Thursday, November 8, 2007

11/8/07 Bulls vs. Pistons

I'll be leaving thoughts tonight here throughout the game. The Bulls are still looking for their first win and tonight they play the undefeated Detroit Pistons. Tonight's game is apart of a TNT doubleheader.

-In the pregame, Charles Barkley said that it is a "copout" to use distractions of the Kobe Bryant trade rumors as the reason for the Bulls' rough start. I couldn't agree more with Barkley on this.

-The Luol Deng-Tayshaun Prince matchup will be especially interesting. Both are long and versatile players who play tough defense. It will be important for Deng to start out the game strong and continue the momentum from his strong game Tuesday night against the Clippers.

-How come we haven't heard about Chris Webber's plans for this season? He is still a free agent and could be a great fit with the Pistons again this season. Webber brings the passing ability from the post that they do not have from any of their current big men. Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell, Antonio McDyess, Nazr Mohammed, and Rasheed Wallace is a nice collection of post players, but they lack that extra veteran that Webber would bring. Mohammed is signed to a long-term contract, but he brings very little to the team. The Pistons thought that Mohammed would bring rebounding and shot blocking, but they have not gotten any consistency in either area. Beyond Detroit, you would think Phoenix, Cleveland, Boston, New Jersey, Orlando, and the Lakers were have interest in bringing Webber in.

-Although he's had some character issues in the past and picks up way too many technical fouls, Rasheed Wallace has an incredibly high basketball IQ. He knows exactly how to play basketball and is great at identifying mismatches for himself and others. Wallace simply has a great feel for the game.

-Tyrus Thomas often gets too excited after he makes a great play and does too much. This happens most frequently when he'll steal the ball on one end and then try to bring the ball down himself and turn the ball right back over. Thomas needs to get the ball to a guard and continue down court and try to get rewarded with a dunk or easy basket.

-On a positive note for Thomas, he has shown some moves on offense tonight that he hasn't shown before. On one play early, Thomas recognized a slower defender on him, dribbled hard to the left and finished at the basket. On another play, Thomas caught the ball in the post, crab-dribbled twice and turned and scored on a baby hook. This is the type of offensive development the Bulls need to see from Thomas to become a legitimate starting power in the NBA.

-It is alarming to see the differences between an NBA game called on Comcast versus on TNT. Listening to Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins you actually learn things and they identify things you hadn't seen before. With Johnny "Red" Kerr, Tom Dore, and Stacey King, there is very little analysis and a lot of easy criticism. Everything they talk about is "energy" and "hustle" and basketball, especially in the NBA, is much more complex than that. The TNT broadcast is simply a higher level of thinking and analyzing than the regular Bulls Comcast broadcast.

-The Bulls defensively continue to struggle in doubling in the post and fronting post players. They are not rotating well and get burned on it continually. Tonight, Rasheed Wallace is single handidly carrying the Pistons. In previous games this year, Vince Carter and Michael Redd took advantage of small defenders and set themsevles up in the post and the Bulls struggled to handle this situations effectively.

-Doug Collins said he believes the Bulls' struggles are simply due to "missing shots" and "not finishing games". I couldn't agree with him more. He feels like they could have won three of the four games they've played this season and seems to be optimistic on his thoughts around the Bulls. Outside of the 76ers game where they were outscored in the second half by ten points, they have been right there at the end of each game. In New Jersey, the Bulls couldn't convert on a game winning possession. In Milwaukee, the Bulls were down five points with the ball with just under two minutes left. Against the Clippers, the Bulls were up by four with four minutes left, but then did not make another field goal the rest of the game. Although they are winless, they have not played as bad as some have made them out to have played.

-The Bulls are up six points right now with eight minutes left in the game. For Chicago to hold on and get their first win, they need to defend Rasheed Wallace effectively and rotate well off him. On offense, they need their big three of Hinrich, Gordon, and Deng need to stay aggressive.

-Andres Nocioni's three point attempts during his four years with the Bulls, coming into tonight: 2004-05 - 1.20
2005-06 - 2.90
2006-07 - 3.94
2007-09 - 5.00.
I question why he has become less aggressive going to the basket and has been settling for three point shots. I can understand taking a three off one of the guards' penetration, but a lot of his three point shots have been forced.

-Tonight was Luol Deng's best night scoring from the post position or low block. He has great balance and a large wingspan and really takes advantage of that. One problem thus far has been when the opposition sends a double team he does not recognize it well. This should be corrected as he and the rest of the team becomes more experienced with Deng in that spot. Another reason the Bulls have not had as much success with Deng in the post position is because of difficulty throwing the entry pass. This seems like a fundamental issue to me, but the Bulls have had a handful of turnovers trying to get Deng the ball on the block.

-With four minutes left in the game and the Bulls up five, it's interesting to see that Scott Skiles is going with Joe Smith over Ben Wallace. Smith has been the Bulls' most consistent big man this season and he has a hot hand tonight. Hopefully, he will continue to knock down the midrange shot in the next several minutes and the Bulls will come away with the victory.

-The Bulls came away tonight with the victory because they got big stops when they needed it. It really felt like a playoff atmosphere tonight at the United Center, and I am sure everyone within the organization is relieved to get their first win. However, they can't enjoy it for long because they have to come back and play Toronto on Saturday night before going on the road for six consecutive games.

Taking a Look Back to Draft Night

After seeing Zach Randolph score 22 points and pull down 17 rebounds in a Knicks win over the Nuggets on Tuesday night, it certainly got me thinking. Perhaps after this awful start, John Paxson regrets not pulling the trigger to acquire Randolph on draft night this past summer.

At only 26, Randolph could have been the Bulls answer for a post man for the next ten years. Although he clearly has had some off the court issues previously, the Bulls today have a team with no players of questionable character. Maybe in a different situation and environment, Randolph would have been different.

During his last four seasons in Portland, Randolph averaged between 17-24 points per game, 8-11 rebounds per game, and around 2 assists per game. These type of numbers that Randolph has put up in the past is certainly consistency in the post that the Bulls have not had in a very long time. In fact, the Bulls have not gotten more than 20 points per game in a season from the power forward spot since 1985-86 from Orlando Woolridge.

The Knicks acquired Randolph in a package along with Dan Dickau, Fred Jones, and the draft right to Demetris Nichols. In the trade, New York gave Steve Francis, Chaning Frye, and a 2008 secound round draft pick to Portland. Without giving it much thought, I would think the Bulls could have swung together a package more attractive than what New York gave up. With the rights to P.J. Brown, the rights to the ninth pick in the draft, Chris Duhon, and several other trading pieces, you would think the opportunity to acquire Randolph would have been there.

Instead, Paxson and the Bulls wonder how a lineup of Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Zach Randolph, and Ben Wallace would have fared.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

11/6/07 Bulls vs. Clippers

Last night the Bulls tried to get their first victory of the season when they hosted the undefeated Los Angeles Clippers. My thoughts before, during, and after the game:

-Early on, it looked like it would be the night for the Bulls to get their first win. On the first possesion, Luol Deng passed it into to Tyrus Thomas for a dunk. On the other end, Deng blocked a short jumper by Corey Maggette and then hit a midrange shot to give the Bulls a quick lead. Deng, Gordon, and Hinrich all looked good from the start and it appeared the Bulls would get the win. Unfortunately, Cuttino Mobley did not miss a shot in the first half (10-10) and the Bulls were down five points at halftime.

-I think the Bulls need to change up their starting lineup, if for nothing else, just to give a different look. I would pull Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas from the starting lineup and go with Thabo Sefolosha and Joe Smith. In the last two games, Smith has played 51 minutes, scored 31 points, and grabbed 17 rebounds. He has arguably been the best player on the team thus far. In Sefolosha, the Bulls would have more size in the backcourt, so that Hinrich does not have to defend the other team's best guard. It would allow Hinrich to avoid early foul trouble and get his offensive game back on track. Moving Thomas to the bench would allow them to bring more athleticism into the game later on and simply give another look. Gordon actually had a higher scoring average last season when coming off the bench, so clearly it is a role he is accustomed to. This is probably not a long-term solution, but with Detroit and Toronto coming up later this week and then a six game road trip, the Bulls need to turn around their November fortunes quickly.

-By my estimation, a majority of the Bulls problems have been on the offensive end, but as I have said, some of that is fueled by the defense. Hinrich has picked up the third most fouls in the league with 19, first among guards. This foul trouble has clearly affected him on the offensive end.

-In their four games, the Bulls have played a variety of different guards, but in nearly each case, they have had a better than average game. Part of this scoring efficiency for the opponents guards has been a great number of free throw attempts. If the Bulls want to start winning games, they need to limit the production of the opposing teams' guards. Below I posted a table I put together showing that only Mo Williams of the Bucks has not exceeded his 2006-07 averages when playing the Bulls this year:

(The italics show that the opponent's averages were tied in their game against the Bulls.)

-One of the bright spots last night was a great game by Luol Deng. Deng played almost 45 minutes and scored 22 points on 17 shots from the field. He went four for four from the free throw line, had eight rebounds, three steals, two assists, and two blocked shots. When Deng plays like this, it is understandable why Kobe Bryant has an interest in playing on the team with him.

-I'm not sure why the Bulls commentators didn't make a bigger deal out of this, but in the final four minutes of the game, the Bulls did not make a single field goal. Their only points in the last four minutes came on two free throws from Ben Gordon.

Other NBA thoughts from last night:

-It appears that Anderson Varejao is not willing to accept a one year deal for $5,000,000 from Cleveland. Reports have said that even if Varejao signed a contract today, he would not be ready to play as he has not maintained proper conditioning. The team has been getting good rebounding from Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, and LeBron James, but Varejao brings much needed post defense. Even if Varejao is not ready until midseason, they will need him for the playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki, Zach Randolph, Boris Diaw, and Al Harrington have all had big games so far this year against Cleveland. With Varejao apart of the squad, Cleveland would have another big body to provide defensive resistance.

-The Nets look like they will contend for the Eastern Conference title this year. Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter, and Jason Kidd continue to make a great trio, and Antoine Wright looks like he has really developed into an effective scorer off the bench. In a playoff series though, I still doubt they have enough inside, but for the regular season, I like their chances of finishing in the top four.

-The Heat are most likely going to force Dwyane Wade back early. After three games, they have not come away with a win, losing to Detroit, Indiana, and Charlote. Without Ricky Davis' 16 points per game, it really would be ugly thus far for the Heat. With the Spurs and Suns up next for the Heat, an 0-5 start is certainly likely. Shaquille O'Neal has picked up a great deal of fouls, Smush Parker looks like a mistake already, Anfernee Hardaway has not provided the scoring punch they hoped for, and Jason Williams has struggled mightily from the field.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Off Day NBA Thoughts

On a Bulls off day and only one game occuring tonight, I wanted to record some random league thoughts I had:

-During Scott Skiles’ three full seasons as the Bulls head coach, the team has started off very slowly. It is probably impossible to determine if this is the fault of the players, coaches, management, scheduling or a combination of all, but it certainly is frustrating for everyone involved. In the 2004-05 season, the Bulls lost their first nine games and after 15 games they were only 2-13. In 2005-06, after ten games the teams record was 5-5. Last season, the Bulls were 3-7 after ten games and started the season with a 3-9 record before they turned things around. The Bulls have an important week ahead of them (Clippers, Pistons, Raptors) before they begin a six game road stand. They need to pickup their play very quickly, starting tomorrow night when they face the Clippers.

-Richard Jefferson certainly looks healthy for the first time in awhile after only playing in 55 regular season games last season. Jefferson scored 29 points in his first game against the Bulls, 27 against the Raptors, and 22 in his most recent game at Philadelphia.

-Kevin Durant has the chance to easily win the Rookie of the Year this season. With limited talent around him on Seattle's roster, Durant will be taking a great deal of shots and will play a lot of minutes. After three games, he has taken more than 19 shots more than the next player on his team.

-A key reason for the Wizards struggles so far this season is the amount of turnovers committed by their key players. Caron Butler leads the league in turnovers per game and Gilbert Arenas is in fifth in that category.

-Chris Paul looks like he's ready to take back the position of top rookie in the 2005 class from Deron Williams. Paul is fearless going to the basket and looks like he has improved his perimeter shooting. In addition, he has been getting to the free throw line a great deal.

-I don't want to hear anything more about the Bulls not playing with enough "energy". Their failures this season go much further than effort or energy concerns. Ben Wallace has not put up big rebounding numbers once this year, Tyrus Thomas continues to play inconsistently, Luol Deng has not shot the ball well from the field, Andres Nocioni is taking too many three point shots, Ben Gordon has not shown a sense of urgency until the second half, Kirk Hinrich has struggled from the field and picked up too many fouls, and Joe Smith appears to just be getting back into playing shape. They have not won a game yet this year because of a lack of energy, but because they have not executed well.

"Extreme Makeover"

"Extreme Makeover"
By Ian Thomsen
Sports Illustrated
October 29, 2007

In a span of 33 days this summer Celtics G.M. Danny Ainge pulled off two megadeals that reversed the course of his stumbling franchise, bringing together three All-Stars who have Boston thinking championship again. Here's how he did it.

Available at:

John Paxson's Approach to Restricted Free Agents

Since the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement took place, the idea of "restricted" free agents is one that I believe many teams have struggled to manage correctly. John Paxson, the Chicago Bulls general manager, clearly has a philosophy to this.

Here is a generic procedure to explain how a player evolves from being drafted to entering into the restricted free agent process:

Player A is drafted
Player A plays three NBA seasons
Before the first game of Player A's fourth season, they have the opportunity to sign an extension with the team.
Once the first game begins in Player A's fourth season, they cannot sign an extension until the end of that season.
After Player A's fourth season, he can either:
a) Accept his current teams' one-year qualifying offer
b) Sign a long-term extension with his current team
c) Sign an offer sheet with another NBA team (current team has 10 days to match the new NBA teams' offer, decline the offer sheet and allow him to sign with the new team, or work out a sign-and-trade between the teams)

Now, most teams once they become a restricted free agent after the third season look around, get impatient, and sign the player to a new contract - often for an exorbitant amount of money.

Paxson's approach is much more patient and sensible. After that third season, Paxson offers the player a long-term contract that is non-negotiable. The player and his agent must choose to simply take it or leave it. In the case of Kirk Hinrich, he took the long-term agreement. With Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, they decided against accepting the agreement.

Paxson's way of thinking is that if they accept it, then he probably is saving himself money on the backend. If they decline the first offer, then he has another season to evaluate that player before deciding whether to sign a long-term agreement. In addition, once the player finishes his fourth season, then he still holds their rights as a restricted free agent. This means that no matter what, he will not simply lose the asset.

Even if he decides that they are not worth the money they are looking for, he still holds that players' rights and can work out a trade to receive compensation. Additionally, he allows that player and their agent to find out if a better contract is out there from another team, but still has the ability to then match that offer and bring that player back. Now that Paxson's philosophy on this is known around the league, the player frequently does not receive any offers from another team because it is assumed that the Bulls will simply match the offer so that player is not worth their time and effort.

Ben Gordon stated his groups negotiation with Paxson and the Bulls best when he said, "It was never really a negotiation. It was kind of like take it or leave it. I didn't sign it, so I guess it's safe to say I never considered taking it."

Although this hardball-type stance may not be appreciated by some players, it is the most sensible financial and business stance.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

11/3/07 - Chicago Bulls at Milwaukee Bucks

Last night I went to Milwaukee for the Bulls third game of the season. Coming in, both the Bulls and Bucks were 0-2. The game was the Bucks home opener and the Bulls were playing the backend of a back-to-back.

My Observations:
-The Bulls play with no sense of urgency until the fourth quarter. In thirteen quarters, they have a 5-8 quarter record. Though in the fourth quarter, the Bulls are 2-1, with their only fourth quarter loss being against the 76ers by one point.

-In his first season, if Yi Jianlian can master the pick-and-pop, he will be very valuable for the Bucks. Yi's best asset is clearly his mid-range jump shot. Running successful sets ending with Yi taking an open jump shot will give the Bucks another go-to beyond isolating Michael Redd.

-Charlie Villanueva appears to be the odd man odd out in Milwaukee. Villanueva really has never gotten a fair chance in Milwaukee and unless a major injury occurs, it looks like he won't get much of a chance again this year. He will be the primary backup behind Yi, but will not get a fair chance to get into the starting lineup.

-Michael Redd has really done a great job becoming a more well-rounded scorer. He now utilizes his superior size against his defenders to get the ball closer to the baseline in order to get a closer shot.

-Redd took Kirk Hinrich out of his game last night by his play on the offensive end. Hinrich was in foul trouble all night and after making his first two shots of the game, struggled to score the rest of the night. He ended with only six points and turned the ball over six times. Redd's ability to use his three inch size advantage to draw fouls on Hinrich changed the entire game for both teams.

-Luol Deng is still not playing his best so far this season. Maybe it is because of the distractions around a potential Kobe Bryant trade, but Deng has looked frustrated all season. This continued last night against the Bucks where he shot only 4 for 11 from the field and committed four fouls.

-Andres Nocioni is taking too many three pointers this year - five in the first game, eight in the second game, six in the third game. I have no problem taking the shots when he is open, but often times he is forcing shots up.

-Thabo Sefolosha has a great deal of potential, has great size and athleticism, and has shown the ability to be a great one-on-one defender. But at this point, unless he puts a lot of work into his shot, he won't be able to make that jump to the next level. His shot needs to be more fluid and may end up needing to be completely reworked.

-In his second stay with Milwaukee, the Bucks coaches and management clearly decided making Desmond Mason rework his free throw shot a priority. Before the game, he was working on his form and during the game, he went 3 for 4 from the free throw line.

-The Bucks have an odd roster. Their top nine players are fairly strong, but after that they have a huge dropoff. Guys like Royal Ivey, Michael Ruffin, David Noel, Avree Storey, Jake Voskuhl, and Ramon Sessions are all fringe NBA players.