January 7, 2010
Stormin’ Norman Disciple of Not Qualified to Comment let us know about the latest Kirk Hinrich trade rumor as reported by Boers and Bernstein:
“Try this on for size, as something that is percolating. And as of now, this is all I can tell you. I’m not going to tell you this is a done deal, or that it’s even close, but as far as something that is out there as a possibility. Hinrich, Tyrus Thomas, and at least one pick to the Toronto Raptors for Chris Bosh.”
Eh…it sounds to me like Boers and Bernstein were scrounging around for something to talk about. Again, maybe I’m just completely desensitized to Kirk Hinrich trade rumors, but the Raptors already have six guards on their roster and a guard-forward in Antoine Wright. Unless they can sucker some team into taking Jose Calderon off their hands – which is unlikely, since he has three years and $30 million left on his contract – why would they want to take on Hinrich and his contract ($17 million for the next two seasons)?
It just doesn’t make sense to me. From the Raptors’ perspective.
From the Bulls’ standpoint, it makes amazing sense. If they could land Bosh while getting Hinrich’s and Thomas’ deals off the books, that would leave them with enough cash to re-sign Bosh and one or more top-notch free agents next summer. But ridiculously one-sided trades don’t usually happen in the NBA unless the team getting shafted will reap the benefit of a reduced payroll. That wouldn’t happen for the Raptors…so I can’t see this deal ever going through. Unless I’m missing something.
That said, this rumor could be a sign that negotiations for Bosh are revving up. Although the Raptors have been streaking lately — winning seven of their last eight games — so would Toronto management want to mess with a hot team?
Based solely on media attention and focus, you might think that Kobe Bryant is the only NBA player to ever play bravely with a broken finger. With the way sports writers have been gushing, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kobe’s finger won the Nobel Prize and ended up on the cover of Time magazine. (Of course, as some people have pointed out, Kobe’s avulsion fracture isn’t really a true break.)
What a lot of people don’t know — including many Bulls fans — is that Chicago’s Luol Deng has been very quietly playing with a busted digit of his own…a fractured left thumb to be exact.
That might explain why Luol has been shooting 36 percent (21-for-58) while losing the ball nine times over the last four games
Said Deng: “The injury is affecting me a lot, mostly my shot and dribbling, and there are times I’ve thought about not playing. It’s tough. I’m catching passes without using my thumb and then when I’m shooting, it’s almost like an adjustment with my form because my guide hand is affected. I can’t do now what I was doing at the start of the year. But I’ve been playing and we’ve been winning a little more. So I just help where I can, even though there are rebounds where sometimes I don’t go for them because of my thumb.”
And for those people who have enjoyed questioning Deng’s toughness and dedication to the team, here’s the explanation for why he’s still playing: “Last year when I was sitting (with a stress fracture in my right tibia), I made a commitment to play all 82 games this season. Even though it wasn’t my fault last year, I didn’t want anyone to say anything about me being soft anymore. That’s why I don’t want to take any game off all year. I just want to do my job.”
It seems some fans might owe Deng an apology.
January 6, 2010
Okay, first off: I don’t believe in moral victories. A moral victory and a punch to the face won’t get you anything other than a punch in the face. The Bulls lost a winnable game…and that’s always a bummer.
That said, if you had told me going in that the Bulls would score a season-high 108 points in the second of back-to-back games on the road against a team that ranks third in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency…I would have been pretty surprised. Stunned even. And a little impressed.
No the Bulls didn’t come away with the all-important W, but they did show signs of life. The Bobcats may be a sub-.500 team, but they entered the game 11-4 at home and were coming off big time road wins over the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. And, as I noted, they’re one of the league’s premier defensive squads. So they aren’t that bad of a team, even if their record doesn’t quite reflect that fact.
The Bulls, meanwhile, have been a shaky on the road all season and were coming off a tough home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Moreover, the Bobcats built double-digit leads in both the second and third quarters. All things considered, the Bulls had plenty of chances to roll over and die in this game.
But they did not. And that’s a good sign.
Another good sign was the continued strong play of Derrick Rose, who shot 11-for-19 and finished with team highs in both points (24) and assists (9). Rose scored 10 of those points in the fourth quarter — on some very, very tough shots no less — to give the Bulls a chance to win at the end. The only blights on his performance were 1) the game-high 7 turnovers and 2) the fact that the ball ended up in the hands of Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons instead of Rose on the two most critical plays of the final 25 seconds.
Hinrich ended up missing a jumper that would have tied the game, and Salmons over-dribbled before getting caught in the air and forcing a pass to Rose for a three-pointer…which is the one shot Rose probably shouldn’t be taking at this point in his career.
Honestly, I have to question Vinny Del Negro’s play-calling. On Hinrich’s jumper, Rose was tasked with inbounding the ball and never got into the play. On the other sequence, Salmons received the ball and was allowed to isolate almost caused a turnover before throwing the bailout pass to Rose. All this despite the fact that Rose was on fire in the fourth quarter. If I had been coaching the Bulls, I would have done everything in my power to make sure that Rose — and only Rose — ended up with the ball in those situations.
But I’m not the coach. Vinny noted in his postgame press conference that the Bulls “executed well” on those plays and got open shots. Which I guess, technically speaking, is true. But I don’t think that necessarily makes them good plays. I mean, do you think Phil Jackson would be giving clutch shots to Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom instead of Kobe Bryant under similar circumstances? Yeah, me neither.
As long as I’m complaining, I also want to call out Chicago’s team defense, which allowed Charlotte — a team that scores only 92.2 PPG — to score 113 points on 51 percent shooting. And Flip Murray killed the Bulls with 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting off the bench. Flip Murray! That guy is averaging 8.3 PPG on 36 percent shooting this season, and he scored at will against the Bulls’ D, mostly off cheap one-on-on plays. That shouldn’t happen. Like, ever.
But, as I said before, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Despite the obviously tired legs they were playing on, the Bulls gave it the old college try. They shot 51 percent from the field and a surprising 43 percent (7-for-16) from downtown. They outscored the Bobcats 54-48 in the paint and outrebounded them 40-30 (inluding a 9-1 edge on the offensive glass). And they came back at the end rather than giving up…which is something that might have happened as recently as a couple weeks ago.
Said Rose: “At least we fought back. Two or three weeks ago we would have let that game slip.”
However…tired legs. Which manifested itself on defense, and in transition (where the Bobcats enjoyed a 21-6 advantage), and in the Bulls’ ability to hold onto the ball (which is why they gave up 15 points off 19 turnovers).
What can you do?
Since I’m feeling generous, I’ll go ahead and give out gold stars to John Salmons (19 points on 7-for-12 shooting and 7 rebounds off the bench), Luol Deng (18 points, 9 boards, 3 assists) and Kirk Hinrich (who shot only 4-for-13 but made some crafty plays and ended up with 7 assists).
I will not, however, give out gold stars to the officiating crew. I’m not blaming the refs for this loss, but they did a pretty iffy job most of the night. It’s pretty rare for Vinny to lose his cool, but he earned a technical foul in the third quarter for flailing his arms after a few questionable no-calls on back-to-back blocked shots by the Bobcats, and he jumped off the bench in disbelief a few other times too. I honestly thought he was going to get T’d up a second time and earn an ejection. Maybe it would have helped the Bulls get a few extras calls down the stretch. Who knows?
In the final analysis, I’m about as satisfied as I could be after a loss. The Bulls fought, didn’t give up, and almost stole one on the road against a decent team. If they keep playing this way, and the players keep progressing, good things are going to happen.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
January 5, 2010
Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder went 23-59. That was the fourth-worst record in the entire NBA, ahead of only the Kings (17-65), Clippers (19-63) and Wizards (19-65). As of last night’s win over the Bulls in the United Center, the Thunder are 19-15.
What many people may not yet realize about this young squad is that they have become a top-notch defensive unit. Seriously. They rank 9th in Forced Turnovers Per Game (15.3), 8th in Defensive Efficiency (101.3 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions), and 4th in Blocked Shots Per Game (6.0). Moreover, their opponents convert only 59 percent of their shots at the rim. That’s the 9th best mark in the league, which is especially impressive since their opponents attempt the fourth-most shots at the rim per game (29.4).
I bring all this up because the Thunder won last night because they shut the Bulls down in the second half, holding them to only 33 points in the final 24 minutes. The key was the third quarter, when Oklahoma City outscored Chicago 32-14. And they did that by protecting the rim. Like, with a vengeance. The Bulls were getting into the paint at will, but they could not convert. Chicago missed an astonishing 13 layups and tip shots in that third quarter, five of which were blocked.
For the game, the Bulls missed an astounding 29 of 53 shots at the rim. The Thunder basically built a brick wall around the basket. It really was an impressive display of interior defense…unfortunately.
And make no mistake: every missed layup seemed to suck the life out of the Bulls, especially on defense. They were a step slow in their rotations, and the Thunder made them pay for it. Rookie James Harden drilled three three-pointers in a three-minute stretch that spanned the end of the fourth quarter and the beginning of the fourth. Those were game-breakers. Chicago was down only 70-62 before Harden hit his first triple. By the time he knocked down number three, the Bulls were behind 82-66.
That may as well have been the game. The Bulls are not good enough offensively — 29th in Offensive Efficiency — to play catchup against good defensive teams, especially when they’re rattled. And the Thunder’s defense definitely had them rattled. Plus, Oklahoma City made every hustle play in the second half. By the numbers, the Bulls had a huge advantage on the offensive boards (25-13), but the Thunder grabbed nine of their offensive rebounds in the second half. And every one of them was significant.
The Bulls also got next to nothing out of their bench. Chicago’s reserves scored only 12 points on 5-for-27 shooting. Tyrus Thomas returned to form, going 3-for-12 from the field. Nine of his shots were jumpers, and seven of them were 16-23 feet away from the basket. At one point, he tried to make a complicated one-on-one move and got picked clean by Nick Collison.
In the final analysis, the Bulls simply got outplayed, outhustled and shut down defensively by a better team. And, for all the fun of that four-game win streak, it’s pretty clear they are still very much a work in progress.
Former Bull Factor:
You may remember Thabo Sefolosha as the player who almost got DNP-CD’d out of the league as a token member of the Bulls. But his career has been revived in Oklahoma City, and last night he had a nice little revenge game against his former team: 7 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots, and some amped up defense against D-Rose in what turned out to be the decisive third quarter. Sefolosha held Rose to 0-for-4 shooting in that quarter, which completely disrupted Chicago’s offense.
Royce of Daily Thunder: “If I weren’t looking at the score every six seconds, I would have thought Oklahoma City trailed by at least 15 points in the third quarter. Chicago was absolutely pounded the Thunder on the glass (11 offensive rebounds in the third quarter) and just appeared to be abusing OKC. But the Thunder was actually ahead four. And actually had complete control of the game. In the second half, the Thunder held the Bulls to just 33 points. That’s 14 in the third, 19 in the fourth. Meanwhile, OKC scored 51 in the second half. That right there people, is a good formula to winning.”
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
January 4, 2010
John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Bulls may be interested in swapping Kirk Hinrich for Caron Butler:
“Rumors were circulating Sunday that the Washington Wizards, in an attempt to shake things up, are shopping swingman Caron Butler, with the Bulls and the Miami Heat being the likely trading partners. From the Bulls, the Wizards reportedly would seek guard Kirk Hinrich to provide some stability. The rumors also had the expiring contracts of Jerome James and Mike James being included, although the contracts of Butler ($9.78 million) and Hinrich ($9.5 million) are close enough to do the deal straight up.”
Isn’t it funny how almost every trade rumor involving the Bulls centers around Captain Kirk? It’s as though every team in the league wants a shot at Hinrich while the Bulls apparently want nothing more than to be rid of his contract. Forget the fact that when the Bulls are playing well, he’s usually a big part of the reason why. It’s always Hinrich to the Blazers or Hinrich to the Clippers or Hinrich to the Jazz or Hinrich to the Nuggets or Hinrich to the Timberwolves or Hinrich to [Team X]. Well, at least Kirk should feel wanted. Outside of Chicago anyway.
Jackson continued: “Is this a deal that makes sense for the Bulls? Probably. Although Hinrich can play both guard positions and Butler is more of a small forward, Butler can play shooting guard and split minutes with John Salmons. Jannero Pargo and Mike James could play point guard for the few minutes that Derrick Rose is out of the game.”
Eh…I’m always wary of bringing in a new player and immediately asking him play out of position. It also seems that while some players can move from SG to SF, the transition from SF to SG tends to be a little rocky. Just ask John Salmons, who was moved back to the two spot when Luol Deng returned and then promptly forgot how to shoot the basketball. On the other hand, Butler can put up 20 PPG when healthy — note that Caron has missed at least 15 games in each of the last three seasons – and the Bulls (as everyone knows) could certainly use the scoring help.
Of course, Butler isn’t an inside scoring threat nor is he a high-percentage three-point shooter (currently 30.0 percent and only 31.5 percent for his career). Which begs the question: what does he have to offer that the Bulls don’t already have? I mean, 72 percent of his field goal attempts are jump shots. Chicago already has two players in that mold.
I also don’t feel very confident with Jannero Pargo and Mike James as the team’s backcourt relief corps. Pargo is more of a shooter/scorer/spark-plug off the bench (even if Vinny Del Negro has apparently forgotten Jannero was signed last summer), and Mike James is, well, Mike James. There’s a reason he’s played for nine different teams in his nine-year career.
One last important tidbit from Jackson’s report: “Another factor is Butler has just one year remaining on his contract following this season, while Hinrich has two years left. That could an important factor moving forward as the Bulls try to re-sign Rose and center Joakim Noah.”
So while Butler and Hinrich have comparable contracts, Caron’s deal expires a year earlier than Kirk’s. Remember: Jerry Reinsdorf runs the Bulls as though every penny saved just might save the lives of his friends and loved ones…so a deal like this could go through regardless of whether it makes the Bulls a better team.
This trade is exactly what you’d call “close to happening,” but you never know. With all of Chicago’s expiring contracts, this won’t be the last trade rumor the Bulls are involved in before the February trade deadline.
January 3, 2010
Again I say: who are these guys and what have they done with the Chicago Bulls?
Or maybe the team we’ve been watching most of the season — the same one that coughed up a 35-point lead at home to the Sacramento Kings — was the imposter. Maybe now that Tyrus Thomas is back from injury and Derrick Rose is becoming the player everybody thought he would be, the Bulls will live up to the potential they showed in last season’s exciting first round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics.
Some people — including a commenter on this site – questioned the validity of the first three wins of Chicago’s current streak. And rightly so, considering they came against inferior teams. (Although the Bulls have suffered several losses to “inferior” teams this season.) But the Orlando Magic entered last night’s game with the fourth-best record in the NBA. And, according to John Hollinger, the Magic rank 6th in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency.
I guess you could say beating them qualifies as a quality win. And the Bulls might have won in a blowout if Matt Barnes hadn’t kept the Magic in the game by scoring 15 of his season-high 23 points in the third quarter.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy agreed with that sentiment: ”To me, there’s only one factor: [The Bulls] just played a lot harder than us. They played with more energy, more effort, defended harder and went to the boards harder than us all night. It’s amazing that we were within shouting distance at the end of this one.”
How did it happen? For starters, Rose continued to assert himself. Derrick scored a game-high 30 points and his aggressiveness led to a game-best 10 free throw attempts. He also had 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Rose has now scored 20+ points in seven of the last nine games, including two games with at least 30 points. Going back a little further, Rose has scored at least 19 points in 15 of the last 21 games.
Is Derrick finally becoming The Man for the Bulls? Said Rose: “I’m just trying to attack and do anything to get my team a win. They were giving me mid-range shots. I’ll take those any time. … Don’t count us out. We can compete with the best teams in the NBA. And we’re not stopping here. We’ve found our groove and we’re going to keep going.”
That sure sounds like The Man speak to me.
Added Taj Gibson: “He’s a totally different player. He’s looking to get everybody involved. He’s taking his shots well. He’s taking over the game sometimes when we need him to. Everybody’s clicking right now.”
The Bulls also made it happen on defense. Orlando’s big three of Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter combined to score only 24 points on 8-for-31 shooting. The job Chicago’s defenders did against those guys was the main reason why the Magic shot only 35 percent as a team. It helped that Carter was forced out after hurting his ankle, but he was only 3-for-15 at that point…so it’s not like he was on fire or anything.
Brad Miller merits special mention for his defensive work against Howard, who is known as “Superman” in some circles. Howard is physically superior to Miller in virtually every conceivable way, but Big Brad used his, ahem, veteran cunning to stymie Orlando’s biggest gun. Said Miller: “I’m an old vet who knows how to play. You have to do something against Howard. I can’t bench (press) as much as him. I can jump about one-eighth as high as he can. You just have to use tricks on him.”
Howard finished with 9 points on 3-for-7 shooting. Apparently, those tricks worked.
The Bulls also controlled the paint, where they both outrebounded (54-48) and outscored (40-32) the Magic. No small feat against a team with (one could argue) the league’s most dominant center.
Chicago also got solid contributions from rookie Taj Gibson (10 points, 12 boards, 3 blocks) and Luol Deng (14 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists). And John Salmons continued to thrive off the bench, finishing with 15 points (5-for-9), 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. It appears Vinny Del Negro made the right call by starting Kirk Hinrich and using Salmons as a super sub. So score one for Vinny, right?
And who says the streak can’t continue for a few more games? The Bulls next five games are versus the Thunder (18-15), at Charlotte (13-18), at Milwaukee (13-18), versus Minnesota (7-28) and versus Detroit (11-21).
Said Rose: “If we continue to play this way, good things are going to happen for us.”
He may be right.
Philip Rossman-Reich of the Orland Magic Daily: “A scrappy Bulls team outhustled and outworked a tired Magic team, taking as much as a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter. Barnes was once again the offensive catalyst as Dwight Howard faced foul trouble and Vince Carter and Lewis struggled from the floor. Chicago had a 54-48 advantage on the glass and had 16 offensive rebounds, led by rookie Taj Gibson’s seven offensive boards. The Magic looked listless on offense throughout the night, helping the Bulls build their lead by shooting 35.9 percent from the floor. Orlando was held without a field goal for the first half of the quarter and watched the gap widen.”
Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
January 1, 2010
Wait, wait, wait. Let me try to wrap my head around this craziness: The Bulls — who arrived in Detroit a mere 2-11 on the road and hadn’t won away from home in six long weeks – strolled into the Palace of Auburn Hills, took early command of their game against the Pistons, and built a 20-point fourth quarter lead (87-67 off a Ty Thomas dunk with 7:01 left) before coasting to a shockingly easy victory?
Okay. Who are these guys and what have they done to the real Chicago Bulls?
Said Joakim Noah: “This feels good. I think we are just playing better basketball right now for whatever reason.”
For whatever reason…and what exactly are the reasons? Maybe the team is rallying around their embattled coach. (I doubt that, but who knows?) Maybe it’s the return of Tyrus Thomas, who has significantly improved the team’s offense, defense and depth. Since his return from forearm surgery, Thomas has been aggressive, energetic and focused. Against the Pistons, his intensity led to 14 free throw attempts. That’s huge for a team that currently ranks 26th in Free Throw Attempts Per Game (22.5).
I would say 16 PPG, 10 RPG and 2 BPG in three games back is pretty good. More importantly, the Bulls are now 3-0 since Ty’s return, and 5-2 on the season when he suits up.
Another reason for the upswing has been a steady improvement in team defense. Remember, Chicago began the season playing pretty solid D before temporarily forgetting what “hand in the face” means. From November 19 through December 9, the Bulls gave up 100+ points in eight out of 10 games, including four games in which they surrendered at least 110. Opposing teams were basically forming a conga line to the hoop. Since then, Chicago has allowed 100 points only twice in 10 games: once to the Boston Celtics (who are pretty good) and once (quite infamously) to the Kings.
Sure, the Bulls have played some stinkers during this recent stretch (Pacers, Knicks, Warriors, etc.), but they’ve also held quality opponents like the Hawks and Lakers below 100 points. And, very quietly, Chicago has climbed back into the top 10 in Defensive Efficiency, a category in which they currently rank 9th (102.0 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions).
Seems worth noting.
Then too the Bulls have been getting much improved play from Derrick Rose, who after last night’s 22-point effort against the Pistons has scored 20+ points in six of the last eight games. In November, Rose was averaging 16.2 points, 5.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds. Derrick’s December numbers are 20.2 PPG, 6.1 APG and 3.8 RPG. As you can see, he’s been picking it up a little. Part of his improvement has been physical, as he finally recovered from his preseason ankle injury. Another part has seemingly been mental, as Rose must have realized he has to be The Man now for the Bulls to succeed.
Where does that leave the Bulls now? I’m not sure. There are some dark shadows on the horizon, as the team must play 13 of their next 20 games on the road, including a seven-game Western Conference road trip. This stretch includes games in Boston, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Atlanta. And our next home game — on Saturday against the Orlando Magic — could get ugly.
I’m just sayin’…the Bulls aren’t out of the woods yet.
The Good, the Bad, and the Joakim:
Noah had another monstrous game (15 points, 5-or-8, 21 rebounds, 4 assists), but turned the ball over a ghastly 8 times. Jo’s miscues included back-to-back steals by Tayshaun Prince that he converted into layups to tie the game at 33-all in the second quarter.
Off the bench:
John Salmons wasn’t exactly happy about losing his starting job to Kirk Hinrich, but the move seems to be working. Salmons has back-to-back 17 point games in which he has gone 11-for-18 from the field and 5-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Former Bull factor:
Ben Gordon scored 21 points on 7-for-16 shooting (including 3-for-8 from downtown). But the most important number is that BG is now 0-2 against the Bulls this season. Oh, and Ben Wallace had 2 points, 9 boards, and 2 blocked shots.
Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.