ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell writes: “Chicago Bulls center Omer Asik missed shootaround Tuesday morning with a muscle strain in his left leg, and he is a game-time call for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat. He suffered the injury in the third quarter of Game 3 on Sunday and did not return.”
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”Of course, Omer has played terrific for us … but if Omer can’t go, Kurt [Thomas] will be the next guy in.”
This could actually be a blessing in disguise.
Obviously, Kurt’s slower afoot than Omer, and Thomas specializes in post defense rather than protecting the rim as Asik does, which doesn’t help much since the Heat don’t have a post threat at center.
That said, Big Sexy — unlike Asik or Joakim Noah — is a threat in the pick and pop game, which could help free Derrick Rose from the swarming double teams he’s been facing all series long.
The key to Game 4 might be a few mid-range jumpers from the center position.
Big Sexy Breaks Out:
Back on January 25, 2005, Kurt Thomas scored 24 points and pulled down 14 rebounds for the New York Knicks in a 133-118 loss to the Phoenix Suns. Those were good numbers. A little skewed, maybe, because of the pace (103.3) and the number of shots the Knicks attempted (105).
Let me put it this way: That night, the Knicks had two players score 20+ (Thomas and Trevor Ariza) and another player score 40 (Jamal Crawford). And that Suns team was in the lower half of the league in Defensive Rating.
Anyway, that was the last time Big Sexy — as Bulls broadcaster Stacey King likes to call him — scored 20 points. That includes his 2006 season, when he played for a Phoenix squad that led the league in PPG (108.4) and ranked second in Offensive Rating (111.5).
So when you consider the circumstances and the fact that he’s the second-oldest player in the league (next to Shaq), then it’s very possible we got to watch one of the best games of Kurt’s career.
Think about it. The Bucks rank 6th in Defensive Rating (102.5). According to 82games.com, opposing centers don’t play very well against them. Starters and backups combine for 18.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.4 assists and a PER of 12.2 (which ranks between “in the rotation” and “scrounging for minutes” according to John Hollinger’s reference guide). And those opposing centers have an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 45.5.
Well, as By The Horns reader inkybreath put it, “Did Big Sexy jump in the Hot Tub Time Machine before the game?”
Thomas finished with a game-high 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting (62.5 percent). He added a co-team-high 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocked shots and a steal. Oh, and four personal fouls, just for good measure. What’s more, he helpled limit Andrew Bogut to only 8 points on 4-for-11 shooting (although Bogut did pull down a game-high 18 rebounds).
Pick and roll…jumper. Pick and roll…jumper. Pick and roll…jumper.
It was a pretty simple formula.
Said Carlos Boozer: “Listen, in practice he hits a lot of jump shots. Most nights he only gets two or three shots a game and tonight it was one of them nights where every time we ran pick and roll with him and D. Rose he was wide open. So we just kept [running it]. Sometimes you’ve got to run something til the wheels fall off and if we were still playing right now, we’d still be running that play … and he’d still be hitting them.”
Added Thomas: “I was fortunate enough to play there last year so I definitely know the tendencies of their defense. But I know how they like to cover. I know how they like to rotate. My job is to get my feet set and knock it down.”
Big Sexy isn’t going to score 20 points every night. Heck, he may never score 20 points ever again. But Chicago’s season looked like it was going to derail when Joakim Noah went down with a thumb injury. Despite his age and the limitations that age brings, Thomas is a big reason why the Bulls are 15-6 in the 21 games Noah has missed.
Said Boozer: “That’s why we’re a team. Y’all came to the arena tonight; nobody knew that Kurt Thomas would be our leading scorer on all jump shots. But he knew. He knew what he was going to do tonight. That’s the weird thing about the team, you never know who it’s going to be. Everybody on this team can play and everybody contributes to winning. And tonight it was one of them nights where we needed somebody else to step up. They did a good job on me and D. Rose. And [Thomas] stepped up in a big way.”
He sure did. And Derrick Rose, for one, would love to throw Big Sexy in the Hot Tub Time Machine.
Said Rose: “I’m mad that he’s not a little bit younger. I could play with him a little bit more. But I’m just going to cherish these times I’m playing with him.”
Teamwork means winning:
All the Thomas love aside, it was a pretty productive night for the Bullies. Yes, the Bucks are dealing with injuries, and yes, the Bulls once again let the better part of a 20-point lead get away from them. And, of course, their shooting was, ahem, a bit off (39.5 percent as a team despite Thomas’ efficient night).
But the Bulls still finished with an Offensive Rating of 108.2 against one of the league’s top defensive units. That was thanks in no small part to their 25-11 advantage in free throw attempts and the fact that they converted 88 percent of their foul shots. It also helped that they registered 25 assists on 32 made field goals.
Said Rose: ”[Ball movement] was the biggest thing [assistant coach Ron Adams] was talking about in the locker room. In the first half of the season, we were moving the ball well, then we kind of slipped.”
Well, again, Noah was a big part of that.
Derrick Rose and his free throw attempts:
However, let me jump back to the subject of free throws. Rose (21 points and 10 assists) went 10-for-10 from the line, and if you check his stats, you’ll notice his FTA average has steadily risen to 6.2 per game. That’s two per game above his career average. Now check his splits. Rose averaged 5.8 FTA in November and only 4.4 FTA in December…the same month Hollinger wrote that Rose isn’t an elite point guard because he doesn’t get to the line enough.
Check the numbers, folks. Rose has been averaging 8.3 FTA in January. Projected over the season, that would put Derrick in the top 10 in free throw attempts per game. As it is, he’s right there with guys like Monta Ellis and Chauncey Billups, and he ranks ahead of Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili.
The point is: Every part of Rose’s game — jump shooting, three-point shooting, passing, earning free throws — is coming together. And this ragtag team that’s been missing one or two crucial parts (Boozer and Noah) almost all season is one of the best teams (record-wise) in the NBA.
I’m just sayin’.
Quote of the Night:
“I’ve been known as the guy who can hit that shot my whole career. But the last couple of years, my shots have been down. But I just love playing, and when it’s there, I just try to be a team player. If the shot is there, take it. If not, swing the ball and try to find one of my teammates if he’s open or set a pick to get him open. But when the shot is there, I have confidence that I can make it.”
According to ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell: “The Chicago Bulls have agreed to terms with free-agent big man Kurt Thomas, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. Thomas, a 15-year veteran, averaged three points and four rebounds last season for the Milwaukee Bucks. He will back up Joakim Noah, essentially replacing Brad Miller’s role on the roster. Thomas will undoubtedly serve as a mentor for Noah, as Miller did, and will help rookie center Omer Asik adjust to the NBA.”
Sam Smith of Bulls.com added that: “Thomas agreed to a deal for slightly more than the veterans’ minimum, which means the Bulls have about $3 million remaining to fill out the roster, which now has 11 players.”
Just like the Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson deals, this signing is a good bargain for the Bulls.
Sure, Thomas is a bit long in the tooth — Kurt will turn 38 years young on October 4 — and he’s an offensive downgrade from Brad Miller in terms of passing, driving and shooting range. However, Kurt can hit spot-up jumpers from midrange at a pretty high percentage.
Last season, Thomas drilled 45.2 percent of his shots from 10-15 feet and 47.0 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet. The season before that, those numbers were 53.0 and 46.0 percent, respectively. Thomas will also stick the occasional putback and knocks down his foul shots a good clip (82 percent in 2008-09, 80 percent in 2009-10).
And although he’s lost a step or three — he’s older, it happens — Thomas can provide solid post defense and rebounding for 10-15 minutes a game.
Seriously, Kurt can still rebound. For his career, Thomas has averaged 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. In 2008-09, he averaged 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. In 2009-10, his per 36 minute average was 10.0. And his 2009-10 rebounding percentage of 15.8 would have ranked him behind only Noah on the Bulls. So Thomas can still corral the basketball, even if his minutes have been reduced in accordance with his gray hairs.
Thomas is also a well-noted NBA tough guy who isn’t shy about committing hard fouls when necessary. If you check the numbers, you’ll notice that Kurt led the NBA in fouls in 2001-02 and 2002-03, and he ranks 41st all-time in total fouls (3240).
As Smith wrote: “Thomas has long been known around the NBA as a player others don’t want to engage, and even last season Thomas famously stood up for one of his teammates. Boston’s Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis had committed a hard foul on Bucks rookie point guard Brandon Jennings. Thomas hadn’t been playing then, but he remembered. When the teams met a few weeks later, Thomas took down Davis with a hard shot that had Celtics announcer Tommy Heinsohn bellowing ‘thug’ at Thomas. Thomas is a player known to have the backs of his teammates.”
I don’t like Thomas as much as Miller, but he still has NBA skills, came at a (much) cheaper price, and will probably fit Tom Thibodeau’s defense-first system better than Big Brad would have. My only real concern is his age. What if Noah gets hurt? How many minutes could Thomas absorb if Joakim misses significant time?
But hey, maybe I’m just borrowing trouble here.
The Bulls shored up their frontcourt depth while retaining financial flexibility in both the short and long term. That’s pretty sweet. It’ll be interesting to see how the Bulls spend their final $3 million. I’ve heard rumblings about Eddie House. House is a wee tiny man, but he can shoot the three and play the two. Of course, the Celtics — with whom House won a championship in 2008 — are looking into bringing him back, so who knows?
Here’s a clip of that incident with Big Baby: