The Undefeated Chicago Bulls

29 10 2008

Oh boy, I love the sound of that.

I wanted to take a few minutes to share my thoughts on the Chicago Bulls game against the Milwaukee Bucks last night.  It was a very high-paced game; I had the same first game jitters that the player had last night.

The only difference was that I had a beer in hand and I was in my underwear. I’d say that’s pretty similar to playing a 48-minute NBA game.

The season went off to a very nice start for the Bulls.  Luol Deng had a very good game with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting with five makes from the charity stripe.  Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon played great games off the bench.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Vinny Del Negro keep Hinrich out there playing both guard spots.  I thought that Hinrich’s minutes were going to take a huge hit but 27 minutes isn’t anything to sneeze at.

Gordon didn’t play particularly well when he checked in late in the first quarter.  I thought he forced a couple shots and got turned around at times while defending the Bucks’ Tyronn Lue.  How he managed to get turned around by Lue, I still do not know…

Derrick Rose lived up to the billing in his first game.  It wasn’t an Allen Iverson-esque debut performance but he racked up 9 assists and was very active in the passing lanes.  Now although the Bulls still had trouble finding easy shots over some Rose-led stretches, the game seemed much more open with Rose at the point (rather than Hinrich).  Now whether that’s entirely my cognitive bias, I don’t really know.  But the Bulls had somewhere around 20 fast break points and most of them were scored on either a Rose assist or a Rose steal.

Despite Deng’s scoring and Rose’s highly-anticipated debut, Tyrus Thomas stole the show for me.  The man was active from jumpstreet, getting into passing lanes, grabbing boards, changing shots and even tossing a handful of good looks.  In one sequence, Thomas stole a secondary break pass from Luke Ridnour, pushed it up court himself and hit Gordon on a bounce pass for an easy bucket.  After this game, I’m no longer inexplicably anxious when Thomas has the ball.  Undefeated, indeed…





Gordon Signing Means Nothing

3 10 2008
Gentle Ben becomes Negotiator Ben

Gentle Ben becomes Negotiator Ben

Some Chicago fans are breathing a sigh of relief.  As a restricted free agent, Ben Gordon has signed a $6.4 million deal to stay under contract for the next year.  What a relief, right?  The team can finally focus on improving and making noise in the playoffs, right?  Wrong.

Ben Gordon’s recent signing means absolutely nothing.

It does not mean that Ben Gordon wants to be in Chicago.  Towards the end of last season, Gordon was itching to leave the Windy City.  He was offended that the Bulls didn’t give him “Luol Deng treatment.”  His logic went: I led the team in scoring so why shouldn’t I get as much or more than Luol? 

The Bulls value Deng more than they value Gordon.  And nothing has changed since the end of last season.

Gordon tested the free agent waters and found that teams were not willing to sign him.  They didn’t want to overpay for someone who can only hit jumpshots.

Guess what?  This signing doesn’t even mean that the Bulls want Gordon.  If there’s one thing that John Paxson has proven as a GM, it’s that he loads up on assets. 

Ben Gordon, for all his deficiencies, is still an asset.  A productive scorer with an expiring contract will always be an asset — if not more because of the latter attribute than the former.

Contrary to public opinion, I think this deal is a clear indication that the Chicago Bulls have good leverage over Gordon.  Even though unrestricted free agency means Gordon can sign with any team, will any team sign him?  The Bulls simply have more options than Gordon at this point because of how the negotiations went down.

They can package Gordon as solid player with an expiring contract.  If another team is in need of a scorer or shooter, talk to the Bulls.  They’ve got a certain 6’3″ guard that you can try out for a year with no strings attached!

On the other hand, Gordon went out and brusquely said that he didn’t expect to be in Chicago this season.  He thought that other teams were willing to pay top dollar for his services.  He thought they would snatch him up like middle schoolers snatched Tamagachi’s in the late 1990′s.  And he was wrong.

Sadly, this looks like one of those instances where a player refuses to sign a fair offer from their original team to disastrous results.  Instead of taking a nice, safe deal, the player and his agent try to negotiate for the best possible offer and talking comes to a halt.  The player is insulted and makes a somewhat-offhand disparaging remark on the state of negotiations which pretty much deafens the silence.

Interest from other teams was either not as enthusiastic as expected by the player or they were not at a compensation level he finds acceptable.  So instead of leveraging a fair-to-good deal with the Bulls into a great deal with another team, Gordon played his “I’m not coming back to Chicago” hand way too soon.

I like Ben Gordon and I hope it works out for him but I doubt he’ll be in Chicago past this season’s trade deadline.  And unless he overperforms this season, the best offer he’ll get won’t be as good as what the Bulls were willing to shell out. 

Which, by the way, was a six-year contract worth roughly $58 million dollars.  Gordon’s camp rejected it throughout the offseason and for the last time before training camp hit.





Kirk Hinrich (07-08 Synopsis)

8 09 2008
Rock, Chalk...

Rock, Chalk...

Kirk Hinrich — Chicago Bulls Guard
Measurements: 6’3″ – 190 lbs.
Experience: Fifth-year, 27 years old
From: University of Kansas

2007-2008 Season Statistics
11.5 points | 41.4% FG | 35.0% 3PT | 6.0 assists | 3.3 rebounds | 1.2 steals | 31.4 minutes

Season Highs
Points: 38 (vs. Indiana)
Rebounds: 12 (vs. New York)
Assists: 14 (3x)
Steals: 5 (vs. Philadelphia)
Blocks: 4 (vs. Memphis)
Minutes: 47 (2x)

Season Grade: D+

What This Year Proved

Every year, I take a look at Kirk Hinrich’s production and I think, “damn, this kid’s gonna go on a tear and make the All-Star team.”

He was a shooter at Kansas and that helps me rationalize his erratic shooting from the field.  I always think, “Kirk’s off tonight.”  But when that thoughts pops into my head two nights out of five, it gives me some cognitive dissonance.

My off-season relationship with Kirk Hinrich is much like my relationship with cigars.  Every now and then, I think it’s a great idea to smoke a cigar.  I go out and buy the cigar and look at it, anticipating a fantastic time.  And then I smoke it.

“Wow; this was a bad idea,” I finally decide.  I make a mental note to never again buy cigars.

Four months later, the cycle starts a new.

Kirk Hinrich is always a great player with such great promise for me in October.  Coming into last season, I took a quick look at his 06-07 statistics:

16.6 points | 6.3 assists | 3.4 rebounds | 44.8% FG | 41.5% 3PT

He did that with most of the shots going to Ben Gordon and Luol Deng?  Wow.  This guy’s going to be awesome.  His selection into the USA National Team Program further validated my expectations.  Colangelo thinks he’s good enough to kick Luke Ridnour off the team!  Yes!

And then in April or May, I’m sorely disappointed.

I’ve been waiting two or three years for Kirk Hinrich to explode and make the All-Star team.  I feel like Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally and  I’m sick of waiting.

Kirk did his thing this season.  He proved that he’s got a very nice floor game, both with the ball and while moving without the ball.

He’s always going to give you supreme effort on the defensive end.  To counter my thinking above, his production defensively is never disappointing as he tags the other team’s best perimeter player each night.

His floor shooting has regressed.

05-06 | 41.8% FG | 37.0% 3PT | 81.5% FT
06-07 | 44.8% FG | 41.5% 3PT | 83.5% FT
07-08 | 41.4% FG | 35.0% 3PT | 83.1% FT

Some of that dip can be explained by his emphasis on defensive.  However, it’s a pretty lame excuse as he’s been asked to defend the opposing team’s best player since he arrived in Chicago.

I would more quickly point towards his off-season duties with the National Team.  I knew he’d be a bit tired coming into this season and that may account for some of his shooting woes.

Quote Him

“We lost our identity to what got us here. So whatever happens this offseason, we have to find a way to get back our edge. I think we need to become a better defensive team. I think the better teams in the league that usually compete for the NBA championship ring are almost always the better defensive teams in the league. I think we need to do that. I think we’ve kind of lost our identity to what got us here, so whatever happens, we just have to find a way to get back what we had. We kind of lost our edge.”– Hinrich, after a late-season loss to the Miami Heat

Looking Forward

By drafting Derrick Rose, casual fans think that Kirk is expendable.  And quite frankly, it’s getting to a point where anyone on this roster is.  Mark my words: this year is do-or-die for Kirk.

He is a captain, he has a big contract and is heading into his sixth year in the league.  Growing pains and lumpy productivity will no longer be tolerated.

Even though his game doesn’t make him a stat-stuffer, his statistics must improve.  It is really the only tangible way for fans to make an argument like, “hey, Kirk Hinrich should start.”

Next season, look for him to continue getting the Bulls into offensive sets.  He’ll need to limit his turnovers even more to warrant some time at the point.  He’s a pretty dull Swiss army knife so look for Vinny Del Negro to use his versatility by playing him at both guard positions.





Rep Britain or else

15 08 2008
Get your money, Lu

Get your money, Lu

The British National Team cannot find insurance for Luol Deng. Luol just inked a six-year deal with the Chicago Bulls that could pay him up to $80 million.

The issue is that playing in Great Britain’s qualifying games for the 2009 European Championship creates a conflict of interest.

The Bulls have paid him said amount of money, what if the man gets hurt? Bulls officials are still weary of injury off the somewhat-recent Jay Williams situation. It would behoove them to proceed with caution. Understandably, they have included this clause in their contract.

There is a school of thought that denigrates Luol. He didn’t make playing for Britain a priority. What gives?

Keep in mind that he’s of Sudanese decent and currently lives in the States. The British team was ecstatic when he volunteered to play and maybe shouldn’t except a rabid nationalism from him.

I don’t think anyone would accuse this man of being overly selfish. He’s worked hard to get to this point so why not get paid?

Is it simply a matter of nationalism versus income?

Photo credit: Slam Dunk Central





Drew Gooden (07-08 Synopsis)

29 07 2008

A portrait of a young beard

A portrait of an artist with a young beard

 

Drew Gooden — Chicago Bulls Forward
Measurements: 6’10″ – 230 lbs.
Experience: Sixth-year, 27 years old
From: University of Kansas

2007 – 2008 Season Statistics
12.0 points | 44.9% FG | 8.6 rebounds | 1.2 assists | 0.8 blocks | 30.8 minutes

Season Highs
Points: 31 (vs. Atlanta)
Rebounds: 16 (2x)
Defensive Rebounds: 13 (@ Phoenix)
Offensive Rebounds: 8 (2x)
Assists: 5 (2x)
Blocks: 4 (vs. New Jersey)
Steals: 5 (@ Toronto)

What This Year Proved

Drew is your consummate hustle player.  He can crash the boards and set picks with the best of them.  But on a team where every front-court player is a “hustle player,” Drew had to bring his game.

And he did, for the most part.  In the 51 games before getting traded to the Chicago Bulls, Drew tallied averages of 11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.6 blocks. 

In 18 games with the Bulls, Drew averaged 14.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 blocks.  He did a solid job for Chicago.  In Chicago, he improved his per game shot-blocking drastically, nearly doubling his 0.7 career block average.

His sudden defensive prowess can be attributed to his new role as one of Chicago’s primary big men.  The pressure defense employed last year helped funnel drives to either him or Joakim Noah.  Drew proved that he can be an adequate, if not exemplary, anchor for a thinning Bulls defense.

Quote Him

“Man, I got jealous of the ducktail.  The ducktail started getting more attention than me, so that’s why I cut it off.” — on cutting his old rat-tail

Looking Forward

We know Drew can run the floor and finish.  We know he can hustle and board.  But as the Bulls are currently constructed, he’ll need to do more than that.

When he establishes position, he has a high-percentage baby hook that he hits over most defenses.  Drew gets into trouble when he starts acting like Arvydas Sabonis.  The Big 90 convinces himself that he can hit fadeaway J’s a la Sabonis but they’re bad, off-balance shots and he’s no Paul Hamm.

Drew needs to use his muscle and width to get as many easy inside buckets as he can.  Alternatively, he has some speed and enough determination to beat his man down the floor.  Easy buckets can come his way by looking for an outlet or a quick entry pass in the early offense. 

Because the Bulls haven’t addressed their big man deficiency, Drew Gooden will need to assert himself past his comfort zone.  He doesn’t have second or third option skills but being the most polished big forces him into the equation.

Season Grade: B

Fourteen and 10 is nothing to sneeze at.  Drew performed as well as he’s ever performed in his career.  Although his efforts didn’t translate into more wins, it’s greatly appreciated.  Keep on keepin’ on, especially with that gnarly beard.

Photo credit: Slam Dunk Central








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