By Dave Searle (@DaveSearle)
Oh, what a difference an 9-0 start makes.
A few short weeks ago, the Bulls were all the rage in certain corners of the NBA pre-season media prediction cycle. Many outlets pegged Chicago as the second best team in the East. Bill and Jalen over at Grantland even went as far as to declare the Bulls as the best team in the NBA.
And why not? The last two years that the Bulls had a healthy Rose, Chicago went into the playoffs as the #1 seed. We haven’t seen Rose in a full playoff series in two years, and the Bulls managed to knock off a talented Nets team without him. Ladies and gentlemen, the immortal Nate Robinson:
This season, Rose is back. Jimmy Butler looks like a D-and-3 stud. Deng, Noah, Gibson, Boozer, and the rest of the gang round out a great rotation. Eastern Conference supremacy seemed ready for the taking.
All of the above seems like a rational argument – if you have been in a coma for the last year. To paraphrase the sage elder Eminem, you forgot about the Pacers.
A very young Pacers squad took the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. The Pacers jettisoned their terrible bench and re-filled their roster with Luis Scola, CJ Watson, Solomon Hill, and Chris Copeland. The Pacers were a team with the #1 defense in the NBA ready to get even better, and a superstar who emerged in the playoffs last year in Paul George.
Still, it is easy to get swept away in what-ifs. What if the bench is solid? What this defense plays at a historic rate? What if Paul George turns into an MVP candidate?
Eight games later, the what-ifs are reality. This Pacers squad is as good as we thought. This Bulls squad? They are leaving much to be desired.
The Bulls defense is still playing at a high level, ranking 3rd in Defensive Rating. The Chicago offense is a much different picture.
They are 25th in Offensive Rating, after ending the season 5th in 2011-12 (the last full season with Rose). The Bulls are only shooting 42.9 percent from the field, and an abysmal 26.3 percent from three point land.
What is the biggest difference? Derrick Rose isn’t getting any calls anymore.
Let’s look at two things. First, a pair of shot charts:
2013 (so far)
The first thing you will notice is that the first shot chart has a lot more yellow in it, and a bit more green. The most important area on that chart is the spot that Derrick Rose shoots from the most: right at the rim.
In his last full year, Rose hit 52.9 percent at the bucket. That earned him a “yellow” color splash. The yellow in this case means that Rose hit shots at the rim at about a league-average rate. While that might not jump out at you, consider the fact that Rose has to “earn” those buckets in a way that other players don’t have to.
Most NBA players shoot the majority of their at-the-rim attempts when the defense breaks down completely (leaving a clear path to the rim) or in transition. Not for Rose. He does get his fair share of those moments of course. But he also spends a good chunk of his possessions attacking the rim out of the pick and roll, forcing the issue even when help arrives. Creating buckets at roughly a 50 percent clip under those circumstances is MVP-ish stuff.
So far this year, Rose is only hitting about 38 percent of these looks. That isn’t going to cut it, not for his offensive game and certainly not at the centerpiece of the Bulls attack.
Finally, let’s take a look at the difference in production in a few key stats from Rose’s last full year to this current season so far:
Free Throw Attempts: -46%
That is not a slight dip in production. That is a crisis.
There is still plenty of season left, and Derrick Rose is an amazing talent. His athleticism and ball handling skills alone should be enough for Rose to find creative ways to get good looks from 10 or so feet. If his jumper can return to modest 2011-12 levels, he will squeeze out a few more points per game.
But the salad days of throwing himself into opposing centers for a few cheap trips to the line are over. Rose will have to evolve his game at lighting speed if he wants to be effective against Mount Hibbert tonight.
You worked hard this weekend. Treat yourself today by taking one-and-a-half minutes to sit down and watch “The Showdown”, one of the best commercials of the 90’s:
How much time did you spend dreaming up crazy shots for H-O-R-S-E games as a kid, trying to top the antics of this commercial? Did you ever make any of them? It was fun anyway, right?
Ah, cheap nostalgia. The favorite tool of any blogger.
Chicago club legends Local H will probably be remembered nationally for their hit “Bound For The Floor“. I prefer this song, a great tune about the fears of letting your fanbase down. It never got much national traction despite the catchy tune, great lyrics, and cool “whoa, how did they do that?” music video when their label merged with Universal.
The “great album gets lost during label merger” story is too common in pop music. This song deserved more. Just like the Pacers deserved more than one victory against the Bulls a few years ago when the two teams played a bar fight of a playoff series in the first round.
Lance Stephenson doesn’t – doesn’t! – do something to antagonize a Bulls opponent into shoving him. David West breaks the twenty point mark for the first time this season. An announcer calls Jimmy Butler a “good kid” despite the fact that he is a twenty-five year old man. Joakim Noah celebrates after drawing an unimportant “and-1” foul but misses the ensuing free throw.
The Bulls have yet to find their offense, and today it remains lost. Pacers 92, Bulls 81