The good news: Nate Robinson isn't starting anymore!
The bad news: Kirk Hinrich is.
We here at Bulls 101 have been very vocal in our criticism of Captain Kirk. He's not nearly what he was in his first stint with the Bulls, and the front office decided to hard-cap themselves for no real reason to sign him. Hinrich rarely, if ever, ventures below the foul line and unfortunately doesn't make up for that with his shooting. Yes, he's made a three in his last 9 games or so, but his true shooting percentage is still under 50 percent, which is mildly terrible — actually, it's very terrible — and his PER sits at 10.5, or 4.5 points below average. Yes, his calling card is his defense, but it would be nice if he showed some semblance of offensive competence.
Meanwhile, we have also been impressed with rookie Marquis Teague of late, specifically his performance against the Brooklyn Nets, in which he almost single-handedly rescued a floundering Bulls team from a loss. We will admit that he's still far from polished; his defense is very much a work in progress as he has this tendency to get lost when the offense resets on an offensive rebound and he really can't shoot yet. Having said that, he seems to bring something of a balance between Nate and Kirk in that he's better offensively than Hinrich and better defensively than Robinson — which is, admittedly, like saying a bucket is better at holding water than a sieve.
Anyway, Tom Thibodeau will continue to prefer vets to rookies, as is his wont — just ask Jimmy Butler. But that doesn't mean we can't be unhappy about it.
Anyway, the Grizzlies started really well this year, throttling the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks over the course of about a week. They've cooled off a bit since then, but they're still very good. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are basically the equivalent of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer — assuming, of course, that Boozer didn't suck. Mike Conley has developed into a solid point guard and Rudy Gay struggles to find his place at times, but he's still an excellent player. Tony Allen is possibly the best perimeter defender in the game.
The Grizzlies have turned themselves into a dominant defensive team this year. Not that they were bad before, but they've stepped it up this year. In fact, this matchup features the two best defensive teams in the league, according to HoopData. Both teams allow 97 points per 100 possessions, which is about 5 points below the league average. The last time the Bulls played a team ranked as highly as they were on defense, they lost 80-76 to the Indiana Pacers in one of the ugliest games of the year. So there's that.
Key Matchup: Joakim Noah v. Marc Gasol
Meet the two best passing centers in the NBA. Gasol and Noah have the distinction of being the only centers to average 4 or more assists per game this year. Gasol isn't the rebounder that Noah is, but his passing numbers actually come out better when you consider that Noah plays a few more minutes than he does. Both teams like to run things through their center in the high post, and the big-to-big passing on both sides is always impeccable. The center that comes out on top is probably going to win the game for his team.
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