A few things would concern me about the Bobcats playing the Bulls in the playoffs. For one, they're really good. The Bulls have been nothing short of amazing this year in how the team has willed itself into its current position (as of today tied for third in the East) and even that is a backhanded compliment. Chicago has some damn good basketball players and one of the best coaches in the league in Tom Thibodeau. The will of the Bulls is very strong, without a doubt, but the team is fine-tuned and plays very good basketball.
Joakim Noah has been the star of this season for the Bulls. He's played well enough to put himself in the after-Lebron-and-KD-MVP conversation. Running the point center, Noah has done it all when called about and filled the stat sheet and highlight reel. Of the boards within three and half feet of Noah he grabs 62 percent of the 17 rebounds he has a shot at per game, good for fifth in the league in rebound opportunities and he ranks 10th in the NBA in defensive impact, both stats courtesy of the NBA player tracking.
When Derrick Rose went down, it would not have surprised anyone to see the Bulls go into the tank to jockey for prime lottery position. But I imagine that idea lasted all of two seconds in the minds of Thibodeau and Noah, and therefore was never a possibility for this team.
I asked Jason Patt from Blog A Bull to help break down what a series against the Chicago Bulls would mean for the Bobcats.
Jason Patt: It's definitely Noah's team this season, and it very well could be his team going forward even when Derrick Rose returns. When Rose went down again with another knee injury and Luol Deng was traded, it looked like the Bulls were sunk. But Noah insisted the team wasn't done, and after fully recovering from a groin injury suffered in the preseason, he has helped lead the Bulls back to relevancy. While he'll never be a prolific scorer, his rebounding, defense and ability to initiate offense from the high post has been invaluable for Chicago. The guy is essentially playing point guard out there, as evidenced by his nearly 8 assists per game in March. While Kevin Durant and LeBron James are the clear frontrunners for MVP, an argument can be made that Noah should be third on the ballot.
However one area the Bulls have not really hurt opponents in this season is shooting from three, which is a good thing because the Bobcats have recently become rather generous in this area, allowing opponents to shoot better than forty percent from three in the last 10 games. Jason expanded on this for us.
JP: The Bulls rank toward the bottom of the league in three-pointers made, three-pointers attempted and three-point percentage, so they aren't usually much of a threat from deep. There have been a few games where they have gone crazy from long range, but it's a rarity. There just aren't many dangerous three-point shooters on the team. D.J. Augustin has been the best of the group, hitting around 41 percent of his bombs this season in Chicago. Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich are the other prolific shooters, with Hinrich nailing over 49 percent since the All-Star Break. Rookie Tony Snell was a good shooter in college, but he doesn't play much and has struggled this season. Newcomer Jimmer Fredette has barely seen the court since signing in Chicago.
Of course, the Bobcats also have Big Al Jefferson, probably the best low post scorer in the league this side of San Antonio. And even though the Bulls are a defensive minded team they can be susceptible in the paint. Double and triple teams are going to be even more of a concern when the Bobcats enter the postseason, but throughout the course of a game Charlotte could find some success in the post.
JP: Noah is a great defender, but he has had some trouble over the course of his career against big, scoring centers. Jefferson is averaging 26.0 points and 12.0 rebounds in two games against the Bulls this season, so he's definitely had some success. DeMarcus Cousins has had a couple big games against the Bulls this year, while Andrew Bynum had one of his biggest games of the year versus Chicago. There have been some other examples as well smattered throughout the year. So while Noah is awesome, he's not invincible in the paint.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about a potential Cats/Bulls matchup would be how similar these two teams, and these two coaches, are. Steve Clifford and Thibodeau preach a very similar style of basketball that thrives when their teams are lock down on defense and efficient on the offensive end. You would expect a series between the two to be a great battle. While it might not be the most aesthetically pleasing, basketball purists and defensive junkies would eat it up.
JP: Absolutely. Thibodeau and Clifford are similar coaches, as the pair coached together as assistants with Jeff Van Gundy in New York and Houston. They're defensive minded-coaches who preach ICE pick-and-roll defense schemes, and it shows in the numbers. The Bulls are second in the NBA in defensive efficiency, while the Bobcats are ninth after being one of the worst defenses in the league over the last few seasons. Meanwhile, both offense are in the bottom third of the league, so points would likely come at a premium in a grind-it-out playoff series.