The Bulls have won two consecutive games in as many days for the first time this season.
That wouldn’t have been possible without David Nwaba.
The sophomore wing was influential in the road win against the Charlotte Hornets, and was even better one night later.
All game, he was terror to the Knicks’ full court defense. Defensive possessions quickly became scoring opportunities, and the Knicks had no way of containing Nwaba on the break.
Solid man-to-man defense morphed into a repetitive one-man gallops for fast-break points. On back-to-back possessions, defensive stops resulted in consecutive transition baskets for Nwaba at the rim.
Nwaba destroyed the Knicks with his rim-running, outworking his direct opposition all night. In this example, Jarrett Jack was alongside Nwaba as he began to move the ball up the floor. After a few strides forward, Jack had given up, leaving Nwaba enough space to get all the way to the rim. He missed the shot, but earned two free throws by simply pushing the tempo.
The Knicks had an answer to contain Nwaba in transition. Lance Thomas certainly didn’t. He had no idea where Nwaba was after Kris Dunn poked the ball away from Kristaps Porzingis. Once he realised, it was too late.
The energy created on transition baskets is fun, but the baseline is Nwaba’s halfcourt domain.
Ball movement is key to any quality offense. So is player movement. Nwaba operating along the baseline is an important release valve for an often stagnant Bulls offense. His decisive movement into the paint can create field goal attempts that otherwise weren’t there. He did exactly that on this possession. Nikola Mirotic didn’t have anyone to pass to in a scoring position until Nwaba made this strong cut. He missed the vicious dunk attempt, but created something from nothing by working the baseline.
The reserve wing finished the game with six made shots from nine attempts. All his makes were within three-feet of the rim.
Players who don’t need the basketball to score are always vital. Nwaba isn’t someone who will beat you off the dribble. He won’t cross you up and step-back on a tough fade-away. It’s all junk yard offense, and it’s extremely effective. None of his attempts against the Knicks came from set pieces designed for him to score. His activity alone generated his 15-point performance.
How reliable that makes him as an offensive threat is up for debate. In tough, grind-it-out defensive games, the avenue to score in transition may be choked up. Defensive communication and a crowded painted area can eat up cutting lanes and prevent easy buckets. These realities may limit Nwaba to some extent, but he’s shown he’s worthy of a rotational role.
An up-tempo team would serve Nwaba’s skillset best. The Bulls are trying to be a team that pushes the pace, and can be when his energy is injected into the rotation.
Whether Nwaba is here for the long-term or only for the season, he represents another terrific scrap heap pickup by Bulls management. Nwaba’s game couldn’t be more different to former Bulls D.J. Augustin or Nate Robinson, but similarities exist. Both Augustin and Robinson revived their career in Chicago, delivering an on-court production that significantly outweighed the cost of their contract. Both quickly became fan favourites in difficult Bulls seasons. Nwaba is doing the same.
Rebuilding season’s have their difficulties, and fans need an outlet. It can come in many forms, but cult heroes can linger in team lore, even on struggling team. Cheering for losses isn’t enjoyable, but players who always compete, no matter their limitations, can make an arduous season more tolerable.
Nwaba is doing that, and it’s been a pleasure to watch.