Nets vs. Bulls: Positional BreakdownBy Ben Couch
April 19, 2013 · 11:10 a.m.
BROOKLYN—The Nets are set to take on the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference First Round, a series likely to feature physical, grind-it-out halfcourt battles throughout. Game One is set for Saturday at 8 p.m. and airs on ESPN nationally, YES Network locally and WFAN 660 AM / 101.9 FM (Spanish: WADO 1280 AM).
Here's a look at how the teams match up heading in.
|Deron Williams||Kirk Hinrich|
Nets point guard Deron Williams dealt with bone spurs and related ankle synovitis (inflammation of the joint casing) for much of the pre-All-Star schedule, pulling down his statistics from their typical All-NBA levels. After resting and undergoing treatment during the break, including cortisone shots, platelet-rich plasma therapy and an unrelated three-day juice cleanse, Williams averaged 22.9 points and 8.0 assists in the final 28 games, shooting .420 from three-point range and .481 overall – a significant improvement on the 16.7 points (.413 FG%, .347 3P%) and 7.6 assists he posted prior. He notably set an NBA record with nine three-pointers in the first half of March 8th game against the Wizards.
Defense-oriented Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich has subbed ably for Derrick Rose, who's missed the entire season while recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in last year's playoffs. Though Hinrich has occasionally struggled to stay healthy, missing 20 games, the Bulls improve on both ends when he plays. According to NBA.com/Stats, with the 6-foot-3 Hinrich on the floor, Chicago's offensive rating improves 3.2 points; conversely, their defense allows 2.4 fewer points per 100 possessions. A healthy Hinrich is usually one of the NBA's more efficient point guards (career AST:TO ratio: 2.7) and shoots well from deep (career .379 3P%), and he's got the size (6-4, 190) to defend Williams effectively.
|Joe Johnson||Jimmy Butler|
Adjusting to playing alongside his most talented backcourt teammate since Steve Nash, Joe Johnson spent the early part of the season finding his flow within the Nets' offense. His breakout moment was a game-winning jumper in double-overtime against the Pistons on December 14. From there, Johnson went on to hit a double-overtime buzzer-beater against the Wizards, a game-winner against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and – impressively – game-tying (regulation) and game-winning (overtime) buzzer beaters against the Bucks on February 19. The veteran guard anchors the Nets' second unit, and provides one of the NBA's best options once plays break down or time is short.
Second-year swingman Jimmy Butler (8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, .467 FG%) has had a breakout season defensively, guarding players at the 1, 2 and 3, including effective stretches against Deron Williams in games against the Nets. He's gained steam as the season's worn on, starting the majority of his 20 games in the final third of the schedule. Butler has been a high-minute starter, playing an astonishing 43.5 minutes per game while averaging 14.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals, shooting .458 from three-point range and .457 overall. Attacking offense has also resulted in 4.9 free-throw attempts per game (Butler makes 3.8).
|Gerald Wallace||Luol Deng|
Gerald Wallace has battled through nagging injuries and a second-half shooting slump while remaining in the good graces of both the Nets' organization and its fans by playing all-out on defense and chasing loose balls any direction they bounce, which long ago earned the nickname "Crash." Brooklyn allows 2.0 points per 100 possessions fewer with Wallace on the floor, and the Nets' best chance of shutting down a no-Rose Chicago offense involves Wallace grounding the high-minute, high-usage play of Bulls' All-Star Luol Deng. He's done a good job of that in the four games these teams played this year: NBA.com/Stats reveals that Deng shot just 16-of-46 (.348) in 134 minutes with Wallace on the court – a number that rises to 8-of-15 (.533) in the 46 minutes Deng's played with Wallace resting.
Deng earned his second All-Star appearance with a typically robust stat line in a league-leading 38.7 minutes per game: 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists while playing smothering defense on the opposing team's most talented swingman. His leadership and two-way play has helped steady the Bulls' season despite the absence of their top talent, but if Deng can't shake Wallace's defense, it will be difficult for the Bulls to emerge victorious.
|Reggie Evans||Carlos Boozer|
Acquired in the offseason using a trade exception from the Gerald Wallace trade, Evans quickly endeared himself to Brooklyn with his physical presence and blue-collar game. He also produced at career-best levels, pulling down 11.1 rebounds in just 24.6 minutes per game, leading the NBA in rebounding rate; Evans grabbed .267 of all available boards during his 1,967 minutes on the floor. And his defense has helped the Nets keep opposing power forwards in check, as the Nets allow 3.2 fewer points per 100 possessions with Reggie on the floor.
Bulls forward Carlos Boozer once again knocked on the double-double door, averaging 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting .477 overall, including an above-average .402 from 15-19 feet. His ability to hit that mid-range jumper has hurt the Nets, against whom he averaged 21.3 points on .538 shooting while playing in three of the four games. Definding those perimeter shots pulled Evans away from the basket, and the Nets' forward only averaged 8.8 rebounds against the Bulls as a result.
|Brook Lopez||Joakim Noah|
Brook Lopez joined Bulls counterpart Joakim Noah as a first-time Eastern Conference All-Star this season, and did so by not only leading the Nets and NBA centers in scoring with a 19.4 average (10th overall), but also blocking a team-high 2.1 shots (7th in the league), which helped contribute to a player efficiency rating of 24.7, good for fifth in the NBA. Lopez's first-quarter scoring plays a major role in establishing the Nets' offense; when he gets going early, the floor opens for Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and the various shooters to join them on the floor.
Noah, meanwhile, earned his All-Star nod with a campaign that has him earning respect as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The Bulls defense is a staggering 5.0 points per 100 possessions better with Noah playing (DEF Rating: 98.4 vs. 103.4) and Noah averaged his third outright double-double in the last four seasons (9.8 rebounds in the one that missed) a career-best 2.1 blocks. He's also improved offensively, posting a career-high 4.0 assists while helping facilitate the halfcourt sets the Bulls rely on without Rose.
C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans
Jerry Stackhouse, Kris Humphries
Nate Robinson, Rip Hamilton
Marco Belinelli, Taj Gibson
The Nets bench is deep and experienced. Former Bulls C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans back up the guard positions, with Watson occasionally playing alongside Deron Williams to create off-ball action for the Nets' lead guard; Bogans' "D and 3" skill set plays well at either swing position, meaning opposing players get little respite from Joe Johnson's size and Gerald Wallace's tough defense.
After 17 seasons, veteran Jerry Stackhouse plays mistake-free basketball while providing offense out of the post and corners. Kris Humphries came on strong at the end of the season, averaging 8.6 points (.516 FG%, .917 FT%) and 5.4 rebounds in 20.0 minutes during the Nets' last five games. Backup center Andray Blatche has exposed second-team big men all season, averaging 10.3 points on .512 shooting in 19.0 minutes, and occasionally slotting alongside Brook Lopez in a "Twin Towers" arrangement.
For Chicago, sparkplug guard Nate Robinson has provided electricity all season, averaging 13.1 points (.433 FG%, .405 3P%) and 4.4 assists in 25.4 minutes. He's joined in the backcourt by Rip Hamilton, who returned from a two-month injury layoff to play at least 10 minutes in each of the Bulls final five games and post 5.8 points on .419 shooting (.333 3P%).
The Nets are familiar with the offensive skillset of swingman Marco Belinelli, who turned the corner and hit a game-deciding shot in the teams' first matchup this season, an 83-82 Brooklyn loss at United Center in Chicago. Forward Taj Gibson provides a stark contrast to Carlos Boozer, jump-starting the game with high-energy and aggressive athleticism. And veteran center Nazr Mohammed, who almost signed with the Nets in the offseason, filled ably in whenever Noah needed a break.
|P.J. Carlesimo||Tom Thibodeau|
Since replacing Avery Johnson in December, Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo led the Nets to a 35-19 finish, good for the best single-season winning percentage (.648) of his nine seasons as an NBA head coach. The team's points per game (98.1 vs. 94.6), field-goal percentage (.455 vs. 438) and rebounding margin (+5.5 vs. +1.4) all improved significantly under Carlesimo. He has managed the roster in such a way that the rotation is set and healthy heading into the Nets' first postseason since 2006-07.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau won recognition as Coach of the Year in 2010-11, but might well have done a more masterful job this season, guiding a team without its best player to No. 5 in the East. The Bulls offense has taken a hit without Rose, scoring just 100.4 points per 100 possessions (24th in the league), but their fifth-ranked defense (100.4 points) has carried the day. He's had to manage multiple injuries, including some late-season ones to key components (Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson), but all are available as the First Round series opens on Saturday.
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