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.