February 26, 2010
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.
February 24, 2010
Joakim Noah is struggling with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, but he really, really wants to play. He’s wearing new orthotics, undergoing treatment, and even ingesting some mystrious “fruit drink” that’s supposed to help his feet. But the pain hasn’t gone away. In two games he’s missed two breakaway dunks. It’s not a coincidence.
Said Noah: “I want to play the whole game. I think [the coaches] know that. But what can I do? I’m not going to go to the media and say I’m not happy with the situation. They told me this was going to happen. I want to help. But I have to get healthy.”
Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro also wants Noah to play, but Vinny is limiting Jo’s minutes to reduce the wear and tear on his aching foot. The medical staff doesn’t think shutting Noah down is the answer, but neither is asking him to log heavy minutes.
Said Del Negro : “We want him out there. It’s just that he’s not healthy. His foot is healing as fast as it can. It’s frustrating for him, I’m sure. But he’s just got to keep on getting his rest, getting his therapy and hopefully, it will continue to improve. … He’s had a lot of therapy and a lot of time, but those are difficult injuries. And everyone is a little bit different — where it is on your foot. We’ll just take it a day at a time. See how he feels. And increase his minutes as we see fit.”
Sadly, there’s no good answer with plantar fasciitis.
I’ll go ahead and admit I’ve been dealing with this injury for a couple months now. Some days it’s really bad, some days not so much. But as an avid pickup baller who plays two or three times a week, I can tell you it’s affected my game. Heck, it’s affected my walk from the train station to my job in the morning.
I was never much of a leaper, but now I have no lift. I also have no thrust on my first step. As a result, I’ve been struggling to get to the hoop, and I’ve had more shots stuffed in the last 30 days than the past couple years. It’s a bit of an ego-ectomy, really.
Like Noah, I want to play. But also like Noah, the problem persists.
It’s affecting my pickup teams, and it’s affecting the Bulls. And don’t forget that — with much less limelight — Taj Gibson is also playing through a case of plantar fasciitis, and Brad Miller is being asked to log too many minutes in relief. That double whammy could certainly explain why those two guys played so badly against the Wizards on Monday.
As K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has pointed out, this entire situation — Noah’s injury, Gibson’s injury, Miller’s minutes, and the defensive confusion of new Bull Hakim Warrick — is impacting Chicago’s defense. The Bulls lead the league in rebounding and blocked shots, and they’re tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder in lowest opponents’ field-goal percentage.
But barring a mystical fruit drink miracle, those numbers seem destined to fall. And Washington big man Andray Blatche’s 25-point, 11-rebound performance against the Bulls may become the rule rather than the exception. Hopefully, Warrick can get up to speed defensively. And fast.
Said Warrick: “It’s been a little tough for me. They’re a little more aggressive, especially on side pick-and-rolls and showing and blitzing. With the Bucks, we were sending (opponents) baseline. Coach Scott Skiles had a thing where he didn’t want to switch it up as much. They switch (screens) a little more here.”
These are the little things that haunted the Bulls in their loss to the Wizards, and it could make stealing a decent playoff seed pretty difficult. And unfortunately, Bulls fans can only do what Noah is doing: sit and wait and hope.
February 9, 2010
Deng expected to play tonight versus Pacers:
Somewhat lost amidst all the drama surrounding Tyrus Thomas was the fact that Luol Deng missed practice on Monday because of tendinitis in his right shoulder. However, he’s expected to play tonight against the Indiana Pacers. Deng missed 33 games last season thanks to a stress fracture in his right tibia, but he’s been an iron man this season, appearing in all 49 games despite playing with a fractured left thumb.
Remember what Deng said earlier this season: “Last year when I was sitting, 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.”
The Bulls do not heart Indiana:
The Pacers (18-33) aren’t a very good team. In fact, they haven’t been a very good team since The Malice at the Place. Not that Indy’s descent into mediocrity and worse has benefitted the Bulls at all. Since it opened in 1999, Chicago is 3-17 at Conseco Fieldhouse…and the Pacers’ winning percentage in these games (.850) is its best over any East opponent at home during that stretch.
Last February, Derrick Rose had one of his worst-ever games as a Bull, scoring only 3 points on 1-for-9 shooting.
Joakim Noah starring in remake of “Das Boot”:
Okay, that’s a bad joke from my freshman year German class. At any rate, the Bulls medical staff is trying to speed up Joakim’s recovery from plantar fasciitis by having him wear a protective boot and undergo both massage and electric stimulation. He also had blood was taken from his arm and injected into the foot.
I swear that last part isn’t a witch doctor cure.
According to John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy — used in plastic surgery since the 1990s — has gotten more popular among athletes, getting a push when Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward credited the treatment with getting him on the field in time for last year’s Super Bowl, said Martin Leland, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at the University of Chicago Medical Center who is not working with the Bulls.”
Vinny tepid on Tyrus Thomas’ return:
Regarding “Tirade” Thomas’ return to Bulls practice, Vinny said: “What happened, happened. It’s over with. Hopefully, Tyrus learns from it and gets better. But, it’s not the first thing that’s happened with Tyrus. He’s got to be smarter and he’s got to be committed to the team. Today was a good practice — not for him, but for everybody and now we’ve got to move on.”
On how Tyrus can earn more playing time (emphasis mine): “Tyrus has got to run the court. Play hard. Execute the game plan. Hit open 15-foot jumpers. Be committed to the team. Same thing everyone else does. Everyone has a job on this team. Certain guys do different things better than others. Everyone knows their role, knows what they need to do and now they have to go out and do it. And the guys that go out on a consistent basis and are coachable and want to buy into the team and give us the best chance to win — those are the guys that are going to be out there. It’s a very simple process.”
Well, I guess VDN actually wants Ty chucking up jumpers…
Barkley high on Del Negro, low on Thomas:
Even though Vinny has apparently given Thomas a green light to shoot, Charles Barkley is still campaigning for Del Negro. Said Sir Charles: “If he gets the Bulls back to the playoffs, Vinny Del Negro should be NBA Coach of the Year. Derrick Rose was hurt. Tyrus Thomas was hurt a lot and crazy a lot. If he gets that team back to the playoffs after losing Ben Gordon, I think that’s a hell of a year.”
Regarding what to do with Thomas after his blowup at Vinny: ”What I would say to him? Uh, listen, say it just didn’t work out here. ‘You’ve been traded to, uh … (laughs).”
Bulls earn C+ last week:
From Pippin Ain’t Easy: “The win against Miami was big, but the 3 straight losses just helps to emphasize the Bulls inconsistencies coming off a 5-game road winning streak.”
Memo the the Bulls — Crash the boards:
According to Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald, from December 11 through February 2, the Bulls beat their opponents on the boards in 21 of 26 games. Now — with Joakim Noah first limited and then sidelined by plantar fasciitis — they’ve lost the rebound battle in three straight games. Enter Chris Richard.
February 8, 2010
The Bulls weren’t exactly forthcoming about why they suspended Tyrus Thomas for Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat, but it didn’t take a huge, throbbing brain to figure out it probably had something to do with the 16 minutes of playing time Thomas logged in Friday night’s loss to the Hawks in Atlanta.
Sure enough, it appears a “profanity-laced postgame outburst” at Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro was the cause of Ty’s one-game vacation. It’s yet another chapter in the Saga of Tyrus. It’s a story that seems destined to end badly. At least so far as his career with the Bulls goes.
Thomas is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. He has infinite potential and unlimited immaturity. He’s a team-first player as long as he gets his minutes. He’s a big man who converts only 53 percent of his shots at the rim and would much rather take jump shot after jump shot than bang bodies down low. In fact, over half his shots are chucked up from the outside. Which is how he likes it.
As Tyrus put it last November: “I shoot a lot of shots a day, so when I’m in the game and I feel like I want to shoot the ball, I’m going to shoot it. I’m not going to take a shot I haven’t worked on, so whatever I shoot is a shot I know I can make, and if I miss it, oh well.”
That quote has been festering in my Bulls notebook all season. To me, it says almost everything you need to know about Tyrus Thomas the basketball player. But it’s also worth pointing out something about Tyrus Thomas the human being. Namely, this: Although Ty grew up in what was, by all accounts, a loving and supportive home, he may well be living in the shadow of a father who was in and out of prison for most of Thomas’ youth.
This manifested itself in a sometimes troubled adolescence. As Tyrus once put it: “I just couldn’t take other males telling me what to do. I’d be like, ‘You’re not my dad. You can’t tell me this. You can’t tell me that.’ It was kind of like a rebellious stage in my life.”
That troubled childhood has transformed into troubled adulthood. Even now, Thomas is still rebelling. Vinny Del Negro is not his dad. He can’t tell Tyrus what to do. The question is: Who can?
Maybe nobody. Or maybe a stronger coach could, someone capable of being a supportive father-like figure. Or maybe it’s impossible. Maybe the bad habits are set in the stone of Thomas’ stubborn personality. After all, he knows what shots he can hit, and if he misses, oh well.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune seems to believe that these problems could be solved by simply starting Thomas and bringing Taj Gibson off the bench. Is PT the correct method of therapy for a player who doesn’t get it and seems as though he never will? It’s a thorny situation. And anyway, what kind of precedent would the team set by giving in to an underperforming player who is determined to do things his own way. Remember, players earn minutes by accepting their role, making smart decisions and performing to the best of their abilities.
When has Tyrus ever done that on a consistent basis?
Even more damning to Thomas and his situation is the re-arrival of Chris Richard, who was waived before the season started but whom the Bulls signed to a 10-day contract after shutting Joakim Noah until after the All-Star break. Richard came dutifully off the bench against the Heat, snared 7 rebounds, blocked a couple shots, and banged every opposing body in his general vicinity. When he left the game, there was blood on his jersey. The crowd ate it up.
Said Richard: “I know what my role is no matter what team I’m on. I’ve just got to bring energy, defend, rebound, help, whatever I can do. I figured if I get lost on the offensive end, I can just go set a random screen. That’s a great thing about being a big.”
Imagine what Tyrus could accomplish with that attitude.
Potential can sustain coaches and fans for only so long. Eventually, a player must either perform like an All-Star or kill themselves for the team…or they will wear out their welcome. Thomas will return to practice today. Unless he pulls off a Hollywood movie-like transformation from heel to hero, he may discover the Windy City has pulled its welcome mat off the stoop.
Come to think of it, that may have already happened.
February 2, 2010
During an appearance on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000, Charles Barkley gave mad props to — wait for it — Chicago Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. You know, the same guy who was put on a Death Watch back in December.
Said Sir Charles: “Vinny has done a good job. I couldn’t understand why they were trying to [throw] him under the bus. The truth of the matter was Derrick Rose was not playing well [early in the season]. They say he was injured, so I give him a pass on that, but the reason the Bulls weren’t playing well was Derrick Rose wasn’t playing well. I don’t think it was fair they were thinking about firing Vinny. Let me preface this by saying Vinny is a friend of mine, so I’m a little biased, but Vinny did not deserve to get fired.”
Added Barkley: “Give Vinny some credit. I mean, they’ve done a good job. They could have cracked under pressure, because I tell you, I’ve been around teams when there are a bunch of trade rumors and thinking about the coach [getting fired], and the team packs it in and folds. So give Vinny some credit. He’s done a good job.”
You know what? As usual, Chuck has a point. Although I’m not ready to start campaigning for Del Negro as Coach of the Year, and I won’t scribbling “Vinny and the Bulls 4 Ever” on my Trapper Keeper any time soon, the reality is this: Vinny really has done a pretty good job all things considered.
Remember, Del Negro had his head on the block last season when Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf declared Chicago’s season “a disaster” and “embarrassing.” The Bulls responded with a late-season push into playoffs, where they nearly dethroned the defending champion Boston Celtics in one of the greatest first-round postseason series of all time. The Bulls endured another slow start this season, thanks to the loss of leading scorer Ben Gordon, injuries to key players (Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas), and, of course, a schedule that was front-loaded with difficult road games.
But, as I’ve noted in some of my game recaps, Vinny has made some key adjustments that turned things around, the biggest of which has been starting Kirk Hinrich at shooting guard. That gives the starting lineup two playmakers and shifts Kirk onto the opposing team’s best backcourt player…which frees up Derrick Rose to expend most of his energy on the offensive end. And considering Rose has been playing All-Star basketball lately, it’s hard to argue with the results.
But more impressive has been the Chicago’s transition to a defense-first team. Last season, the team was 18th in Defensive Rating. In December of 2008, they gave up 105.5 PPG, and they surrendered about 104 PPG between February and March of 2009. The Bulls were basically beating teams by outscoring them, which is a double-edged sword in team sports. Especially for teams like the Bulls, who lack an inside scoring threat and therefore live and die by the jump shot.
Vinny preached defense to the press all summer, and it looks like he meant it. The Bulls currently rank 1st in Blocks Per Game (6.5), 2nd in Opponents Field Goal Percentage (.436), 4th in Opponents At-The-Rim Field Goal Percentage (.564), 7th in Opponents Turnovers (13.5), 7th in Defensive Efficiency and 8th in Opponents Three-point Percentage (.341). Believe it or not, the Bulls are an elite defensive unit.
That’s a pretty major defensive transformation.
And remember: the Bulls recently became the first team in NBA history to ever beat five straight winning teams on a single road trip. Not even the great Chicago teams of the Michael Jordan era accomplished that feat. If Del Negro was the bumbling, incompetent boob many people have made him out to be, that simply could not have happened.
All that being said, I’m still not 100 percent sold on Vinny as Chicago’s Coach of the Future. But Barkley is correct. After all the bashing that’s been done, Del Negro deserves a little credit for the Bulls’ success.
Speaking of credit for the Bulls success, Charles also thinks Joakim Noah should be getting some. Like, in the form of an All-Star nod.
Said Chuckles: “I was a little disappointed that Noah did not make the All-Star team. Me and Doug Collins were pushing for Noah. Noah’s become one of my favorite players to watch, and I was really pulling for him to make the All-Star team. Because he’s been the most consistent player all season long for the Bulls. Derrick Rose is clearly their best player and plays well, but Noah’s been their most consistent player all year, and I wanted him to make the All-Star team.”
I couldn’t agree more.
January 8, 2010
It’s the question that seemingly cannot be answered: What, exactly, should the Bulls do with Tyrus Thomas?
Start him or bring him in off the bench? Keep him or trade him? Let him shoot jump shots or put electrodes in his jersey that will give him a terrible shock any time he attempts a field goal that cannot be described as a ”dunk” or “layup”?
Well, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro has answered at least one of those questions. Tyrus will not start. Not yet, anyway.
Said Del Negro: “Taj has earned every minute. With Taj and Kirk (Hinrich) in the lineup, we’ve had better starts at times. Guys are going to get their minutes if they’re productive, execute the game plan and know what we’re doing. I’m happy with the starters right now and there’s no reason to change anything until I feel differently.”
Make no mistake. There’s main reason Thomas will remain a sub for now is that he remains as inconsistent as ever.
He was great in his first three games back from injury. He scored 21 points in his first game back, grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds in his second game, and finished with 19 and 7 with a game-high 14 free throw attempts in his third game. Tyrus also made several game-changing defensive plays in those three contests…all Bulls wins, by the way.
In the last three games, however, Tyrus has scored total of 19 points on 8-for-24 shooting, and he has almost as many fouls and turnovers (14) as rebounds (16).
Said Vinny: “The more consistent he is on the court, the more minutes he’ll get just like everybody else. We need him to play well and he knows that. I don’t think he has been in as good of a rhythm as he was the first few. He gave us such a big boost when he came back. He’ll be fine. I thought he had an excellent practice (Thursday). We need his activity and shot-blocking and running the court. He gives us more of an athletic presence. We’ll get him back on track.”
That’s sort of been the story of Thomas’ entire career in Chicago. He can do so much, has so much potential, but it cannot be harnessed on a nightly basis. It’s the Tale of Two Tyruses. There’s Good Tyrus, who can swing games in the Bulls’ favor by swatting shots, ripping down rebounds and swooping to the rim for easy baskets. Then there’s Bad Tyrus, who settles for long-range jump shots, gets pushed around in the paint, coughs up the ball and bungles his defensive rotations.
Will the real Tyrus Thomas please stand up?
Of course, we don’t even know how much longer Thomas will be on the team. With the NBA trade deadline approaching, the Bulls might very well consider moving him if the right deal presents itself. But until then, Vinny and the rest of the team will continue hoping and praying for a little consistency from their enigmatic big man. That may very well be the factor that determines whether the 2009-10 Chicago Bulls are pretty good…or mediocre.
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.
December 30, 2009
With rumors swirling about Vinny Del Negro’s dubious future, Bulls GM Gar Forman finally spoke up: “Vinny is our coach. Our goal is to get better each and every day. As a management team, we’re exploring all options in order to get better. We expect our coaches each and every day to get this team better. And I met with the team [Monday] for a while, and we expect them to work each and every day to get better. And that’s where we’re at at this point.”
So there you have it. Vinny is still the coach until he isn’t the coach, and the team goal is simply to “get better each and every day.” Not quite “Start moving toward championship number seven” is it? Nor were Forman’s words what you’d call a ringing endorsement of Del Negro’s coaching performance. Especially the “we’re exploring all options in order to get better” part. After all, firing Vinny certainly is one option for improvement.
Were the Bulls better during last night’s home victory over the Danny Granger-less Pacers? Insomuch as wins are better than losses, yes they were. But the game was a little too similar to that nightmare loss to the Kings for my tastes. Chicago started out on fire, outscoring the Pacers 34-15 in the first quarter. It looked like the Bulls were going to run their hapless opponent out of the building. After all, Indiana was without their best player, had lost six straight, and was coming off a 34-point blowout loss to the Miami Heat.
Talk about a team ready to roll over and die.
But just like in the Sacramento debacle, Indy came back, outscoring the Bulls 38-23 in the second quarter. Let me be frank: there is no reasonable excuse for letting this particular Pacers squad — who, again, are missing their leading scorer and best player — drop 38 points in a 12-minutes span.
Indiana drilled five three-pointers in that second quarter. What I don’t understand is how the Pacers kept getting open. They attempt 20.2 threes per game. That’s the seventh-most in the league. Everybody knows they want to shoot threes. So hands in the faces of the shooters, right? Only the Bulls struggle to deny penetration and have trouble protecting the paint. That tends to get players open for long-range jumpers.
The Pacers kept fighting tooth and nail, and they eventually took a 72-71 lead with 6:24 left in the third quarter. Deja vu all over again, right? However, less than a minute later, Troy Murphy left the game with an ankle sprain and didn’t return. Murphy is Indy’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. Obviously that was a big break for the Bulls.
They made the most of it. Chicago immediately ripped off a 10-0 run that was capped off by back-to-back three-pointers from John Salmons (17 points, 5 assists) and Luol Deng (15 points, 8 rebounds). The Pacers never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Despite Indiana’s almost-comeback, the game may well represent Chicago’s best offensive performance of the season. They scored a season-high 104 points on 53 percent shooting while also hitting 60 percent of their three-pointers (6-for-10) and 92 percent of their foul shots (22-for-24). To top it off, they outrebounded the Pacers 47-31.
If you’re wondering why the Bulls didn’t win by 30, you can blame sloppy defense in the second quarter and a case of group butterfingers (they surrendered 17 points off 21 turnovers). Chicago’s big men also had a rough night. Both Joakim Noah (4 points, 5 rebounds and 5 fouls in 24 minutes) and Taj Gibson (6 points, 5 rebounds and 5 fouls in 18 minutes) were limited by foul trouble, and Tyrus Thomas (2-for-10, 5 turnovers and a missed dunk) looked incredibly rusty (although he did grab a game-high 15 rebounds and block a game-best 3 shots).
One positive sign was the aggressive offensive play of Derrick Rose. D-Rose scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter. I like that Rose looks ready to be the team’s closer. I do. Really.
But…I also worry about little things. Little things like the fact that 18 of his 20 field goal attempts were jump shots. Like the fact that he had only 6 assists while also committing a game-high 6 turnovers. The fact that Rose often looks like a shooting guard who’s being forced to play point guard worries me a lot. Maybe it’s the coaching, maybe it’s the system, or maybe that’s just the player Derrick is.
But at least we know that the team is working hard to get better each and every day. So I’m sure everything that went wrong last night should be improved by the time the Bulls play the Pistons in Detroit on Thursday.
Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
December 29, 2009
Vinny Del Negro isn’t worried about all those rumors of his impending doom. In fact, he finds them kind of amusing:
“It’s just funny to me. There’s really nothing to say. You have all these people that have rumors, and everyone has their sources. It’s just not accurate. I don’t have time to deal with rumors. I talk to Gar and Pax every day. They’re at practice every day. It’s just that you got to deal with those things. It’s unfortunate. Everyone has their source. No one’s sources so far have been very accurate. My focus is getting the team ready for [Tuesday's game] against Indiana.”
Maybe Vinny and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith should form a support group.
At any rate, what else could Vinny say? “Yep, I’m done. Who wants to go get shots at the Billy Goat?” The bottom line, as always, is that the current coach is still the coach until he isn’t the coach. Maybe Vinny is suffering from a case of denial, but I’d much rather have him remain upbeat than see him tying a hangman’s noose on the Bulls bench.