. King made the ill-fated trade with Boston for aging veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce that cost the Nets a likely Top 5 draft pick in the 2016 draft and another first rounder in 2018. Boston also holds the right to swap first round picks with Brooklyn in 2017. So, Prokhorov will hope to strike big in free agency this summer, with the Nets expected to have over $40 million in available cap room. Outside of center Brook Lopez and power forward Thaddeus Young, this team is sorely lacking in talent, so without any draft picks, they better find a way to sign two productive free agents. Assistant coach Tony Brown will take over the team on an interim basis, but you know Prokhorov will try to land a big name coach like John Calipari, Jeff Van Gundy or former Bulls' head man Tom Thibodeau.
NBA All-Star balloting always brings complaints over some of the starters voted in by fans. For instance, Cleveland's Kyrie Irving is currently running second in voting for the East starting guard spots, but Irving has played in less than 10 games after a long rehab from the fractured kneecap he suffered in the Finals. When the Cavs were in Washington last week, the Wizards' in-game entertainment crew had some fun at Irving's expense, interviewing some "fans" wearing Cavs' jerseys, who said they were voting for Wizards' star John Wall, who's currently running fourth in the balloting. They played the skit on the stadium scoreboard during a timeout, and apparently the Cavs' players were a little annoyed. Irving said he noticed the bit, but it didn't really bother him. I guess it bothered him a little, because Irving went on to light up the Wizards for 21 fourth-quarter points in a 121-115 Cleveland win.
Remember Jordan Crawford, the 6-4 guard the Bulls invited to training camp? Crawford didn't play all that well in pre-season games, and was released in the final cutdown, but he's been lighting it up since signing with Tianjin Ronggang of the Chinese Basketball Association. Crawford is averaging 41.5 points in 18 games, and he recently scored 72 points and pulled down 16 rebounds in a game against the Sichaun Blue Whales.
Warriors chase for 72
Turns out Steph Curry only missed two games while recovering from a calf strain, and Klay Thompson and Draymond (Mr. Triple Double) Green picked up their games while Curry eased back into action. I remember thinking after the Warriors began the season 24-0, the key benchmark would be matching the 1995-96 Bulls start of 41-3. Then, we could take this record chase seriously! Well, Golden State is 35-2 now, so yes, we can start talking legitimately about 72 wins. I'm upping their chances of matching or breaking the Bulls' record to 55 percent (had it at 45 percent last week).
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Stat of the week
I've enlisted the help of CSN's stats whiz Chris Kamka for this weekly segment. Here are a few gems Chris came up with:
- Draymond Green now has eight triple doubles this season, just one short of the franchise single season record set by Tom Gola back in 1959-60. In case you were wondering, Wilt Chamberlain had eight career triple doubles during his time with the Philadelphia Warriors.
- Jimmy Butler is averaging 7.7 free throw attempts per game, putting him over seven for the second year in a row. He's the first Bulls’ player since Michael Jordan to reach seven per game. Derrick Rose topped out at 6.9 during his 2010-11 MVP season.
- And, this note about Timberwolves teammates, Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Garnett. Towns was born on Nov. 15, 1995 - which is the same day Garnett scored in double-digits for the first time in his career (19 points at age 19).
NBA's top shooting guards
Back to Butler, when he was asked about his status as one of the league's elite shooting guards after his 40-point second half in Toronto, Jimmy Buckets said simply, "There's no way you’re going to draw me into any of that nonsense." Well Jimmy, we respect your wishes not to comment on that topic, but here's one man's (mine) opinion on the league's top SGs.
|1. Klay Thompson||21.3||3.8||2.4||.471|
|2. Jimmy Butler||22.0||4.8||4.1||.457|
|3. James Harden||28.3||6.0||6.6||.420|
|4. Dwyane Wade||18.8||3.9||4.5||.466|
|5. DeMar DeRozan||23.0||4.3||4.1||.444|
|6. Andrew Wiggins||20.6||3.7||1.7||.436|
|7. Khris Middleton||16.8||3.4||3.8||.432|
|8. Bradley Beal||19.8||4.7||3.2||.438|
|9. C.J. McCollum||20.9||3.6||4.3||.442|
|10. Arron Afflalo||13.6||3.9||1.8||.477|
(Next week: Top PGs)
Quotes of the week
Knicks point guard Jose Calderon after missing the potential game-winning shot in San Antonio last Friday, "I know everybody is going to want me out of New York because I missed that shot."
Sad, but true Jose. After all, it is New York.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich after learning he had been named the NBA's Coach of the Month for December, "I think you should at least get a car. If you don't get a car, I don't give a damn."
Just another example why Pop is loved by reporters around the league, (except the ones who have to do those sideline TV interviews during games).