Three Takeaways From A Gutsy Chicago Bulls Victory

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 26: Nikola Mirotic
MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 26: Nikola Mirotic /

The Chicago Bulls won against the Bucks. Here are three takeaways from the win.

Last night Giannis Antetokounmpo returned from a one-game injury absence none the worse for wear, displaying a few epic dunks… and they still fell to the Chicago Bulls, 115-106, at home. The Greek Freak scored 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. Bledsoe had 22 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Since the return of Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls’ record stands at an insane 8-2. And a lot of those wins have been against good teams. Two victories in that span were against these Milwaukee Bucks, and it was surprising how easy Chicago’s balanced attack late. Bulls relied heavily on Mirotic and Kris Dunn. Here are your three takeaways.

Fred Hoiberg is officially… an intriguing coach

I don’t know what exactly has happened to the water down in the Advocate Center, but for the first time since Ames, Fred Hoiberg has looked like a good head basketball coach. After years of John Paxson and Gar Forman emptily talking up “minutes management” Fred has actually been doing something about it. No Bull is averaging more than 33.4 minutes a game and outside of Justin Holiday, no Bull is averaging over 30 minutes a game.

After Hoiberg initially flashed some threatening Thibodeau-ish tendencies during his first few seasons, he has cultivated a deeper rotation and emphasized spreading the minutes around charitably. This was in full effect last night, when only Holiday and Kris Dunn played over 30 minutes (logging a still-light 32 and 33 minutes, respectively).

My favorite element of Hoiberg’s recent head coaching success, though, has been his willingness to shuffle line-ups and experiment with different looks. Last night, he didn’t play rookie Lauri Markkanen for one second in the fourth quarter after Markkanen shot just one-of-seven in 19 minutes of game action.

In the game’s crucial final six minutes, Hoiberg rolled out a prime-time fourth quarter line-up of Dunn, Holiday, David Nwaba, Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Bulls brass would no doubt have preferred to see more Valentine and Markkanen in there somehow, but Hoiberg rode the hot hand.

Nikola Mirotic is the Bulls’ MVP

It’s hard to say how good Threekola really is, and how effective he would be on a team with bigger names. He needs the ball in his hands to flourish, and if Mirotic were traded to, say, the Cavaliers, would he get enough touches as the team’s backup power forward, assuming Dwyane Wade remains as the second unit quarterback?

That said, Mirotic has clearly been the best power forward on the Bulls’ roster. But that doesn’t mean the Bulls should start him over Lauri Markkanen. Especially with tanking on the brain, it makes sense to stick with the Finnisher, even when he has rough nights like this eve (three points, seven rebounds). Mirotic had 24 points and eight rebounds. He ran the show for much of the night, keying big runs with his shooting and movement. He shot four-of-eight from beyond the arc, too.

On the season, the 6’10” Montenegrin is averaging 17.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in just 25.2 minutes a game. He is shooting 50.5% from the field and 48% from deep.

The Kris Dunn Redemption Tour continues unabated

Kris Dunn had another double-double last night, notching 20 points, 14 assists, four steals and two blocks. Okay, okay, fine, one more statistic should be mentioned: Dunn also had meaningless ejection after he took exception to being dragged to the floor by Khris Middleton with 16 seconds left in regulation and the game all but over. Middleton, too, was subsequently ejected.

Despite that boneheaded decision, Dunn was more or less the 1B to Nikola’s 1A last night, slicing and dicing inside to either finish handily beneath the rim or dish out for slick assists.

Kris Dunn has been a revelation as a Bull. He may not be the Bulls’ lead guard of the future, but he’s looking more and more like a certifiable, bona fide starter.