Jimmy Butler

The Chicago Bulls keep beating teams with an excellent combination of inside and outside scoring, led by the ever improving Jimmy Butler together with a good game from Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose, beating the Brooklyn Nets 102-84.

Butler, the team’s leading scorer, is averaging 21.9 points per game and added 26 with plenty of athletic moves in the pain, showing off more and more how much he’s improved over the offseason. It’s not just his scoring, but his attitude, confidence and aggression overall. He keeps moving to the paint and teams have a hard time keeping up with him, finding it quite easy to get to the line, hitting 11-of-13 on this occasion.

Derrick Rose scored 14 points on 5-of-12 from the field, not trying to force himself on the game too much. The Bulls did turn the ball over 19 times but played very quick basketball, scoring 27 points on the fast break and showing excellent passing ability all around, including from guys like Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic, once again showing that this year’s team has the potential to go a very long way as long as a certain someone stays healthy.

The Bulls ran away with the game in the second half, giving Nikola Mirotic an excellent opportunity to improve his stats. The Montenegrin star has been playing very well recently and had a double double with 12 points and 12 rebounds in 27 minutes to give himself another small milestone in his short NBA career. Aaron Brooks, one of the most important additions during the offseason, scored 11 points off the bench.

The Brooklyn Nets aren’t as bad as their New York city partners, but things are so bad that Kevin Garnett, someone who should have retired this offseason, resorted to biting Joakim Noah during the game. It’s frustrating to be an old man in basketball terms, no longer being able to push and bully players around like he did before. His entire psychological edge is gone as well, which means he has to become an even dirtier player in order to get what he wants. Even that didn’t work.

And how crucial is Derrick Rose? While the Chicago Bulls offense is only slightly better with him on the floor then without (103.6 points per 48 minutes compared to 99.3 points when he’s not playing), their defense allows only 89.3 points per 48 minutes when Rose is playing compared to 100.9 when he’s on the bench or in a suit. The most important number: Point differential, as the Bulls are winning on average by 14 points during his minutes while losing by two when he isn’t playing.

This was just the Brooklyn Nets, an aging, declining East conference team with a losing record and not a lot of expectations this season. And yet the Bulls are getting back everyone from injuries (still waiting for Taj Gibson) and looking more and more like the most complete team in the Eastern conference, with the depth and defense to compliment what’s looking more and more like a very slick offense. The Derrick Rose factor, as always, will determine if this is just another season of underachieving or something special, at last.