Of the eight first-round matchups, this one is the most exciting. If nothing else, it is the most unpredictable--not to mention the fact that their stadiums are only about 90 miles apart. The Bulls won the season series 3-1, with Milwaukee's lone win coming on April 1st. The Bulls are definitely the favorites but, with their new coach Jason Kidd, the Bucks have made a definitive leap from owning the league's worst record last season.
The biggest factor has to be Derrick Rose's health. When healthy, Derrick Rose has been very impressive, averaging 17.7 points per game. Unfortunately, a healthy Derrick Rose is like seeing a shooting star, it is awesome to watch while it's there but if you blink it's gone and you never quite know when you'll see one again.
Rose has been decently healthy this season, and he looks like he's in good enough shape to make an impact in this series. This season, while missing time because of a meniscus tear, Rose appeared in 51 games which was the highest he's played in since he played 81 games in the 2010-11 season, his MVP season. In fact, the former number one pick only played a total of 49 games in the three seasons prior to this current one. That puts Rose at 212 missed games since his first ACL tear. Since Rose's latest return, he has averaged 11.6 points per game in limited action. His three-point shooting has been atrocious all season, and he hasn't been gun-shy from behind the arc either.
Rose is shooting 28 percent on 271 attempts this season. At 51 games, that puts his average number of triples attempted per game at about five and he makes about 1.5 of those. Against a long, lanky team like Milwaukee, his shooting is going to be important, especially if he finds himself guarded by 6'6" point guard Michael Carter-Williams. If nothing else, Rose will be good for a few oo's and ah's and Vines saying, "Rose is back." However, if Rose can crawl out from the shell of his MVP self and make the big impact Chicago hopefuls expect, the Bulls could win this series with relative ease.
Believe it or not, there are 13 other players on the Chicago Bulls roster not named Derrick Rose, and they're pretty darn good. In a recent podcast, ESPN's Amin Elhassan spoke about how Chicago's other stars have found an identity and the ability to be good without Rose and anything he can give them is just icing on the cake. This season, Jimmy Butler exploded onto the scene and emerged as the newest star, who also plays 40-plus minutes a game because Tom Thibodeau is into that sort of thing. Butler also averaged 20 points and made his first All-Star team alongside teammate and five-time All-Star Pau Gasol.
Speaking of the Spaniard, Gasol played in 78 games this season. For a big man with generally poor health, that's unheard of. Joakim Noah's numbers dipped a bit from last year, partially because he didn't have Carlos Boozer's deficiencies to cover up and partially because they just didn't need him to dominate with Butler's emergence. Rounding out the probable starting five, assuming Rose gets the nod, is Mike Dunleavy who has been a really consistent floor spacer and has the potential to be a huge x-factor if his shot is falling. Dunleavy made a very respectable 40.7 percent of his three-point tries.
Now, this is where things get fun. Chicago's bench doesn't make a lot of sense, but it sure is fun to watch. There are shooters on top of shooters. There's Aaron Brooks filling the usual small point guard who puts up insane scoring numbers when Rose isn't there, and Taj Gibson is still awesome. Rookie sensation Nikola Mirotic has to be the most fun, though. After being drafted in 2011--with the help of a draft day trade involving Johnny Flynn, Brad Miller, and some picks--and stashed in Spain on Real Madrid for a few years, Nikola Mirotic finally took his talents to the Windy City. And boy, did that ever make a difference. Mirotic appeared in all 82 games and gave the Bulls' bench another dimension that very few NBA benches could match. With crafty shot making and the ability to stretch the floor alongside Tony Snell, expect him to be the advantage that Chicago needs to prevent an upset.
The Bulls also have another rookie who goes by the name of "Dougie McBuckets." Doug McDermott, like most rookies under Thibodeau, has not seen a lot of action this season. Aaron Brooks was this year's Nate Robinson/D.J. Augustin, playing in all 82 games and averaging 11.6 points. Tony Snell has had a quiet breakout year which was overshadowed by Jimmy Butler. He further bolsters the bench and provides spacing that is desperately, desperately needed for Rose to drive. Last, but not least, there's Kirk Hinrich. Captain Kirk has spent his fair share of time on Chicago fans' good side and bad side so his production is hard to put a finger on. Any production from the 34-year old is a welcomed surprise.
While the Chicago Bulls have kept the same roster all season, the same cannot be said about the Bucks. 20 different players have suited up for Milwaukee this season. Kenyon Martin was signed to two 10-day contracts which later led to him being signed for the rest of the year. As a result, Nate Wolters was released. Then Jorge Gutierrez received a pair of 10-day contracts; he ultimately signed a multiyear contract on April 7th. Second overall pick Jabari Parker appeared in 25 games before an ACL tear caused him to miss the rest of the season. Larry Sanders played 27 games before going to rehab and ultimately deciding he didn't want to play basketball anymore. That led to him being waived. Chris Johnson also had a short stint with the Bucks, but he was never signed after his two 10-day contracts ended.
And then there was the trade. On the day of the deadline, the Milwaukee Bucks traded their leading scorer Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns along with Kendall Marshall and the Lakers' protected 2017 first rounder. A couple picks were also sent Philadelphia's way. In return, Milwaukee netted former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams from the Sixers and Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee from the Suns. Kenyon Martin was also waived to make room for the new additions.
Since the trade, Carter-Williams has stepped into the starting point guard role and averaged 14.1 points, 5.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.0 steals. MCW has shown the ability to stuff stat sheets upon his arrival in the NBA last season. Many experts have also compared him to his new coach Jason Kidd and other experts say that is why the Bucks traded for him. Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee haven't been great, but they have shown to be solid role players in their limited action.
Now, to the rest of the team. Khris Middleton, who came over in the Brandon trade (Jennings for Knight), has put on quite the offensive display this season, continuing his success from last year while maintaining consistent offensive production. Middleton will be key for the Bucks. Since his big extension a few years ago, Ersan Ilyasova has failed to live up to the hype, but he has still shown the ability to rebound and be a solid stretch four. Zaza Pachulia was signed last offseason to a three-year, $15 million deal. Many thought it was an overpay as he was, and still is, pretty old but he has played well as a rim protector and drive and dump target down low. Pachulia has also made some very nifty passes for highlight reel dunks from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Speaking of the Greek Freak, Antetokounmpo has been fantastic. He is somewhere between 6'10" and an even seven-foot tall, and he starts at shooting guard alongside Michael Carter-Williams. That length in the backcourt is going to give the Bulls hell for however many games this series goes to. Antetokounmpo's height also gives him the ability to do crazy, mind-boggling plays that seem impossible.
In fact, here's nine minutes of them for your personal enjoyment:
The world may not be ready for playoff Giannis but that is okay. The odds of Antetokounmpo playing all 48 minutes are very slim so someone is going to have to spell him at the shooting guard while he rests those very long bones of his; insert O.J. Mayo. Mayo hasn't quite lived up to expectations in his seven-year career but how many NBA players are worth trading for Kevin Love and drafting before Russell Westbrook? There aren't many. If there are any Pacers fans out there, sorry you didn't make the playoffs, but it could be worse. Larry Bird almost traded Paul George for O.J. Mayo back when Mayo was on the Grizzlies. Lucky for Pacers fans, Bird was too slow and the trade deadline passed before the deal could be approved. Now, Mayo comes off the bench and plays 23.9 minutes per game, putting up 11.4 points on the Milwaukee Bucks. Unfortunately for Bulls fans, Mayo has the ability to get hot in a hurry and that microwave ability could be a difference maker in this series. However, if he goes cold, it could get ugly fast. All is not lost, though. The Bucks have Jared Dudley. While that may not sound too intimidating, he was able to have a perfect game against the top-seeded Hawks earlier in the season.
A bench does not merely consist of O.J. Mayo and Jared Dudley. For Milwaukee, it also consists of another long-limbed player who goes by the name of John Henson. He's no star and his numbers won't wow anyone but, as Sir Mix-A-Lot would say, he's long and he's strong and he's down to get some friction on. With how many bigs Chicago can throw at them, Henson is going to be very valuable off the bench.
Miles Plumlee is another big body and his sneaky athleticism could be good for certain matchups and Ennis' passing ability should help the second unit without missing too much when MCW sits. Ennis was a point guard at Syracuse too and, as long as Dayton isn't suiting up, he should be just fine.
Lastly, there is the other Jared, except his name is spelled "Jerryd" and his last name is Bayless. Jerryd Bayless was another member of the 2008 draft. Unlike Mayo, he has been about as good as people expected and the player drafted right after him wasn't Russell Westbrook; it was Jason Thompson. Milwaukee is Bayless' sixth NBA team and he seems to have found a nice niche as a scoring guard off the bench who can also set up teammates. Bayless could spend a decent amount of time guarding Aaron Brooks and vice versa. In that situation, Bayless' odds are good as he is three inches taller and almost 40 pounds heavier than Brooks.
The difference in the fan opinion of the respective coaches is almost comical. Bulls fans, as well as the front office, are not big fans of Tom Thibodeau. Reports say his job is in jeopardy, and he often disagrees with Bulls management. On the other side, there is Jason Kidd. Kidd took some heat for leaving Brooklyn for Milwaukee after Brooklyn refused to let him control basketball operations. Milwaukee had no time giving him the reigns and quickly showed Larry Drew the door. Milwaukee fans love Kidd and who blames him? Kidd took the 15-67 Bucks and turned them in the 41-41 team we see before us today.
Head-to Head Matchups:
Chicago Bulls @ Milwaukee Bucks, November 5, 2015
Score: Bulls 95, Bucks 86
Statistics can be found here.
Milwaukee Bucks @ Chicago Bulls, January 10, 2015
Score: Bulls 95, Bucks 87
Statistics can be found here.
Milwaukee Bucks @ Chicago Bulls, February 23, 2015
Score: Bulls 87, Bucks 71
Statistics can be found here.
Chicago Bulls @ Milwaukee Bucks, April 1, 2015
Score: Bucks 95, Bulls 91
Statistics can be found here.
Game 1: Saturday, April 18 - 7 pm EST @Chicago (ESPN)
Game 2: Monday, April 20 - 8 pm EST @Chicago (TNT)
Game 3: Thursday, April 23 - 8 pm EST @Milwaukee (NBATV)
Game 4: Saturday, April 25 - 5:30 pm EST @Milwaukee (TNT)
*Game 5: Monday, April 27 - Time TBD @Chicago
*Game 6: Thursday, April 30 - Time TBD @Milwaukee
*Game 7: Saturday, May 2 - Time TBD @Chicago (TNT)
* - If necessary.