Bulls' stagnant offense leads to season-low assists in loss to Knicks

Bulls' stagnant offense leads to season-low assists in loss to Knicks

One of the expected benefits of dealing Derrick Rose this offseason was that it would help free up a Bulls offense that stagnated too often on their way to missing the playoffs last season for the first time in eight years. Rose returned to the United Center on Friday night for the first time in a visiting uniform, but it was his Knicks that looked like the sharper, crisper offense, while the Bulls stumbled to their second consecutive loss.

The final box score numbers don’t tell the entire story. The Bulls – in the 117-104 loss – still topped the century mark for the fifth straight time to begin the year. Dwyane Wade scored a season-high 35 points on 12-for-20 shooting, and Jimmy Butler also managed a season-high with 26 points – he made all 11 of his free throw attempts. Even Nikola Mirotic was impressive again, tallying 14 points – though just two after halftime – while Taj Gibson grabbed four offensive rebounds that helped the Bulls to 20 second-chance points.

Those positives masked the main issue that plagued the Bulls against a below-average Knicks team. The Bulls, which entered Friday’s action with the third most efficient offense, handed out a season-low 15 assists, and just two in the decisive fourth quarter; the Bulls’ second-to-last assist came at the 8:48 mark. It was the second consecutive night the Bulls had a season-low in helpers, as Wednesday night’s 21 assists against the Celtics also resulted in a loss.

“It wasn’t nearly as good," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "You look at the assists, 15 (assists) and 13 turnovers. They have 32 assists and five turnovers. That tells you all you need to know.”

Rajon Rondo continued his slide after two brilliant performances to open the season. The Bulls’ point guard missed nine of his first 10 shots as the Knicks defense sagged in and dared him to shoot outside shots in the opening period. When he didn’t, New York’s 26th-ranked defense was waiting for him in the lane. Rondo tallied just five assists, marking the third straight game he’s tallied five or fewer. Last year he led the NBA with 11.7 helpers per game, but has only reached double-digits once this year.

Michael Carter-Williams’ absence hasn’t helped matters, as Isaiah Canaan and Jerian Grant combined for two assists in 19 combined minutes.

Butler was aggressive, driving to the basket at will, and his 11 trips to the line admittedly lowered what that assist total could have been. Wade, the brightest spot on the Bulls offense Friday night, tallied just one assist. He did his damage in the scoring department, topping the 30-point threshold for the first time with the Bulls. When he and Mirotic were at their best, scoring 20 of the Bulls’ 34 points in the second quarter, the offense was moving the ball its best. The Bulls tallied six assists, 40 percent of their total for the game, in the only quarter they won (34-24).

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But it stalled again in the second half. The Bulls managed to get into the paint early in the third quarter, and were helped out by five offense rebounds that turned into eight points. But in the fourth quarter a 10-0 Knicks run sent the Bulls into an iso panic, with Wade and Butler perhaps forcing the issue in an attempt to slow down their opponent. Butler and Wade made nine field goals in the second half, and only one was assisted.

The Bulls entered Friday’s action averaging 329.5 passes per game, which ranked fourth in the NBA. Their 26.5 assists per game were fifth in the NBA, and despite the season being just four games old it was clear from watching them that the ball was moving well thanks to Wade, Rondo and Butler. That wasn’t the case against the Knicks and Rose, a player who caught criticism in Chicago for looking too often to score as well as careless turnovers.

Instead, Rose and the Knicks tallied a season-high 32 assists. Rose had 11 of those, the first time he had reached double-figures this season. Playing with a chip on his shoulder in his return to his hometown, he was a step quicker than the Bulls defense, and though he committed three turnovers, his corner pass to Carmelo Anthony for 3 with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter put the game away.

Even Joakim Noah, who twice led the Bulls in assists per game before leaving this summer via free agency, was sharp on his passes. He finished with four assists, while adding 16 points and nine rebounds.

The Bulls offense doesn’t appear to be bending. But the ball isn’t moving as well as it had the first week of the season. Wade said after the game he’d have to look at the film to determine exactly what went wrong with moving the ball, but that not matching the Knicks’ intensity in the opening 12 minutes was a factor in them playing from behind much of the night.

The good news, as Gibson said after the game, is that the Bulls will get a chance to turn around and right their wrongs. They’ll square off Saturday on the road against the Pacers, a team that they handed out a season-best 34 assists on in a 118-101 win last week.

But for one night, the Bulls’ new additions who had made them one of the best passing teams in the early season, struggled to find open passing lanes and shooters against a defense that two days earlier had allowed 25 assists to the Rockets.

 “It’s been very strong,” Hoiberg said of his team’s ball movement. “Again, we were looking to come into this game, third in the league in passes per game and assists per game. It wasn’t moving like it needed to, obviously.”

Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls


Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls

Just two years after being drafted in the second round, Paul Zipser told German media that he doesn’t see the Bulls wanting him next season.

The Bulls have until mid-July to pick up Zipser's option.

"I would not be surprised if they no longer want me.” Zipser said in German and translated via Google Translate

“Actually, I'm pretty sure I will not play in Chicago soon.”

Last month, Zipser had surgery on his fractured left foot, in his native country of Germany, which grew speculation the Bulls wouldn’t pick up his player option for next season. Zipser said the surgery "went perfectly."

Zipser showed some flashes of potential in his rookie season, averaging 5.5 per game and 2.8 rebounds in 44 games. But this past season, he played more games, but injuries derailed him from improving his overall production. He finished with four points and 2.4 rebounds in 54 games, including 12 starts.

Zipser explained that things changed from his first year to his second year.

“They were very varied," Zipser said. "The first year was just going very well. I fought my way into the team from the beginning and showed how I can help the team. The Bulls just needed someone like me. That's why it worked so well. We benefited from each other - that's why we were successful.”

“That was very different. It was not right from the beginning, and I was already struggling with my injury. It was not quite clear what it is. If you have pain in your foot, you automatically go down a bit with intensity. You just do not want to hurt yourself and be completely out. It was then difficult for me to keep my head in the sport - I did not manage that well. Nevertheless, the injury should not be an excuse.”

Nothing is official yet, but it sounds like Zipser might not dress up in a Bulls uniform next year.

Former Bulls guard opens up about having depression


Former Bulls guard opens up about having depression

During his NBA career, he was known as having a joking, outgoing, clown-type of personality. Now, former NBA point guard Nate Robinson opened up about having depression.

Robinson, an 11-year NBA veteran, told Bleacher Report that he began going to therapy sessions in the 2012-13 season when he played for the Bulls.

He said he would struggle with having an angel and a demon inside of him.

"The NBA gave me my depression," Robinson told Bleacher Report. "I've never been a depressed person in my life."

"The hardest thing in my whole life, of my 34 years in existence on earth, was dealing with 11 years in the NBA of trying to be somebody that [NBA coaches] want me to be," Robinson said.

When Robinson was with the Bulls, he said he would sit in front of the plane so he wouldn’t be tempted to crack jokes. His one year with the Bulls ended up being one of the top seasons statistically in his career. He averaged just over 13 points and four assists per game. He played in all 82 games (starting 23) on a team that finished 45-37 with a berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

He thought his behavior was always looked down upon, and Robinson thought he was being punished for his actions.

“It’s like Spider-Man, that Venom. I never wanted that Venom outfit to just consume me,” he says. “I wanted to be Spider-Man. I wanted to be positive. I never wanted that dark side to come out because I know what that dark side could do.” 

This might come as a surprise for NBA fans, knowing how energetic Robinson was on the court, no matter what team he was a part of.

Even though Robinson is just 5-foot-9, he brought a spark of energy when he came into the game.

He hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2015-16 season with the Pelicans and spent last year with the Delaware 87ers in the G League.

Robinson is known for his participation in the NBA Slam Dunk competition. He won three contests, going back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.

One highlight was Robinson jumping over Dwight Howard in 2009, which ultimately gave Robinson his third title. Another highlight is welcoming former 1986 Slam Dunk Champion Spud Webb on the floor in 2006 and jumping over him.

Robinson is still vying for a comeback to the NBA.