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Enemy: Chicago Bulls
3SOB Prediction: 51-31

Photo: David Banks / USA Today Sports

What’s the Story in the Windy City?

My girlfriend and I are pretty tight with a couple that shares a special fondness for the Chicago Bulls. They’re the type that when they go away on their honeymoon, we abuse our house-sitting privileges to plaster headshots of Joakim Noah over the face of the groom in any and all pictures in sight — and they’re totally okay with it. Anywho, I was conversing with them on the topic of the infamous #return the other day, when they raised a notion worthy of reflection upon, in that they feel like they may have taken Derrick Rose for granted back when he was healthy and lighting up scoreboards on the nightly in the Windy City.

Well after attending the USA basketball friendly match against Puerto Rico last Friday, it’s officially safe to say that nobody’s taking the former U of M standout for granted, any longer. The barrage of #1 Chicago jerseys that showed up in droves to dress the Madison Square Garden crowd, combined with the bursting ovation when he motioned towards the scorer’s table to signal his imminent entry into the game made it crystal clear just how stoked the basketball world is to have his electrifying talent back on display.

In spite of the frightening knee soreness that has pervaded the discussion with Rose – forcing him to sit out the first friendly match in New York City against the Dominican Republic – his performance when actually on the court, looking as spry and fresh as ever, has stood to quell at least some of those in doubt of  whether he can return to playing at the high level at which we are accustomed.

But while the returning Rose is easily the protagonist of the Bulls’ 2014 offseason, he’s far from alone in his casting as a leading role. Shortly after recruiting overtures towards Carmelo Anthony were received with lukewarm interest, the Bulls were quick to shift their attention towards another decorated player that the city of Memphis has quite a bit of familiarity with: Pau Gasol. Severing ties with Carlos Boozer has been a longstanding right of passage for the Bulls in their quest towards the Eastern Conference crown, and the invoking of the amnesty clause may have never felt so good. Replacing him with the seven foot Spaniard, even as he approaches post-prime form, is bound to be a step in the right direction.

If you’re keeping score, that’s a 25-year-old former MVP and a big man who logged a PER of 19.34 to accompany one of the highest usage rates of his career, last season, being added to a 48 win team.

Beyond the two heavy hitters, the Bulls also managed to bolster an all-out scoring infusion, by luring 2011 Draft holdover Nikola Mirotic – one of the top players in Europe = over to U.S. soil, parlaying their two selections in this June’s draft into 2014 Naismith Player of the Year Doug McDermott, and signing the small, quick, and explosive scoring Aaron Brooks to continue on the proud tradition of small, quick, scoring guards backing up the position along with Kirk Hinrich in Chicago.

What are they cooking with?

Given that the Bulls ranked second in the league in defensive efficiency last season, but were tied-for third worst offensively (at 99.7 points per 100 possessions… we thought Memphis was bad at 103.3), it is safe to say that their offensively-inclined summer intentions were well-guided.

The pairing of the elder Gasol and Defensive Player of the Year Noah in the frontcourt is something that I’d selfishly been dreaming of one day seeing take shape for some time, at this point. I still remember to this day the bitter taste I felt when David Stern announced that the Grizzlies would be selecting Mike Conley Jr. with the 4th pick in the 2007 draft instead of taking the 6’11 workhorse out of the University of Florida to set in tandem with Pau (and so that we’re clear, I did like Mike Conley). Adding Pau to the equation for the Bulls not only avails them to his individual scoring punch, but also pairs one of the best passing big men in the game with, you guessed it, one of the best passing big men in the game. Even if Pau was just average, offensively, he’d be adding more value than Carlos Boozer and his near-league worst (among power forwards) -4.11 offensive real plus minus were ever able to. Add in the fact that you have sixth man candidate Taj Gibson and the versatile Mirotic coming off the bench at these spots, and the frontlines get pretty juicy.

With the bigs on lock, and Derrick Rose potentially living up to the D-Rose of old, the real question mark will become whether the wings can take the requisite steps towards being a legitimately scary wing rotation. Nobody’s asking for this group to be gamebreakers, but growth in this department will be essential, after giving up Luol Deng midway through last season. Mike Dunleavy is a far better defender than he gets credit for, but even his 3-and-D prowess shouldn’t amount to your best SG/SF production. Jimmy Butler was supposed to be that guy to take the leap in year three, but while he’s a sound two-way wing who shoots it well from the corners, his overall shooting percentage registered at 39.7% in 2013-14. Yikes.

On thewhole, the wings are not a damning concern, but could be the difference between the Bulls stealing the Eastern Conference, and packing their bags a few rounds in.

At the end of the day, with a roster construction like this one, the prognosis for this roster should be simple. If they can just stay healthy for a change, Coach Thibs will find a way to guide them to where they want to go.

How do the good guys stack up?

Photo: Jeff Curry / USA Today Sports

The Vibe Behind Enemy Lines

To gauge how those far more intimately intertwined in Bulls basketball web feel about the Bulls’ chances when going head-to-head with our beloved Grizzlies this season, we linked up with Ben Brown, who you can always count on to be discussing either one of these teams on Twitter @BenTBrown.

Ben Brown: It’s hard to predict how the Grizzlies will fare against the Bulls this season because Chicago is a difficult team to project. Only five of Chicago’s rotation players from last year (Noah, Gibson, Butler, Dunleavy, and Hinrich) are expected to play much this year. Given this, using last year’s Bulls squad to project this year’s may not be particularly useful. The 2011-2012 Bulls might be a more useful comparison given that team featured (1) a healthy Derrick Rose, (2) incredible big man depth (in Noah, Boozer, Gibson, Asik, and most importantly this guy), and (3) better outside shooting (led by Korver and CJ Watson). That team had tied for the best regular season record and seemed destined for an Eastern Conference Final rematch with Miami before their postseason plans were derailed by Derrick Rose’s knee injury. There is hope in Chicago that this year’s team can match the 2011-2012’s level of success while playing off the same strengths. I will briefly examine how the three factors identified above might impact Memphis.

  • A healthy Derrick Rose. Like others, I am skeptical (but hopeful) Rose can stay healthy for a full season, but he’s looked great in World Cup scrimmages and his recent rest is reportedly the result of fatigue and coaches looking at players fighting for a roster spot. If he can return to his former MVP form this season, that would represent a massive upgrade over the likes of DJ Augustin, Professional Clown Nate Robinson, and Kirk Hinrich’s corpse.
  • How this impacts the Grizz: A healthy Rose is a matchup nightmare for any team, but the Grizz might be able to guard him better than most. Mike Conley has developed into one of the best two-way point guards in the league, but Rose’s size and physicality could give Conley fits. Memphis could perhaps stick a bigger guard like Tony Allen on Rose for stretches. Marc’s presence at the rim would allow TA and Conley to gamble more. In any case, if Rose is healthy, containing him will be a team effort for the Grizz. Rose has also developed into a competent defender and he and Butler could disrupt the Grizzlies’ backcourt.
  • Big Man Depth. This season the Bulls will have perhaps their deepest and most dynamic frontcourt in recent memory. Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol are two of the most gifted big man passers in the league, which should ease the pressure on Rose to create offense. Noah and Gibson will provide the same lockdown defense they have in recent years. The additions of Pau and Nikola Mirotic should give the Bulls a much-needed infusion of offense. Pau is getting older, but is still a crafty scorer, and Mirotic appears to be a true stretch four (46% from 3 last season for Real Madrid).
  • How this impacts the Grizz: Against most teams, the Grizz’s bigs should have an advantage. The Bulls may represent the rare matchup where that is not true. ZBo still has a knack for scoring, but has certainly lost a step in recent years. Zach will likely have a hard time scoring if the Bulls stick Gibson or Noah on him. Marc should be able to slow down any of the Bulls big men, but unfortunately he can only guard one of them at a time. ZBo would have a hard time guarding either Pau or Noah. Thibs might be smart to give Mirotic a look as well since the Grizz would likely have a hard time covering his outside shooting.
  • Outside Shooting. Outside shooting was a problem for the Bulls last season as only Mike Dunleavy (38%) and DJ Augustin (41%) provided much of a three point threat. CHI let Augustin go to Detroit (for the same price, Chicago decided to keep aging dribbling specialist Kirk Hinrich because grit or something). Chicago’s desperation for shooting led them to trade five (FIVE!!!) draft picks for Shooter McDermott (and his usual breakfast regimen). It is unclear how Dougie’s game will translate to the pros, but he certainly held his own in Summer League (I know, I know, it’s just Summer League) while shooting over 44% from deep. Speaking of Summer League, Tony Snell also impressed (50% from 3). He looks to have worked on his game this summer (and to possibly have adopted Dwyane Wade’s all-HGH diet). He also got a haircut, so Thibs might stop thinking “Omar’s coming, yo!” and actually play him. Throw in Mirotic, a returning Dunleavy, an underappreciated Aaron Brooks (career 37% 3pt shooter), an improving Rose, and suddenly one of the Bulls’ biggest weaknesses from last year could be a strength.
  • How this impacts the Grizz: Last year Memphis was right around the league average when it came to defending the 3-point line. With Rose breaking down defenses and the Pau/Joakim tandem being able to find shooters, the Grizzlies will need to focus on staying on shooters. The Grizzlies certainly are not lacking in perimeter defenders, so Joerger should have the tools to disrupt Chicago’s outside shooting. Let’s just hope that by the time the Bulls and Grizz face-off, Joerger will have realized that Tayshaun is a tool better left in the toolbox.

The Bulls visit Memphis on December 19th. I imagine many fans will be excited to see Derrick Rose play his first game in Memphis in nearly three years (I plan to make the drive from Atlanta for the game). I predict that the Bulls will still be learning to play with each other, Derrick Rose will still be showing signs of rust this early in the season, and the Grizzlies win comfortably at home. The Grizzlies will then travel to Chicago on March 9th in what should be a good late-season test of playoff readiness. I suspect it will be hard to win in Chicago this season as the Grizz will discover as they lose a close one. The Bulls and Grizz only play twice in the regular season, but it’d be very good news for Grizz fans if this matchup became relevant again in the postseason.

The Vibe at 3 Shades of Blue

Josh Coleman: Although they received far less fanfare for their moves this offseason, the fact is that the Bulls will be adding a former MVP and a multi-faceted power forward to their roster, just like their division rival in Cleveland. The return of Derrick Rose, the addition of Pau Gasol, and the drafting of Doug McDermott signals a team that should be poised to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown.

The Bulls have always played the Grizzlies tough since Tom Thibodeau took over the reins in the Windy City. With the personnel they’ve added this year, they will likely gain an edge in the matchup between these two perennial playoff teams. Last year, the teams split games with the road squad winning each time.

With their intense defensive style and improved offensive players, the Bulls present a problem for any team they face. Their roster matches up well with that of the Grizzlies, where All-Star big men collide and Rose is one of the few PGs quick enough to keep Mike Conley on his heels. I’m expecting two very hard-fought contests that should come down to the final seconds of each game. I’ll predict a split that mirrors last year’s results.

Antonia Bufalino: Many are excited to watch the “Return of Derrick Rose: The Sequel”, or more formally, the Chicago Bull’s 2014-2015 season. With the explosive and highly anticipated superstar once again easing his way into the line-up, should the Grizzlies be afraid? Sure, but not because of Rose.

The Bulls have meshed extremely well without the presence of their superstar PG. They hold one of the highest defensive efficiencies, second in the league with a staggering 97.8. Their defense is what earned them their right to be called a tough opponent, with their very own Joakim Noah winning the DOY(Defensive Player of The Year)Award. Last year’s head-to-head results were a split, though Memphis’s loss in December could have easily been impacted by the absence of their 2013 DOY winner, Marc Gasol.

It is hard to say what the results will be this season. The Grizzlies have better outcomes against fast-paced teams, and the Bulls play at a 92.7 pace, almost exact to the Grizzlies. The two teams are very similar according to Hollinger’s NBA Team Stats. The only significant difference is their offensive efficiency, where the Grizzlies are 103.3 against the Bulls 99.7. That difference could determine wether they win or lose. Also, the Bulls will have to spend some time meshing with Rose after playing without him the past few seasons, but the Grizzlies are back to full health and full strength once again(knock on wood). So, if I had to choose between the Bulls or the Grizzlies this season, I would choose the Grizzlies 10 times out of 10.

When Do They Square Off?

12/19/14 — FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN — 7:00 PM CST
3/9/15 — United Center, Chicago, IL — 7:00 PM CST (NBA TV)

What Do Y’all Think?

Cast your vote below and reach out on Twitter @StevieDanziger to discuss more on the matchup!

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