The 12 Days of Bullsmas. Day 12: What This Season Holds

Posted: December 24, 2011 by Mauricio Rubio Jr. in Basketball, NBA
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

And, fin.

I thought I would do something different for this post.

The Poetic

A specter is silently waiting, biding it’s time. It is slowly measuring out the spaces in the calendar until the time to strike is at hand. It is a patient beast, one that NBA fans have out of mind for now. It is not perturbed by this in the least. I get the feeling that it prefers it to be this way, waiting until the shine from other franchises wears off before it rears its head and takes a strangle hold of the NBA. I am of course talking of the Heat-Bulls rivalry.

When that fire is reignited it will be like a flame taking over and consuming a rich forest preserve. Yes, the Clippers are a nice story and will be entertaining to look at, the Thunder will always be an entertaining view as well, but the bloodbath that will ensue is unlike any seen since the Bulls danced with the Pistons a generation ago.

This can be the stuff of legend, two superstars, one in the midst of his prime and at the height of his powers while the other is still climbing to still uncertain heights, meeting to decide whose will is stronger, whose team is superior, and who will shine when the lights are the brightest to join the Legends Circle.

The regular season has ceased to matter, the Bulls will win a lot of games barring injury, and will be primed to make a deep run at the playoffs. What truly matters is end of season health. The focus of the potential rematch will be on James and Rose, but of equal importance will be how many healthy bodies of quality they have at their side when the time comes to engage in the battle for basketball supremacy. Last year Boozer was hurt at the end of the season, ditto with Rose and Noah. It was painfully visible as the Heat exerted their will on the lesser Bulls to brush aside the would be dragon-slayers.

Now the team that is built on defense and character will again have the opportunity to clash with style and grace on the precursor to the game’s biggest stage. Rose and James are two completely different personalities, this much we know. What is often misunderstood is how different the teams are as well.

If you wanted a contrast of front offices, look at the difference between the Bulls and the Heat f/o’s. Pat Riley exudes savvy. To look at him is almost to look at the face of success, he oozes confidence and as a byproduct of that, it sparks easy, basic emotions of hate. We don’t like cocky when cocky isn’t wearing our laundry of preference. Riley is smooth, slick and in command. Rumor has it that he threw a bag of rings down at the negotiating table in front of James, smiling and saying “want some of these?”

The Heat roster is based on one draft pick and the free agency coup of the century. There is almost no drafted talent on the current iteration of the Miami Heat. This runs against the basic philosophy of the Chicago Bulls.

The three-headed hydra known as GarPaxDorf (thank you blogabull for that nickname) doesn’t exude, well, much of anything to be honest. Gar Foreman kinda looks like Bert from Bert and Ernie, John Paxson is a goof who punched out Vinny Del Negro and lived to tell about it and Jerry Reinsdorf is usually busy with his baseball team. As much as I would like to call them lucky inept idiots, the roster they’ve built around Rose is not terrible. Noah was a lottery pick, likewise with Deng. The Boozer acquisition was the right idea even if the results have been mixed and it would appear that the Rip Hamilton signing was rather inspired. The strength of this team is an astounding bench headlined by two draft picks, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. GarPaxDorf have done well to acquire the pieces, but their lures to get a superstar to play alongside Rose have failed thus far. LeBron choose Miami, likewise with Bosh. Dwight doesn’t want to play here. There must be something that they are not doing. Yet here they sit, with a good head coach, a strong team, and right on the cusp of an NBA title.

The regular season will be fun, but as we were reminded last year, there is only one prize and one way to measure a successful season.

The Analytical

82games is one of my favorite basketball sites. The simplicity of the site melds well with the no nonsense information they provide. When you peruse the Bulls team page, a few things should be clear.

Boozer improving his defense is key to the team’s success.

The five-man unit that logged the most minutes last year was the starting lineup of Rose-Bogans-Deng-Boozer-Noah. When breaking down the numbers, realize that this lineup was the most likely to go against the starters of the opposing team, and still managed to put up terrific defensive numbers.

Which brings us to the Carlos Boozer issue. He absolutely fails the eye test, but when  you look inside the numbers you start to realize that he was a much better player last year than even I gave him credit for. What you’ll see and what you should pay attention to are two numbers, Off and Def numbers. Those two numbers indicate how many points the team scored or allowed per possession when Boozer was on the floor. For example, Boozer’s Off. number was 1.11 last year. Thus per 100 Boozer possessions the Bulls would expect to score 111 points. His Def. number was 1.04, so thus per 100 Boozer possessions the Bulls would expect to allow 104 points. This is pretty good, actually, as reflected in the winning percentage with Boozer, 67.9%. What we failed to grasp was how Boozer’s post presence forced a defender to respect him, allowing more of a free run for Rose to work his magic. Also, it shows how effective Boozer’s little fade-a-way jumpshot really was. 111 points per possession is a great offensive number, LeBron’s Off. rating was 1.14. This isn’t meant to equate Boozer to James, that would be silly. Rather, it’s to put this stat in proper context.

All that said, Boozer must be better this year on the defensive end so that the Bulls can benefit from his offense and rebounding at the end of games. It became clear last year that Thibs would bench Boozer at the end of the 4th quarter for defensive reasons. It’s going to be a problem if the Bulls are going to call on Rose to expend energy at the end of games on a consistent basis because their second best scoring option is a traffic cone defensively.

Rose needs to prove conventional basketball wisdom wrong.

Quick, think of all the PG’s in today’s game. Got it? Ok, now think about all the great players that are under 6’4. Now think about how many of them have championship rings. We are in the age of the guard, every team has a quick guard it seems. But when you think back over the scores of great PG’s, only Magic was really a consistent winner. Isiah Thomas has two rings, but he had the bad boy Pistons backing him up. Allen Iverson was a badass, but he could only get to game 5 of the Finals. Jason Kidd just won one as he is in the twilight of his career and he had to jump on Nowitzki’s back to get it. Nash, empty ring finger. Penny? The same. Chris Paul? No rings. Midget guards don’t win rings when they are the best player on the team. Don’t give me Chauncey and Thomas, they are merely exceptions that prove the rule.

Rose is a midget guard. He is sublimely talented and has a sky-high character, but he will clearly need to be more than he already is. We all know what happens when James guards Rose, LeBron is a bitch of a defender and he erased Derrick last year. For the Bulls to win a title will require a superhuman effort from Rose. That isn’t hyperbole, that actually needs to happen. The Heat will be a swarming defensive team that will pressure the ball and choke out the passing lanes. Their most played lineup had a slightly higher Off. number and a slightly worse Def. number. The kid from Englewood is going to have to pull some street court magic out to contend with that. It is all on him.

That Bench Mob better match last year’s performance.

The Bull’s best defensive lineup this year will probably be the Rose-Brewer-Deng-Gibson-Asik lineup. Noah is a fine two-way center, but Asik is a better defender, albeit one that finds himself in frequent foul trouble. Last year it could be argued that the Taj-Asik frontcourt was the best defensive frontcourt in basketball. The Bulls employed the “we won’t score but neither will you” bench strategy as Thibs was all too happy to use hockey line substitution patterns to rest his starters. The Bull’s depth will be tested this year, and you have to figure that Noah and Boozer will miss some time with injury. The X-Factor is Omer. The Turkish Delight will have to take a few steps forward to replace what Kurt Thomas meant to this team as a reliable vet backup (wait, did I seriously just type that about Kurt? Damn, that’s crazy).

Watson will likewise have a big role, spelling Derrick will be important for the Bulls to succeed. Speaking of which…

Thibs, lay off the gas pedal.

There really isn’t much to say here, Thibs played Deng a lot last year, and Deng has a history of injuries. Coach Thibs showed that he wants to win every possession last year, given the truncated schedule this year and the 5 games in 7 nights weeks that are to come, Thibs needs to learn when to lose a game. It’s something Phil Jackson was very good at.

Conclusions

I’m a Bulls fan, I will be rooting for this team to win it all and have another parade in Grant Park. I’ve been very wrong about this team quite a bit. They broke through some barriers that I was unsure they would be able to last season. So here I am, hoping that I’m wrong again this year.

I don’t believe the Bulls did enough to beat the Heat. My mind will likely change as their brand of basketball colors my opinion mid season, but the only thing that matters is the playoffs. Sure, the Knicks are better, and the Celtics might still have life, but I believe it comes down to Bulls vs. Heat. The Heat present too many bad matchups for the Bulls to deal with, I think.

Rip is a great acquisition, but will he command attention from James? No, James will once again be on Rose at the end of games and it will ultimately come down to whether or not Rose is able to outplay James and make plays with #6 on his shorts. I believe that Rose is a driven player, but I don’t know if it’s enough this year.

Here’s hoping that I’m dead wrong.

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