One of the most surprising statistics floating around recently has been about the Chicago Bulls, who just happen to be the best team in the Eastern Conference so far in 2014. Even down by double digits against a good Dallas Mavericks team, the combination of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler is strong enough on both ends of the floor to pull them back and win 100-91.
It’s not just about grit, defense and effort. Everyone can give 150% at some point. But the Bulls, despite an apparent lack of “talent” when it comes to pure scoring abilities for some of their players make up for it by trying to do exactly what their head coach asks of them and playing to the strengths of each of their players, which seems to be working quite fine after a rough start to the season, bringing them to 20-8 since the turn of the new year, and overall being 32-26, good enough for 4th in the East.
Joakim Noah isn’t your classic big man, but there are few who are so versatile. His defending, rebounding, scoring and especially passing stand out each time. Even when he doesn’t get the numbers, most of the good things the Bulls do originate from him, and it is his leadership and hustle that they follow. He scored 10 points, adding 9 rebounds and four assists in the win. Taj Gibson sticks to his power in the paint, having a huge 20 points, 15 rebounds double double off the bench. Jimmy Butler hardly rested (playing 44 minutes), finishing with 19 points and 7 rebounds, as his turf toe problem that’s been bugging him all season is starting to decrease in effect.
And it’s not just the “stars”. Kirk Hinrich might be very limited in what he can still do on the floor, but he senses when the opportunity is there for the taking, finishing with 17 points on an almost perfect 7-of-8 from the field. The same goes for Mike Dunleavy who was 4-of-7 from beyond the arc to score 16 points. Chicago shot a rare (but getting less rare than before) 50.7% from the field, making the most of another bad performance from the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavs are fun to watch on offense. The ball moves well from Calderon to Nowitzki and Ellis, and Vince Carter, even though he tries to do a bit too much sometimes, is a joy to watch in the twilight of his career. But this team isn’t tough, or capable of locking down on defense, so unless their offense goes swimmingly (and 40% from the field isn’t that), they’re going to have a very hard time against good teams, even if they lead by 16 points at a certain stage.
The Bulls are adding Jimmer Fredette to bring them another potential shooter to a team that until not too long ago had a huge problems with spacing and stretching the floor. With the offense clicking the way it has been recently, pushing the former Kings player into the rotations slowly, maybe taking away some minutes from Tony Snell and D.J. Augustin, might be enough to push them beyond the Raptors and grab third in the East.