Random pre-game thoughts

Thinker

This Bulls-Celtics series has had more unexpected twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Except, unlike an M. Night Shyamalan movie, I could watch these games over and over again. (Sans Game 3, of course.) I have no idea what to expect from Game 5. (Although I have a sneaking and somewhat paranoid suspicion that Games 5 and 6 might have some 20/20 Rule action going on.) So rather than a game preview, here are some random thoughts I’ve had during the series.

Derrick Rose: If Derrick can tighten up his defense, develop a three-point shot and become a slightly more creative playmaker (ala Chris Paul), he’ll be The Perfect Point Guard. However, he’s a little too quiet for my tastes, though. Maybe we could sprinkle a little Matt Foley into his magic sauce?

Ben Gordon: His playoff performance just goes to show that it’s never too late for the Contract Year Phenomenon. It’s hard to imagine John Paxson breaking the team’s piggy bank to re-sign Ben, and it’s even harder to imagine the Air Gordon act being a success anyplace but in Chicago. It’s long past the point where we can expect Gordon to expand his game. He is what he is, and that’s an undersized shooting guard who’s often a liability on defense but can be flat-out unstoppable on offense. During the regular season, Ben set a career-high in True Shooting Percentage (57.3 percent). For the sake of perspective, that mark was better than Kobe Bryant’s (56.1) and just a tad below Dwyane Wade’s (57.4). So Ben’s targeting computer is on par with a couple legit MVP candidates. Not too shabby.

But BG is like your crazy college girlfriend. His 40-point outbursts and game-winning shots are like that amazing sex that made you think, “I want to spend the rest of my life with this woman.” But watching him get abused on defense by bigger guards — and let’s face it, they’re all bigger — or miss running, one-handed bank shots with 20 seconds left on the shot clock are like finding out she dumped you again on the night of the Residence Hall Formal so she could get drunk with some frat guy she just met. Not that that happened to me, or that I’m still bitter or anything…I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, part of me wants Ben to retire as a Bull, and another part of me wants to wish him well, see him off and move on. And I’m kind of glad that, unlike Paxson, I’m not the one who has to make that decision.

Joakim Noah: I love this guy’s energy. There were times during his rookie year and earlier this season where his drive often seemed spastic and misdirected. But now he’s making good things happen. Take the second overtime of Game 4, for example. When just about everybody else looked like they were running on fumes, Noah grabbed three boards, blocked two shots and had a nasty, momentum-sustaining jam (off a slick pass from Kirk Hinrich) with a buck twenty-five to go. Not bad for a young fella in his first playoffs. Note that the current postseason numbers have him tied for third (with LeBron James) in rebounding (at 11.3 per) and second (behind Tyrus Thomas) in blocks (3.0).

One area Noah needs to work on is working out. The kid needs to beef up. Boston’s Kendrick Perkins has been backing him down in the post with frightening ease. And that was a theme all season. Even power forwards like Al Jefferson were able to muscle Joakim down low. I understand Jo’s an undersized center, but that can be changed. Take a look at Brad Miller. That dude was a beanpole coming out of Purdue, which is probably part of the reason he went undrafted. But he beefed up, turned into a solid post defender and went from a near seven-footer nobody wanted to take a chance on — even with a nearly meaningless second-round pick — to a two-time All-Star who’s been in the league for 11 seasons. So I have two words of advice for Joakim: BEEFCAKE! BEEFCAAAAAAKE!!

One last note. Jo was the first player back on the court after halftime of Game 4. I watched him shoot jumpers for about five minutes and was amazed to see him knock down eight or nine in a row from about 15 feet. Yet, according to the NBA.com’s Hot Spots page, Joakim took exactly 13 jump shots all season. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m don’t want him to become a bomber. But the occasional 15-footer to keep defenses honest would be nice.

Tyrus Thomas: This man makes me crazy. Like Stacey King likes to say, he teases you with his athleticism. He can jam with the best of them, block shots, rebound, run the floor. But it’s one of those classic Body by Fisher, mind by Fisher Price situations. I don’t trust his decision-making abilities. There was a perfect example of this in Game 4. With the Bulls clinging to a two-point lead, Tyrus snared a critical defensive rebound, but instead of giving the ball to Derrick Rose, he held onto it and let Rajon Rondo foul him with 16 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Naturally, Ty was able to hit only one out of two at the line, which paved the way for Ray Allen’s game-tying three-pointer seven seconds later. It’s little mental lapses like that — in addition to the many occasions in which he eschews a drive to the hoop for 20-foot jump shots — that cause me to question his basketball IQ, and whether he’ll ever “get it.” For his sake as well as the team’s, I sure hope so. (But I’m not holding my breath.)

John Salmons: Shortly after the Bulls acquired John, my buddy Statbuster and I heard a broadcaster for a worldwide leader in sports entertainment that shall remain nameless refer to Salmons as “sam-uhns,” as in the fish. Not once, mind you, but several times. That led Statbuster to quip: “John Salmons, swimming upstream for the Bulls, coming to Chicago to reproduce and die.” This cracked me up so much I promised myself I’d include it here someday. And now I have.

Anyway, Salmons was absolutely fantastic, on both offense and defense, right up until he suffered that groin injury. He hasn’t been the same since. This makes me look forward to seeing what he can do next season when he’s completely healthy. But, to be honest, it also makes me wonder, “What if this injury is just an excuse and he’s not really as good as we thought?” Plus, there’s the question of what his place in the team’s offense will be when he’s playing alongside Luol Deng.

Kirk Hinrich: We know that John Paxson was trying to dump Kirk’s contract before the trade deadline, and it’s a fairly safe bet that he’ll resume that mission this offseason and into the next regular season. I know he’s a cap killer, and I get that his eternal five o’clock shadow makes him look like he just rolled out of bed after a long night of partying, but he’s a great insurance policy at the point and the two spot, plus he plays tough, persistent defense. Hey, he was key in holding down Paul Pierce in Game 4. The Bulls might now win that game without that. (Not to mention his 18 points off the bench.) I understand that cap space has become the ultimate goal of all NBA GMs, but Kirk makes this team deeper and better.

Vinny Del Negro: Like it or not, it’s practically a lock that the Notorious VDN will be back in the Captain’s Chair for the Bulls next season. There’s no question that Vinny has made a lot of mistakes this season. But it’s also true that he got better and accomplished quite a lot, given the team’s injury problems and personnel turnover. Plus, one thing his critics fail to point out is that, while he may be stubborn, he’s not stupid. For instance, remember earlier in the season when he inexplicably began benching Derrick Rose in the fourth quarter, forcing John Paxson to go public with a “Play Rose or Else” edict? Vinny gave a typically stubborn “I’m the coach and I’ll do what I feel is best” response…but you’ll notice that he immediately stopped sitting Derrick in clutch time.

Then, when the media was ragging on him for running out of timeouts at the end of Games 1 and 2, he brushed off their carping and said he had no regrets, which brought on a whole new tidal wave of “What an idiot!” criticism. But — surprise, surprise! — you’ll notice that he sure didn’t run out of timeouts down the stretch of Game 4. As Vinny likes to remind us, he’s Italian, which makes him come off as stubborn and prideful. But even though he doesn’t always admit his mistakes to the press, he does make adjustments. Maybe not all the ones that the armchair coaches around the world think he should make…but he makes ’em. And as out-of-sorts and unprepared as the team looked in Game 3, they were all business in Game 4.

I’m not saying that Vinny’s a great coach, or that he’s going to be a great coach, or even that he’s the man for this particular job. Only that it seems to me that, in the rush to bash his mistakes, his critics rarely spend a single second considering his successes.

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13 Responses to Random pre-game thoughts

  1. macalo07@gmail.com'
    Mike C. April 28, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    a couple notes:
    1) while obviously noah needs to beef up and/or make some changes to his post defense, notice that he never flops (and how little flopping there has been in general in this series)? i like that; noah just stands there and let’s perkins barrel into him, and while it’s worked for perkins this series, in time standing there and playing good d will benefit noah rather than shamelessly flopping looking for a foul.
    2) while salmons was undoubtedly great before his injury, i’m skeptical that he can repeat this next year; he’s 29 and has all of a sudden learned how to shoot this year. could just be my pessimism but i think it’s more of a fluke than anything.
    3) dont forget we get deng back next year. i love how you cant go anywhere without some prephrasing their comments about this series as “well the celtics dont have KG” while i have rarely heard anyone mention that we’re playing without deng.

  2. David G April 28, 2009 at 3:47 pm #

    i feel like noah might lose that energy he brings if he beefs up too much. he looked thicker at the beginning of this season, but he seemed a lot slower. maybe cus it was stoner pudge more than muscle, but it made me wonder… he isn’t well rounded enough (talent-wise) to be miller’s shape in my opinion.

  3. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale April 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm #

    Mike C. — 1) You’re absolutely right about Noah not flopping. In fact, as I look back on this season and even last, I can’t conjure a single memory of Jo taking a dive. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t done it, but it’s a Lochness Monster-style rarity. And I love it. I love ballers who will just stand up to their opponents and play MAN-type defense.

    2) Well, the late-20s, early-30s is when a player is suppossed to hit his prime, and that’s where John is. As for his shooting, it didn’t skew that much this year. He was actually a slightly better percentage shooter in 2007-08 (47.7 percent to 47.2 this season…and 47.3 after the trade). The one area where he improved drastically was three-point shooting, where he went from 32 percent to 41 percent. And since shooting is an aspect of the game that can be developed, I’d say it’s reasonable to assume that John should be a reasonably accurate marksman next season…assuming he gets his shots. John is a rhythm player who needs minutes and touches to light up.

    3) You’re right about Deng, but I would guess that the main reason nobody is bringing that up is because, unlike Garnett, who clearly made Boston one of the best teams in the league with his defense and rebounding, Deng was having his worst season since his rookie campaign…and the Bulls actually got BETTER after he exited with injury. Which isn’t to say that a healthy Deng won’t make us better next season, but his season-long slump combined with the injury cycle caused Luol’s stock to plummet.

    David G. — Noah had a couple ticky-tac injuries during the preseason, including one to his eye, that caused him to miss time and start the season behind the rest of the team in terms of conditioning. I think that was the main reason he looked so sluggish early on.

    That said, “beefing up” doesn’t necessarily mean turning into a musclehead. By reducing his body fat percentage and putting on, say, 15 pounds of lean muscle, he could stay close to his current weight while increasing his mass and strength.

  4. macalo07@gmail.com'
    Mike C. April 28, 2009 at 5:19 pm #

    yea the main figure i was concerned about with the salmons shooting is his 3 point %. i dont doubt that he can be an effective scorer inside the arc, but that big jump in 3% has me wary. hopefully this is just the pessimist in me coming out.

  5. bscholtens@hotmail.com'
    Brad April 28, 2009 at 5:23 pm #

    C’mon Matt, no pre-Game thoughts on Aaron Gray?

  6. gal.dagon@gmail.com'
    Czernobog April 28, 2009 at 5:48 pm #

    “he could stay close to his current weight while increasing his mass and strength.”

    That’s a permanent black mark on your nerd card, Matt. Watch it.

    Anyway, it’s not just about cap space. Kirk is way too god to be coming off the bench behind a bona-fide superstar. A lot of teams will be looking at him, and I imagine he’ll be looking to start elsewhere too.

    Personally, I’d give you Calderon and Humphries for him without batting an eyelid.

  7. davidpaulroosa@yahoo.com'
    AK Dave April 28, 2009 at 6:02 pm #

    I think Noah HAS bulked up already. Compared to his rookie year, he just looks bigger, wider, and more jacked than he did as a gangly rookie who flopped around like a baby deer (I can’t remember who used that analogy, but it’s so perfect!).

    I don’t know that getting bigger is going to help his game as much as, say, developing a 10-ft jumper like the shot that Luc Longley made his living hitting from the baseline. I think that he is already very lean; I can’t see him putting on much weight without sacrificing some leaping ability, and his light frame and leaping ability gives him a skillset that Perkins doesn’t have. Joakim can finish the alley-oop, block shots, and run the floor far better than Perkins, and if he could hit from 12-and-in, he would be a very very dangerous player.

    I have to agree though- I’m very impressed with Joakim and when the Bulls drafted him I was looking at the sky screaming “WWWHHHHYYYYYYYY????!!!!” Now I’m glad to see him on the floor for the bulls.

    I hope the Bulls can keep their roster intact. A healthy Deng and a year of playing together and a more experienced Rose next year… they should really be awesome and could honestly contend for a title.

  8. k.markham@live.com'
    inspectorboyd April 28, 2009 at 7:27 pm #

    I’m sorry about my mess of postage above, this apology perhaps only adding to it. I apologize to whoever has to clean it up, presumably Mr. Bawful himself. You’re the Horace Grant of workmanlike webmasters. (I was going to go with the more obvious Kevin McHale given your name, but when in Rome…)

  9. gal.dagon@gmail.com'
    Czernobog April 29, 2009 at 1:32 am #

    OK, Rose doesn’t need to “tighten up his defense.” He needs to develop some kind of defensive game. Right now he’s a pylon.

  10. paburnett@gmail.com'
    Pete April 29, 2009 at 2:16 am #

    1. Rose should never guard Rondo again
    2. Brad Miller should never play in the 4th quarter again
    3. Tyrus Thomas should play in the 4th quarter all the time
    4. Vinny Del Negro should let his dad coach the 4th quarter of every game

    I will now dive head first into a brick wall.

  11. k.markham@live.com'
    inspectorboyd April 29, 2009 at 2:38 am #

    Me too Pete. What frustrates me about Vinny is that he’s making adjustments, just too late. How many layups was it going to take before he put Hinrich on Rondo? Hinrich at least put him to the line once, and knocked it out of his hands a second possession when they finally made the switch. Also that was an excellent last second play, just wish Miller would have pulled up for the chip shot, or at least not turned into George Gervin with the fingerroll. I have to see it again though, maybe he didn’t have a chance.

    Wouldn’t Tyrus have been more appropriate to take Miller’s spot on that play? Could have finished at the rim better, but then again maybe Miller’s threat as a 3-point shooter froze them at the arc when he dived the lane.

    Sorry for the long post, but isn’t it frustrating how if we lose this round nobody will remember it? 1st rounds are such a distant memory come June, but maybe it’s been electric enough to warrant us an opening day game next season, a-la 40 point blowout of the Heat in 07. It is by no means over, but…Gentlemen…it has been a pleasure bitching with you…*Plays Bulls starting lineup music on violin as red and white ship begins to sink, after running into a Kendrick Perkins shaped iceberg*

  12. darkknightfrs@yahoo.com'
    Jason H April 30, 2009 at 11:59 pm #

    @ inspector
    Yeah TyT would have been better but Miller’s non-threat status worked as a benefit. Don’t think they would have trapped off of TyT had he been in the game. Of course the less athletic Miller wasn’t able to finish strong at the rim cause Perkins (i think) was on his way to help. So he had to get in the air ASAP. What he didn’t count on was the Tekken high punch from Rondo.

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