The Chicago Bulls could have a few reasons to celebrate this season if a few things go right for them. After a week when the Bulls have played at their best and worst, identifying certain problems has become easier. Simply put, the Chicago Bulls can be a scary good team when it matters, but they need someone to step up and shake off the complacency.
The Bulls are an improved bench from being a fringe title contender in the NBA.
In their win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls showed everyone how good they can be. Behind a triple-double from Rajon Rondo and a dominant 78-point performance inside, the Bulls defeated the Cavaliers 111-105. The Bulls’ win was enough to bother Cavaliers’ star LeBron James.
“We got to get out of the honeymoon stage. You got to play the game, the right way. We’ve got to battle every night like we ain’t won nothing. Last year is last year. After ring night is over with, now it’s a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over. It’s time to play some real ball and be physical, especially in the trenches. Giving up 78 points (in the paint) is ridiculous. We’ve got to man up. Everybody.”
Someone should say the same thing to the Bulls. Their victory against the NBA champions was sandwiched between two losses to the injury-plagued Los Angeles Lakers and the lowly Dallas Mavericks. The latter game was played without Dwyane Wade.
Much of the same effort and energy displayed versus the Cavaliers was nonexistent against the Lakers and Mavericks. Those defeats have exposed the Bulls’ biggest weakness. It is not the outside shooting that most people have feared. Bench production is at the core of all the Bulls’ problems. If the bench was at least average, those losses probably do not take place.
Both games took place under adverse conditions.
Versus the Lakers, the Bulls were playing in their first game in five days. It was also their first home game in two weeks. The Mavericks game was the second of four games in five nights. The Bulls had to be spent after an emotional win against the Cavaliers. Even the best NBA teams struggle when they have to deal with those scenarios. What gets those teams by are the reserves. Either due to injury or inconsistency, the Bulls have not had many strong showings from their bench players.
While it is true that the loss of Doug McDermott to a concussion has hurt the Bulls, he was not contributing the way that the team had hoped when he was healthy. McDermott was averaging 10.6 points a game, while shooting over 51 percent from the field. That is incrementally worse than last season, but the Bulls need to see more based on the price they paid to trade up in the 2014 NBA draft to take him.
Nikola Mirotic has also failed to impress. The power forward has spent too much time shooting perimeter jump shots. That has negated his ability to take a defender off the dribble, inside the paint. Mirotic always seems hesitant to shoot once he catches a pass. Opposing defenders have caught on to the fact that the stretch-forward employs pump fakes to get open looks. His hesitation eliminates the initial open look and is a byproduct of the pump fake.
Isaiah Canaan is so far the only consistent player on the Chicago Bulls bench. He cannot carry the load. One of the potential solutions is the return of Michael Carter-Williams.
Carter-Williams was acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. He has not played since injuring his ankle in the third game of the season. While preparing for his initial return, Carter-Williams had a bone chip found in his wrist. According to ESPN, he will be re-evaluated in a couple of weeks. Carter-Williams could return to the Bulls’ lineup as early as next week. The Bulls will have to do something to steady things until then. Perhaps rookie Denzel Valentine can get more playing time.
If the Chicago Bulls can get their bench in order, they be the team that will give the Cavaliers trouble. LeBron James will not concede anything, but some observers believe that he has an understanding of what the Bulls are capable of if they can put it all together.
The Chicago Bulls are not the team that defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are also not the same team that lost to the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks. Based on potential, the Bulls seem closer to the former, than the latter. In order to draw even closer tot he elite teams in the East, the Chicago Bulls will need better bench play. The Bulls could seek some help in a trade. If so, watch out.
[Featured Image by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]