The Bulls’ Big Man Conundrum

Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol watching from the bench

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Bulls were dismantled last night and as each game passes, the glaring weaknesses of this roster become more and more evident.  The Bulls have problems.  Big problems.  The team is loaded with big name big men, all of whom who have earned the right to be in the rotation, and most of whom are underperforming this season:

  • Pau Gasol: 12.6 ppg, 7.8 reb, 2 ast, 0.8 stl, 2.2 blk, 49.1% FG, 87.5% FT, 20.6 PER
  • Nikola Mirotic: 16 ppg, 6.4 reb, 0.8 ast, 1 stl, 0.6 blk, 41.4% FG, 42.4% 3pt, 90% FT, 17.2 PER
  • Joakim Noah: 2 ppg, 6.4 reb, 2.8 ast, 0.8 stl, 0.6 blk, 36.4% FG, 25% FT, 6.6 PER
  • Taj Gibson: 5.6 ppg, 5.4 reb, 0.4 ast, 0 stl, 1.2 blk, 55% FG, 54.5% FT, 9.7 PER

The numbers aren’t terrible, but they aren’t fantastic either.  Mirotic had a hot start, but has come back to earth the past couple of games.  Pau Gasol is producing some on offense, but has looked uninterested on defense.  Taj Gibson has missed some rotations defensively and is a virtual blackhole when the ball is fed to him on offense.  The Bulls just aren’t getting consistent production from these four guys (among others).

The lackluster play of these four men has led to the Bulls being anemic in the paint.  Per NBA.com, the Bulls are 17th in opponent points in the paint and 21st in opponent 2nd chance points.  Last year, the Bulls were 9th in opponent points in the paint and 14th in opponent 2nd chance points.  The year prior, the Bulls were 2nd in both categories and in 2012-2013, the Bulls were 5th in opponent points in the paint and 9th in opponent 2nd chance points.

The Bulls have been anemic on offense as well, ranking 24th so far in 2nd chance points and 26th in points in the paint.  Obviously, there are other factors, but last year, the Bulls were 10th in 2nd chance points and  20th in points in the paint. In 2013-2014, the Bulls were 7th in 2nd chance points and 29th in points in the paint.  In 2012-2013, the Bulls were 3rd in 2nd chance points and 21st in points in the paint.  As you can see, the Bulls of the Thibs era, thrived on second chance points.  These Bulls this year are getting and converting few of their second chance opportunities.  With the Bulls becoming a more jumpshooting team, the Bulls big men need to help out on the glass and present those opportunities.  The Bulls are 3rd in the NBA so far in total rebounds, but a mere 23rd in offensive rebounds.

It’s worth wondering if Hoiberg is playing the right combinations.  Per NBA.com, Mirotic/Gasol have a +2.8 when sharing the court together and Noah/Gibson have a -7 when sharing the court together.  In a small sample size, Mirotic/Gibson are actually +2.7, Mirotic/Noah are +1.6, while Gasol/Gibson and Gasol/Noah both return negative results (-2.8 and -0.8 respectively).  Maybe Fred Hoiberg should shake up the rotation a little bit and use Gibson/Noah’s defense to balance out the offense of Mirotic and Gasol.  But who do you ask to go to the bench?  Would Pau Gasol, a certain Hall of Famer when his career ends, accept moving to the bench and anchoring the second unit?  Can you ask Nikola Mirotic, who will make an All-Star in the next two or three years and has been the second best player on this team, to move to the bench?  I’m sure Mirotic would, but that doesn’t seem logical.  We’ve seen the Noah/Gasol pairing and it was abysmal.  And from the aforementioned small sample size, Gasol/Taj together seems like a bad idea.

 

In an ideal world and with any other team in the league, I’d say there’s a trade to be made (and there should be).  But the Bulls front office rarely makes any meaningful trade and I expect this year to be no different.  In an ideal world, the Bulls would shop Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol (the two most expendable players that will net a decent return) for either a small forward or a quality backup point guard.  This would accomplish two things: 1) It would give the Bulls an actual backup point guard instead of the yo-yo that is the Aaron Brooks experience. (Note: I’m high on E’Twaun Moore being that backup point guard, but Hoiberg seems content with him at shooting guard. Maybe that changes when Dunleavy returns? I don’t know, but I doubt it.)

2) This opens the door for Bobby Portis to play.  Portis had an incredible preseason and could provide the influx of energy and competence on both sides of the ball the Bulls are missing this season.  I’d like to see more from him, but when? How can you legitimately share minutes between five big men?  You just can’t.

But the Bulls will stand pat and these four men will have to find it within themselves.  Gasol and Mirotic are going to have to buckle down and play defense, Noah has to find his confidence on offense, and Taj Gibson has to work himself into Hoiball.  If they can’t, the Bulls will find themselves in the middle of the pack, struggling to produce, and be a frustrating team to watch.  Let’s hope this is all early season speculation and not a foreshadowing of what’s to come.

Brandon Pence is the founder and former editor/owner of “The Bulls Charge.” You can follow him on Twitter at @thebullscharge, on Google+, and on Facebook

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Posted on November 4, 2015, in Articles. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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