We survived! Yes, yes, the Chicago Bulls first three-game losing skid in the Fred Hoiberg-era for the Bulls has come and gone, and a lot of people are panicked. "Change the starting lineup!" "Quit bringing Noah off the bench." "It was a mistake firing Tom Thibodeau and hiring Hoiberg." "The Bulls should trade Derrick Rose." The outcry from fans and media members alike has been astounding, but you can't blame them. It's been somewhat warranted. After all, the Bulls play has been often-times mediocre-at-best this year. Sure, the Bulls are the only team in the NBA to have defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs & the Oklahoma City Thunder (those three teams are a combined 51-22 this season) thus far this season. Sitting second in the Eastern Conference at 14-8, the Bulls are off to a decent start and some of the criticism is unwarranted. After all, only two of their eight losses thus far this season are to teams that are sub-.500 (the Minnesota Timberwolves are 9-14 and the Phoenix Suns are 11-14) and they are now on a three-game winning streak. However, something just hasn't clicked. Too often, it appears that the Bulls are playing without any chemistry. Their play is lethargic, disjointed and careless, and it's explicitly noticeable when they have a lead in the second-half or even later into the game. A lot of people clamored for a lineup change, and they got one; Taj Gibson is starting in place of Nikola Mirotic now. The change has worked; somewhat. Once again, it's not the start that has been the nagging issue for the Bulls, it's the finish that's the elephant in the room.
See, this is where it gets fun for Fred Hoiberg. He gets to experiment with his deep team. The Bulls haven't had an issue starting games out. Sure, their offense may struggle from time to time starting games out, but their defense is usually good enough to keep them in the game in the beginning. Once the second and third quarter rolls around, they flex their force and usually can build a lead. However, in the fourth quarter, the Bulls run into problems. They make teams like the Suns, Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons look like the Golden State Warriors in the 4th quarter, and while those teams certainly have weapons on their team to make them deadly down the stretch, they haven't been playing as well as the Bulls have this year, and therefore, the Bulls should've had no issues handling them down the stretch.
Hoiberg needs to find a group that has chemistry down the stretch to carry the load for the Bulls. He's been closing out games with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, the former playing well shouldering the bench mob and the latter proving that he still has a lot left in the tank, in the frontcourt. His backcourt duo is pretty obvious, going with Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, the former leading the Bulls in points and minutes per game and the latter still showing he has the ability to nail the clutch shot (proven yet again the other night against New Orleans). Depending on how the game has played out, Hoiberg has tried out Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell (who had a double-double last night against the 76ers), and Doug McDermott. Hoiberg has exactly what he needs in the original 4 I laid out. With Noah, he's got the vocal and emotional leader that they need out on the floor to energize his team and the crowd. With Rose, he's got a primary ball-handler who is initiating the offense much quicker now, getting the ball over half-court in less than three seconds. With Butler, he's got a secondary ball-handler who can not only create his own shot and get to the line on offense, but someone who can also lockdown the opposing teams' best player. With Gasol, he's got a veteran who knows what it takes to win and a constant, reliable option on offense.
The issue now is the fifth person. Last game, it was Tony Snell taking over in the 3rd quarter, personally outscoring the 76ers 13-12 in the quarter. Snell recorded his second-ever double-double. Some games, when the Bulls need offense, they'll go to Mirotic, who has shown the ability to hit big shots in his short NBA stint. Doug McDermott has flashed his arsenal this year on offense, but is still a liability on defense. When Mike Dunleavy Jr. returns, you can expect the fifth slot to be his, and we all know how much Dunleavy improves this already-stacked Bulls team. If that doesn't go well, you've got tons of other options. Taj Gibson has been playing well as of late. Aaron Brooks scored 15 points in the 4th quarter against the Pelicans. Kirk Hinrich has revitalized himself and is playing very well this year. The fun part is here, early on in Hoiberg's young-stint with the Bulls. With a ton of options on his plate, Hoiberg has plenty of time to figure out which group he should send out when the game is on the line. There are 60 games left in the season, and the Bulls haven't scraped the surface of their potential. Even still, they are second in the Eastern Conference, siting one game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers. They could easily be 17-5 right now if they closed out games how they should.