Roughly 760 miles sit between Chicago and Philadelphia, a distance roughly equivalent to how far apart they are in the standings. Though the two teams sit on opposite ends of the league spectrum, they have one thing in common entering tonight -- their star players are dinged up.
This isn't necessarily a surprise for either side. Nerlens Noel and his tangled bundle of limbs are still getting up to speed after a major knee injury, and Derrick Rose's health woes are pretty well-documented at this point. Nerlens Noel has already been declared out for the game tonight, and with the stakes for this game are so low for both sides it's unlikely Rose will be pressed into action. The long-term health of their respective top players is much more important than tonight's contest.
Who's excited to watch after that setup?!
In all seriousness, there's still plenty to keep an eye on in Chicago's first visit to the Wells Fargo Center. On the 76ers side of things, the combined efforts of Tony Wroten and Brandon Davies -- seriously -- have been shocking early on. Wroten's ability to produce gaudy counting stats on a depleted roster was never in question, but what in the world got into Davies?
I'm on a long list of people who was surprised, even a bit perturbed that he was kept on the roster again, and he has made me eat every last word with his play. He's shooting 60.5 percent from the field and owns the highest PER on the roster, clocking in at a healthy 23.5. That's good for a top-45 spot in the entire league. This is the strangest timeline, as dictated by head fan club spokesman/former bloglord Michael Levin.
The Bulls, on the other hand, are a radically different team this season with or without the services of Rose. Pau Gasol was brought in to bolster the frontcourt rotation and has far exceeded expectations on the offensive end. He's the team's second-leading scorer with 18.8 a night, and though he's still a little shaky on the defensive end, having he and Noah working from the elbows in is a boon for cutters and shooters.
Speaking of -- the Bulls have looked like a capable offensive team in the opening stanza, ranking in the top 10 in points per game and three-point percentage. This runs counter to their recent history of playing ugly halfcourt basketball, and is a quantum leap after finishing 29th and 30th in PPG in 2013 and 14 respectively. Small samples and yada yada, but the roster additions have almost all been on the offensive side of the ball, so a move in the right direction was always likely. It's going to be a tough test for Philly, especially without Noel.
One intriguing, perhaps slightly delusional subplot is the potential for one of Chicago's own to join Philadelphia in free agency next summer. The Bulls failed to come to terms with wing Jimmy Butler on an extension before the annual Halloween deadline, and he has to be seeing green after a flurry of big-money deals given to lesser/comparable players last week.
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has a somewhat infamous aversion to the luxury tax, and the Bulls are capped out next year before it even begins, so a team with cap space (*SIXERS flashes in neon lights) might see fit to throw an offer sheet at him and force Chicago's hand.
Butler fits the profile of a Sam Hinkie man -- athletic as hell, hard worker, not a great shooter -- and he's the right mix of youth and production to tide the impatient while growing with the rest of Michael Carter-Williams and the Funky Bunch. Keep a close eye on him tonight if you don't get to watch the Bulls regularly. I'm especially excited to see how K.J. McDaniels and the young wings deal with him. They've already dealt with top-level guards in James Harden and Dwyane Wade, so a matchup against firmly-in-the-good-tier Butler provides a stiff, but reasonable test.
I'm probably going to get fired for taking that long to mention McDaniels, so as an appeal to my superiors you may enjoy K.J.'s glorious finish from Wednesday again. If he's not starting by December I'm going on a hunger strike.