The Chicago Bulls have stopped the losing. Not with great basketball on offense, but with excellent defense, and Pau Gasol, maybe someone who is criticized quite heavily for his play this season, carrying the team forward.
The Bulls beat the Los Angeles Clippers 83-80 to stop a three-game losing streak. Gasol scored 24 points with 6 rebounds. He’s averaging just 15.3 points per game this season as the Bulls are finding it difficult to move on from the Thibodeau era into whatever it is Hoiberg wants to see. This kind of win isn’t how the Bulls want to win their games, even if it comes against a good, but troubled team like the Clippers, by turning back to defense-first and slowing things down.
One of the interesting things about the Bulls is that they’re not built like Fred Hoiberg like to see his teams. They have big men, classic big men, who get stuck in the paint and slow things down. Gasol has actually been a hindrance for most of the games this season. The Bulls are losing by 0.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s playing, and are 2.2 points per 100 possessions better when he’s not playing.
But there are times when this style of basketball works. Gasol is a smart enough center to move the ball (even though he’s doing it less this season). It helps the Bulls dig deep and grind out wins through him, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, even if they fit less and less in the changing world of the NBA.
Maybe letting Gasol play less and less will finally make things work smoother for Jimmy Butler and especially Derrick Rose, who is having the worst season of his career; it’s not just the blurry vision. He’s averaging just 14.7 points per 36 minutes, shooting an awful 36.3% from the field. The Bulls probably have four or five different players that it’s safer to put the ball in their hands right now.
Looking for an identity might be the big headline regarding the Bulls right now. In terms of style, in terms of direction. The results are mixed, just like their basketball. The East isn’t running away from them (12-8, 1.5 games behind the Cavaliers), but it might be time to settle for a style and a direction, or this season will turn out to be another let down.