Staying Big: Small Ball May Not Be the Chicago Bulls’ Best Form

The Chicago Bulls were 7-1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors this season. The Bulls beat both with taller shooters and bench production. Staying big might be good for the Bulls going into next season.

It was the second half of the season when Fred Hoiberg was playing anyone left on the bench who wasn’t hurt that the Bulls got a look at a productive offense and a bench rotation of the future playing with true grit.

Pau Gasol was such a liability on defense because the Bulls were no longer playing a system that Tom Thibodeau ran and Hoiberg was shuffling people to find the best people, but often misfiring and those misfires cost the Bulls plenty of games. The team allowed 28.8 lay-ups a game or scores in the paint, which is a ridiculously bad number. Jimmy Butler was focused more on offense instead of playing lockdown defense of the past to help his team.

Small ball teams like Boston (1-2), Charlotte (1-4), Washington (1-2), Detroit (1-3) killed the Bulls last season. Reverse these numbers and the Bulls are likely in the postseason without question.

The Bulls smaller guards couldn’t defend well and had no one in the middle to backstop the team until Hoiberg discovered Felicio could protect the paint and the rim better than Gasol.

Teams were happy with Butler hogging the ball and scoring all the points he wanted as long as the Bulls three-point shooters were languishing with empty minutes. When the Bulls had their taller shooters humming, teams were scrambling to keep up.

The Bulls would have won 50 games in my opinion if Hoiberg played two bigs together like Thibodeau attempted to. Whether it was Gasol and Noah or Gasol and Felicio, the Bulls could have made it work in the half-court.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and Felicio may never even have played if not for starter injuries and would have been cut at the end of the season had the Bulls not gotten a plethora of bigs hurt.

Aaron Brooks and E’Twaun Moore only matched up well with smaller guards, but were overpowered by more talented backcourts. Even Derrick Rose had a hard time defending last year. GarPax can reconsider the performance of undersized guards and the need for healthy defensive wings and a tall and long frontline to hold the fort together.

In this year’s Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors show two sides of NBA basketball today:

  • One team is built around position-less basketball and plenty of wings who are multi-role players: the Warriors.  Only Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli are their long and tall post players and both don’t play many minutes.
  • The Thunder on the other hand, are a traditionally built team with a strong rebounding big in Steven Adams, a long and tall center who can shoot the three in Enes Kanter and two All-Star starters who play well off each other: Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook. Rookie head coach Billy Donovan is also adapting the pro game and takes risks. (Example: Keeping Kanter in during Game 1 to grind out the win and having height and length advantage over athleticism.)

If the Chicago Bulls are studying the current playoff teams and looking at their own record the past year, they need taller guards who can stay in front of All-Star caliber backcourts. The upcoming draft has plenty of these and we’ve looked at plenty of them. Any backup guards GarPax may find or take in the draft should also be pass-first point guards or the Bulls’ taller offense will be putting in empty minutes again and not scoring like they are supposed to.

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The Bulls desperately need a new shot-blocking, long and tall big man because rickety Taj Gibson isn’t going to cut it anymore.  Again, the draft is filled with plenty of these defensive role players and defensive specialist projects. Pau Gasol might not return and Joakim Noah may cash in elsewhere, so the Bulls need two new faces who can play defense.

If the Chicago Bulls stay big, the team needs to sweep through weaker teams with a tighter guard lineup (preferably taller, too) and plenty of defensive, mobile and athletic, big men because the scorers are already on the team ready to play.