Friday, November 05, 2004

Lets get it started

Just wanted to welcome all those new readers coming from the Chicago Tribune Redeye today. I hope you add this page to your favorites and come back often for more analysis on the Bulls and the NBA in general. I even took down that broken link of a title banner to help you remember the name of this place :).

In about an hour from now, I'll be in the United Center cheering on as the depleted Bulls hope to take out the depleted Nets. It'll probably not be pretty, but its winnable.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

No thank you, I'd rather not meet the 2004-2005 Bulls

I'm sure most Chicagoans was saying that to their pull-out sections in the Trib and Sun-Times this week. I mean, just looking at the team, there's obviously no Michael Jordan, no Scottie Pippen, no half-shell of Scottie Pippen we saw last year. And if you've outgrown that (and unless you're Jay Marriotti, you probably have), there's not even an Elton Brand, Ron Artest, or Brad Miller. Or as the aforementioned 3 are referred to in Chicago: "Bird, McHale, and Parish".

And so it goes, 7 years since a 6th world championship (and playoffs, and winning record). I would label this the first full season of the 3rd rebuilding project since then. Since John Paxson took over at the end of the 02-03 season, only 2 players remain (Curry and Chandler). Kirk Hinrich was selected as Paxson's first ever draft pick, and has turned out to be a fantastic choice. But beyond that last season was an unmitigated disaster. Using the meaningless end-of-season performance(most noticeably the performances of the teen towers) as reason for playoff predictions, The Bulls themselves, many experts, and even I had them pegged for resurgence. But after a terrible start Coach Bill Cartwright was fired, and Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall were sent to Toronto. While the team's defense subsequently improved, through the end of the season the team gave Paxson no reason to stop gutting the team. Over the offseason Jamal Crawford, Marcus Fizer, Kendall Gill, and Eddie Robinson were all sent packing in various ways.

The message was simple: Paxson and Skiles wanted their type of player. Commitment, hustle, defense, rebounding, remembering plays...things that should be inherent to any player but sadly was lost on the Bulls squads of previous seasons. The message was sent last season in picking up D-League talent like Linton Johnson and Ronald Dupree. Moving forward though using the draft, trades, and free agency, they have gotten their type of guys to also possess NBA talent. Getting a group of players like that together, they reasoned, would improve the image and attitude of their team and head everything back in the right direction. As (slightly) similar teams like the Jazz and Bucks showed last year, a team that plays hard and plays together can win their share of games in this league. And while training camp and preseason has shown that the mood has changed, will the win total? Not until a few questions are answered:

Who will score the points?
Defense and effort are great, but you still win by scoring more points than the other team. Jamal Crawford, at 17.3ppg, was the team's leading scorer, and he's gone. Have the Bulls done enough to make this difference up? While Crawford did provide volume, at 38% it wasn't provided efficiently. Can this team find another reliable scorer? Or will it be a case of many players slightly raising their output? Ben Gordon was picked #3 in the draft to fill the scoring void, but has shot terribly in the preseason so far. I have a feeling though that after an initial struggle he will provide a breakout game that will enable him to at least provide a reliable, offensive-minded 6th man off the bench. Kirk Hinrich can be good for one of those games every other week, but he shouldn't be consistently burdened with scoring while also having to run the offense. As far as the post players are concerned, Curry and Chandler should see a slight bump in scoring (and more on this later) that will also help ease the burden. Now for the others on the floor....

How are things on the wing?
The SF spot was the team's worst position last year, with a revolving door of crap named Eddie Robinson, Linton Johnson, and Ronald Dupree offering some defense but little else. Inversely, Crawford's scoring helped matters, but his slight frame (for a 2) forced him to be overmatched on defense when he wasn't partially bailed out by Hinrich. This is the area where the team has improved the most, with rookies Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni. I was not high on Deng during the draft hype, but he has wowed everyone with his preseason play. If you want to see the prototype Paxson/Skiles player, Deng looks to be it, using his basketball instincts (at 19 no less) to mask whatever deficiencies he has athletically. And it not like he's Dalibor Bagaric as far as athleticism is concerned. Nocioni is in the similar mold, but has a different skill set. While Deng uses his touch and moves to get points in the paint, Nocioni comes projected to be a fearless slasher (and this gives me the opportunity to re-show his dunk on Garnett) and 3-point threat (and Deng has worked on his 3-point range as well). He's a physical defender that can hold his own in the post, and you can bet he will drive opponents crazy with his shady 'fouling and flopping' techniques. While both are rookies, they are more than likely going to start at the 2 and 3, with their true positions depending on the matchups that are presented. But looking with respect to what the Bulls had to put out there in their place last year, this should be an instant improvement, with great room for development.

The Bench: productive, selective minutes? or shit sandwich?
To define success for the bench for this season, a lot can be derived in how many minutes are being played. The less they play, the better they will be in the time they are given, and that will also mean that their younger counterparts have done their job. Antonio Davis, Othella Harrington, Adrian Griffin and Eric Piatkowski all are veterans of the league and provide their well-known, if limited, skills to fill their roles off the bench. All of them are coming off unproductive years however, and at their ages that usually is a trend that does not reverse. But if their minutes are limited and they are only called on to do what they can do, they should be fine. If not, you have deeper reserves like Chris Duhon, Frank Williams, Jannero Pargo, Tommy Smith, and Jared Reiner that can possibly provide the same things with fresher legs. Now if *they're* playing a lot of minutes, that's serious trouble for everyone. So if you've been following along you'll notice I left out something....

Who's going to back up Hinrich?
Poor Kirk, the Bulls are asking a ton from him this season. Not only is he the primary ballhandler, he also serves as floor leader, scorer, defensive stopper, and face of the ad campaign. The lack of size at the 2 will force Kirk to guard opposing scorers, and while he can handle the job it will wear him out if he is called on too often. Paxson did not provide him with the usual "veteran floor general" backup that teams usually find. He has rookie Chris Duhon, who is a 4-year Dukie, but he's still never played in an NBA game before. I thought Frank Williams would be a help, but he was a non-factor in the preseason and will start the season on the IR, as is Pargo. Ben Gordon can also handle the ball in spot situations....but look for this to be a problem throughout the year, unless Pax can find someone internally or externally to help poor Hinrich out once in a while.

Will they survive the annual Circus Trip of Death(tm)?
If you don't know the history, read the grim details. Last year continued the trend as they went 0-fer yet again, and after that point was when Pax went on his purging spree. The trip starts very early this year, after the 4th game of the season, stopping at Sacto, Golden State, Denver, Lakers, Phoenix, Utah, and Cleveland. The question isn't necessarily how many games they can win, but how will they handle the losses? Factoring in Curry and Davis missing the first 2 games of the season before they even hit the road, things could get very ugly very quick. The problem with a coach like Skiles is that his fiery outbursts will be his undoing if the players stop listening. The Paxson/Skiles mold that they tried to find was to get players who would handle this without giving up on the season, and it'll be Skiles' biggest test to see if he can keep the team together even if they go winless on this trip yet again.

The big question:
Repeat after me. Curry and Chandler, Curry and Chandler. I been over this at length, and recently for that matter. Basically the season comes down to them. So at the end of it all I have two predictions: If Curry and Chandler's development keeps along at this slow rate, the improvements in other areas will still get them to 32 wins. However those two can make that next step (and like I said, while not probable it can happen), they will get to .500 and in the East that'll mean game 3 of the playoffs at the United Center. I mean....its possible right?

Next week: league-wide predictions...and I know I'm cheating by letting a bunch of games transpire first.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

A momentous night

Happy Election Day Basketball New Year! (before you jump down my throat Puffy, don't worry I voted) Some not so different perspectives on the coming Bulls season. Both say they're bad, but while Jay Mariotti sees no hope (and of course mentions the breakup of the dynasty...get over it!), My Man Sam(TM) at least recognizes the fact that after the top 3 everyone else in the East is bad too.

Not to get into a full-blown preview (probably on Thursday), but the general, and correct, sentiment everywhere is that it's all on Curry and Chandler. I've been saying that for years, but this year is the one where it'll come with some consequence. Look, I've said before that I am not against trading either of them. I just do not like rampant rumors of Paxson doing it now because he's 'had it' with them and predicts them being dealt for marginal talents. (and I guess that Golden State rumor died quick). Unless it is for a difference maker, I don't want to hear it. Let these guys play. I know this is the 4th season, but Chandler is healthy, Curry is thinner, they've had a whole training camp with Scott Skiles and away from Jamal Crawford and Jalen Rose. I'm not guaranteeing that this year will be any different for the twin teens, but I'm saying it *can* be. And if its not, Paxson has made it clear that he is not going to pay on potential and has no problems with letting them go. And by then, neither will I.

Both Curry and Chandler were up for contract extensions but the deadline has come and gone with no money for either. Paxson is going with the 'wait and see' approach, looking for change both in their performance and the league's salary structure over the coming year. Everyone has had a real hearty laugh over Curry's agent's apparent demand for a max contract, but for me it was nothing to worry about. I would want my agent to ask for the max as well, and see if he can get it. I sincerely doubt that Curry's people really expected to get that money. Tyson Chandler has taken the complete opposite approach, openly admitting that his health should make management understandably hesitant to offer guaranteed dollars. If I were Paxson though, and thought the risk of injury was low enough, I would've tried to offer Chandler a cap-sensible long term deal. If the risk panned out and Chandler even progressed at a normal rate (he is only 22, remember?), the team would have a great bargain for a low-post player.

As far as both players are concerned, it is a win-win situation between them and the Bulls. If they play poorly, Pax won't pay them and will decide how to best maximize their value (even if is just for cap space, ala Crawford). If they play well, the Bulls will do very well, Pax will be happy, they will get their money, and *I* will be happy. So that is why I won't be joining My Man Sam(TM) in the 'Trade Eddy scenario of the week', and will take the approach of past seasons: cross my fingers and hope the Baby Bulls finally 'get it'. No matter what happens, this will be the last season I'll have to endure it.

Note: check out Bill Simmons' retrospective on Scottie Pippen. I remember reading some of Simmons' past columns saying he couldn't wait to write about Pippen, and it looks like he made the most out of it. And if you missed it, here were my thoughts.

Another Note: I have noticed that my sweet banner on top is gone. And like an idiot, I forgot (again) to save it. So...wait till I feel up for photoshoppin'.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Final 15

So the Bulls have made their final cut today, and it was the buyout of Eddie Robinson's contract. The Bulls aren't saving much here, paying E-Rob $11m out of the $14m he is owed over the next 2 years. I guess Paxson has deemed that much money to be a fair price to keep Robinson away from the team. That sure says alot about how bad things had gotten. After his high point last season, Robinson was permanently banished to Scott Skiles' doghouse, and quickly made his mark on the new season.

Its tough to say who is at fault here. On the one hand, as evidenced through his phantom injuries and needless stubbornness with his lame practice(or should I say non-practice) habits, E-Rob was one lazy dude. But he did have talent, and maybe Skiles/Pax should be at fault for not unlocking it because E-Rob didn't fit into their 'grinder' attitude. However former coaches Tim Floyd and Bill Cartwright couldn't get through to E-Rob either, so I will be very surprised if he suddenly becomes productive for whatever team picks him up (Miami is one of the rumored destinations). I will be happy to trade whatever Robinson could have brought to the table to see what Skiles can do with Deng, Gordon, et. al.

I would write about Curry and Chandler not getting extensions, and how the wolves (not the timber kind) have come back out to come with their best 'trade Eddy' scenario...maybe tommorow. Or next Monday when Sam Smith assuredly will write a similar column.

Note: Just when I thought nobody cared about the Bulls not being on TV, this message board thread reassured me that there are enough fans where something should be done soon. Like I said in my letter, if this were the Cubs there is no way Comcast would be holding out this long.

Sad News: Cezary Trybanski has retired from basketball. Finding this link was worth it if only to read the name C-Tryb. That's taking the whole 'abbreviated name' thing too far. Way too far.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

This "forecast" calls for....outstanding!

That was my Joel Siegel impression. But it is what he would say about John Hollinger's  Pro Basketball Forecast if he read it. Like I said after my initial impression, this book was a joy to read. It is as much entertaining as it was interesting. If you want to learn more about innovative metrics to evaluate teams and players, there is plenty to immerse yourself into. If you don't care much about those kind of things, and just want to learn about player tendencies and projections (a real great tool if you're into fantasy basketball), then fear not because every player has been dissected.

The best part about this book is Hollinger's witty style that is as much scathing as it is truthful. I'll pull some of my favorite quotes:

On Al Harrington:
    "It was hard for me to calmly watch Harrington last year without thinking "Damn it, this should be Brad Miller."

Bimbo Coles:
    "Please, let this be the end"

Michael Redd:
    "Every time Redd drives to the rim, you hear him yell out "And 1" to try a buy call from the refs. I can't help but wonder if the tactic wouldn't be more effective if he didn't do it 15 times a game"

Brian Scalabrine:
    "Scalabrine plays a lot of minutes because the Nets don't have anybody better, but that shouldn't confuse people into thinking he's a good player."

(now former Bull) Cezary Trybanski:
    "Its almost impossible to put up a negative PER, but Trybanski reminds me why I have to qualify that statement with 'almost'.

Tyson Chandler:
    "This is the kind of player Chicago should be trying to keep, not trade"

Kirk Hinrich:
    "The projections aren't exactly brimming with optimism about Hinrich's offensive development."

John Paxson:
    "Does anyone else get the impression the Paxson brothers just sit at home watching the NCAA Tournament and figure out whom to draft after the Final Four?"

The Bulls (previous season):
    "What a disaster"

There are a lot more great quips in there that will keep you interested even if you didn't previously know about the player. If you want to have a greater understanding for ANY team you happen to watch this year, I recommend you pick this book up.

Not coincidentally (in fact it inspired me to finally write a review), Knickerblogger has an interview up with Mr. Hollinger himself.