Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ben Wallace: Offensive Juggernaut

The Chicago Bulls have won nine of 10 games, are two games over .500, and two games behind Orlando for the best record in the Eastern Conference. That says a lot about the power of home court in the NBA, as the Bulls' turnaround began right after they returned home from the infamous Circus Trip. It also says even more about how important it is to consider competition when analyzing a team's performance over the short term. The Bulls struggled against some of the top teams in the West, and have gotten healthy largely by beating weak sisters from the East. Which brings us to the final point: it says a lot about how crappy the East is. Not only did the Bulls start winning when they started playing Eastern Conference foes, but how the heck are they only two games over .500 and withing two games of the best record in the conference?

Anyway, there were some new wrinkles and some old wrinkles in last night's win over the listless Sonics. Ben Wallace scored 15 points, which is something new. He also grabbed 20 rebounds, blocked five shots and recorded two steals, which is something old. Mr. Reliable, Luol Deng, had only 13 points and struggled with his shot, which is something new. But he did get double figures, as he always does, and Andres Nocioni dropped 20, which is also becoming old hat for him. And, Ben Gordon was hot, dropping 27, which is both new and old, you never really know from one game to the next.

The starting line-up came out hot. Deng had eight points and Nocioni had nine, as the Bulls built a 28-12 lead with 2:31 remaining in the first quarter. The starters need to be hot because they're pretty much the only one's playing. Gordon gets plenty of time, but beyond the top six, almost no one sees significant minutes. Especially last night, with PJ Brown out, Skiles has shortened his bench. I'm glad to see it, and it's working, but I think he could get something out of the rookies, Thabo Sefolosha and Tyrus Thomas. Still, I'm not complaining because the shortened rotation has coincided with the Bulls' current winning form.

The trio of Gordon, Nocioni and Deng have given the Bulls the firepower to win games, even when the defense isn't at it's absolute best. Gordon is averaging 29.7 points per 48 minutes, Nocioni is averaging 27.3, and Deng is averaging 24.8. That trio also leads the team in +/- rating. Nocioni is +106, Gordon is +96, and Deng is +84. Gordon and Deng are +103 as a tandem, one of only five tandems in all of basketball, and the only duo in the East, with a +/- greater than 100. We know Gordon will receive consideration for the top 6th man award if he continues playing like this, but few seem to have noticed that the Bulls' forward tandem are playing at an all-star level. This is especially true in the talent deprived Eastern Conference, and I should probably devote an entire column to their candidacy at some point, now that I think about it.

In 1956-57, the St. Louis Hawks emerged from a weak Western Division to challenge the mighty Boston Celtics in the finals. They had what remains to this day, the second worst record of any NBA or ABA finalist ever. And, while they pushed the Celts more than anticipated, they eventually fell in six games. But the Hawks were a team on the rise, and the next year Bob Pettit led them to an NBA championship. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2007-08 NBA Champs: the Chicago Bulls!


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