June 28, 2011
The Bulls need an upgrade at the shooting guard position. Management knows it. Fans know it. Everybody knows it. And when Gar Forman chose not to use a draft pick to address that need, it was (one assumes) a sign that he plans to fill that spot via trade or free agency.
Personally, I was really hoping the Bulls could swing a deal for O.J. Mayo or Rudy Fernandez. Unfortunately, the Dallas Mavericks already snagged Rudy. Mayo’s availability is currently unknown. But I’m going to save trade speculation for another day.
For a full list of available free agents, click this link. Here are my thoughts on some possible FA targets.
Jamal Crawford: He can score. There’s no question about that. And his offensive game has variety: He can hit from midrange, knock down threes (although not at a high percentage), come off screens, and create open (and contested) looks off the dribble.
Unfortunately, Crawford’s mug shot can be found next to the word “streaky” in the dictionary, and he can submarine his team when his shot isn’t falling. That’s because scoring is pretty much all he does. And he’s never shown much determination or focus on defense. He’s sort of the Bizzaro version of Keith Bogans.
Still, the Bulls would give Crawford a chance at the right price, and with good reason. His scoring could open up the floor and I’m willing to bet Tom Thibodeau could make him into a servicable defender. I’m just not sure whether there’s enough cap space to make a competitive offer.
Jason Richardson: For starters, I don’t think the Bulls will be able afford him. He’s 30 years old and probably seeking his last significant contract. And even if the Bulls could afford him, would they want to give him the long-term deal he’s likely to be seeking?
According to Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus: “Richardson turned 30 in January, and that’s a dangerous time for swingmen of his ilk. Seventy-two percent of players with a similarity score of 95 or higher to Richardson, based on our SCHOENE Projection System, declined the following season. On average, their overall performance dropped off by nearly 10 percent. Michael Finley, one of Richardson’s closest matches, is a good example of what might lie ahead for Richardson. Finley’s last above-average season came at age 31, and a year after that, the Mavericks used the amnesty provision in the 2005 collective bargaining agreement to waive him.”
That pretty much says it all. Richardson is worth a look, but I’m guessing his asking price will be too high for the projected returns.
J.R. Smith: Not gonna happen. Like Crawford, his skill set begins and ends with “scoring.” He’s as streaky as they come, capable of shooting his team into and out of games. And, as Charles Barkley might say, he’s instant offense on both ends of the court. But the biggest concern is his attitude. Smith has a history of fiery behavior and questionable decision-making, which doesn’t fit in with the basketball culture Gar Forman and Thibs are trying to create.
Shannon Brown: Here’s an intriguing possibility. Brown is a super athletic player who can finish at the rim (especially in transition) and shoot from midrange and long range. He doesn’t have great handles and can’t create his own shot. He also doesn’t get to the line as often as his athleticism should allow. Those are problems. As is his relatively low accuracy from three-point range (34.9 percent last season). But Brown has championship pedigree, loads of potential, and (most likely) a low price tag. Plus Chicago is his home town. He fits in with the whole “high character” and “build for the future” components of the team’s culture.
Anthony Parker: There was a lot of talk about the Bulls obtaining Parker at the trade deadline last February. Now he’s an unrestricted free agent who will probably draw mild interest around the league. He’s a dependable veteran who defends, has three-point range (40.9 percent for his career), and can be counted on to work hard and make good decisions.
Still, Parker is 36 years old and the (relatively few) skills he has seem to be in decline. He might make a nice addition off the bench, but he isn’t a solution to the team’s shooting guard quandary.
Tracy McGrady: Ha! Just kidding.
Michael Redd: Hm. Redd could be a bargain pickup at the vet’s minimum. However, he’s a former “franchise” player who was used to getting most of his team’s shots, and there’s no way to know how much he has left after multiple knee injuries. Redd can shoot, but can he fit in as a role player? That is, can he score efficiently while getting only 5-10 shots a game? I kind of doubt it. And he was a terrible defender before all his injuries. Now imagine him facing off against Dwayne Wade…
Richard Hamilton: He’s not a free agent, but he could be if the Pistons waive him or trade his contract to another team (such as the Cavaliers) who then waive him. If that happens, Rip would definitely be worth signing to a bargain (and probably short-term) deal. He’s more of a midrange shooter who has never hit a high percentage from three-point range (34.7 percent for his career), so spacing could be an issue. He’s obviously great moving without the basketball, plus he can create shots and draw fouls.
Still, Hamilton is 33 and (as ESPN’s John Hollinger points out) his PER and TS% have been in steady decline. What’s more, last season’s reported feud with former Pistons coach John Kuester makes you wonder where his head is at these days.
Vince Carter: He’s not a free agent yet, so this is speculation made under the assumption that the Suns will waive him to get his radioactive contract off their books.
Quick question: Is he an upgrade over Keith Bogans? Quick answer: No. Lazy on defense and increasingly apathetic on offense, Carter’s star has collapsed on itself, creating a black hole that could suck the life out of a team. The fact that he was traded to Phoenix last season and didn’t experience a strong surge in scoring is a real red flag. I mean…13.5 PPG on 42.2 percent shooting while playing with Steve Nash? Uh oh. And He averaged only 1.9 FTA after the trade.
I suppose there are a few reasons to take a chance on Carter assuming he’s willing to accept a minimum deal and a vastly reduced role. But he’s a 34-year-old former superstar with a history of dogging it or disappearing entirely when the going gets tough. The Bulls seem to be building for the future on a foundation of high-character players.
February 19, 2009
Trades, trades, trades. It feels like that’s all I’ve been talking about lately. Even last night at my pickup league. When a teammate asked me to switch onto his man in a pick and roll, I was like: “Yeah sure, but trading for Brad Miller provides the Bulls with additional size and a scoring threat up front, and it gives them their best chance to feature a center with cornrows since Ben Wallace….” Okay, the man I was supposed to be guarding strolled in Goran Dragic-like for an uncontested dunk, but whatever. It’s pickup basketball. “Defense” is just “waiting to get back on offense” anyway.
Speaking of “anyways,” the Bulls played in an actual NBA game last night, proving that the organization hasn’t been transformed into a full-time trade machine. Predictably, several of the game recaps I glanced at described the Bulls as “undermanned” or “depleted.” Seriously? Because Vinny Del Negro was really going to put Cedric Simmons or Michael Ruffin into the game? Right. Look, those guys were nothing but bodies Vinny was using to hold down sheets of paper and keep doors open. And Drew Gooden hadn’t played in almost a month. Effectively, we were down one guy, and a part-time player at that. (Not that I’m dissing Noc; he was our spark plug off the bench.)
If you want to talk undermanned, let’s discuss last night’s opponent. The Bucks were without three starters (Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut and Luke Ridnour) and playing in the second game of back-to-backs. And a couple of their key guys had logged over 40 minutes of PT against the Pistons the night before. Even their mascot is hurt. I call that ”Advantage: Bulls.” And it was.
Captain Kirk put on a show by scoring a season-high 31 points off the bench (8-for-14 from the field, 5-for-6 from downtown, 10-for-10 from the line). That total included an 18-point explosion — not to mention some timely defense – in the fourth quarter. Milwaukee had just pulled to within 89-86 after Vinny was hit with a technical foul, then Hinrich swiped the ball from the Bucks on back-to-back possessions…and he punctuated those steals with a breakaway layup and a triple. On the Bulls’ next possession, Kirk hit a jumper to put us up by 10. That was the critical stretch.
You have to figure Hinrich’s performance was equal parts anger (at the Bulls for looking to dump his salary) and audition (for the team or teams willing to take on his contract). Said Kirk: “Tomorrow’s the last day [before the trade deadline]. I’m just trying not to think about it, trying to focus on being here and trying to do whatever I can to help this team to play better and get in the playoff picture.” But then he added: “Sometimes you play best when you’re a little upset, when you’re angry.” So much for trying not to think about it, huh?
If this was Kirk’s swan song as a Bull, it was a pretty good one. For my part, I don’t want him to go. The Bulls have been a better team with him than without him this season. He’s the perfect safety net to have under Derrick Rose, who still makes his share of rookie mistakes (particularly on the defensive end). I know conventional wisdom says Hinrich’s contract is greater than his worth as a basketball player, but I’m not sure I agree with that. Remember, it wasn’t even two full seasons ago that he was being touted as the next John Stockton. And while that was a gross overestimation, I’d say he still has value, more to the Bulls, maybe, than to anybody else. I hope we hold onto him.
Of course, as if often the case, when one player steps up, one or more players take a step back. Such was the case with Joakim Noah (who fouled out with 9 rebounds and 4 points on 1-for-3 shooting) and Tyrus Thomas (who played only 26 minutes, shot 3-for-7 and finished with only 4 boards). Still, Rose had 18 points and 9 assists (and, gulp, 7 turnovers). Luol Deng chipped in 21 points (and 8 rebounds) and Ben Gordan added another 18 (although he shot 6-for-15). As for the Bucks — who shot 39 percent as a team — only Richard Jefferson (32 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) had it going.
The net result: The Bulls moved into the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference…just a game and a half behind the Bucks. And they can win the tiebreaker against Milwaukee by beating them on March 6 in Chicago.
Secret key to success: The Bulls committed 19 turnovers for 20 points going the other way. However, the Bucks turned the ball over 22 times for 33 points. Being +13 in points off turnovers is always huge in a close game.
Coaching wisdom: According to Vinny: “Kirk was the difference.” Gong, gong, gong!! That’s at least a seven on the Dull-Negrometer.
Nocioni will be missed: According to Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “Before the game, Deng cut an interview short and seemed to be feeling the emotions of losing Nocioni, his best friend on the Bulls and next-door neighbor. ‘It’s tough,’ Deng said. ‘You become friends with those guys. It’s sad that we’re not working together anymore, but at the same time you’ve got to understand we’ve got to get the job done. You’ve just got to keep in touch.’”
Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
February 18, 2009
The basics: Chicago (23-30) at Milwaukee (27-29).
The stakes: Believe it or not, despite a season full of underachievement and wacky drama, the Bulls are 10th in the Eastern Conference…a mere two and a half games behind the eighth-place Bucks (27-29). So winning this game would go a long way toward The Stampede to the Playoffs.
The season series: It’s currently tied at 1-1. The Bulls took a 108-95 home decision in their first game of the season as Derrick Rose had 11 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals in his rookie debut. However, they lost 97-90 on December 3 in Milwaukee when Dan Gadzuric — who really should have “seldom-used center” tattooed on his butt cheeks — semi-erupted for 11 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. The four-game series will conclude on March 6 in Chicago.
The analysis: I won’t lie: The Bucks makes me nervous. Not that Milwaukee is The Destroyer of Worlds or anything: They’re currently two games below .500 (at 27-29) and missing their two best players: Michael Redd (torn ACL/MCL) and Andrew Bogut (stress fracture in his lower back). Luke Ridnour (broken thumb) is also out of action for what it’s worth. (Don’t laugh…Luke is the team leader in assists and free throw percentage.) Yet they’ve come out on top in five of their last seven games, a stretch that’s included wins over the Hawks, Rockets and Pistons. (Okay, on second thought maybe that win over the Pistons doesn’t count for much.)
So…how are are the Bucks doing it? Well, Charlie Villanueva, Ramon Sessions and Richard Jefferson have been playing like they’re all characters in NBA Jam who caught fire at the same time. (Random historical sidenote: Can you believe that Milwaukee’s NBA Jam duo back in the day was Brad Lohaus and Blue Edwards? Discuss.) Villanueva has scored 20 or more points 13 times since January 2nd. Sessions scored a career-high 44 points on February 7th against the Pistons, dished out 17 assists against the Pacers last week and almost had a triple-double last night (17 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists). And Richard Jefferson has been doing what he does best, namely scoring (20, 27, 16, 25, 32 and 29 points in his last six games).
In short: Those three dudes are gettin’ ‘er done.
The Bucks are also reasonably decent at keeping opposing teams from putting the ball in the basket – they’re currently ranked 12th in defensive efficiency — which makes sense for a Scott Skiles team. Speaking of which, this shapes up as a revenge game for Skiles. Not that he would ever admit it, of course. But the guy was fired on Christmas freaking eve. Now he’s stuck in the land of beer, cheeseheads and Laverne & Shirley. Not even a soulless robot like Hugh Jackman would forgive that. (Although all Jackman could do is clench his clammy mechanical fist in impotent cyborg rage.)
The Bulls aren’t very good on the road — they’re only 9-19 away from the United Center this season — but on the upside, the Bucks had to play a tough game in Detroit last night. Jefferson and Sessions both logged over 40 minutes of PT, which should wear them down a bit, particularly considering Milwaukee’s injury-shortened rotation. Meanwhile, the Bulls haven’t played since that painful home loss to the Heat last Thursday night (although Derrick Rose “competed” in the Rookie Challenge before putting in a tough 60-70 seconds worth of hard work in the Skills Challenge).
Chicago needs to take advantage of their fresh legs and push the ball at every opportunity. The Bulls have superior depth right now, and they’ve got to use it. Rose should run at Sessions all night long, because wearing Ramon out could handicap the Milwaukee’s offense. I’d also like to see Joakim and Tyrus pound the offensive glass. And, Vinny, for God’s sake, if the game comes down to a final possession, KEEP DERRICK ROSE IN THE GAME.
Random, slightly disturbing fact: The Bucks are averaging 119.3 points on 51.9 percent shooting in their last four home games.