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.”