March 31, 2010

Excitement becoming routine

A typical Mr. SKIA brainshart led to me saving this entry as a draft instead of posting it, which I just now realized. So up it goes, only five days late.

Another day, another Holy Crap game in the NCAA Tournament.

The Kansas State-Xavier tilt had everything you could want. Comebacks. Controversial calls. Overtime. Clutch baskets. Another overtime.

The most amazing part of Kansas State's 101-96 win is that they somehow did not get totally demoralized. Seemingly everything went against them. The end of both regulation and overtime had to have been just devastating for them, and the fact that they didn't crumble in the face of all that adversity really speaks well of their chances going forward. (Editor's note: Oops.)

A Jacob Pullen 3 with 28 seconds left in regulation put K-State up 70-67, and after a Jason Love basket Pullen hit a pair of free throws to regain the 3-point edge. And that's when the old foul-so-they-can't-launch-a-game-tying-3 strategy backfired.* Instead of the ref's calling the foul when Terrell Holloway was grabbed, they called it on Chris Merriewether when Holloway was in his shooting motion 40 feet from the basket, which he only did because he knew he had already been fouled and was hoping to get three freebies instead of the one-and-one. And it worked, because the ref totally blew the call.

* I should mention here that while I know it's conventional wisdom that the foul is the smart play, I still don't like it. I've seen it backfire too many times. For one, if you just allow the team to shoot the 3, in general the worst thing that can happen is overtime. But I've seen teams make one free throw, get the rebound on the second, and hit a 3 to win. And fouling elongates the game, which is generally what the leading team wants to avoid. I've seen the foul come too early, the opponent makes its two free throws to get within one, fouls on the other end and the guy chunks both, then they hit a 2 for the one-point win. Plus, there's always the chance of a glitch like this one, where the guy gets three free throws. An 79.4% free-throw shooter -- not a ridiculously high number for a guy handling the ball/itching to shoot a 3 -- has a 50% chance of making all three foul shots. Considering that at best the same guy is probably a 45% 3-point shooter -- and the 3, unlike the free throws is an all-or-nothing proposition -- I prefer to keep the excessive strategizing out of it, play tough D, and let the chips fall where they may. Plus, game-tying 3-pointers are among the most exciting plays in sports, and I selfishly want to see more of them, not less.

After Holloway drained three clutcher-than-clutch free throws, Pullen missed a long 3 for the win to send the game to OT. The Wildcats had to be stinging, and Frank Martin was about as pissed off as I've ever seen any coach, and I suspect if the game/moment weren't so huge that he would've picked up at least one technical.

K-State bounced right back though, and built a four-point lead with 2:30 left. But Holloway sandwiched a 3 and a layup around a Curtis Kelly basket to pull Xavier back within one. Down 84-81 with under a minute to go, Holloway hit yet another 3 to tie it, but Pullen responded with layup. Holloway then missed a 3, and Merriewether got fouled with 19 seconds to play and a chance to ice the game. Merriewether split the pair, which in retrospect seems like the only time in the entire game that a player failed to completely deliver in the clutch.

Speaking of which, Jordan Crawford -- best known for this PR-disaster of a dunk -- then drilled an insanely deep and equally clutch, minimum-30-foot 3-pointer that tied the game at 87 with 7 seconds left. K-State then missed a chance to win at the OT buzzer.

At this point, I was convinced the Wildcats would fold. How could they not? By my count, there were three completely devastating moments -- the BS foul and Holloway's and Crawford's 3s.

But K-State refused to yield. Trailing by two with a little over a minute left in the second OT, Pullen gave Xavier a taste of its own medicine. He hit a 3 to put the Wildcats up 94-93, then hit another after a Love free throw to give them a 3-point edge, and Pullen and Denis Clemente made all four of their free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

All in all, one of the best college basketball games I've ever seen. And I feel like I've thought that about 17 times in this tournament.

March 27, 2010

My bracket update

Because I know you're all dying wondering what is going on with my picks.

Incidentally, I have to post this right now, because with Ohio State losing yesterday, I'm going to start dropping like a rock.
I don't know if you can make that out, but I'm currently in 5,569th-place. I know I was joking about my standing the other day, but there are nearly 5 million brackets on, and because of that I"m in the freakin' 99.9th percentile.

Now who's Mr. Sports Know-It-All?

Wait. I guess it'd still be me. Anyway, here's the rest of my bracket, if you're interested and have unbelievably acute vision:

Stupid Midwest Regional. I've missed 11 games in that one alone; in the other three combined I've only gotten nine wrong. I knew there had to be a reason why I've always hated the Midwest. Damn you region of my birth/residence!

March 25, 2010

Total Bullshart

Just when I was feeling pretty good about Chicago's basketball team pulling off the impossible and squeezing into the playoffs in light of Toronto's 113-87 loss to the Jazz on Wednesday -- Playoff teams don't lose home games that badly, I thought -- the Bulls proved they are not, in fact, a playoff team by losing a home game that badly on Thursday, succumbing to the Heat in pitiful fashion, 103-74.

I gave up watching the NCAA Tournament for this?

The only thing preventing me from saying It's all over but the shouting is that terrible effort by the Raptors against Utah. Still, with the Bulls down by 2 1/2 games with just 11 to play, I'd give them about a 1-in-20 chance of sneaking into the postseason at this point. I'm not even going to bother with my usual Playoff Odds chart; they looked so bad that it's almost impossible envision them winning the eight or so games they'll need.

Yes, it was only one game. But to be so amazingly uncompetitive and utterly flat in a game that was so important to their postseason aspiration was a hell of an indictment of the Bulls' chances. There was nothing positive to take out of that game. Not one thing.

The atrociousness of the Bulls' effort was matched only by that of their defense. Apparently nobody on the Bulls bothered to tell Jermaine O'Neal what year it was, as he time-machined his way to 18 first-half points on 7-of-11 shooting, and finished with 24 points in just 25 minutes. Joining him in turning back the clock was Quentin Richardson, who absolutely abused the Bulls in the first quarter, going 4-for-5 while showing an impressive array of post-up moves, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra exposed yet another Chicago 3-guard lineup. Which led to me writing the following between the first and second quarters:

I understand that Luol Deng's injury (and our beloved front office's trades) have left the team woefully short at the 3, but what I don't get is the compulsion to only let a guard slide over to small forward. If it's not working, how about trying one of your 4s there? What difference does it make if you are getting killed on the matchups anyway?

Well, to Vinny Del Negro's credit -- not a phrase I type very often -- he tried to go big to open the second quarter, running with Chris Richard, Taj Gibson, and Hakim Warrick* in the front court. And that didn't work either. At all.

* During Warrick's brief Bulls tenure, he has gone from a guy who I admired from a distance (in box scores) to someone I can't stand seeing on the court. I now understand why he garnered so little interest on the free agent market last off-season; when you watch him regularly, you realize that while there are some things he does well, he's a very limited, one-dimensional player. He also plays with a lack of urgency reminiscent of Tim Thomas, though not quite to those putrid depths. While I can't quite put my finger on it, Warrick just somehow seems to be a drain on the team.

Among the more disturbing lowlights was the Bulls managing to make a Hall-of-Fame case for the Heat's 15-minutes-per-game backup center Joel Anthony. While Anthony is a very good shotblocker -- he came in leading the league in blocks per 48 minutes, with 4.18 -- his five blocks in seven first-half minutes put him into Manute-Bol-defending-me territory. But the Bulls kept shoving shots directly into Anthony's mitts, as if they had no idea that the guy coming off the Heat bench was a good defensive player.

It's reassuring to know that the advanced scouting is as useless as the rest of the organization's non-playing personnel.

Not that I'm giving the players a free pass on this one. In fact, to me the most disappointing aspect of the game's first half -- which ended with the Bulls down 63-33 -- was that the Bulls did not get booed off the floor. Their performance was as godawful as anything I've ever seen from an NBA team. The boos should have been cascading down so powerfully as to form a gale that would've literally forced the Bulls into the locker room. Instead, I could barely hear any. Talk about taking the crowd completely out of the game; the Heat even rendered the United Center faithful unable to express their disgust.

They'll get another chance to voice their displeasure on Saturday, when the Nets come to town. Because with New Jersey riding a one-game winning streak and having a previous UC triumph under its belt, I wouldn't take anything for granted.

Just when I thought I was out ...

The NCAA Tournament pulls me back in.

You might remember this post from last year -- and I'm sure you do, as all of 11 people read it -- wherein I discussed the reasons for my nearly-nil interest in college basketball. But as play in the Sweet 16 begins today, I'd be remiss if I didn't write about the incredible opening rounds of the tourney, and how much I enjoyed them. I happened to be working out of the house last Thursday, and I can't imagine anyone not loving that day of basketball.

Huge upsets. Heart-stopping finishes. Buzzer beaters galore.

All of it in a twelve-hour period. And while Friday was a bit anticlimactic -- at least in comparison to the previous day -- the weekend might've even topped Thursday's excitement.
And sure, there would be a higher level of play if Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Brook Lopez, Ty Lawson (seniors), Derrick Rose, DeJuan Blair, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo, Michael Beasley (juniors), Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings (sophomores), et al were involved. But the games themselves really could not have been any more entertaining.

I loved every minute of it. Well, except for these 40.

But it's not like I expected Cal to knock off Duke again (that's right, it happened a mere 17 years ago), so the loss didn't take a whole lot of luster off of my enjoyment of the first two rounds. And so I present to you my Final Four countdown of the best moments of the tournament thus far:

4. The first four games
Two one-point upsets by double-digit seeds [(11) Old Dominion 51, (6) Notre Dame 50; (13) Murray State 66, (4) Vanderbilt 65], an overtime escape by a high-seed [(2) Villanova 73, (15) Robert Morris 70], and a double-OT thriller in which a recent-national power fell [(7) BYU 99, (10) Florida 92]. I mean, that was just the first four games! Jesus.

While I always revel in seeing Notre Dame die an untimely death in any sport, the highlight of this group was the buzzer-beating 15-footer by Murray State's Danero Thomas to beat Vandy. Watched it happen live and you just can't top that sort of thing. At least that's what I used to think (SPOILER ALERT!) ...

3. Overtime
(9) Wake Forest 81, (8) Texas 80

Just a remarkably exciting game, and it came in the final contest of opening day. Wake led by 10 early (20-10, 10:52 in the first half), only to find themselves down six (36-30) just 9 minutes later. At the half, the Longhorns led by one.

In the early going of the second half, Wake again built a lead, this time up to 54-42 with 13 minutes to play. But Texas chipped away at it, pulling within a point at the 2-minute mark. Following a pair of free throws by the Deacons Al-Farouq Aminu, J'Covan Brown hit a huge 3 to tie the game at 67 with 55 seconds left. After Wake's C.J. Harris hit one of two free throws, Damion James had a chance to put the Longhorns ahead with a pair of free throws with nine seconds left. But he also made 1-of-2 -- he did then force a turnover to prevent Wake from getting a game-winning shot off -- and the game went to overtime.

And that's when this thing got really exciting. With the team's trading misses on the first three possessions of OT, Texas finally broke through on a Brown 3 with 3:48 remaining. The Longhorns Avery Bradley then got a steal in the backcourt off the press, and Jordan Hamilton hit another 3. Following yet another Wake turnover, James hit a pair of free throws, and Texas was ahead 76-68 with 3:05 to play. Between Demon Deacon shots -- a miss by Ishmael Smith, the guy that had committed both turnovers, finally broke the string of FG-attempt-less possessions -- they had gone from tied to an eight-point deficit. It looked hopeless for the Deacs, to the extent that my friend Art stopped watching. But Tony Woods converted a putback of Smith's miss, and Wake went on a 10-2 run to pull within 78-76 with 35 seconds left. Brown then drained a pair of free throws, before Ari Stewart hit a huge 3 at 19 seconds remaining to get Wake within one. Texas then missed two free throws before Smith -- the very same guy whose turnovers put the Deacons into the huge hole -- hit a 17-footer with 1.3 second left to give Wake a 81-80 win.

And the perfect end to a great day of basketball.

2. Final two minutes
(5) Michigan State 85, (4) Maryland 83

This game was on in the background for me throughout -- I had one matchup on my TV, and was toggling between games on my laptop -- and MSU had a 16-point second-half lead; they were also up 74-60 with under seven minutes to play, and that's when I really started paying attention. Maryland was able to chip away at the lead, but when the Spartans' Korie Lucious hit a layup for a 80-71 lead with 2:09 left, the game appeared to be over.

To everyone to Greivis Vasquez, that is.

Vasquez responded with one of his emotionally-charged three-point plays, then stole the inbounds pass which led to a Sean Mosley layup, giving the Terps a quick five-point run and pulling them back to 80-76 with 1:48 to play. Vasquez then hit a 3 to get the Terps within one.

Ho-hum, right? Well, compared to what would follow, it actually was.

Off an MSU turnover -- their fourth in a 59-second span -- Vasquez hit a leaner to put Maryland up 81-80 with 39 second left. So that's lead change #1 (LC1).

Tom Izzo then called timeout -- which would be, shockingly, the last timeout called during the game -- and the Spartans Draymond Green responded with a 17-foot jumper at the 22 second mark for a 82-81 advantage (LC2).

At nine seconds, Vasquez hit another short shot -- that's 10 points for him in the last 2 minutes -- after wheeling into the lane (LC3) before Korie Lucious took a pass from green at the top of the key and drained a 3 at the buzzer (LC4) for an 85-83 win.
Four lead changes in the last 40 seconds. Only one timeout, and I relished seeing a game that completely lacked any over-coaching. When are more coaches going to realize that end-of-game timeouts to diagram plays end up helping the defense more than their offense? A free-flowing game keeps the D on its heels, and it also doesn't allow the offensive players a chance to over-think what they need to do. Without the unnecessary stoppages, it's all just basketball. And it's unbelievably entertaining to watch.

1. Ali Farokhmanesh 3-pointer, 35 seconds remaining,
(9) Northern Iowa 69, (1) Kansas 67

The most dissected play of the tournament, and by far my favorite moment. Farokhmanesh's UNI squad had seen a 12-point second-half lead whittled down to one, and its seven-point advantage (63-56) with 1:18 left had almost entire evaporated when Farokhmanesh found himself wide open at the arc after the Panthers had broken the KU press. Instead of dribbling out the clock in hopes of getting fouled, Farokhmanesh -- who you could actually see hesitate while deciding what to do -- went for the jugular, and buried the most audacious shot I've ever seen.

Had Farokhmanesh missed, he likely would've been a huge goat. Conventional basketball wisdom says to try to play keep away and burn off as much clock as possible before the inevitable Kansas foul. But Farokhmanesh -- showing absolutely zero fear of failure despite having missed seven consecutive shots to that point -- saw a chance to win the game and took it. I really admire his boldness, and wish I could have his mentality with the things that I try to do.

I thought's Pat Forde, not someone I read regularly, had a great take on Farokhmanesh's shot:
Consider this argument for why it should go down as the greatest early-round shot in NCAA tournament history:

When Bryce Drew, Tyus Edney, Ty Rogers, James Forrest, Drew Nicholas and Rolando Blackman hit their famous shots, there was no choice involved -- it was either shoot now or go home. There was no real risk of failure -- nobody was going to hold a miss against those players, given time and score implications. Greatness was thrust upon them.

Ali? He chose greatness -- and the potential censure that would have come with a miss. He made a completely voluntary decision to tee up a 3 with 30 seconds on the shot clock and 35 seconds in the game and his team holding a one-point lead. While on a personal seven-shot miss streak. With nobody there to rebound offensively. And the biggest tourney upset in years hanging in the balance.

What a badass. Which is why Farokhmanesh gets the number one spot on my list.

While I'm not expecting the same volume of thrills from the rest of the tournament, I will be planted firmly in front of my TV/PC. And that's something I never would've predicted just eight days ago.

Speaking of predicting, on Wednesday of last week, I filled out my bracket, the first time I've done so in I don't even know how many years. And, despite all the upsets, I think I'm doing pretty damn good; even though I only got 10 of the Sweet 16 right, I still have seven of my Elite Eight, and all of my Final Four. I mention this not to brag, but because I think this will mark the high point for my bracket. After seeing all of my Final Four teams play, I'm much less optimistic about Ohio State and Butler's chances. So I've got to crow when I can. Caw, caw.

March 24, 2010

Huge game for the Bulls tonight

And yes, I realize they aren't playing.

But if the Bulls are going to have any shot at somehow snagging a playoff spot, they need Toronto to lose games like the one tonight against the Jazz.

Utah is a very strong team, albeit less strong on the road. Nevertheless, the Jazz are one of the better all-around groups in the league, and with the Bulls three games back in the loss column -- and the Raptors owning the tiebreaker -- they're going to need a whole lot of help. So who better to give it to them than Jerry Sloan?

March 22, 2010

The Bulls playoff chances: Do they still exist?


But they aren't very good. The current playoff odds:

Hollinger CoolStandings AVG
Bucks 100% 100% 99.9% 100%
Heat 98.8% 99.6% 99.2% 99.2%
Bobcats 98.4% 98.4% 98.4% 98.4%
Raptors 72.9% 86.0% 86.3% 81.7%
Bulls 30.0% 16.0% 16.2% 20.7%

But as the Bulls' season was irrevocably altered by Saturday's earth-shattering, 10-game-losing-streak-snapping 98-84 win over the mighty Philadelphia 76ers, could they actually overcome the 1-in-5 odds and catapult themselves into the playoffs?

For starters, let's put this in proper perspective. The projected wins of each of the other contenders:

Hollinger CoolStandings AVG
Bucks 46-36 45.7-36.3 45.6-36.4 46-36
Heat 44-38 44-38 43.6-38.4 44-38
Bobcats 44-38 43.5-38.5 43.2-38.8 44-38
Raptors 40-42 40.3-41.7 40.2-41.8 40-42

The Bulls are currently 32-37. I'd say to get themselves clear of the Raptors -- who already own the tiebreaker thanks to a 2-0 mark in the season series -- they'll need to finish with 42 wins, so that's 10-3 the rest of the way.

The Bulls have not picked up more than 9 wins in any 13-game stretch this season.

Still, they've also rarely been healthy for that long; if they are, 10 wins seems improbable yet doable. Granted that's a huge caveat. Given the semi-emergence of James Johnson, I think the Bulls can overcome Luol Deng's continued absence provided Derrick Rose is able to play major minutes and Joakim Noah is back to stay, even if he's slowly worked back into the rotation. But since Noah's already had one false start in his recovery, well ...

Nevertheless, here's one road map to 10 Bulls wins, given their remaining schedule:

3/22 vs. Houston, W

For the Bulls to pull this off, they absolutely have to take care of business at the United Center, especially against the semi-decent teams. That means they must beat the Rockets, who they topped in Houston in the midst of that 5-game road winning streak in late January. They'll have to find a way to do it again, even though they aren't playing nearly as well now as they were then. They'll be helped by the Rockets being on the second half of a back-to-back.

3/25 vs. Miami, W

Along wiith the Houston game, one of the two more important tilts on the schedule. They'll need to beat Miami and a seemingly-healthy Dwyane Wade for the second time this year (they are 1-2 against them). The good news is, the Bulls won the only previous matchup at the UC, 95-91 on Feb. 6.

3/27 vs. New Jersey, W

God, would anything be more embarrassing than getting swept at home by the Nets? If the Bulls somehow lose this game, don't even bother with the final 10.

3/28 at Detroit, L

While this is obviously a winnable game, it's also the second-half of a back-to-back, and I just don't think the Bulls will sweep the season series against the Pistons. I have a feeling that Ben Gordon might have his I'll-show-you game in hopes of playing spoiler for the Bulls chances.

3/30 vs. Phoenix, W

There is one thing that Vinny Del Negro has done well as Bulls' coach: beat the Suns. The Bulls haven't lost to Phoenix in two years, but the Suns are a very good team, one that shouldn't lose to a team like Chicago that many times in a row. The Bulls can afford to lose this game -- which is a distinct possibility -- if they beat the Pistons in Detroit.

4/2 at Washington, W

I wasn't happy the last time the Bulls played in Washington and lost, and they simply can't afford to let it happen again. After seeing the Wizards front line run amok in that game, Chicago really needs Joakim Noah healthy enough to log significant minutes, and keeping rookies Johnson and Taj Gibson out of foul trouble will be crucial too.

4/3 vs. Charlotte, W

The long-awaited return of Tyrus Thomas. This one, from Tyrus' perspective, could go either way. He might have a monster game that would include around eight blocks, or he's going to try to do too much and he'll end up sitting on the bench after going 0-for-4 with a pair of goaltending calls in 13 minutes. Regardless, I'm sure he'll get booed in one of those inexplicable UC crowd reactions. And before you say that the booing would, in fact, be explicable, keep in mind that Tyrus' greatest transgressions were:

1. Being a supposed lottery flop (even though his per-minute and efficiency numbers were solid)

2. Getting benched (because of injury)

3. Teeing off on a coach (that most of the UC faithful consider a joke)

4. Getting traded (without requesting/demanding one, at least publicly)

5. Doing well since the deal (mostly a function of more consistent playing time)

4/6 vs. Milwaukee, W

One game after Tyrus' chance at redemption, John Salmons gets his in yet another must-win game that the Bulls could easily lose. They've dropped 2 of 3 in the season series thus far -- with the three games being decided by a total of seven points -- but have won the only other one at the UC. The problem is that Milwaukee has been on fire since the trade deadline, going 14-2 since Feb. 19, while the Bulls, as you may have heard, have been headed in the opposite direction.

4/8 vs. Cleveland, L

A game the Bulls might steal against a slumming Cavs team. But come on, it's LeBron. I'm not picking against him.

4/9 at New Jersey, W

Home or away, playoff teams have got to take care of business against (potentially) the worst team in NBA history.

4/11 at Toronto, W

The must-win game in the whole stretch. Since they'll be going head-to-head with their primary competition, this one amounts to a 2-game swing. The Bulls can still make the playoffs with a loss here, but losing this game likely would result in them needing to get to 43 wins instead of 42, which would mean picking up two additional wins (say, at Detroit and vs. Cleveland) to make it in.

In other words, they have to win this game. And they've already lost twice to the Raps this season, in pretty convincing fashion. Luckily, Toronto is one of the few teams that has been playing nearly as poorly as the Bulls, with just three wins in its last 13.

4/13 vs. Boston, W

The Celtics will be looking to avenge this ugly loss on their home floor, but they also (hopefully) won't have a lot to play for, as their seeding -- they're currently a half-game ahead of the Hawks for third in the Eastern Conference -- may be decided by then. If so, the Bulls should roll. Regardless, I expect the UC crowd to be engaged playoff-style in this rematch of last year's epic seven-game first-round series.

4/14 at Charlotte, L

If both teams are still fighting for positioning, I just don't see Chicago beating a Bobcats team that currently holds the fourth-best home record (25-8) in the Eastern Conference. However, if Charlotte's seeding is already locked and the Bulls still have something to play for, then they could get very lucky.

And that would be 10-3. Unfortunately, looking at that stretch I'd say five wins are far more likely than 10. But it is at least possible.

Really, I think the next two games are key; the Bulls simply have to put together a little momentum if they are going to make a playoff run, and it has to start by winning a few games that aren't gimmes. If they can do that, who knows? It might be a long shot, but I'll take it over no shot at all.

March 18, 2010


* This post (and its title) made a lot more sense in its original spot on Basically I'm responding to comments made on my posts there.

Because the last handful of games have been completely hopeless -- as my friend Art said following the Orlando game, it's like watching a 1-seed versus a No. 16 -- I decided to scour the comments of several posts and respond to them as if I had a fan base. Enjoy.

-- jamaica876 on Mar 16, 2010 9:32 PM CDT

This was in reference to Vinny Del Negro's attempt to stem the momentum in the Bulls 104-97 loss to the Grizzlies on Monday that extended the losing streak to eight games. Unfortunately, the momentum he was trying to stem was the Bulls'. Beginning with Memphis leading 93-80 in the fourth quarter, these were the plays prior to the timeout:

4:54 Acie Law makes driving layup 93-82
4:48 Mike Conley bad pass
4:37 Brad Miller makes 23-foot three point jumper 93-85
4:18 Zach Randolph makes 1 of 2 free throws 94-85
4:11 Hakim Warrick makes slam dunk 94-87
3:47 Ronnie Brewer misses 19-foot two point shot
3:39 Jannero Pargo makes driving layup 94-89
3:39 Jannero Pargo makes free throw 1 of 1 94-90
3:15 Grizzlies shot clock violation

With your team on a 10-1 run over the prior 1:39, what could possibly possess you to call time out? Even Chris Webber cannot imagine a situation where you would want to call a timeout less than right there. The home team is reeling. The crowd is getting tighter than Eddy Curry's warmups. Memphis was in the process of blowing a 25-point late-third-quarter lead, as the Bulls weren't just on a 10-1 run, they'd also scored 27 of the previous 36. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins should have been jumping out of his suit trying to get a T.O., but instead Vinny calls one and completely lets them off the hook.

Not surprisingly, Memphis put the game away by scoring the next six points after Vinny's rally-killing decision. Look, I'm not saying the timeout lost the game, one a Bulls team minus four starters had no business being in. But they did have a tiny sliver of a chance to steal it there at the end, and the timeout sure as shit didn't help. So to answer your question, Jamaica: I wish I knew. I wish I knew.

Is Bosh the Answer? (What's the Question?)

-- leeac on Mar 14, 2010 6:32 PM CDT

Alright, so I stole that from someone else's actual blog entry; I'm sorry that I can't even abide by my own ridiculous premise. Anyway, unless the question is, Who would be your third choice among the soon-to-be free agents? then I don't think Chris Bosh is the answer.

No, that's not entirely fair. Bosh would be a great guy for them to land, someone who, while not a super-duper star, is still worth the max in a league where lesser guys like Rashard Lewis have gotten it. But I'd still want LeBron James and Dwyane Wade first.

LeBron is the no-doubt-about-it #1. No matter what a team's roster looked like -- I don't care if they already had Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant -- they'd still have LeBron as their first priority. Because LeBron is not only far-and-away the best player in the NBA, he's also one of the most versatile. Regardless of the current depth chart, LeBron would find a place to fit in and instantly make any team a legitimate title contender. He's the first choice, and it's not even worth discussing.

Although I get the feeling the general perception is that Wade is much older than Bosh, it's only by a little over two years. Wade will be 28 at the beginning of next season, Bosh 26. Neither guy has exactly been a paragon of health; Bosh has played more than 70 games in just one of the past five seasons, while Wade has missed at least 20 games in three of his seven years. Bosh would be a great fit position-wise -- I wish he had a bit more of a low-post game, though that's quibbling, really -- but that and the age are about the only things he has over Wade.

Now I understand that Wade isn't the ideal fit next to Derrick Rose, who would be better served having a Ray Allen-in-his-prime type shooter next to him. But what's best for Rose isn't necessarily what's best for the Bulls, and Wade would them far better than a Joe Johnson ever could. He is a transcendent player, a true franchise-carrying guy. Bosh, for all his talents, isn't; he's surrounded by far better players in Toronto, yet Wade's team has the (slightly) better record.

I think most people would rank Bosh somewhere in the 10 to 15 range if they were asked to list the NBA's best players. But you'd be hard pressed to find a single NBA observer that wouldn't have Wade in his/her top five. In his contract-drive season, Bosh has a career-best 25.60 Player Efficiency Rating this year; Wade has finished with a PER of 27 or better in all but one of the last been five seasons, an injury-plagued '07-'08.

So no, I don't care that Wade can't shoot the 3 and has a game somewhat similar to Rose. A good coach would figure out how to make it work. And hopefully a good coach is exactly what the Bulls will have come next season.

You watch games in your bedroom!?

-- CrashDavis on Mar 11, 2010 7:55 AM CST


Yes I do.

Though I am not morbidly obese, I do most everything from my bed: watch Bulls games, eat meals, write inane blog entries, yell at my dog to leave me alone, all of it. That's just how we SKIAs roll.

Why does everything always have to be Tyrus vs. Taj? Weren't they on the same team?

-- on March 17, 2010 6:06 AM CST

Well would you look at that! A comment that so perfectly encapsulates what I want to write about, you'd think I posted it just for this piece. Well I resent that implication, sir. (Or madam, I suppose. Do I have any women reading this crap?) It was a perfectly-appropriate comment in regard to this post, and that thread in particular.

Anyway, I think one of the worst developments of this Bulls season is that if you liked Tyrus Thomas, circumstances dictated that you became anti-Taj Gibson, because Gibson was the one that took his job, and received a ton of praise for supposedly having all of the desirable attributes that Tyrus was perceived to be lacking.

And that was entirely unfair to Taj. You know, kind of like losing your starting job to injury.

Say what you will, but people that didn't like Tyrus had their reasons; I would say they were misguided, but there were at least reasons. Things like, he plays too out of control and makes stupid decisions. Or he's a lousy help defender and disappears for stretches on offense. I don't agree with most of it, but I can at least see why thinking that would make someone dislike a player.

But most Tyrus fans -- okay, my sample size is one -- dislike Taj for basically four reasons:

1. He's not as good as Tyrus
2. Vinny insisted on starting him, the lesser player
3. They've had an assfull of the hard-hat-and-lunch-pail crap
4. They find the Taj backers to be insufferable

And really, those could be combined into two reasons; regardless, none of them are Taj's fault. All Taj has done is gone out and played hard. It's not his fault that Stacey King yammers on and on about how workmanlike he is, or that others talk about how smart he plays. Taj never proclaimed that he was better than Tyrus, or that Vinny needed to start him lest he demand a trade. He's just a young player trying to establish himself in the league, and it's tragic that he's largely viewed as the villain among us Tyrus fans.

Ideally, the Bulls would've found a way to make it work with Tyrus and Taj, and there was no reason why they shouldn't have. Given that so many teams go small in today's NBA, I thought those two and Noah would've make for a pretty good three-man rotation at the 4 and 5. But it didn't work out that way, not because of the players necessarily (and certainly not because of Taj), but because of failures of the organization and coaching staff. That's who completely gang-raped the pooch on this one.

As I've said before, good organizations value players based on what they do well; crappy ones only see them for what they can't do. So the Bulls focused on Tyrus' flaws instead of his assets, and decided he wasn't worth the trouble. This is what leads to mediocrity, as well as big contracts for guys like Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich -- even though neither of them do anything particularly well, they don't have any glaring weaknesses, either -- while someone with a legitimate NBA skill (shot-making) in Ben Gordon is let go.*

* For the record, I supported the Bulls' decision not to re-sign Gordon. First off, even though he is a great long-range shooter, I didn't think that he was a particularly good fit next to Rose because of his defense and tendency to dominate the ball and/or lose control of it while attempting to dribble, and $58 million for five years was ludicrous. But more importantly, since the Bulls already had Deng and Hinrich under crazily-termed contracts, signing yet another non-elite player to a lucrative long-term deal didn't make a whole lot of sense, not with the looming extensions to Rose, Noah, and (ahem) Thomas. Now if you had asked me to pick one of Deng, Hinrich, and Gordon, it definitely would've been Gordon. But the organization had already made its bed with Deng and Hinrich, and it just didn't make sense to have over $30 million per season committed to a trio of barely above-average players.

If you had told me that Taj Gibson would be averaging eight-and-a-half points and seven rebounds 66 games into his rookie season and a huge chunk of fans (including me) wouldn't like him, there's no way in hell I would've believed you. It sounds totally insane. The truth is, we should all be reveling in his surprisingly-productive rookie season, but instead too many of us are letting our affinity for Tyrus get in the way.

This same sentiment goes for the other side of the coin (the Taj backers) too; just because you like the way Taj plays doesn't mean that Tyrus was a flaming turd. You may think that Tyrus had the dreaded low basketball IQ, but you should also acknowledge that did some things very, very well. Because he did, and to deny it just makes you seem horribly biased.

May you please post less?

-- Super-Structure on Feb 23, 2010 11:01 AM CST

By the time I saw this comment, some people had already jumped in to defend my posts, which I really appreciated. But I believe Super-S was misinterpreted. As his subsequent comments still rather-cryptically indicated, I don't think he wanted me to post with less frequency, but rather wanted my entries to be shorter.

To be honest, almost every time I sit down, I say to myself, Well this'll be a nice, short one. Then eight hours and several thousand words later, I've got yet another 15-minute-commitment piece. Sorry for that.

But to answer your question: I'm trying.

Come back tomorrow (or whenever the hell I get to it) for Part II, which was originally supposed to be included in this entry before it ran far too long.

March 13, 2010

Paul Sullivan: The Miracle Worker

As in, it's a miracle this guy's still working. Quoth Paul:

Because of circumstances beyond his control, Tyler Colvin is blocked in right field until 2012, in center field until 2013 and in left field until 2015.

Poor Tyler Colvin and his .318 OBP in nearly 1200 Double-A plate appearances. When will he ever get a legitimate shot to prove himself?*

* Keep in mind that this is the same Paul Sullivan who wrote on August 25, 2007:

(Felix) Pie has not been able to translate the success he has enjoyed at Triple A to the Cubs, despite being given several opportunities. He hit .362 at Iowa but came into Friday's game hitting .217 in three stints with the Cubs, including a .121 average against left-handers.

Pie's "several opportunities" at that time amounted to a grand total of 174 plate appearances spread over five months when he was 22. For what it's worth, in Pie's one half-season in Double-A, he put up a .304/.349/.554 (BA/OBP/SLG) line as a 20-year-old. Colvin's composite AA line (over his age 21-23 seasons): .276/.318/.461.

Look, I know the same Colvin-related pap appeared on the Cubs site, but does Sullivan really have to gorge at whatever trough the Cubs put in front of him? Given their inexplicable compulsion to become more lefthanded -- to the extent that they traded away a versatile, relatively-inexpensive fan favorite so they could pay $24 million for one season of Milton Bradley -- does he actually believe that if anyone within the Cubs thought Colvin had a shot at being a starter in the majors that he wouldn't have been given a chance? If Colvin had previously performed well -- and I'm relatively certain his performance would have to be categorized largely as a circumstance within his control -- the Cubs wouldn't have felt the need to sign that centerfielder to a 3-year deal. In theory at least.

The only people who still believe in Colvin as a prospect are the ones within the organization still defiantly standing behind their reach-pick of him in the 2006 draft. Apparently Sullivan -- who's previously shown a bizarre preoccupation with fellow great-tools-middling-results draftee Jeff Samardzija -- only looks at signing bonus when evaluating a minor leaguer.

The perception of Colvin as a non-prospect isn't just my own. This crazy site -- put together by some magnificent bastard who divined that ranking the top-2000 prospects in baseball would generate a whole lot of traffic/publicity for his little blog -- has Colvin listed as the 915th-best prospect in all of baseball. And if you prefer reputable sources, Baseball America doesn't have Colvin in their Cubs top-10. Nor does's Keith Law, and Colvin's not on Baseball Prospectus' top-15, either. And John Sickels ranked him as the Cubs 19th-best prospect -- keep in mind that the Cubs system is more top-heavy than deep -- and graded him as a C, saying, "He made some progress last year but looks more like a fourth outfielder/extra bat than a future starter to me."

Well, of course Sickels, he has to be a fourth outfielder: Because of circumstances beyond his control, he's hopelessly blocked!


Now even if Colvin played Franklin Gutierrez/Willie Mays/Andruw Jones-40-pounds-ago caliber defense in centerfield -- unlikely given that BA named Sam Fuld the best defensive outfielder in the Cubs' system -- as of now his bat just will not play at the major league level. Courtesy of this site, I found these slash stat projections for Colvin as a Cub this season:

Bill James .264 .303 .424
CAIRO .242 .289 .398
CHONE .258 .300 .407
PECOTA .258 .302 .424
ZiPS .249 .287 .394
AVG .254 .296 .409

Now granted, those numbers are on par with the Cubs' $17-million-a-year-until-he-turns-62 leftfielder, but in general that is not starting-caliber production. Speaking of which:

Long-terms contracts to Kosuke Fukudome, Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano, respectively, have clogged the outfield picture for the foreseeable future.

With the possible exception of Soriano -- and I exclude him only because Jim Hendry seems wholly unable to grasp the concept of a sunk cost -- none of those guys are blocking Colvin; Colvin's lack of production is. Besides, in the Cubs' eyes, this is make-or-break time for Fukudome. If he doesn't produce this season, they likely will eat his contract next year, either paying someone to take him or moving him for someone else's onerous deal -- Hey, Milton Bradley will still have a year left. We gotta get more lefthanded! And Byrd is making "only" $16.5 million over the next three years; believe me, if the Cubs have a hot-shot prospect forcing his way into the lineup, ol' Marlon will not be an impediment.

Actually, the Cubs just might have such a prospect, only his name is Brett Jackson (No. 2 by Law and BA, No. 3 by Sickels, No. 4 by BP). Jackson, incidentally, is never mentioned in this article either because A) Nobody with the Cubs has felt the need to pump him up to Sullivan, since people who actually know what they're talking about are already saying he's a legit prospect; or B):

Colvin, a first-round pick in 2006, has been one of the most impressive players in Cubs camp, hitting .556 after going 2-for-3 with a triple in Friday's 12-3 loss to Milwaukee.

Wow, in a whole 18 plate appearances! In other news, if Derrek Lee can just get 600 PAs in 2010, he will undoubtedly shatter Barry Bonds' single-season record with the first-ever 100-home-run season, because he has two homers in 12 spring training trips to the plate.

The Cubs project Colvin as a corner outfielder and he figures to take over in right when Fukudome's contract ends after 2011. But he has been playing center most of the spring and could make the team as a fifth outfielder.

If anyone in the Cubs' hierarchy really thinks that Colvin's bat will ever play in a corner outfield spot, seriously just shoot me now and get it over with.

Could the Cubs get Colvin enough playing time as a reserve outfielder, or is he better off going to Triple-A, where he would play regularly? A week ago, the answer was easy.

But suddenly Colvin has jumped into the picture.

For the love of God, Sully -- and I call you Sully because I feel like we've really bonded over the course of this post -- please don't tell me the Cubs are evaluating personnel based on a week of stats put up against mostly non-major-league pitchers who aren't even in game shape yet. I mean, there's only so much I can take.

The Cubs are expected to send a dozen or so players to minor-league camp early next week, but Colvin is likely to stay a little longer. He bulked up in the offseason, and it's paying off. ...

Colvin was on his way to play in Mexico before the Cubs asked him if he wanted to take the offseason off and train with strength coach Tim Buss at the Cubs complex in Mesa, Ariz. Calling it a "no-brainer," Colvin put on 25 pounds through lifting and "eating my fiance's cooking every night."

Two questions: 1. Was his fiance cooking HGH? 2. Is her maiden name Conte? If the answer to both of these is no, then forget it. Because unless what he's done can actually enhance his performance instead of just increasing his bulk, Colvin still will not be a productive major leaguer.

Look, I don't want to wish ill on Colvin; still, I'd prefer he sustain a good performance -- I don't know, for a prolonged period of time, maybe. In, let's say, games that actually count -- before we start lamenting his not-really-all-that-blocked path to big-league stardom.

But if the Cubs are making decisions based on a single week's performance then this organization is in more trouble than even I believed, and they're going to have to do more than just replace GM Jim Hendry; they'll need to bring in some sort of miracle worker.

March 10, 2010

Vinny Del (insert derogatory phrase Italiano here)

It didn't take long for the Bulls to fall apart. I'm not just talking about the five-game losing streak that has dropped them from the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference (a half game out out of fifth) on Feb. 26 to entirely out of the playoffs at this moment, but the way they unraveled in Tuesday's 132-108 loss to the Utah Jazz.

This was a game that was 77-77 with just over five minutes to play in the third quarter before the Jazz went on a 13-1 run.

Still, an inspired start to the fourth quarter had pulled the Bulls back within six. And that was when Vinny Del Decisione Discutibile dropped a deuce on his team's chances, ultimately leading to the Jazz scoring 11 straight points in the fourth quarter..

Here were the Bulls' possessions to open the fourth quarter:

Hakim Warrick 3-point play*
James Johnson dunk
Jannero Pargo misses 3
James Johnson draws shooting foul

* This was another one of Warrick's plastic-man dunks, and it really seemed to get both the crowd and the team back into it. Watching Warrick go over two guys to throw it down from a pretty good distance, I decided that he has to possess the most inexplicable physical gifts of all time. It's a sort of awkward athleticism, or perhaps an athletic awkwardness, I don't know. He just doesn't look very coordinated or explosive, and yet he's able to pull off these unbelievable dunks. I really have no idea how to describe it, other than that he appears to have limitations that would make such feats impossible.

At this point in the quarter, Warrick had both of the Bulls defensive rebounds, and a lone C.J. Miles free throw was Utah's only point. After Johnson missed his first foul shot, Vinny must've said to himself, "You know what, we might be building some momentum here -- I better do something!" and so in came Brad Miller. For Warrick, who to that point had been the most productive player on the floor.

Basic Coaching 101: When you have a lineup that's working, you shouldn't do anything until it no longer is. You have to ride it out as long as possible, especially when your team as a whole has been struggling so badly. And even if Vinny for some reason felt like he just had to get Brad Miller in there, why take out Warrick when Chris Richard -- who the organization didn't even deem worthy of a roster spot just two weeks ago -- was still in the game? Look at their respective lines:

Min Pts FG FT Reb Ast Stl Blk TO PF +/-
Warrick 29 11 5-6 1-3 5 1 2 0 3 1 -3
Richard 17 0 0-0 0-0 2 0 2 0 0 5 -17

I've been critical of Warrick's play of late, but this was a game where his production demanded more minutes. (And Richard's less, for that matter.) On the ensuing possession, Richard committed a foul on Mehmet Okur, not surprising as it was somehow his third personal in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, which showed an admirable level of determination to singlehandedly put the Jazz into the bonus as quickly as possible. At that point, Vinny Del Allenatore Orribile mercifully decided to pull Richard from the game.

But instead of bringing Warrick back, he went to Taj Gibson.

It's worth noting that the foul-prone rookie had already picked up five personals (in just 12 minutes), and was now being re-inserted into the game with over 10 minutes to play. Predictably, It took Gibson just 39 seconds to draw his sixth foul. Although I should mention that he did do so with inexcusable flair.

I don't want to turn this into yet another Taj-Tyrus comp, but for all the talk of Tyrus Thomas' low basketball IQ, I feel like Gibson gets a free pass for his frequent stupid fouls. And what Gibson did in fouling out went beyond stupid. It's a horrible play to foul a 3-point shooter under any circumstances, but for Gibson to leave his feet after an Okur ball fake when he already had five fouls was the definition of a rookie mistake. And knowing Taj was having one of his foul-fest games, why did Vinny go back to him so early in the fourth quarter, especially with Warrick playing so well?

With Gibson now out, Vinny still didn't bring Warrick back -- at this point I was extracting pieces of my remote from my bedroom wall -- and instead turned to a gimpy Luol Deng, who'd earlier added a calf injury to his long list of ailments. But I suppose when you're second-best player's already out, why not risk losing your #3 for a prolonged period of time too?

With 8:33 remaining and the Bulls trailing 99-91, it became clear that Deng couldn't continue, and yet Vinny still gave Warrick the Tyrus Treatment™ and opted to sent Kirk Hinrich in. I had already begun furiously composing this section.

Finally, at 102-91 with 7:45 left, Vinny re-inserted Warrick, but did so at the expense of James Johnson, who was one of the few players on the Bulls showing any sort of pulse.

Before that, I'd been happy to see James Johnson get some quality fourth-quarter minutes. I even liked the play on which he got called for goaltending, which looked a little questionable (the ball might've been at its peak, not coming down). And so I was disappointed to see Vinny yank him after a sequence in which he missed a tip-dunk and then committed a frustration foul in the back court, if only because he'd been so active. Given that the Bulls were (once again) getting killed on the boards, Johnson should have been left in and Hinrich pulled instead.

And somehow, my rage over Vinny's substitutions still had not yet reached its apex.

That would come with 3:26 remaining, when down 120-106, Vinny threw in the towel (Acie Law) and removed Derrick Rose from the game. Yes, the Bulls were down by 14, but there's three-and-a-half minutes remaining. While a comeback is highly unlikely, that's still an eternity in the NBA. During the stoppage of play when Rose was removed, the Bulls were facing a jumpball. Let's say they had gained possession, then sandwiched back-to-back 3s around a defensive stop (and I'm aware of the improbability of that last part alone); now you're down by eight with just under 3 minutes left, which means you've got a real chance. So why are you telling your team that the game is over, when two plays can put you right back into it? This isn't a veteran group that needs to save their legs for the playoffs. This is a young team whose playoffs are right now, a group that hadn't played in three days and has a day off tomorrow. Why just say, We give up when the outcome is still, however slightly, in doubt? I cannot think of a worse message for a coach to send to a young team fighting to stay in the postseason picture.

Not surprisingly, the remaining Bulls displayed no effort the rest of the way, allowing the final nine points of that 11-0 run which made the game seem like much more of a blowout than it was. And once again the coach proved himself to be Vinny Del Sopra La Sua Testa.

A few more notes on the game:

1. After running a layup drill in the third quarter (nine by my count), the Jazz -- or more specifically, CJ Miles -- went on a 3-point tear in the fourth, as Miles buried four in the period including three in a two-minute stretch to keep the Bulls at bay. Miles' display once more put a spotlight on Chicago's dirty little secret: Derrick Rose is still a lousy defender, and isn't really committed at all on that end. Rose had one of the best all-around offensive games of his career, but was a total sieve defensively, and was late getting a hand in Miles' face on several occasions.

Much to my surprise, at the four minute mark of the fourth quarter, Stacey King actually pointed this out:

"The one thing Derrick Rose's game that I'd like to see better [alright, perhaps it wasn't the height of silver-tongued allocution, but stick with it] is his on-the-ball defense. I think watching Deron Williams, and seeing how he approaches the game defensively, I can see Derrick Rose being that type of player defensively. Because he's too good of an athlete, and that's the one part of his game you'd like to see him improve on, and I thought he's gotten better from his first year. He's still got a lot of work to do on that on-the-ball defense. ...

His game is evolving: the jumpshot now is falling. A lot of people said he couldn't shoot the basketball, he's showing he can shoot the basketball now. Teams are no longer able to go underneath the pick and roll and allow him to take that little 18-foot jumpshot, he's making them pay. Now the next step for his game to evolve is to be a very good on-the-ball defender, because he's big, he's strong, he's athletic, and watching a guy like Deron Williams and how he approaches the game, and fights over the screens, Derrick can be that same type of player on the defensive end, and I think he will get there."

Of course later, when Rose sat down for good, King added:

"You know what? Derrick did all he could do. I mean, 25 points, 13 assists."

Uh, didn't you just allude to the fact that he could've done a little something on defense? Like, I don't know, playing some?

2. The Jazz' Wes Matthews had an extremely productive first quarter, during which I heard his name so much I started looking for Ennis Whatley to come in and replace him (kids, ask your parents to explain).

3. Utah's 13-0 run was highlighted by an impressive dunk by Williams over a stunned Rose. I knew Williams was a great player, but I didn't know he was that kind of athlete. Neither did Rose, apparently, as it looked like he didn't really jump his highest. That did, however, result in him getting a very good view of an opposing point guard making the type of explosive play that has become his calling card.

March 9, 2010

Just 20 more games 'til Phil?

A mere week ago, -- and keep in mind this was after dropping a rather winnable game in Indiana -- the Bulls' playoff odds looked like this:

Hollinger Coolstandings AVG
Bucks 89.0% 83.7% 82.5% 85.1%
Raptors 77.5% 89.7% 83.4% 83.5%
Heat 82.7% 80.4% 76.0% 79.7%
Bobcats 75.0% 77.0% 79.1% 77.0%
Bulls 74.9% 69.2% 78.7% 74.3%
Unfortunately, after three straight home losses, now they're something like this:

Hollinger Coolstandings AVG
Bucks 97.6% 96.3% 96.0% 96.6%
Heat 93.8% 95.4% 92.4% 93.9%
Raptors 80.7% 90.4% 85.6% 85.6%
Bobcats 79.2% 81.6% 79.5% 80.1%
Bulls 48.6% 36.3% 46.5% 43.8%
And as much as I dislike Vinny Del Negro, this team in its current form just does not have the talent to win enough to get to the postseason. The trades of John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas gutted the Bulls' depth, to the point that they no longer have enough viable bodies to weather the storm of an injury to someone like Joakim Noah.

Not only that, but the deals also have propelled the Bucks and Bobcats solidly into the playoff picture. And if you don't think it's the ex-Bulls that are their teams' driving forces, think again Mark Schanowski.
Here is the Bobcats' roster, in order of productivity as calculated by

That's Tyrus Thomas on top there, FYI. Meanwhile, these are the Bucks' rankings:

Why that is John Salmons in the first position, in case there was any confusion. So how have the Bulls' acquisitions fared?

In giving two of the their closest competitors players who immediately became the most productive on their respective teams, Chicago received its 5th and 10th best players in return. Actually, since they traded away Nos. 2 and 4, I suppose they're actually #3 and #8, but what's a few middle-to-low-end slots between friends?
Alright, let's say you don't buy into 82games' valuations. Fair enough. Well how about Player Efficiency Rating? Since the trade, Tyrus' PER is 21.36 in 27.1 minutes per game; Salmons' is 19.96 in 36 mpg*. Meanwhile, Hakim Warrick has given the Bulls a 14.83 in 25.1 mpg, while Flip Murray is at 10.16 in 24.5 mpg. Factoring in the minutes played, the Bulls got back roughly half the value of what they gave up.
* To make matters worse, Salmons is playing so well that there's at least a decent chance he'll exercise his player option and leave on the table the $5+ million that the Bulls were so desperate to keep off their cap. The main reason Chicago had to include the extras to the Bucks (the ability to swap first-round picks, the pair of second rounders) was to indemnify them for the loss of next year's cap space. If Salmons does, in fact, opt out, it will mean not only did Chicago get inferior talent back, but they gave up all of those additional assets as compensation for something that never occurred.
And so with just 20 games remaining and the Bulls now unlikely to make the postseason, a thought occurred to me: Could that be exactly what the front office wanted?**
** At the very least this theory makes me feel far better than confronting the reality of the Bulls front office inadvertently improving their rivals so significantly that it cost them their playoff spot. To me, that kind of gross incompetence is much more disturbing than the questionable ethicality of intentionally throwing a season away.
Sure, there is significant downside to missing the playoffs: Jerry Reinsdorf would lose -- or, more accurately, not gain -- a significant amount of cash, the young core would miss out on the experience, and the perception of the team among prospective free agents might take a hit.
But let's focus on the first part for now, because I'm sure that's the one Reinsdorf would be most concerned with. I just can't envision a scenario where the Bulls would've hosted more than three home playoff games. I believe I once read somewhere that an NBA team adds about a million dollars to its bottom line per postseason home game, so that's $3 million. Maybe it's a bit more in a large market like Chicago, so lets up it to $5 million.
Though less than a quarter of the combined annual salary of Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, that's still a lot of money. However, making the playoffs also would leave the Bulls with little pretense to ax Vinny Del Negro. After two playoff appearances in two years, it would have been very difficult for the Bulls to justify firing their novice head coach, and I think it's at least possible that the Bulls' master plan involves canning Del Negro and bringing in a desirable, big-name player's coach to help entice their priority-one target(s).
It's clear that this whole year has been about jockeying for free agents. And so while that $5 million would surely have bought Reinsdorf some snazzy new glasses, it would also have zero impact on any potential free-agent's willingness to sign, which in the long run would be worth far more money to the organization. So therefore it becomes solely a matter of creating the most appealing destination for someone like Dwyane Wade or LeBron James. Would they prefer to go somewhere with:
Back-to-back playoff appearances + Vinny Del Negro
A near-playoff miss + a real head coach?
I suppose it depends largely on who that coach would be, so let's do some speculatin'. One obvious candidate would be Mike Krzyzewski, who has been linked to other NBA jobs in the past, but has always turned them down. But maybe the Bulls figure he wouldn't be able to resist the lure of his hometown and the opportunity to coach Derrick Rose and one of the stars (LeBron, Wade, Chris Bosh) he had on the 2008 Olympic team.
While Krzyzewski would be great as a marketing tool, there is another, more appealing name lingering out there on the horizon: Philip Douglas Jackson.
Alright, it's far-fetched. But Jackson is a free agent after this season, and there's been all sorts of rumbling in L.A. of discord in the organization affecting his return. And somewhat significantly from the Bulls' perspective, Jackson realizes that the environment has changed since he inked his $10+ million a year contract with L.A. Speaking about the Lakers, he recently said:
"People are cutting costs all around the league and coaches are obviously going to take a cut too, so they may not even want to hire me. They may want to save some money."
Also, as far as I know, the rift between Jackson and the Bulls was almost entirely between him and Jerry Krause, who's obviously no longer here. While he surely resented Reinsdorf for supporting Krause, Jackson's parting was no more acrimonious than the one he had with the Lakers following the 2004 Finals, and he returned to LA after just one year away. So there's been more than enough water under that bridge.
Admittedly, I have no idea what kind of relationship Jackson has with John Paxson, but given each's contributions to the Bulls' championship legacy, I can't believe that it wouldn't at least be one of mutual respect. And if Jackson can mend fences with Jerry Buss and Kobe Bryant and return to the Lakers, I see no reason why he couldn't do the same with Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls.
Can you imagine the impact that would have? If anything could lure LeBron James to Chicago, this would be it: Playing for a legend like Jackson, in the house that Michael built, trying to make Bulls fans forget MJ with several titles of his own. And I don't buy that James (or Dwyane Wade, or anyone else) wouldn't want to come here because of Jordan's enormous shadow. Bill Russell didn't prevent Larry Bird from becoming a legend, and the specter of Jerry West didn't hurt Magic Johnson, either.
Pipe dream or not, bringing Jackson back at almost any cost would be the best move the Bulls could make to position themselves for free agency, and I dare say would trump anything that a first-round playoff exit would accomplish.
God that would be awesome.
Some lingering, more reality-based thoughts from Saturday's 122-116 loss to Dallas:
1. As mentioned above, the Bulls don't really have enough talent to win. Just as damning, however, is that the team's coaching staff simply isn't good enough to win with the middling talent at its disposal.
2. There was a lot of talk about defense after the 122-116 loss. Of course, it was all in generalities, as with Tyrus gone there was no one specific to scapegoat for the shortcomings:
"We scored 116 points, which is plenty," Del Negro said. "Their penetration really hurt us. We missed some of our rotations and gave them some easy baskets in the lane. ... Our weak side defense is not very good."
"We just had trouble stopping them," said Hinrich. "We did not play very good team defense and we lost because of it."
'''We just couldn't get a stop," Deng said. "If you want to win, that fourth quarter, you have to lock down. In the fourth, it's not about offense anymore. It's about getting stops.''
In other news, duh. Why, exactly, should this be at all surprising to anyone? As stated in my last post, in Salmons and Thomas the Bulls traded away their two best defenders, statistically speaking. Not that Vinny would have been smart enough to give either any significant minutes against the Mavs, but still.
The horribly ironic thing is, for all of the Bulls' organizational talk about the importance of defense, they practically gave away their two best players on that end, seemingly because they hadn't a clue just how valuable they were, in order to acquire two (allegedly) better offensive players. Criminy.

3. As you know from this post from last week, I love Jason Kidd. Kidd's line against the Bulls -- 6 points, 11 rebounds, 15 assists -- marked the fourth time this season that he has failed to get a triple-double because he came up short in points. He's now had a single-digit points, assists-rebounds double-double 24 times in his NBA career; since he came into the league in 1994, everyone else has combined for 25 such games.
And the primary reason Kidd didn't get career triple-double #105 on Saturday was obvious: He just doesn't care about individual stats. While we've seen other players intentionally miss shots on their own basket just to secure a 10th rebound to try and seal a triple-double, Kidd literally did nothing to selfishly pursue his. Sure, he shot just 33.3% for the game, but he only took six shots. And hitting a 3 to get to six points with 6:41 remaining in the third quarter, Kidd took only one more shot, a 3 at the 3rd-quarter buzzer. Just four points short of a triple-double, Kidd did not attempt a single field goal in the 4th quarter.
And that -- as much as the 10,781 assists (2nd-most all-time) -- is part of what makes Jason Kidd one of the most unselfish players in NBA history. And one of my all-time favorites.

March 6, 2010

The Eyes Tell Lies

Forgive me, dear reader, for I have sinned: I cannot make myself watch the Bulls' 105-96 loss to Memphis on Thursday.

Because of familial responsibilities, I was not able to see the game live. Of course, I recorded it and it's sitting on my DVR. But do I really want to force myself to stomach two-and-a-half hours of blown-17-point-lead agony? Sure, if I watch the game I'll usually re-watch it before writing. But since I didn't have to suffer through the disappointment the first time through, why would I want to do it now?

Cogent analysis, I suppose.

But who needs that? I refuse to suffer through the indignity of another soul-crushing loss. Instead, I am going to do the unthinkable and write this entirely blind. This might seem insane to the demographic of statistic-eschewing eye-believers, but one fact remains: while numbers don't lie, our eyes most certainly do.

Our vision is not a security camera, merely recording everything in front of it (most notably, like that time I crotched that pack of Big League Chew). Rather, everything is filtered through our brain. And when we watch, more often than not what we see becomes ensnared in a web of confirmation bias, which is a tendency to interpret information in way that confirms one's preconceptions.

Look no further than the case of Tyrus Thomas.

I loved Tyrus. What I'll remember most about his Bulls career are the flying dunks, the uncannily-timed blocked shots, and a much-improved mid-range jumper. However, plenty of people watched the exact same games I did, and their overarching perception of Tyrus is centered around play that was alternately out-of-control and indifferent, poor shot selection, and repeated failures to rotate defensively.

The thing is, Tyrus did all of those things, albeit to differing degrees. And I think most fans would acknowledge that. But depending largely on what you had decided Tyrus was -- either a waste-of-a-lottery-pick malcontent, or a guy who just needed consistent playing time -- you primarily perceived the moments that would confirm it.

Therefore, if you want analysis in its purest form, ignore them lyin' eyes. With that as my motive -- and due in no part to my overwhelming laziness -- I have the following observations about Thursday's game, based exclusively on the box score and play-by-play data:

The Bulls frontcourt can't stop anybody

Zach Randolph's night: 31 points (12-18 FG, 7-8 FT), 18 rebounds.

Hard to believe that this is the guy that the Grizzlies were roundly mocked for taking off of the Clippers hands this offseason, and the same one that the Bulls, even given their dearth of low post scoring, showed absolutely zero interest in acquiring at several times over the last few seasons.

Randolph was just the latest power forward to have his way with the Bulls. Over the last six games, the Bulls have yielded the following to 4s around the league*:

Blatche Aldridge Smith Randolph AVG
Min 41 44 34 40 39.8
Pts 25 32 17 31 26.2
FG 8-13 15-23 7-14 12-18 10.5-17 61.8%
FT 9-9 2-2 3-4 7-8 5.3-5.8 91.3%
Reb 11 7 18 18 13.5
Ast 2 0 4 1 1.8
Stl 2 1 2 1 1.5
Blk 2 0 2 0 1
TO 3 3 3 2 2.8
PF 2 4 4 2 3

* Luckily, there were two games involving Troy Murphy sandwiched in there, so they can kind of stop somebody who is eminently stoppable.

And this is the downside of the Joakim Noah injury, combined with the Thomas trade.

Until Noah's injury, the Bulls frontline had three of the 20 best shot blockers (on a per-minute basis) in the league. Now they are playing without the better two of those three, leaving Taj Gibson as the only shot-altering threat they have. Luol Deng's 59th-best rate (1.22/48 min) is second highest among healthy Bulls, and less than a third of Tyrus' (3.82).

While the play of Brad Miller in Noah's absence was significantly acclaimed -- and, just as significantly, has dropped off of late -- probably the most underrated reason the Bulls were able to initially weather the storm of Noah's injury was the presence of Thomas, who defensively does a lot of the same things. With Thomas now gone as well, that leaves only Gibson and his still too foul-prone ways defending the basket. Which is why we're seeing a whole lotta 4s go off on the Bulls.

Piss-poor second quarters are destroying the Bulls chances

Against the Grizzlies, the Bulls 13-point first quarter lead had shrunk to 6 by halftime. Which continued a disturbing trend: somehow, dating back to last Wednesday's Pacers game, the Bulls have been outscored by at least five points in five straight second quarters:

Q2 Score
vs. Indiana 36-21
vs. Portland 29-21
at Indiana 29-23
vs. Atlanta 25-20
vs. Memphis 26-19
AVG 29-21
Per 48 116-84

What's happening here is as clear as it is frightening: The second quarter is when the backups play the most, and the Bulls bench, the team's strength as recently as last year, is now a glaring weakness. Obviously, having Noah out hurts here too, but the problem runs deeper than that. The bench is now comprised primarily of two guys:

Hakim Warrick

Min 15 34 17 25 25 23.2
Pts 5 15 4 10 6 8
FG 1-3 6-11 1-3 3-10 1-3 2.4-6 40%
FT 3-5 3-3 2-2 4-4 4-5 3.2-3.8
Reb 1 4 4 7 5 4.2
Ast 0 3 0 1 0 0.8
Stl 1 0 1 0 0 0.4
Blk 0 0 0 1 0 0.2
TO 1 1 2 1 0 1
PF 0 3 2 2 1 1.6
+/- -2 -4 -3 -5 -13 -5.4


Flip Murray

Min 33 21 19 31 19 24.6
Pts 16 8 2 12 4 8.4
FG 4-12 2-5 0-2 6-13 1-7 2.6-7.8 33.3%
FT 8-10 4-4 2-2 0-1 2-2 3.2-3.8 84.2%
Reb 6 3 2 3 2 3.2
Ast 0 1 0 2 2 1
Stl 3 0 0 3 0 1.2
Blk 1 0 0 1 0 0.4
TO 3 1 1 2 2 1.8
PF 3 1 3 1 2 2
+/- 3 7 -12 -5 -11 -3.6

Warrick and Murray essentially replaced two players, Thomas -- who had a loyal and vocal following -- and John Salmons, who didn't. And Murray and Warrick's collective shooting slump presents a huge problem, because while both were supposed to bring improved scoring, they are significant downgrades defensively.

The Bulls have tried to sell a Warrick-as-superior-defender-based-on-positioning line of bullshit, but the numbers tell a different story. According to, with Warrick on the court, the Bulls have a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 110.51. Without Warrick, they are at 103.83. That's a net of +6.68 (a positive number is not a good thing, in this case).

As for Murray, the Bulls are at 109.77 with him; without him, 103.89. He is then at +5.88.

Admittedly, there are issues with the data sets. For starters, as with all +/- stats, there are issues of multicollinearity, which I'll let's John Hollinger define:

Since the same players tend to play together most of the time, it's tough to tease out to what extent each is impacting the unit's results unless you have a massive number of observations.

Basically, if every time Bill Russell came out of a game, Bob Cousy did too, Cousy would have an amazing +/- rating which he (presumably) would've done little to merit. But the problems with Warrick's and Murray's numbers go beyond multicollinearity, because their off-court numbers include all of the Bulls data from the time before they were acquired. And most of that data came when the Bulls had the benefit of Joakim Noah's services, and he is arguably their best defensive player.

Or is he? Over the course of the season, the Bulls are at 105.46 with Noah on the court, and 103.01 with him off, for a net of 2.45. That shocked the hell out of me.

Still, because the sample size of on-court data is so small, I wanted to look at Murray and Warrick's numbers from before the Bulls acquired them. With Warrick on the court, the Bucks were at 105.82; without him they're 102.05, which is the kind of thing likely to happen with a power forward averaging 0.6 blocks (and 0.7 steals) per 36 min over the course of his career.

Besides, should we really be surprised that Warrick's defensive prowess was greatly exaggerated? If Warrick were an ace defender, would he really have fallen out of favor in Milwaukee with defensive-bug-up-his-ass Scott Skiles as their coach? If Warrick had some magical defensive ability that didn't show up on the stat sheet, I'm confident that Skiles would've sussed it out; instead, he had his minutes significantly reduced over the course of the season.

Murray, on the other hand, looks a little more competent in his Bobcats context. Charlotte was actually a better defensive team with him on the court, with a rating of 102.26, as opposed to 104.64 with him off. While his numbers are more encouraging, overall the swap of Warrick-Murray for Thomas-Salmons has not been a good one defensively. Because among Bulls who have played any real minutes, Thomas (-3.36) and Salmons (-4.60) had the two best net defensive ratings on the team.

Let me say that again: The two best.

Salmons was very long for a shooting guard, so while it's surprising he would've fared so well, it's not a total shock. As for Thomas, I suppose that maybe this means his positives as a defensive player -- primarily, his shot-blocking and ability to pick up steals -- outweighed his perceived failures.

Despite what your eyes may have told you.