The Chicago Bulls are on a roll as we begin the 2016 phase of the NBA season, with Jimmy Butler representing everything good about this momentum, all happening without Derrick Rose playing, which is probably more than just a coincidence.
Focusing on just one game, the most recent one, it’s impossible to ignore the 40-point performance by Butler in the second half. He shot 1-of-4 from the field to finish with just 2 points in the first 24 minutes, but ended up hitting 14-of-19 in the second half to finish with 42 points and 5 assists. The Bulls didn’t play that wonderful, passing basketball some are dreaming they’ll one day adopt. It was about Butler moving off screens and rising early for comfortable jump shots. Sometimes contented, but mostly with his defender simply following with a glance.
The Bulls trailed for most of the second half, but Butler brought them back into the game (21 points in the third, 19 in the fourth) and put them in the lead with a tough 3-pointer from the corner, that included getting fouled by DeMarre Carroll, who busted Butler’s lip with an elbow in the first half, something that Butler said helped him gain the right mindset for the finale. After taking that lead he sunk two free throws to give the Bulls that 115-113 lead and put just enough pressure on DeMar DeRozan who missed the potential game winning 3-pointer with a tough, spinning shot.
Butler is averaging 21.8 points per game this season, but he’s been fantastic in the Bulls’ three game winning streak, coinciding with Rose not playing, which means Butler has a lot more freedom in the backcourt to handle the ball, something the Bulls floated towards during the preseason, knowing Rose’s legs (right now it’s his knee giving him trouble) can’t be trusted. They should have signed someone better than Aaron Brooks at point guard (or saying the same about Kirk Hinrich; Jeremy Lin would have been a perfect match), but they’re rolling with what they got. Nikola Mirotic finding his shooting touch again (34 points over the last two games) has been a big part of their four-game winning streak, which puts them on pace to capture second in the East again, having just 12 losses. Butler is averaging 31 points in the last three games.
Besides Butler having another strong game, Pau Gasol scored 19 points. Not having Joakim Noah as well, for now, isn’t hurting the team, and helps bring Bobby Portis into the rotation. He isn’t doing great in every game, but you expect that kind of inconsistency from a rookie. Overall, the Bulls need to clear up some minutes for big men. The basketball still isn’t great, and it does feel that there’s a bit of confusion when it comes to rotations and roles at certain junctures in games.
Are the Bulls better off without Rose? When Brooks has a good game, it feels like it. Hinrich doesn’t have them anymore and frankly, the Bulls could use to get rid of him, although there’s no one to dump him on and get something out of it. But when it’s just Butler going on a solo machine to win the game (and succeed), it does feel the Bulls need more help, although Fred Hoiberg needs to either find what’s wrong with Rose’s offense or simply change him into someone who doesn’t do too much. It might be sad seeing a former MVP become such a minor influence at such a young age, but if it’s good for the team, Rose needs to make that sacrifice.