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Q&A with Bulls blog: By the Horns


The New York headquarters of CelticsHub has League Pass, but it’s impossible for someone whose full-time job does not involve covering the NBA to watch as much non-Celtic action as they’d ideally like.

So we turned to Matt “Kevin” McHale, who has to watch every Ty Thomas brick for his work at By The Horns, and asked him some questions about the team the C’s are about to play at least four times. He was kind enough not to ignore them. So, let’s all pay attention and learn a bit about the six-time NBA Champion Chicago Bulls.

(Note: see my answers to his questions here at By The Horns)

CH: Can John Salmons guard Paul Pierce? If he can’t, who will the Bulls use?

Matt McHale: Salmons might have been able to at least contain Paul before his groin injury, but it’s hobbled him, both offensively and defensively. Look at what happened the other night against the Raptors: Salmons went 1-for-7 and let his man (Shawn Marion) go off for 34 points on 15-for-18 from the field. And Marion isn’t as dynamic an offesive player as Pierce. I can’t see John being able to check Paul right now…but he’s the only guy Vinny has to use in that capacity. So, you know, uh oh.

CH: The Bulls are 28th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage but sixth in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. Why, exactly, are they so bad on the defensive glass? Has Brad Miller helped?

MM: Good question. I think part of the problem is that our two young frontcourt players — Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas — don’t quite have the size or strength to dominate the glass at their positions. They can and often do get out muscled by opposing big men. Take the other night versus the Raptors. Toronto out rebounded Chicago 57-40, and Chris Bosh snared 19 boards. Our guys just got overwhelmed and (even worse) outworked.

Also, the Bulls have become a running team, and squads that leak out on transition tend to get beaten on the boards because they’re looking to push the ball rather than aggressively pursue it. The acquisition of Brad Miller has helped a little bit, but I think the onus is on the “kids” to hit the weight room over the summer so they can do a better job of controlling the paint.

CH: The Bulls are 18-11 since the Miller/Salmons/Nocioni trade. What has changed since then? Why has the team improved so much?

MM: First off, Salmons — before the groin injury — turned out to be the all-around offensive player that the Bulls had lacked. He can hit the three, shoot from midrange and take the ball to the cup, where he can either finish or draw the foul. Plus, he immediately became the team’s best perimeter defender. Brad Miller added frontcourt depth to a team that didn’t have any. Unless you count Aaron Gray, and trust me, you don’t. It’s always nice to be able to bring a starting center off the bench, especially a polished, wily vet like Miller. He’s a guy who can stick the 15 to 17-foot jumper, likes to bang people around, and — despite the fact that he couldn’t outrun a traffic cone — he has a surprising knack for shambling his way to the rim (usually after tricking his defender with a deft head fake). Brad’s also an excellent passer, both in halfcourt sets and in transition. The Bulls have become a running team, and Miller throws great outlet passes to start the break.

Those two guys added versatility and depth, plus they’ve been pretty efficient. Miller has the highest PER on the team (18.6) and the third highest True Shooting Percentage (57.4). Salmons is tied (with Derrick Rose) for third on the team in PER (16.0) and is first in True Shooting Percentage (59.6) despite his recent injury-related shooting woes. Not bad when you dispose of some trash and bring in a couple guys who, by the numbers, become two of the best players on your team

CH: What should the Celtics be looking for in their screen/roll defense? Any weaknesses there the Celtics can exploit?

MM: If you’re talking about the Bulls’ screen/roll defense, then yes, the Celtics can definitely exploit Chicago’s weaknesses there. Derrick Rose, for all his talent, still has trouble staying in front of his man and getting around (or fighting through) screens. Tyrus seems to lose focus on switches, Joakim tends to commit a lot of fouls and poor Miller is just too damn slow to be consistently effective on screen/rolls. The other night, effective point/forward or point/center combos (like Jose Calderon and Chris Bosh) have been known to dice us up on those plays.

CH: Ty Thomas looks like a tough match-up for a KG-less Celtics team, but he is ready to be a consistent offensive threat? What does he look to do on offense?

MM: Well, unfortunately for the Bulls, Tyrus is a big man who doesn’t like to mix it up inside. He much prefers spotting up for jump shots. Indeed, according to 82games.com, 55 percent of his field goal attempts are jumpers…despite the fact that his eFG% from outside is 35 percent. He will occasionally make an aggressive drive, but he hasn’t quite developed the ability to finish consistently at the rim (hence his eFG% of 39 percent on “close” shots). His best offense (not surprisingly) is the dunk (eFG% = 88.3 percent), but that of course typically requires him to get out in transition or catch an alley-oop from a teammate. He’s gotten better on scoring off the pick and roll, but he and Derrick Rose haven’t quite developed that “Chris Paul to Tyson Chandler” chemistry just yet.

The best and easiest way to contain Tyrus is to give him room and encourage him to chuck ‘em up from distance, which he usually is only too happy to do…especially against physical frontcourt players like Perkins or Davis.
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