Pictured: VND prepares his team for yet another contested 20-footer.
Because I was the one who originally suggested paying attention to the plays the Bulls run out of timeouts, I’ll elaborate a bit on why I believe some of VDN’s basic limitations are exposed by these plays.
Out of timeouts, offensive plays provide crystallized glimpses into the quality and creativity of coaching strategies. It’s true that teams execute practiced plays throughout the course of games, but plays out of timeouts are essentially the equivalent of NFL plays out of timeouts. Yes, the players must execute, but the quality and creativity of the plays themselves are the overarching factors in their success or failure.
Good NBA coaches are often creative enough to come up with plays that result in the right players getting good shots out of timeouts. Unfortunately for Bulls fans, VDN is not a good coach, and this rarely happens.
Remember last year when the predictable VDN move was to get the ball to Ben Gordon late in close games? Well, on a basic level, one can hardly fault him for wanting to get the ball into Gordon’s hands. But far too often BG had to come hard to the ball, and then create his own shot over or around one or more defenders.
While that might seem to be a reasonable strategy with Kobe, Carmelo or LeBron, it obviously isn’t the best way to create good, efficient scoring opportunities, especially for teams without transcendent superstars. (As an aside, even in Cleveland’s case, that kind of limited strategy has been exposed as being insufficient when employed against elite opponents. And if they are to win a championship, it will be due in part to their coaches having figured that out, and made the adjustment.)
In order to provide some context to the discussion, consider the following example.
The OKC Thunder, as you might expect, badly wants to get the ball to Kevin Durant, and especially in the latter stages of close games. Of course every opposing team knows this, and so it isn’t easy to get the ball to KD out of a timeout when he is in a good position to shoot a high-percentage shot. So, with that in mind, take a look at this recent Thunder play, broken down nicely at the NBA Playbook site.
Now, obviously this is one isolated example, and I am not suggesting that the Thunder coach is brilliant, nor that this is typical of their plays out of timeouts (I wouldn’t know). I also recognize that players like Durant are exceptional. However, I would suggest that if one were to review all of the plays out of timeouts devised by VDN over the past two seasons, one would be hard-pressed to find a single play of such creative and effective design.
Bear in mind that even with Tyrus Thomas gone, the Bulls still have athletic big men who could be dangerous scorers around the basket if their numbers were called through well-designed pick-and-rolls, etc. And given that most teams key on Rose, Hinrich or Deng out of timeouts, VDN would be well-advised to develop some plays that utilize them as decoys. If he were to do that effectively, then opposing teams would be forced to reduce some of their pressure on the obvious players, which in turn would open up the court, and create fresh opportunities.
Finally, as Matt noted recently, someone suggested that his running timeout tally should be parsed out further. That’s a reasonable suggestion, though I predict that it will lead to the same, unfortunate conclusion: VDN is well below average at deploying creative plays out of timeouts which result in good shots taken by the right players.
About the author:
Tony C. grew up in Evanston, and cut his teeth on the exciting, early ’70′s Walker-Love-Sloan-Van Lier Bulls. As a pick-up player, he admits to having stuck too long with low-top shoes (Puma Baskets, for the detail oriented), but did belatedly make the switch when the sprained ankles became tedious. Tony’s professional life revolves mainly around buying, selling and managing Thoroughbred racehorses. While he now resides outside of Chicago, he remains an interested, enthusiastic, and at times critical Bulls fan.
The second-biggest storyline coming out of Game 2 — after Jesus Shuttlesworth versus Air Gordon — was the Bulls’ lack of timeouts in the closing seconds, which forced a final (and fatal) 50-foot heave from Tyrus Thomas as time expired. And in true “I’m Italian!” fashion, the one person not second-guessing Vinny Del Negro is…Vinny Del Negro.
According to the Notorious VDN: “You always want to try and keep a time out, but you always want to try to keep yourself in the game. There’s no need to save your time outs if you’re down 15 points, or 10, or 12. At certain times, when they’re making runs like that, and we get the ball with 20 seconds to go in the game and we’re down two, I want to make sure we get a good shot and have an opportunity to tie. Because if we don’t execute well and set something up — especially with a young team — then they’re shooting free throws and the game’s probably over. So I would have liked to have had one at the end, but sometimes you can keep them and sometimes you have to use them to stay in the game.
“People are going to second guess and first guess. So what? I don’t care. They can guess. I’m the coach. I’m going to make the decisions. That’s the way it is. In two seconds or whatever we’ve got to take the ball out of bounds. The ball is going to go to Derrick, because he’s our fastest guy to get it up the court. We set up a play in the time out. We didn’t execute it because the Celtics did a good job with their execution. And that’s the end of the game. I mean, two seconds, I don’t second guess that.”
And now, the money shot. On whether he regrets his use (or, if you’re a critic, misuse) of timeouts: “No not at all. Not a second.”
First off, let’s look at the timeouts Vinny called down the stretch. There was a full timeout with 1:54 following a couple miscues by the Bulls and a quick mini-spurt by the Celtics that cut a five-point Chicago lead to 109-108. The result: A midrange shot from Ben Gordon to make it 111-108. There was a 20-second timeout with a minute left and Boston up 112-111. The result: A 20-footer from BG to put Chicago up 113-112. The final pause, another 20-second timeout with 20 ticks on the clock, predeced another Gordon jumper (from 16 feet out) that tied the game at 115-115 with 12 seconds to go.
To recap: All three late-game TOs resulted in made shots that either increased the lead, took the lead or tied the game. (Chicago’s only other second-half timeout was used with 2:50 left in the third quarter.) So in a sense, they were a success in that they all led to scoring conversions, which gave the team a very real chance to win the game. And mind you, there’s some 20-20 hindsight going on here. The only reason people are screaming about this is because Ray Allen hit an incredible shot over Joakim Noah. If Allen had missed that shot — which wouldn’t have been much of a stretch — then nobody’s talking about this now.
And honestly, what was Vinny supposed to say? Would it have made his critics — or, more importantly, his team — feel any better if he was killing himself with regret? I doubt it. And while I certainly hope that Vinny is able to hold onto a timeout (or two) in Game 3, I’d be giving him a little more hairy eyeball if the ones he called in Game 2 had ended in empty possessions.
Onto rebounding, the third-biggest storyline of Game 2. According to one AP article, the Bulls are “seething” over how badly they were beaten on the boards. (Note that there aren’t any particularly juicy quotes that communicate that seething feeling, but whatever.) To tell you the truth, I’ll be more interested to see what kind of adjustments Vinny makes in the team’s rebounding than how many timeouts he holds onto. Can he rely on Joakim, Tyrus and Brad to deny Boston the second-chance opportunities they lived off of in Game 2? Will he press the “little guys” (Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons) to crash the boards a little harder? And if he does, will that slow down the running game?
I tend to think he’ll continue to put the onus on his big men to get the job done. The Bulls have become a running team. Their fast break has really hurt the Celtics in the first two games; Chicago had a 24-13 advantage in fast break points in Game 1 and a 21-10 edge in Game 2. I doubt he’ll want to surrender that weapon.
Update! Actually, Vinny’s putting the onus on everybody. Here’s the scoop: “Everybody has to do a better job rebounding, not just the bigs. Guards have to get in there and get long rebounds. Rondo has hurt us bad with his rebounding and overall game.”
One last thing. According to a little urban legendry, Chicago’s team logo might hide a rather benign secret: “If you turn the Bull’s head upside down it reveals…a robot sitting on a park bench, reading the Bible. The Bull’s nostrils form the robot’s eyes, its furrowed brows are the open pages of the book, and the horns are the legs of a park bench. (Why the Bible? Well, it just looks like a big book.)” And in case you need a visual:
Not exactly the Da Vinci Code…but mildly interesting nonetheless.