The Celebrity of Greg Oden

21 01 2009

“Oden comes alive!” exclaims Yahoo! Sports.  Leave it to a website with an exclamation point in its name to delve into hyperbole every now and again.

“It was damp and chilly so I decided to put on my sweatshirt!” Get rid of the exclamations.

I like Greg Oden, he has been my muse at times but he’s just not that good right now.  

Sure, whenever Oden has played over 30 minutes this season — with two exceptions — he’s gotten double doubles.  But what about the other 30-some games where he’s sat on the bench in favor of Joel Przybilla.

Oden’s a rotation player in the league but there’s a reason why rookie Rudy Fernandez is getting more burn than the big man.

Oden (8.3 points) scores more than Przybilla (5.4) but he’s also attempting twice as many shots (GO’s 5.7 shots to JP’s 2.9).

What I find interesting is that Oden and Przybilla are both blocking the same amount of shots per game — 1.1 and 1.0 blocked shots.  So although he’s been billed as this impact defenseman, statistically, he’s doesn’t have much to show for it.

I think it’s unfortunate that so many people have written Oden off simply because he was injured last year.  But it’s just as unfortunate to sing his praises after he hangs 24 and 15 on the Milwaukee Bucks.  Because… they’re the Milwaukee Bucks.

His second most recent 30 minute game came against the Los Angeles Lakers where he only managed 10 points and 4 boards.  All that to say that there’s a big skill differential between the Bucks and the Lakers.  And although 24 and 15 is a great night and a good starting point… I think it’s prudent to temper our enthusiasm just a tad.

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…

Alexander the Great

3 07 2008

The Yi Experiment has given way to Joe Alexander the Great. 

Although I’m not sure which Chinese language Yi speaks, it may have helped having a teammate that can speak Mandarin. 

Unfortunately, the pairing wasn’t meant to be.  Yi became expendable as the Milwaukee Bucks selected the forward out of West Virginia with the 8th pick. 

Alexander is one of those “…in a few years” guys.  He’ll be ready… in a few years.  He has a chance to be a great player… in a few years.  He’ll be one of the best players in his class… in a few years. 

I won’t disagree with his potential; the man can hold his on slam dunk contest topping it off with a Vince Carter “honey-dip” elbow slam.  But can he play now? 

I think he’s going to be real fun to watch.  Some have billed him as a super athletic Matt Harpring.  I don’t buy the Harpring comparison, which really comes up because the kid is white.

I see Alexander as a bigger Luol Deng with an established mid-range core competency.  They were both freakish athletes in college.  Both players have high release points, an ability to score in the post yet they both struggle with lateral quickness (compared to other pro prospects).  Alexander, like Deng, put on a show in March.  He averaged 23.8 points and 8.1 rebounds in the final month.  Huge.

We’ve heard a lot about his gym rat tendencies.  The guy is an extremely hard worker and he likes to hit the weights — much like every Bob Huggins recruit.  I really think the guy can be a nice player early.  The problem is the Bucks are crowded at the wing.

John Hammond isn’t done tweaking but they currently have Richard Jefferson, Desmond Mason, Michael Redd and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the roster.  Under Scott Skiles’ system, it may come down to who demonstrates a commitment to defense. 

Mbah a Moute is a Ben Howland recruit, so you know he’ll work on D.  Other than the former UCLA star, the other wings haven’t had to play a lick of defense in years.  If Alexander can play NBA defense, he’s got a shot to shine early.

Photo credit: AP

The Other John Hires Scott Skiles

23 04 2008

Who loves Scott Skiles?  I do!

In fact, I’m ecstatic the ball club in my adopted city has picked him up.  I’m only a two hour drive away from seeing his bald head gleaming along the sidelines.  His menacing, dinosaur-like glare gives me goosebumps.

Goosebumps in the way of R.L. Stine.  God, I love Scott Skiles.

And R.L. Stine.

Thanks to John Hammond, Skiles is coaching the very team that drafted him as a player.  The man can help the lowly Milwaukee Bucks win.  In each of Skiles’ full seasons, his teams all finished over .500.  He can coach and it’s exactly what the Milwaukee franchise needs.

Is Skiles a rethread?  Yes, but lots of other NBA coaches are.  If Larry Brown’s name comes up every now and then in the coaching carousel, those same teams should do their due diligence on Skiles.

John Hammond is Joe Dumars’ protege.  Hammond can allow Skiles to resuscitate the franchise much like how Dumars used Rick Carlisle to jump start the Detroit Pistons.

The knock on Skiles is that he’s an old-school coach; he’s too tough and he doesn’t mess around.  Every professional sport is a players’ league so Skiles’ style can create dissonance within a team.  But all of Skiles’ drawbacks double as his strong points.

John Hammond is no fool.  He’s seen Larry Brown, Flip Saunders and Carlisle coach.  Non-player positions in the NBA are like revolving doors.  Given the unpredictable nature of Hammond’s position, it says something that he’s willing to put his eggs in the Scott Skiles basket.

The man is one tough cookie.  He demands as much from his players as he does from himself.  Jeff Van Gundy once said that Skiles was one of the best-prepared coaches in the NBA come game day.

Skiles owns a 281-251 record as a coach with 15 playoff wins.  This may have been a questionable move if the Bucks were an established, playoff team.  But they’re not.  They have no identity and forging a defensive mindset is the way to go.

Maybe Charlie Villanueva will think he’s playing for Jim Calhoun.  That way, he’ll forget that he’s supposed to lose every game.

Rick Carlisle: Kung-Fu Master

11 04 2008

Rick Carlisle will beat up your mother. It’s true.

The former Coach of the Year has been linked with potential jobs opening up after this season. The Chicago Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks (with John Hammond pushing) are among the teams that are interested. And this will also allow Carlisle to join Ben Wallace in a tour of the Central Division.

The word around Chicago is that Carlisle is a good coach but is too much of a Skiles look-a-like. I resent that statement because the man looks like Jim Carrey.

An interesting trend can be found when looking at the record of Carlisle’s six seasons in the league. None of his teams have ever improved record-wise.

Detroit Pistons 2001-2002: 50-32 (.610)
Detroit Pistons 2002-2003: 50-32 (.610)

Indiana Pacers 2003-2004: 61-21 (.744)
Indiana Pacers 2004-2005: 44-38 (.537)
Indiana Pacers 2005-2006: 41-41 (.500)
Indiana Pacers 2006-2007: 35-47 (.427)

Clearly, something is up. Generally speaking, the longer someone is with an organization, the better they become. As one goes further along on the learning curve, they get more familiar with their position. Players come to know what to expect from their coach. The coach, in turn, gradually learns how to motivate his players. With all other things remaining equal, a coach of Carlisle’s caliber should have shown improvement.

I don’t want to come to conclusions but is it a case of players burning out on the coach? If so, the Bulls might want to steer clear because they’re still salty off Scott Skiles.

In Carlisle’s first season at the helm, he makes his predecessors look like idiots. If there’s one thing that can be said about Rick Carlisle, it’s that he will give you an excellent first season record.

Carlisle took over the Detroit Pistons job from George Irvine in 2002. The Pistons went from 32-50 and into the lottery under Irvine to 50-32 and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals under Carlisle.

Same deal in Indiana. The Pacers went 48-34 in Isiah Thomas’ last season while losing in the first round of the playoffs. Under Carlisle the next season, the Pacers went 61-21 with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The man can get you there but he won’t keep you there very long. The Milwaukee Bucks need a culture change. Their young players need to experience winning and the atmosphere of the playoffs. Michael Redd has only really played in three of his post-season campaigns, so their veteran leadership isn’t exactly savvy in that regard. If they wait any longer, it might be “next year…” for a long time.

If he’s willing, they should roll the dice with Rick Carlisle.