A Point-Counterpoint Discussion on the Chicago Bulls

Taj Gibson, C/PF, Chicago Bulls

Dec 2, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) catches a pass over Cleveland Cavaliers forward Channing Frye (8) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago won 111-105. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Pippen Ain’t Easy offers Chicago Bulls fans a chance to chew on some ideas about their favorite team as well as discuss different possibilities for the Bulls moving forward.

In our point-counterpoint discussion, we’ll discuss a handful of different topics around the Chicago Bulls franchise.

We are a fan site, so we want to try to discuss everything fans want to talk about. We hope this helps Bulls fans gain a better understanding of the team as unit, individual players, and where the team stands in the league now and moving forward.

The Bulls’ 2016-17 season has gotten off to a much better start than many experts and fans predicted. Yet, it seems that there is still much uncertainty 20 games into the season. The franchise is walking an odd line between trying to win now and completely rebuilding. And at this point in the season it seems like the front office and the team could go in almost any direction.

December is often the time teams and general managers begin to put feelers out for potential trades. Organizations must assess if they are in buy or sell mode soon, even though the official NBA trade deadline is not until Feb. 23.

As the rumors start to fly, the Bulls are still a big question mark. And now it’s time to start having fun.

In this point-counterpoint session, Michael Kanoy and Ben Rains hit on a few hot button issues, and a possible trade.

Dec 3, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) drives to the basket past Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) during the second quarter at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 3, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) drives to the basket past Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) during the second quarter at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Where should the scoring load fall?

Michael Kanoy: Before the season, I said that Jimmy CANNOT split double teams. We saw this in games against Boston last year and with other teams who figured out that he has a tough time against the blitz. He can get to the foul line and score but if he forces his shooting game against swarming double teams, he ends up taking bad shots.

This is why both Doug McDermott and Dwyane Wade are of primary importance in the Bulls offense. Doug can shoot OVER double teams and even split them with his smart drives and he is tall enough to pass over the blitz to a rim diver. Jimmy does not have this skill and his pass-offs are often telegraphed and result in turnovers because he does not have the court vision of a playmaker like Denzel Valentine.

Doug can score quick and fast as long as he gets a pass in rhythm or his screens can hold off a defender for just that one split second for him to release his shot. Not so with Jimmy. Jimmy has to survey the half-court and attack when he FEELS he can overpower his defender to the rim and get a foul to boot.

With teams scouting the Chicago Bulls this early and choosing the simplest solution: fast double teams. Fred Hoiberg must change his system and provide Jimmy with opportunities to set up post passes to draw defenders inside then have the post player kick back out to him for a shot.

Otherwise, on his own, Jimmy does not have the elite handles to split athletic double teams or one where the big blitzes him so he can’t see the floor to pass to anyone. Expect other teams to do the same swarming defense all season long against Jimmy rather than have him score 35 a night.

Jimmy should be smart and figure out something with the coaching staff to solve quick double teams and allow his teammates to carry the scoring load so that the rest of the game comes easier for the team. Every miss from now on will cost the Bulls. Doug is ready and able to help Hoiberg in a big way, but only if Jimmy will let him and acknowledge that against double-teams, he might be forcing things too much.

Ben Rains: The scoring load should fall on the shoulders of a team’s best player in almost any situation. The best player should have the ability to fill up the whole stat sheet. But, that label always means they score a ton.

Jimmy Butler is, can and will carry the scoring load for the Bulls until his time in Chicago comes to an end. Butler is leading the team in scoring by a wide margin, averaging 25.6 points per game. The 27-year-old is also the Bulls best defender. And he is often matched up against the opponent’s best player.

This might give some reason to believe another Bull should step in and take over the leading scorer role. On some nights, maybe this will be the case. If Butler has to really give everything on the defensive end in order for the Bulls to win a particular game, then someone stepping up would be welcome (as it always is).

This is Mr. Butler’s team. Dwyane Wade knows it. Fred Hoiberg knows it. And this is a good thing. NBA teams need a number one. There clearly are some exceptions. Wade’s old Heat team comes to mind. But, pretty much anyone that watched understood it was LeBron James’ team.

We will have to wait and see how the Stephen Curry-Kevin Durant dynamic plays out, and if either player grabs that lead role. But this is not the Bay Area, this is Chicago. And this is Butler’s team.

If a bench player ends up overtaking Butler, the Bulls are in real trouble.

Taj Gibson, PF/C, Chicago Bulls

Nov 30, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) reacts after a foul call against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Bulls trade Taj Gibson?

Kanoy: GarPax are impressed by players who play well against their team that they steal them when they are available for a song, aka expiring contracts. They picked off Justin Holiday for Kirk Hinrich. They got Spencer Dinwiddie for Cameron Bairstow, too.

This year, the impressive player on another team that totally demolishes the Bulls will be Larry Nance Jr. of the Los Angeles Lakers. As of the moment, the Lakers desperately need an anchor on defense and a low post threat who is consistently good.

Taj Gibson may fit their team better since they are going with Julius Randle for the stretch forward position. Nance is the son of former NBA All-Star Dunk Contest star Larry Nance of the Phoenix Suns. He plays as good as his dad and has a high basketball IQ, given that we saw his touch pass to a teammate for a spectacular play against the Bulls recently. Nance is aggressive as a rim-diving power forward just like the Bulls’ own Cristiano Felicio when he is in shape and when he is playing good minutes.

At 31, no matter how good his stats, Gibson will cost a pretty penny at the end of the season if Chicago chooses to keep him. Keeping him also keeps the Bulls young studs like Zipser and Felicio from being effective with playing minutes to grow into their roles as the next generation Bulls frontcourt. Many players rust away and lose their edge after stellar performances because they don’t get regular playing minutes.

The sooner the Bulls move Taj (for Larry Nance if they can package one of their 2017 draft picks for him), the sooner the team can play their next generation players and evolve them into NBA ready rotation players.

Larry Nance Jr. is not a bad idea given what we’ve seen of him and if you use him for a Hoiball offense and defense, he may offer more than resigning Taj. Question is just how long do we wait?

Rains: The Bulls’ “hard-hat, lunch-pail guy” has been in Chicago for the entirety of his eight-year NBA career. Gibson’s name has come up in trade rumors seemingly every year for the last few seasons, yet the front office has not moved the 6’9″ former USC Trojan.

Gibson and Butler are practically the last holdovers from the Tom Thibodeau era. The Bulls very well could look to move their starting power forward. But for who, and why now?

After trading Derrick Rose and letting Joakim Noah walk it looked like the Bulls were ready for a brief rebuilding period. Then they signed Rajon Rondo and paid Wade $47 million for two years, and the stakes changed.

Moving Gibson for a young player who might help the Bulls in the future sounds nice. But the front office put themselves in a position to at least try to make a little bit of a playoff push this season. Gibson helps them do this. He is a proven post presence and is a versatile defender.

Gibson signed a four-year extension before the start of the 2012-13 season, so he is currently in the last year of his contract. He is set to make just under $9 million this season. Trying to trade a guy on an expiring contract used to be a huge rule of thumb. But, that is less of a priority in today’s NBA. And Gibson isn’t a player, such as DeMarcus Cousins, who an organization doesn’t want to let walk for nothing.

The Bulls did cut bait on Rose the year before he was set to become a free agent, and got something in return before he walked. But Bulls fan know that was a different situation.

There is not a lot of value out there for Gibson. If you look around the league, especially at teams who would theoretically want to trade for him — a team in the hunt, who wants to win now and has a young player they aren’t that high on — most are set in the front court. Teams want wings or versatile forwards.

Gibson still has a place in the NBA. He will get another contract in the NBA, and it might very well be from the Bulls.

Nov 15, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) and guard Dwyane Wade (3) and forward Jimmy Butler (21) and guard Jerian Grant (2) react after a dunk by Wade against the Portland Trail Blazers during the third quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 15, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) and guard Dwyane Wade (3) and forward Jimmy Butler (21) and guard Jerian Grant (2) react after a dunk by Wade against the Portland Trail Blazers during the third quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Does Fred Hoiberg need to set a rotation and stick to it?

Kanoy: Fred Hoiberg has been running a rotation of Bobby Portis as the small center with Nikola Mirotic as the stretch-four for several games now. This combination has actually cost the Chicago Bulls more than three losses.

Bobby is an energy player, and a long range threat when he is on. But for his role as small center, the Bulls lose big time on defensive and offensive rebounding, relying on the guards to grab caroms while Bobby overextends his scrawny body trying to box out heavier and taller opponents.

His college game at Arkansas was to swarm opposing ball carriers and help with defensive rebounding. He still has to learn an NBA center’s game where he protects the rim and changes shots by driving wings and scoring guards. He often looks lost inside the court because his training is to go out and swarm the ball carrier then swoop in for the defensive rebound. His game is not box out and crash the boards in the traditional NBA center role.

Even fans all over the Bulls social media fan networks call this out. Bobby isn’t playing his natural positionright now.

The center was a solid spot for Cristiano Felicio since late last year when he came into his own with high production per minutes played and strong defense and rebounding. If the Bulls are willing to risk games to showcase Taj Gibson for trade value shopping, it isn’t working. Julius Randle went head to head with Taj in the second Lakers game this season and annihilated him with his stronger frame and athletic build, grabbing 20 rebounds and the Lakers beat the Bulls on the boards at home.

All this while Cristiano Felicio is sitting on the bench along with Paul Zipser. The Bulls also let go of Jack Cooley from the Summer League, who would have been a great second-team role player just cleaning up the boards and getting garbage baskets off second attempt tip-ins. The first three games had Fred playing 12 men deep, then pulling that back to 9 players with all the best bigs and role guys–the shooters and rebounders getting DNPs.

I am starting to doubt Fred’s genius at using guys on the team. It looks like he happens upon combinations by accident and doesn’t really remember that his team won the Summer League championship with strong rebounding. Or that that team had Cristiano Felicio at center and Bobby playing his stretch four role with maximum effectiveness.

Fred needs to review film and really REMEMBER who plays well with whom and not lose games at the expense of bad combinations. Look for a terrible December if Hoiberg continues to play bad combinations and the bench continues to be rusty until February when some starter gets hurt and they finally get to play for real.

Rains: Hoiberg should set an eight, nine or 10-man rotation for the Bulls, as should every coach in the NBA. Lineup continuity is a vital part of any winning team. And the Bulls might be winning, but they can’t set a rotation.

The Bulls simply don’t have the option to set a rotation and stick to it. No one on the bench is playing consistently enough to deserve the vote of confidence. And until at least three guys can come off the bench and play well on a nightly basis, look for the lineup shuffling to continue.

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