D.C. Council Opening Statements: Wizards at Bulls, Game 36
The Wizards last faced the Chicago Bulls all the way in Brazil in an Oct. 12, 2013, preseason game. Derrick Rose was a last-minute scratch that night, and he obviously won’t be playing on Monday night. Much like the Wizards during the trials and tribulations of Gilbert Arenas’ knee, Chicago is a franchise in flux. Unlike the Wizards, I don’t see Derrick Rose bringing a gun to work next season, pushing the franchise further in a hole and leading them to select a point guard first overall in 2015 to supplant Rose.
Otherwise, times have certainly changed around the Wizards a bit since that preseason game. That night, Bradley Beal was the only Wizard who really played well (now he’s in a slump), Eric Maynor played ‘OK’ (now he’s racking up DNP-CDs), and Jan Vesely started at the 4 and got abused by Carlos Boozer (current starting 4 Trevor Booker might provide a different narrative).
The Bulls are currently on a five-game winning streak, beating the Celtics, Hawks, Suns, Bucks, and Bobcats (only the Bucks game was on the road), and overall have won eight out of their last 10. Their game against Washington in Chicago represents their sixth home contest in the last seven. Then, Chicago will play 16 out of their next 25 games on the road, including a return trip to D.C. this coming Friday. The Bulls currently own the fifth seed in the East, one game ahead of the sixth seed Wizards. Joining us today for some Q&A is Avi Saini (@AvikarSaini), editor-in-chief of Bulls By The Horns.
Teams: Wizards vs Bulls
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Venue: United Center, Chicago, IL
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/THE FAN-FM 106.7
Spread: Bulls fav’d by 3 points
Wizards tickets … anyone?
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Q #1: So this Deng trade… How harmful has it been to the culture of this version of the Bulls? Thibs isn’t happy, right? Has Joakim spoken with the media yet? Will guys eventually get over this and say “it’s a business” like most other NBA players, or might this be part of a greater shift in the franchise?
@AvikarSaini: I don’t think the trade was necessarily harmful to the culture of this version of the Bulls. So long as Tom Thibodeau is the head coach, Chicago will continue to play some of the best defense in the league while grinding it out on a nightly basis. Chicago still does have Jimmy Butler on the roster as well who can fill in Deng’s role, if healthy. According to mySynergySports.com, last season Jimmy Butler was as good, if not better, than Deng in both scoring and allowing points per possession in most scenarios.
I do feel that this trade does run the risk of deteriorating the team’s relationship with the front office. The players likely feel a level of distrust with management following the trade. Seeing the team’s longest tenured and most unselfish player (Deng played through countless injuries including trying to play shortly after nearly dying from a botched spinal tap) get traded like it’s nothing has to be a little disconcerting. Joakim Noah summed up the team’s feelings best when he broke his media silence to state he’s hurt more than he is angry and that the NBA is more than a business to him.
The trade also further strained Thibodeau’s already tense relationship with the front office. In addition to having already fired his head assistant coaches and closest friend, Ron Adams, Gar Foreman and John Paxson have now traded away the player Thibodeau has vocally supported the most. Though there haven’t been any direct reports of unhappiness following the trade, seeing management once again go against his wishes when he wants more say in personnel decisions definitely can’t please Thibodeau.
Time heals all wounds and the players will get over their hurt feelings. Whether the trade is the start of a shift in the franchise comes down to how management handles Thibodeau. If Foreman and Paxson continue to disregard Thibodeau’s wishes, Thibs may want out which would lead to an inevitable culture change for the team. If Thibodeau wants or is forced out that could reflect poorly on the team with how respected Thibs is across the league. It’s a situation to monitor as things move forward.
Q #2: What do you hope the Bulls get out of the rest of this season? More playoff experience, even in the East? Player development (and who needs it most)? Running out the clock until Boozer is amnestied?
@AvikarSaini: There are three things I want Chicago to get out of this season. First and foremost, health. Over the course of the past three years the Chicago Bulls have been one of the most injured teams in the league and their potential to contend for the title has repeatedly been stunted. Consider this: Carlos Boozer—a player who gained a reputation as an injury-prone player after his days in Utah—has been the team’s healthiest player since the start of the Thibodeau era. Secondly, I hope Chicago develops Tony Snell more. Thibodeau is notorious for not playing rookies. While being benched plays its role in teaching young players, playing time to practice what they’ve learned is just as valuable. Chicago is in a situation where they can rebuild quickly and developing Snell into a solid role player will be key to the process. Lastly, I’d like to see Chicago gain a lottery pick. This one is incredibly unlikely because of how bad the Eastern Conference is, but I want Chicago to tank out of the playoffs. Even if Chicago won’t get a top pick, getting lottery-level talent can help them get the pieces they need to be a serious contender in the years to come. Yes, good players can be found anywhere in the draft with solid scouting, but at least being in the lottery affords the team more options to pick from.
Q #3: Player-wise: Biggest surprise? Biggest disappointment?
@AvikarSaini: Biggest surprise for me goes to D.J. Augustin, easily. When the Bulls signed him after his release from the Raptors, I expected Augustin to be terrible. But so far he’s been a big upgrade over Kirk Hinrich, recording more points and assists per game. He’s also added an up-tempo beat to the offense that had been missing since Derrick Rose’s injury. Disappointment-wise I could go with Derrick Rose because of the knee injury, but I’m going to opt for Jimmy Butler. I wasn’t one of the people saying Butler will break out this year and be like Paul George, but I definitely expected more out of him this year than what he’s produced. I recognize he’s playing through a turf toe injury so there is definitely some leeway for him, but playing through an injury doesn’t excuse all of his performance. I believe Butler works best off the ball (the numbers on mySynergySports.com agree) and I hope he and Chicago go back to playing him like a small forward as they did last season.
Q #4: Disturbing #SoWizards trends?
@Truth_About_It: Not really a question, rather an allusion to numbers so far in 2014 that aren’t exactly ideal for the Washington Wizards. The Bulls are 5-0 so far in the New Year, the Wizards are 2-5 and have yet to win in four 2014 tries at home.
The Bulls, of course, are doing it with defense. Some of Chicago’s team NBA rankings in 2014 so far (numbers per 48 minutes, pace adjusted):
- 3rd in free throws attempted (29.4)
- 4th in free throws made (21.6)
- 4th in total rebounds (48.9)
- 4th in offensive rebounds (13.9)
- 1st in blocks (7.6)
- 2nd in personal fouls drawn (25.0)
- 7th in assists (24.1)
- 13th in turnovers (13.9)
And then the Washington Wizards … some disturbing trends in 2014 (numbers per 48 minutes, pace adjusted):
- 4th in field goals attempted (86.3)
- 27th in field goal percentage (41.5%)
- 25th in 3-pointers attempted (18.3)
- 26th in 3-point percentage (31.5%)
- 27th in free throws attempted (19.9)
- 27th in free throw percentage (71%)
- 26th in personal fouls drawn (18.9)
- 20th in assists (20.2)
- 10th in turnovers (13.7)
What does it all mean? It means that the Wizards have suddenly become strictly a jump-shooting team (when they were already mostly a jump-shooting team) and a bad one at that. Washington ranks second in the NBA in midrange attempts per game over the entire season (28.1) and are the fourth-worst team at shooting them (34.8%). The Portland Trail Blazers attempt the most shots from midrange per game (28.7), but shoot a league-leading 43 percent.
Even worse: in 2014 so far the Wizards are not taking as many 3-pointers, which are very efficient shots that they are equipped to make. Or at least they should be with Bradley Beal (10-27), Trevor Ariza (9-38), and Martell Webster (9-25)—those three are a combined 28-for-90 (31.1%) from 3 in 2014.
If these trends continue, the Wizards could find themselves in a whole heap of trouble in Chicago, and beyond.
[stats via NBA.com/stats]
How’s our dear friend Mike James doing?
@AvikarSaini: I’m sure Mike James is doing what Mike James does best—his Jay Leno impersonation. Though he was cut from the Bulls, he’s probably hanging around the team’s practice facility expecting them to call him back to the team for at least a 10-day contract, similar to the way Leno hung around NBC waiting for them to call him back. If worst comes to worst and the Bulls don’t come calling, I’m sure James will go back to doing what he does second-best—being a nomad and jumping from team to team.