Friday, January 07, 2005

Making Hay


Tonight's game against the Jazz will be the 7th in-game appearance by yours truly. I bought the tickets mainly to see some of my favorite out-of-town players, like AK-47 and Mehmet Okur. Kirelenko has been injured most of the year, but fortunately for the Bulls that means they catch a team on a significant downslide after starting the season real strong. Part of me still wishes I could see Kirelenko in person though, Bulls chances be damned.

This game is the start of a very significant homestand, as after tonight the Bulls will host the Celtics, Warriors, Sixers, and Knicks. First a look at the Eastern Conference:

Eastern Conference
MIA 26 8 --
CLE 19 12 5.5
WAS 18 13 6.5
DET 17 14 7.5
ORL 16 14 8
IND 16 14 8
NYK 16 16 9
PHI 15 16 9.5
BOS 15 17 10
CHI 11 18 12.5
TOR 12 21 13.5
NJN 11 20 13.5
MIL 10 19 13.5
CHA 8 21 15.5
ATL 5 25 19

In my estimation, the Bulls are in-between distinct classes of teams. Their recent play tells me that they're better than the lower class of Atlanta, Charlotte, and Milwaukee. So they got that going for them, which is nice. The next tier of teams is a whole lot of mediocrity, and includes New Jersey, Toronto (they've been playing well lately), Boston, Philly, New York, and Orlando (due to their poor play lately). As far as the rest (Indiana, Detroit, Miami, Cleveland and Washington), they have officially been declared Bulls-Blog approved(tm) playoff locks.

So in this homestand, the Bulls have 3 of these teams in town, and it will be a great measure to see how well they perform. I don't want to hear about the idea of talking playoffs too early, there is only one question: There are 3 spots left, and 8 teams going for it. Are the Bulls in the top 3 of those 8 (the fact that one of these playoff spots have to go the Atlantic division winner could complicate things)? If they perform well on this homestand against their standings competition (along with similarly-talented teams from the west), you'd have to give them a shot.

And for the rest of the month? @NY, @BOS, ATL, @DET, @ATL, DEN, CHA, BOS, @NJ

Only Detroit and Denver are clearly better, and even they have their share of problems. Not saying the Bulls don't. But it's nice to see a big block of schedule and find a LOT of winnable games. I'm not sure what number of victories gets the job done, but if they finish under-.500 for this stretch it's safe to say the team isn't ready for prime-time. And after 7 years of futility, even if the Bulls become the "Dharma and Greg" of the NBA's primetime, I'll take it.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Duhon v. Frankie

Sure, I'm biased. I'm an Illinois alum (where Bulls PG Frank Williams led the Fighting Illini to the Elite Eight in 2001).  I'm also a classic Duke-hater (where his teammate Chris Duhon led the Dukies to a national championship).

But every time I see Chris Duhon out to start a game I wonder if the team would be better served getting little-used Frank Williams out on the court. After all, coach Skiles talks all the time about having too many rookies on the court, and Frank, unlike Duhon, has 2 years of NBA experience under his belt. Through observation, I can at least say that Williams can do everything Duhon can, while providing more defense and scoring.

Luckily a time has come in the season where the two can be compared (semi)objectively. Due to Duhon's inexplicable heavy minutes this season, he is close to surpassing the total minutes Williams played last season for the New York Knicks. Using John Hollinger's Pro Basketball Forecast for Williams' 03-04 season, and Knickerblogger's fantastic new stat page (2nd plug this week!) to get Duhon's stats, here is the advanced head-to-head comparison:

Williams (24)                      
03-04 NYY 714 12.3 3.0 6.8   2.5 0.96 29.30 15.20 20.90 4.20 10.66
Duhon (22)                        
04-05 CHI 677 6.5 3.4 8.0   6.3 0.71 40.00 14.10 14.50 4.90 6.88

(on the left are the traditional stats normalized to 40 minutes. On the right are the Hollinger stats, and go to Knickerblogger for those definitions if you're not familiar already)

The stats reflect the story, but give much more merit to Duhon's vaunted 'floor leader' ability than I had anticipated. His Pure Point Rating (PPR) is much higher, and it is further reflected in his superior Assist and Turnover ratios (remember, for TO, less is more). Williams counters that with a far better Usage Rate and point production, and its probably his ability in scoring and creating that give him the higher PER. (greater defensive skills on Williams' side could also help his cause, but I could not isolate those numbers)

I was pleasantly surprised by his inflated point-guard stats, but Duhon's PER is nothing short of abysmal. Looking at last year's PER cellar-dwellers, Duhon's 6.88 puts him among the ranks of Ira Newble (6.75) and Sean Rooks (6.81) in the bottom 5 of the entire league. Not just starters. The. entire. league.

Not to get into the argument of why Duhon OR Williams should be getting much burn over Ben Gordon, of course. I'll assume Skiles will stick to his guns and keep Gordon's minutes capped while his body adjusts to the NBA life.

And maybe this is unnecessary. Perhaps there is little sense in tweaking the starting lineup at a time of relative success. But I still can't help but still think that Williams would only bring more to the lineup than Duhon can, and Williams can run the offense effectively enough to the point where Bulls fans won't be missing Duhon's clanks off the front of the rim. While the Bulls' change in fortune did technically correlate with Duhon's arrival in the starting lineup, correlation doesn't mean causation. If an improvement can be made Skiles should go for it.

But then again, I'm biased.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Introducing: The Skiles-O-Meter

No, it's not quite the statistical resource that Knickerblogger's stat page is, but I wanted to find a way to track what's going on in the world of Scott Skiles. So what I have been tracking is every rotation player's mpg over the course of the season. This allows one to see over time what players are falling in and out of favor with the coach.

One difference that I have implemented from the standard mpg is that when a player gets a DNP-SD(Skiles' decision), that is recorded as 0 minutes instead of not counting it as a game played (like it is when a player is suspended or injured).

I'll be updating this throughout the season, and hopefully it'll see that Gordon line spike up while the Duhon line falls. More on THAT in the future.

Smith Waived: One player who won't be in the Skiles-o-Meter will be rookie Tommy Smith, who after failing to get off the IR this season, was released today. January 10th is the day when all non-guaranteed contracts (Smith, Pargo, Duhon, Reiner) become guaranteed for the season, so its possible that after then Smith will be re-signed to a 10-day contract or two. The team also may look towards filling this roster spot externally, as there will be a few players around the league looking for work after this date.

Bulls beat Hornets: The Bulls eeked out a victory against the hapless New Orleans Hornets tonight, 95-89. With Eddy Curry back from his flu-induced absence, the Bulls were in control for much of the game. It got close at points, and the Bulls tried their damndest to blow it and cause me to scream at my radio (again, no Comcast). But the crunch-time of Curry,Chandler,Deng,Gordon and Hinrich got the job done. In case you forgot, that lineup has an average age of 21.6 years. A scary, but valuable experience for the youngins. Even though their opponent had 2 wins on the season, a close road victory should give them confidence for the upcoming 5 game homestand.

Monday, January 03, 2005

This non-post brought to you by Comcast Sports Net Chicago

Get your game on! Unless you have Dish Network of course, then you can suck an egg. I think they cut that last part out of their official slogan, but actions speak louder than words, since I still don't get the channel that is showing nearly half of the Bulls games this season.

Tonight's was one of them, a close loss to the Pistons. Eddy Curry didn't play because of the flu, and from the looks of the 87-80 final score, he probably could've helped. On the bright side though, this is the first game that a rotation player has missed due to injury (or in this case, sickness), so its hard to cry 'unlucky' in this situation.

 Check out the links to your left if you missed the game like I did and need a recap. I look forward to discussing it tommorow in the comments of this post :).

I can't leave you all on that note though, especially since this is my first post of 2005. Luckily I have an easy target in My Man Sam(TM), who today used the Denver Nuggets coaching search to get Jordan worshippers (and their ringleader Jay Mariotti) salivating:

Jackson and Riley both have suggested they won't coach again. But they might make an exception for a team like Denver, with its young potential stars. Or Seattle, with a lame-duck coach. Portland? The Knicks or Nets? Some friends believe Brown would go to New York to complete the circle because he was born in Brooklyn. The Magic? The Mavericks? The Kings? Or the Bulls?

Riley always believed in starting with a big man, and the Bulls have two young big men who are looking good right now. Jackson likes taking over a team on the verge of something, and that could be the Bulls. Plus Jackson's return could give Michael Jordan a legitimate reason to rejoin the organization and work with Jackson.

The Bulls have a good general manager, and Jordan is not about to take a minority stake in a franchise as Magic Johnson did. But what a great excuse to return to work with Jackson

As Hawk Harrelson would say: STRETCH! Smith is naturally up to his old tricks of trying to stir some gossip, since the chances of Riley or Jackson coming to coach the Bulls are pretty weak. The best part though is the needless inclusion of Jordan. I'm blatantly ripping off Dan Bernstein of the Score (who addressed this very article this afternoon), but what is Jordan going to do?!??! "work with Jackson". And do WHAT? Not only does he have no desire to learn about and work at identifying and developing personnel, the one time he claimed to be interested he failed miserably.

Eh, I shouldn't use those mean looking italics. My Man Sam(TM) is probably just playin around with the likes of me. Throw in a Jordan reference once in a while, stir the pot, I get it. As long as everyone remembers what I wrote about the mythical ability that Jordan possesses to attract players to play for him, I won't need to wring my hands every time this happens.