Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lessons Learned

I spent yesterday running around Chicago's 24th Ward for work. My office is responsible for election monitoring duty. Anyway, I'm back and I want to talk about something that's been percolating for me since the Bulls' home opener on Friday.

I'll say this for Scott Skiles: he learns from his mistakes. After Friday night's game, in which the Bulls' blew a 4 point lead with less than 20 seconds to go, I was ready to write a post about how stupid Skiles' use of his bench was. He insisted on playing Chris Duhon for 30 minutes, despite the fact that Duhon was in the process of shooting 3 for 10, with six turnovers, and a -9. The -9 reflects the damage Kevin Martin was doing while Duhon was out there. Martin and Mike Bibby combined for 21 third quarter points, erasing a six points Bulls' lead, with Duhon playing most of the period, paired first with Kirk Hinrich and then with Adrian Griffin. Duhon never should have been on the floor to turn the ball over on the final two Bulls' possessions of the night because he had been stinking it up all game long.

Instead, Monday I wrote about the Bears' debacle, and after attending Monday night's romp against the Bucks, I'm ready to talk about what a quick learner Skiles is instead of what a dolt he is. Facing another high scoring shooting guard in Michael Redd, and with Duhon again ineffective in his first stint, Skiles changed directions. After Duhon committed one turnover and three fouls in his first four minutes, Skiles recognized that Duhon wasn't bringing anything to the table (maybe it's because of his foot, but it doesn't matter), and never went back to him. Instead of allowing Duhon to continue bogging down the Bulls, a real risk given Hinrich's foul trouble and general struggles, Skiles called on Thabo Sefolosha. The rookie responded in a huge way. In 26 minutes he had nine points, four assists, two rebounds, two steals, a block, and no turnovers. He was a whopping +23. Yes, the Bulls won in a blowout, but Hinrich in comparison was +2 in his 21 minutes of court time. Sefolosha's +23 was a team best, and while Redd scored 30 points, Sefolosha made him work hard for them while the two were matched up. Redd had nine 1st quarter points working against Hinrich and Duhon. He had had only two points in eight 2nd quarter minutes working against Sefolosha. During that time, the Bulls opened a seven point lead into an 18 point lead.

Sefolosha is a promising rookie, not the answer to all of the Bulls' problems. He's still learning the game and he's no dynamo on the offensive end right now. My point is that Skiles recognized after Friday's disaster that he couldn't leave Duhon out there to blow the game again. And, more importantly, when Sefolosha proved to be a solution to the Bulls' problem containing Michael Redd, Skiles stuck with him for big minutes. In fact, Skiles did a great job in general on Monday of sticking with the guys who were playing well. Seven Bulls played 20 or more minutes; no one else played as many as five. Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni, Luol Deng and Sefolosha were the most effective Bulls, and Skiles gave them the biggest minutes. Ben Wallace and PJ Brown also played well and played big minutes. Only Hinrich got minutes while struggling, and 21 minutes for Hinrich is practically a night off. Plus, you should give the face of your franchise a little extra leeway in working himself out of a slump.

So, overall, Skiles coached a great game Monday, and looked like he learned a lesson from the Sacramento game. Hopefully, that lesson learned can pay dividends as the Bulls enter the most brutal stretch of their season.


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