Beyond the Arc: Noah returning just in time

336724.jpg

Beyond the Arc: Noah returning just in time

Monday, Feb. 21, 2011
8:58 a.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Don't be misled by the fact the Bulls put together a 22-8 record without injured center Joakim Noah in the lineup. The truth is, the team isn't nearly as good without the 4th year pro from Florida protecting the paint, grabbing rebounds and finishing on the fastbreak.

Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik have done a good job filling in, but Thomas is 38 and Asik is an untested rookie still trying to adjust to a new country and the speed of the NBA game. Noah has developed into one of the league's most versatile big men. Sure, his jumper looks funny and he's not going to command a double team when he catches the ball in the low post, but Noah makes the Bulls a much more dangerous team on both ends of the floor.

You all know Joakim is one of the NBA's leading rebounders, but his uncanny ability to grab loose balls and offensive rebounds gives the Bulls a handful of extra possessions every game. And, since the Bulls are not a good shooting team, those extra possessions are crucial, especially in close games against quality opponents.

Noah's presence also upgrades the Bulls' overall defense. Right now, Tom Thibodeau's squad ranks 2nd in the NBA in both points allowed and opponents' field goal percentage. And they're doing it without a legitimate shot blocker in the starting line-up. Noah's return will give them an elite low post defender who can cover up for some of Carlos Boozer's weaknesses on that end of the floor.

If you've been watching the games closely, you'll see that Boozer has trouble staying with quicker power forwards, and doesn't do a great job of sliding over to help against penetration. With Noah back, that weakness won't be as big of an issue. Thibodeau often turned to Taj Gibson to help out against high-scoring power forwards over the last few weeks, sending Boozer to the bench. Now, Noah will be there to help Boozer, who's low post scoring ability is so important to give the Bulls some balance on the offensive end.

BULLS MIGHT SIT OUT TRADE DEADLINE FRENZY

Speaking of offensive balance, Gar Forman and John Paxson would love to add another perimeter shooter before the February 24th trade deadline, but it doesn't look like they have the ammunition to make a significant deal.

You've already heard the names. Houston's Courtney Lee, Portland's Rudy Fernandez and Memphis' O.J. Mayo are probably the three guys who best fit what the Bulls are looking for in terms of affordability and potential impact. But Houston wants a big man in any deal for Lee, and the Bulls don't want to give up on the potential of Asik, who turned in some strong games off the bench before the All-Star break.

Fernandez might not be available either because of Brandon Roy's knee problems, and Memphis may have to reconsider their plan to trade Mayo because of an injury to Rudy Gay, which could move Mayo back into the Grizzlies' starting line-up.

There are shooting guards available like Cleveland's Anthony Parker, Denvers J.R. Smith, Detroit's Richard Hamilton and Charlotte's Stephen Jackson. But Smith, Hamilton and Jackson are too expensive, and as far as Parker is concerned, is he really that much of an upgrade over Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer?

In case you haven't noticed, Bogans has really turned around his game since the calendar flipped to 2011. He's shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc since January 1st, and has done a solid job defensively against some of the league's most athletic players.

Brewer has been exactly what the Bulls hoped for when they signed him to that free agent contract back in July. He's a rangy, active defender who knows how to get into passing lanes and create fastbreak opportunities. He's also done a nice job of working the baseline for momentum changing dunks, and knows his limitations on the offensive end.

Bottom line, unless the Bulls can get Lee from Houston for James Johnson and a draft pick, or work out a package for Mayo that doesn't destroy their frontcourt depth, they're probably better off standing pat at the deadline.

Ask anyone who's close to the team, and they'll tell you the Bulls' chemistry is as good as they've seen around the league in recent years. There's no sense disrupting that chemistry to add another player who isn't likely to make a significant impact this season. If the Bulls acquire another shooting guard, that could mean Bogans goes from starter to the inactive list, and how will that be received in the locker room?

The Bulls' front office is well aware they could use more scoring, and they're probably still one impact player away from contending for championships. But with a new collective bargaining agreement coming, and the possibility of a hard salary cap, the Bulls don't want to make a bad short term move that might impact their ability to sign Rose to a long-term, maximum contract extension.

You can bet Forman and Paxson will be on the phone this week, but don't expect a big money veteran to join the Bulls for the stretch run. So, what do you think? Should the Bulls make a trade before the deadline, or are you content with the team they have in place now that Noah is healthy again? Can the Bulls contend for the Eastern Conference Championship right now?

Please post your comments in the section below, and we'll see you Wednesday, when the Bulls start the 2nd half of the season against the Toronto Raptors. It's a 6 p.m. tip-off on Comcast SportsNet.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Rangers tonight on CSN

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Joe Maddon breaks down Wade Davis vs. Aroldis Chapman as Cubs ramp up for another World Series run

Rick Hahn: White Sox 'still thoroughly, deeply engaged' in trade talks as meetings close

Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook out vs. Rangers

Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls

Bears, Lions have been totally different teams in fourth quarters

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Cubs unveil championship Trophy Tour