Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bull Crap

Last night the Bulls unveiled a new line-up to start their annual trip to the west coast, motivated as always by an overwhelming fear of clowns. As the circus takes over the United Center for the month of November, Chris Duhon and Andres Nocioni take over for Ben Gordon and PJ Brown in the Bulls' starting line-up.

It didn't help. The Bulls came out flat, the Mavericks jumped on them, the Bulls never got all the way back. Popcorn Machine's gameflows for last night aren't up yet (everyone ok over there today?), but I can tell you that much without seeing the exact numbers. The Bulls trailed by six points after one quarter. They were never closer than that at the end of any frame.

I understand Scott Skiles' decision to shake up the starting line-up. PJ Brown is moderately useless. The team scores less and gives up more when he's on the court. The team rebounds a little better, but gives up an effective field goal percentage a full six points higher. That translates to an extra point and a half every 100 possessions. Coupled with four points less offensively per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and well, the Bulls are better off giving the minutes to Nocioni.

Ben Gordon too has been struggling. Thus far this season the offense has actually been better, on a per possession basis, when he's not in the game. Gordon will go through hot spells, as he did against Milwaukee, where that is obviously not the case, but this stat goes to show that when Gordon's shot is off, he brings little to the floor. That's one reason he's better suited to a reserve role. He can come in aggressive from the outset. If his shot is on, the Bulls can ride him. If his shot is off, he can quickly return to the bench. Another reason not to play Gordon when his shot is off is his atrocious defense. The Bulls give up a whopping 12 points more per 100 possessions when Gordon is on the floor.

Skiles gave Gordon's starting job to Duhon, the only candidate considered apparently. Duhon has been better than Gordon for the most part. Last night, however, he went 1 for 6 from the floor, and against Sacramento, Duhon was the single biggest reason the Bulls lost. The Bulls outscore opponents by more than seven points per 100 possessions with Duhon on the court. That's about five points better than when he's not out there. Mostly, that because the offense runs more efficiently with Duhon in the game. Seven out of 10 Bulls' field goals are assisted with Duhon in the game, far better than when he's sitting.

But Duhon is not the Bulls' only option to play when Gordon's shot is off. Last night, Skiles barely used Thabo Sefolosha, apparently because Skiles has concluded that his rookies aren't ready to help the team right now. Meanwhile, Duhon was doing nothing in 20-plus minutes of action. The Bulls outscore opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions when Sefolosha is on the floor. Defensively, the Bulls hold opponents to 15 points less per 100 possessions when Sefolosha is out there than when he's sitting. That's a profound impact on the team's defense. Sefolosha is unpolished offensively, although he has a respectable effective field goal percentage of nearly 45%. But he brings more to the floor other than scoring than either Duhon or Gordon. Rather than essentially putting Sefolosha on ice, Skiles should have been considering using him as a starter.

But I fear Skiles has become too set in his ways to consider such a move, and I know its heresy, but the Bulls look like a badly coached team right now. Duhon has become a crutch for Skiles. And, by discussing the need to "get the veterans comfortable," and questioning whether the rookies are ready to contribute, Skiles deflects attention from his own recent shortcomings. In his column about why the Celtics should fire Doc Rivers, Bill Simmons identified a number of quotes that coaches and players from poorly coached teams fall back on. They included: "We just need to sustain that intensity for four quarters," "We need to play the kind of defense we're capable of playing," "We can take big leads, now we need to learn how to keep them," "We're a young team, so we're still learning how to bring the same consistency every night," "We have to start getting stops," and , "We need to learn how to execute down the stretch." How many of these lines have you heard regarding the Bulls over the last two seasons now? Just this year Skiles has discussed the Bulls inability to maintain intensity for a full game, a lack of defensive effort, the team's youth, and inconsistency from game to game. The Bulls crush Miami, then fall on their faces against Orlando. They blew a huge lead to the Kings. They lost focus, and needed a huge 4th quarter effort to salvage a game against Indiana. Last night, the Bulls never adjusted to the Mavs' pick and pop offense. These are the things a poorly coached team does.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope the Bulls will gradually gel as a team, and emerge as the power some are predicting them to be. If I'm right, and Skiles is part of the problem, the organization will be slow to realize it because Skiles has a lot of capital stored up as the guy who finally returned the Bulls to respectability after they wandered around the post-MJ wasteland for too long. So, if I'm right, this is going to be a long frustrating season of slipping sideways instead of moving forward.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:26 PM  
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4:32 PM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

I love the per 100 possession analysis. It gives a great statistical view to the game.

4:08 AM  
Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

I just can't talk about the Bulls yet. I just can't; it's too hard right now.

6:45 PM  

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