Monday, Nov. 8, 2010
Updated 2:33 PM
By Aggrey Sam
Mention the Bulls' perceived offensive struggles to players and coaches, and don't be shocked if they, um, take offense. To a man, the team insists that while their work-in-progress offensive attack isn't yet quite up to snuff, point production isn't a primary issue of concern.
Lost in the feel-good reunion and thrilling overtime loss at Boston on Saturday was the fact that even without Boozer--who now participates in non-contact practice drills; albeit nothing involving his injured shooting hand--the interior tandem of Taj Gibson and league-leading rebounder Joakim Noah had a field day against the vaunted Celtics defense, which opted to focus heavily on curbing the exploits of Derrick Rose, the short-lived NBA scoring leader (he's now fifth in that category at an even 25 points per game, but fourth in the league in assists at 9.8 an evening). Upon the return of Boozer (after an adjustment period, that is), Chicago should become that much more dangerous offensively, particularly in the halfcourt, where Boozer can command double teams.
In the aftermath of Friday's emotional loss, Noah--who scored a season-high 26 points and snagged 11 rebounds to begin the season with five consecutive double-doubles, but committed a turnover late in overtime that effectively ended the Bulls' comeback hopes--cautioned opponents postgame Friday to not wait that long to afford the Bulls the proper respect.
Noah backed off his heat-of-the-moment sentiments a bit Sunday--"Just some players...nothing out of the usual" was his response to who or what "trash talk" he was referring to after the Boston loss--but elaborated on his offensive development, which has featured him becoming more consistent shooting the ball from the perimeter.
"Noah is a lot more confident. I think he's put a lot of work into it and I think he's gotten a lot of confidence in his jump shot. Sixteen, 17 feet, he can shoot that and if you close hard into him, he can blow by you. His jump hook game is very effective inside, he's very active on the offensive boards, he knows how to move without the ball, so he's scoring different ways--and I think in transition--he's running the floor great," said Thibodeau. "Quite honestly, he hasn't surprised Thibodeau because I saw him shoot all summer and consistently he's knocked that shot down. My thing is, as long as you're working on it that hard and it's going in, I have no problem with you shooting it if you're open. It looks a little different, but it goes in and that's the bottom line."
"It's a little unconventional, but if you watch the final phase of it, it's actually pretty good. the way he finishes--he has good follow-through, good extension--he's very accurate."
"I feel pretty confident. I don't want players to play off me like that and I worked on it pretty hard with Thibodeau in the offseason. To me, there's nothing better than making a 15-footer because a lot of people told me my whole life that I wouldn't be able to shoot it, so it feels great knocking them down," said Noah of his "artistic" shooting form. Right now, I'm just working on it and trying to make it as consistent as possible. At the end of the day, Derrick is getting a lot of attention offensively. It's on me and Taj to make a play when they get the ball out of his hands."
Noah also opined on the progress of tag-team partner and fellow New Yorker Taj Gibson.
"He's definitely more comfortable to the NBA game. Taj is playing very well, especially offensively. he's shooting the ball pretty good. He's playing very confident," observed Noah, who is averaging 16.2 points to go with his NBA-high average of 14.2 boards a night. "The thing we have to get better at is being mentally tougher--not in the sense that we're soft--but we just have to do a better job of knowing the plays, especially down the stretch. knowing exactly what we have to get done. I think that's something that me and Taj have to do a better job of, just getting better with the system."
Gibson, who bounced back from a woeful preseason to average 15 points an outing (on a team-high 64.2 percent from the floor), as well as 6.2 rebounds, has also been particularly aggressive. His baseline jumper, a burgeoning part of his arsenal as a rookie, has become increasingly effective, especially when opponents are slow to rotate after double-teaming Rose.
Added Gibson, who wore a shoulder sleeve at practice to combat the effects of a nagging injury from last season: "I worked on it his mid-range jumper for basically half the summer; I really had a short summer due to injury (lingering plantar fasciitis from his rookie campign), but Thibs and the rest of the coaching staff worked on it with me. I even shoot threes in my spare time; eventually I'll work on that. But the coaching staff wants me to take that shot. They mostly get mad when I don't take the open shot because they feel so comfortable with me making it," said Gibson.
"The chemistry's (with Noah) still there from battling up and down last year...I'm just real responsive to what I have to do on the court and he Noah helps me out," he added Gibson. "We can get better. It's a grind out there. I understand we have guys injured, but just being in those hostile environments, with playing in Oklahoma City and Boston, it was real tough. We really had a chance to win both of those games...but it's a long season. We understand we have a lot to work on, but the sky's the limit for this team."
"We already have captains...but it's my job to be vocal. If you're playing the four or five, you have to be vocal in the NBA because the crowds are so loud," continued the second-year player about his growing leadership role on the squad. "Calling out play calls, calling out our defensive sets because I don't want Derrick to get hurt on screen-and-rolls. Just being vocal is one of the main things I have to do to stay on the court."
So while a tantalizing potential offensive upgrade will exist in the United Center--in the form of Denver's Carmelo Anthony, arguably the NBA's purest scorer, but currently ranked sixth, a notch below Rose--Monday evening, it appears that the Bulls are presently satisfied with the weapons at their disposal.
"A couple years ago, we kind of had a similar situation with Kobe Bryant. He got a pretty good reception when he came to the United Center," said Noah. "We'll see how it goes."
Thibodeau confessed to CSNChicago.com that he privately fretted about Chicago's scoring prior to the season, at 104.6 points per game (on 49 percent field-goal shooting), fifth in the league heading into Monday's game, he's now pleased with the offensive flow, even if there are some galling, stand-around stretches for the time being and bench production outside of Kyle Korver's 8.2 points per game (Korver, along with the aforementioned Rose, Noah and Gibson, as well as Luol Deng's 19.8 points per game, are the only Chicago scorers producing more than five points a night) has been lacking. Now, the Bulls defense--which allows opponents 105 points a contest--that's another story.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.