Thursday, March 03, 2005

Defense, relatively

We've been hearing it the past month from Bulls coach Scott Skiles: The Bulls' defense is slipping. They once had a 26 game streak of holding opponents under 100 points, and since then have allowed that benchmark 11 out of their last 15 games.

But while that was it concerned I wondered how much of this was due to the better competition in that more recent stretch than they had in January. How much of this perceived lapse in defense was real or was it merely playing against a better offensive team that caused the final point total to look worse than it truly was?

So what I tried to do was look at a by-game analysis of how Bulls' opponents fared relative to their season norms. The stat used for comparison is offensive efficiency (OE), which is a fancy way of saying points-per-100-possesions.

(By-game calculations were done with reference to Kevin Pelton's stat page, and season stats are always ready for you at

Date Opponent Pts Poss OE-gm OE-season Diff
1/5 @NO 89 99.2 89.7 96.0 -6.3
1/7 UTA 78 95.5 81.7 93.0 -11.3
1/8 BOS 91 95.8 95.0 104.0 -9.0
1/10 GS 85 100.7 84.4 98.5 -14.1
1/12 PHI 78 98.0 79.6 100.5 -20.9
1/15 NY 84 93.9 89.5 102.2 -12.7
1/17 @NYY 86 89.9 95.7 102.2 -6.5
1/19 @BOS 92 95.2 96.6 104.0 -7.4
1/21 ATL 85 93.2 91.2 96.2 -5.0
1/22 @DET 89 85.5 104.1 102.2 1.9
1/24 @ATL 82 95.0 86.4 96.2 -9.8
1/25 DEN 107 101.3 105.6 100.2 5.4
1/27 CHA 93 91.9 101.2 97.0 4.2
1/29 BOS 101 97.0 104.1 104.0 0.1
2/1 @NJ 107 94.9 112.8 96.7 16.1
2/5 @MIA 108 105.6 102.3 108.3 -6.0
2/8 DAL 100 100.2 99.8 106.8 -7.0
2/9 @HOU 105 91.0 115.4 101.4 14.0
2/13 @MIN 83 85.0 97.7 104.4 -6.7
2/15 SAC 102 103.2 98.8 106.5 -7.7
2/16 @TOR 115 97.1 118.5 103.8 14.7
2/22 MIA 101 105.0 96.2 108.3 -12.1
2/23 @CLE 100 96.0 104.1 103.8 0.3
2/25 WAS 90 98.7 91.2 103.9 -12.7
2/26 @CHA 90 93.1 96.7 97.0 -0.3
3/1 HOU 119 93.2 127.6 101.4 26.2

The games in red are ones in which the Bulls opponent outperformed their normal offensive efficiency. As you can see there has been a lot more red recently, so in essence Skiles was right. From the first game I looked at on 1/5 (at New Orleans, picked because it was the first in the stretch where they faced the poorer teams) until the 1/24 rout of Atlanta, on average the Bulls forced their opponents' OE to be -9.2 points lower than their season average. Behind that defense they went 10-1. In games following until the game which shall not be mentioned, that number fell to actually have teams have a 1.8 point increase, and the record a less impressive 9-6.

But this mini-study still illustrates the point I was trying to make, that being not looking at giving up 100+ points as the sure indicator of bad defense. For example, in both games against Miami the Heat scored 100, but each time the Bulls defense actually held them to a lower offensive efficiency than their season average.

 That said, there is no doubt that the Bulls defense isn't what it was when they went on their winning streak(s), no matter who was on the schedule.

[I'll be at THE Ohio St. University on Sunday to watch the Illini try and finish the regular season undefeated. So there may or may not be a Carnival of the NBA post ready by Monday morning, we'll see. Either way, send me your submissions by Sunday night]

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Sweet Lu(ol)

Lets pretend that game against the Rockets didn't happen. And especially forget that I paid to go. Besides, if I would've known that Roche had already unknowingly sabotaged the Bulls effort, I wouldn't have gone. (Wear your lucky Bulls hat next time!)

But what I can't disregard was seeing Luol Deng go to the ground right in front of me after spraining his ankle on Yao's big foot. The Bulls have had a lot of things go right this season, and perhaps the biggest factor to their playoff push has been the lack of any significant injury. If Luol misses Friday's game at San Antonio, it will be the only time a Bulls player has missed a game due to injury besides Antonio Davis' 5-game stint on the IR.

Not that Deng's presence would've made much of a difference in the game that shall not ever be mentioned (although maybe he would've given McGrady some relative trouble), but it is hard to overstate the importance to the Bulls season and future.

For the season, just think of the carousel of crappy 3s that revolved in the United Center last season:

G Min eFG% PSA Usg RbR PER
Eddie Robinson 51 1024 0.483 0.99 15.6 5.5 11.0
Ronald Dupree 47 893 0.401 0.89 17.4 10.2 9.7
Linton Johnson 41 734 0.372 0.79 14.1 13.6 9.6
Scottie Pippen 23 412 0.425 0.9 18.7 9 12.4

(Jerome Williams also played at the 3 (passably), but he is a natural 4 and overpaid and couldn't shoot)

Compare with Deng's rookie season:

G Min eFG% PSA Usg RbR PER
Luol Deng 54 1510 0.461 1.00 21.0 11.0 14.7

Deng is already an upgrade over last year's fare as a rookie. Not only that, he leads the team in +/- (although Nocioni's limitations help that figure), and of course best of all he's young, cheap, and has a chance to be the starting small forward for the next 12 years.

With all the press going to Ben Gordon this season(not that there's no reason for that), it was cool to see Eric Neel single out Deng as his favorite rookie:

Seriously, 10 years from now he's only 29, and at 19 we're already seeing a complete skill set (top five among rookies in boards, dishes and points). Remember now, he's playing just 28 minutes per night (Okafor plays almost 36). Run his points-per-40 and you get about an 18-point money man, who can run the floor for you and run the floor for you, if you know what I'm saying.

People love Kirk Hinrich, and with good reason, but my guess is we'll be calling the Bulls Luol's team within two years.

(Couple that assessment with his mention of Knickerblogger and the Hollinger Stats (now that he's a colleague it should be happening more and more), and its obvious that Eric Neel rules.)

While looking at the present and pondering the future of a 19 year old who is already a starter on a playoff-caliber team, all I have left to add about Luol is: Get well soon.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A look back, and forward (again)

[scroll down or click here for this week's carnival of the NBA]

Way back before the start of February, I had a prediction of the Bulls going 5-6 in the coming month. With only 3 home games all month and tough teams all over the schedule, the Bulls looked to be in trouble relative to their easy January which saw them make the leap into the East playoff picture.

As mentioned in the previous post's comments, other predictions included:

Bulls Report: 4-7 or 5-6
UnknownColumn: 6-5
PDaddy:  4-7
CRG:  4-7 or 5-6
Mike_g:  4-7

After sweeping the weekend with a win at home against the Wizards followed the next night by an ugly victory over the Bobcats in Charlotte, the Bulls finished the month 7-4. This included wins over Miami, Dallas, Minnesota, Sacramento, and the aforementioned Washington. A welcome surprise to say the least.

It doesn't get any easier, notes KC Johnson:

The Bulls will have to do so again in March, which features season highs of 18 games and five sets of back-to-back games. The Bulls are 8-5 in the first game of back-to-backs and 7-6 in the back end.

The worst part about these back-to-backs is that they are against teams the Bulls can beat: @MIL, @NJ, @PHI, IND, CLE. It hurts their chances since one would already factor very tough games against HOU, @SAS, @SEA, SEA, @BOS (since the Bulls are 0-2 there) and MEM. The games that I would reasonably expect victories from are: MIL, @POR, @LAC, NO, ATL, @TOR, @CHA, and even a few of those are on the road, which doesn't make some of these a slam dunk.

All that considered, and throwing a bit if whim (if not whimsy) and guesswork, I'll give my 30-second calculation for expected wins for March. Expected Wins is something I borrowed from my Dad (the apple doesn't fall far....ok, well, with this kind of thing at least it doesn't), who before every season figures expected wins for the entire season, assigning each game a value between (but not including) 0 and 1, with 0 being an automatic loss and 1being an automatic win (since nothing in the NBA is automatic, I do not include 0 and 1 as possible values). I find it is much easier to come up with a win total this way than to guess for every game an absolute value of a win or a loss:























































































So by that un-scientific method, I'll say 10-8. You'll probably notice that I go to extremes when the Bulls are facing very good teams (like San Antonio), or very bad ones (New Orleans or Atlanta). I figure this because during this stretch of the season I can imagine a good team as more likely to be gearing up for the playoffs (while not yet at the point yet where they would be resting guys), and a poor team is more likely to mail it in.

A record like 10-8 for this month will more than hold serve in the East. As we all know, due to the 3-divisions per conference, at least one team from the Atlantic Division will get a playoff spot, currently Boston (2 games behind the Bulls). So really it doesn't matter if one Atlantic team passes the Bulls or not. Despite recent moves, Philadelphia (4) and New Jersey (6) have a lot of ground to make up to catch the Bulls, and while Indiana (2) is the most likely to make a strong push, Orlando (2...yup its a logjam down there) looks just as likely to keep fading.

And at the risk of sounding overzealous, should I mention that with the Cavs losing today, they are now, with the Wiz, only 1 game ahead of the Bulls?

With a much more manageable 11 games in April, by the time this month is over the Bulls could have a nice cushion to work with to get to their first playoff appearance in 7 years, and then we can officially start haggling over which seed is most desirable. Before February started, most fans were hoping the Bulls would keep their heads above water. They've done that and more, now time to swim to the finish.

(and the award for lamest metaphor to end a blog post goes to.....)