Chicago Bulls 82, Indiana Pacers 76: What did we learn last night?


Derrick Rose’s return gives the Bulls plenty of reason to smile.

Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Derrick Rose came back last night. It was one of the most cathartic sporting events I’ve ever experienced, getting to watch Rose flying around the court, beating the entirety of both teams down the floor in transition and finally throwing down a dunk in the third quarter. The Chicago Bulls eventually beat the Indiana Pacers 82-76, but that was secondary. This was Derrick Rose’s night and nobody else’s.*

Of course, now it’s the next morning, so let’s try to parse out what we saw from the team as a whole, although we will of course mention Mr. Rose. Everything from this point on should be taken with the implied caveat “but it just one game, and a preseason game at that.”

*Well, unless you’re a Pacer fan. Then it was also about Danny Granger’s return, but we’re a Bulls blog, so screw him.

1) Derrick himself seems to be fine.

Athletically, Rose looks just like he did before his injury. His speed continues to be unparalleled and as mentioned above, he beat everyone on both teams down the floor for layups twice in less than a minute of gametime in the second quarter. He isn’t favoring his reconstructed left knee in the slightest.

The only issues in his performance seem to be rust-based. He committed 4 turnovers, but two of them were simply him trying to do things he’d done before his injury but not quite able to execute them just yet and a third was a miscommunication with Luol Deng. He was only 5/12 from the floor, but he was 5/6 at the rim. He seems to be rusty when it comes to his trademark floater in particular, and his only jumpers were both heavily contested. He also seemed out of sync with his teammates on a couple of occasions, but that’s what happens when you’ve got less than a week’s worth of practices under your belt.

In short, there’s virtually no reason not to be optimistic about Rose’s prospects after last night, as long as you remember the implied caveat listed above.

2) Taj Gibson might be the best power forward in the NBA. Still waiting for sources to confirm.

Taj absolutely showed out last night. He finished with 18 points on 9/12 from the field to go with 12 boards and 3 blocks. His jumper looked fantastic, he showed some nice moves in the post, he played his usual great defense and he threw down a couple of dunks, including one that was certifiably vicious. He looks great, as he’s apparently put on a bunch of muscle in preparation to play center with the second unit, so that’s cool.

This all stands in stark contrast to Carlos Boozer, who scored two points on 1/5 shooting and played his usual non-defense. Boozer is still far superior to Gibson as a passer — despite a couple of nice passes from Taj last night — but Taj may as well be on another planet defensively. So, if Taj can play in the post with the right matchup, and if he can hit the inevitable wide open jumpers teams will give him, that begs the question: why is Boozer here?

Don’t expect Taj to start as long as the Bulls are winning, but expect him to finish regularly. A Rose/Jimmy Butler/Luol Deng/Gibson/Joakim Noah finishing lineup sounds fantastic and — and this is the important part — would be a near-perfect defensive counter to the all-consuming athleticism of the Miami Heat.

Oct 5, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers point guard Donald Sloan (15) is fouled by Chicago Bulls power forward Taj Gibson (22) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.Bulls beat Pacers 82-76. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat love to force teams into awkward positions by going small with LeBron as the nominal power forward along with Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and a pair of shooters. Typically, teams face a choice between matching them with a small lineup and likely conceding the rebounding battle or staying big and ending up with mismatches on the perimeter. That Bulls lineup faces no such proposition, since Gibson and Noah are both more than capable of switching out onto perimeter players defensively, while pounding the offensive glass on the other end. Keep an eye on this going forward.

3) Derrick’s presence opens up holes for others.

This is kind of obvious, but I’m mentioning it because it gives me an excuse to write about Jimmy Butler, and I will pass up no excuse to write about Jimmy Butler. Let’s think about how extraordinarily efficient Jimmy Butler was last year.

Now think about the fact that most of those games he started were without Rose and Deng. He’s the fifth option with the current starting lineup.

Jimmy’s game is perfect in that kind of limited role. Let him spot up and he can — theoretically — hit the jumper. If you close out too aggressively, he can put the ball on the floor and drive to the rim, where he’ll either finish or get fouled. And if you forget about him on the weak side when a shot goes up, he’ll crash the boards and get the offensive rebound. He shot 12 free throws last night, and historically has drawn fouls on 16.3 percent of his shot attempts. For reference, Kevin Durant is at 16.9 percent and LeBron is at 13.5 percent. I think he’ll find a way to contribute when all he ever sees is a defense that’s scrambling to contain someone else’s penetration.

This of course also goes for other players, such as Deng and Kirk Hinrich. I just wanted to use Jimmy as the example because I love him so.

4) I sincerely hope we’ll be seeing more small ball going forward.

It’s a little hard to get upset about preseason coaching decisions, but there were a couple of things that stood out on that front to me. First, Marquis Teague didn’t see the floor until halfway through the fourth quarter and the Bulls’ four camp invites — Dahntay Jones, DJ White, Dexter Pittman and Mike James — never saw the floor at all. Second – and most importantly — was that we never saw the Bulls play small. When the Bulls signed Mike Dunleavy, the supposition was that in the absence of a reliable fourth big man who isn’t older than time itself, the Bulls would run either Dunleavy or Deng as the nominal four with two other wings, or perhaps two point guards and a wing. We didn’t see that last night, even with Joakim Noah out with a groin injury.

I can make a guess at why. Presumably, Tom Thibodeau was trying to see what he could get out of rookie Erik Murphy, which is fine. Either that or he’s trying not to tip his hand on some of the things they might do with a smaller lineup before the season. I’d still like to see it in action, though.


Fact: Luol Deng is in a contract year. Fact: Luol Deng shot 16 times and attempted 8 free throws last night. Draw your own conclusions.

Also, Deng’s drive to do his own scoring led to a sequence on a fast break where he pushed the ball up the floor with Rose running on the wing, then declined to throw Rose an alley-oop when he absolutely should have. That was infuriating. Although maybe it was for the best, since seeing Rose throw down a lob in his first game back may well have broken reality due to all the spontaneous excitement coming from all of us.

6) Marquis Teague’s jumper may be a real thing now.

We saw him hit some jumpers at the Las Vegas Summer League, but it appears that Teague’s jumper made the trip to Indy with him, as he hit his only attempt from downtown. Again, please recall the disclaimer from earlier.

7) The rookies look fine, I guess.

Murphy and Tony Snell played about 18 minutes apiece and managed not to look completely incompetent, which is nice. Neither shot that well — Snell was 0/5, Murphy 1/3 — but Murphy’s only make was a three and Snell continued to show off his sophisticated understanding of the game by consistently being in the right place at the right time and making the right play when asked to.

Snell even provided one of the best moments of the night when, after Indiana’s Solomon Hill missed a wide open breakaway dunk/layup, he made a great cut off an offensive rebound and attempted to dunk on God himself, only to discover that he didn’t have enough hops to get over the player standing between him and the basket. Alas.

8) Seriously, Dunleavy was a great pickup.

His shot was kind of off, but I love Dunleavy’s game. He assisted on both of Taj’s dunks, and they were both excellent passes. We know he can shoot, his defense was solid, and he can so some things off the dribble when needed. So much to like from him on this team.

9) No, really, think about this: Derrick Rose is BACK.

Sep 27, 2013; Deerfield, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (1) answers questions during media day at Berto Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It’s NBA season and Derrick Rose is back in our lives. We’re so lucky.