Even the most cynical Bulls fan needs to take a second to give Thibodeau's Bulls some credit: since the epic collapse against Milwaukee on Nov. 26, the Bulls have gone 7-2, only suffering a Big Ten-esque loss against Indiana and putting up a solid fight against a Clippers team is the Bulls' athletic superior like Usain Bolt is athletically superior to a turtle.
Along the way, the Bulls have picked up nice wins against Philadelphia (x2), the Knicks (albeit 'Melo-less) and the Nets on Saturday night at the UC. The Bulls have not been an attractive team to watch, but even when Rose was around running the show, would you have put the Bulls alongside teams like the Thunder or even the title-winning Mavs vis-a-vis playing "attractive" basketball? I don't think so; it was always more of a singularly consistent ray of exceptionally exciting play than a team-wide characteristic.
The point is, who cares how they win. After the Bulls lost the aforementioned Bucks game --at that point, Chicago had lost four of their last five-- things were not nearly so cheery. The song remains the same with this team. On some nights, they'll manufacture wins against good teams like Brooklyn, and on other nights they'll get out-athleted (e.g. Clippers) or simply put up an aesthetically abominable by (by any standards) clunker like the Pacers B1G-fest.
Anyway, enough about the Bulls. The Memphis Grizzlies come into this contest at 15-6, which would tie them for second in the Eastern Conference with Miami but is good for only fourth place in the West.
Luckily for the Bulls, they appear to be catching the Hollingerized Grizz at the right time. Memphis lost three in a row to Atlanta, Phoenix and Denver before finally getting back on the winning track on Saturday with a 99-86 win at Utah.
Of course, the Grizz have most likely the best frontcourt in the entire NBA, paced by Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay. Gay leads the way with 19.0 ppg, while Gasol pitches in 15.4 and Randolph 17.6.
As far as eFG% goes, Gay is at 45%, Randolph at 51% and Gasol at 50% (and the latter two have managed this with zero treys made between them). The entire stat of eFG% has kind of been completely altered for me due to the existence of Nik Stauskas, but I'm pretty sure an eFG% in the neighborhood of those figures is still pretty good.
Former Buckeye Mike Conley is no slouch as a fourth option; he's averaging 13.9 ppg and 6.3 assists per game thus far this season. The Grizz are in Chicago's neighborhood with respect to their assist-to-turnover ration; Memphis sits at 1.40 compared to the Bulls' 1.46. Conley has maintained a very nice eFG% of 52%, shooting a freakily similar percentage from in front of and behind the arc (44.4% from 2, 43.6% from 3).
The Grizz are averaging 97.1 ppg (Bulls--93.5) and are giving up the same average as the Bulls on the defensive end (90.0 ppg).
Otherwise, Tony Allen is around for his defense. Backup PG Jerryd Bayless, whom some asked to be signed by Chicago on the heels of the Great Bench Mob Jettisoning,
Points of Concern
Although the Bulls' advantage in the frontcourt against most teams isn't as strong post-Asik, this Memphis team is definitely one of the teams that can beat the Bulls' frontcourt, straight up. The Grizzlies boast a better offensive rebounding percentage than the Bulls (31.9%) but aren't quite as good as Chicago on the defensive glass (71.9% to Chicago's 73.3%). Regardless, the Grizzlies will give the Bulls arguably their toughest challenge on the glass of any team in the league.
However, for all of the attention that will be given to the frontcourt trimvirate, Mike Conley is a pretty good player. During his one season at Ohio State, he shot just 30% from three; now, he's a pretty real threat from beyond the arc, complementing the rest of his game. He can also get into the lane and hit that little tear drop shot or distribute to one of several Memphis bigs.
Who knows what Kirk Hinrich's status is for tonight, but we all know how lackluster Nate Robinson's defense is. Rookie Marquis Teague came up big late when matched up on Deron Williams, but: a) sample size and b) expecting rookies to do anything consistently well is an exercise in futility.
What Needs To Happen
- Tell new Memphis VP of Basketball Operations John Hollinger that a lecture titled "Analytics in Sports: A Terrible Thing By My Calculations" is being held somewhere in Chicago that is not the United Center. Can't have him Inception-ing mind bullets of statistical genius into Lionel Hollins' head throughout the game.
- Transition D. As always, the Bulls cannot afford to let teams get easy buckets in transition. Conley can hit the three, as mentioned, so Nate/Kirk/Marquis will need to keep up once the Grizzlies have secured a long rebound on the other end. Speaking of three-point, shooting, another statistic of note: the Grizzlies attempt the second fewest number of threes per game. They are second to only, of course, the Bulls. If the Bulls are going to get beat, let's not let it be because of open looks offered Conley and guys like Quincy Pondexter.
- Salsa piccante, Marco (this has been Italian brought to you by Google). With Rip Hamilton out and Hinrich seemingly injuring a different part of his body every other day, the Bulls have relied on Marco Belinelli to provide some offensive pop. Belinelli is averaging just 22 minutes per game this season, but is averaging 39 per in his last six outings. In that span, he's shot a Korver-esque 43% from three and has averaged 19 ppg. No, he is not Kyle Korver, but his play of late has been pretty encouraging, especially after Thibs used him only sparingly earlier in the season. Belinelli will draw a tough matchup in Tony Allen; he'll need to put up at least 13 or 14 if the Bulls are going to have a shot.
- Evil Boozer shows up in this one.
- After averaging just 13.4 mpg for a 4-game stretch, Taj Gibson got 25 against Philadelphia; however, he only got 15 against Brooklyn on Saturday. If Boozer's jumper is not falling early, I expect him to have a much shorter leash this game. Gibson should get 20+ minutes.
- Despite Boozer, Gibson and Noah will do a decent job of neutralizing the Memphis frontcourt, and so I think this game will come down to guard play. Can Belinelli get away from the airtight D of Allen and can Nate Robinson stay in front of Conley? I'm leaning toward no on both accounts.
- Bulls 81, Grizzlies 93.