Thursday, December 21, 2006

Forum for a Bulls Rant

I was warned, before I ever saw the rant itself, that Hideki Matt Suey used my last Bears post as a forum for his own Bears rant. And, he explained, he might need to launch into a Bulls rant soon. It seems he's frustrated by the apparent lack of respect for the Bears and Bulls among the national, main-stream media. Anyway, I promised him a forum for a Bulls rant, and here it is.

The Bulls recent run of success has come again weaker competition than they played earlier in the season, and that definitely accounts for some of the improvement. The Bulls remain 0-6 against teams in the top 10 in the league in point differential. Shocking, I know that the team struggles against top opponents. There's a reason these teams are in the top 10 in point differential. But it's not that the Bulls' wins have come against the dregs of the league. While they're 8-1 against teams ranked 21 or lower in point differential, they're also 6-3 against the middle of the league -- teams ranked between 11-20.

The key issue, it appears, is that the Bulls have yet to figure out how to beat great defensive teams. They're 4-3 against teams in the top-10 in the league in scoring, and 3-4 against teams in the top-10 in effective field goal percentage. But they're 1-6 against teams in the top-10 in points allowed, and 1-6 against teams in the top-10 in effective field goal percentage against. Perhaps a team needs a true go to scorer to overcome great team defense. The Bulls rely more on ball and player movement. That creates easy shots when teams suffer defensive breakdowns, but if a team doesn't breakdown defensively, you need someone who can create his own shot.

So, the Bulls may not be ready to compete with the elite teams in basketball, especially those who really clamp down on defense. But they're better than the mediocrity that inhabits the vast wasteland of the NBA. Thus, they struggled when they travelled to Texas and out west, but excelled when they hosted Eastern Conference foes. Are they playing better basketball now? Sure, and that quality of play would have helped avoid a winless western swing. But the truth is that the Bulls could go to Texas right now, and they'd still be lucky to win a game.

And, I think the national media still largely reflects that reality. Bill Simmons has yet to acknowledge that he undersold the Bulls, though he was crowing earlier this year about how right he was when the team was struggling on the road. But the rest of TWWL seems to have the Bulls in proper perspective. They were the second highest rated team from the East in their last power rankings. So, HMS, is it worth a rant? I'm not sure it is. Now, if you want to rant on why Luol Deng deserves more national attention, respect, and an all-star invitation (best player on one of the East's few winning team, 35th best PER in the league, 7th best among all small forwards), then that's a different story.


Anonymous Hideki Matt Suey said...

Not much to rant about here - I very much agree. Especially with all Luol Deng-related plaudits. He's developing very nicely, a refreshing turn of events under Scott Skiles, given my concern that Skiles is kind of the Dusty Baker of the NBA -- the wrong guy to bring along raw talents that require some patience. But perhaps that's an unfair judgment, and Deng is exactly the right kind of guy to soak up the intense coaching, blend it with talent and turn himself into a real NBA talent. He's definitely the best player on the Bulls and one of the top forwards in the East, and should be an all-star shoe in. He's working well with both hands, can post up, hits the jumper with authority, is very athletic, plays solid defense and runs the floor well. He's the closest thing to a go-to scorer on a team that could use one.

The Bulls are still a bit of a mystery, not yet rant-worthy, but performing very well of late. They should be, and are, good enough to beat up on weak eastern conference competition. That bodes well for making the playoffs and potentially going deep once there.

As Criminal Appeal astutely noted, though, the Bulls haven't looked good against good defenses. Their offense can look very fluid and efficient, especially when aided by solid defense and a transition game, but good defensive teams that can slow to a half-court pace have laid bare the Bulls weaknesses, making them look like a team of smallish outside gunners who are either very hot or very cold.

A key question, I think, is whether the Bulls of right now would fare better on the circus trip than the Bulls of November. I would say yes, even if only by a game or so. The fact is, they embarked on that trip as a team with eight new players, without a set rotation, with a new star player who hadn't yet figured a way to weave himself into his new team's sets, etc. The gloating Bill Simmons absolutely failed to take this into account.

And no doubt would pin the Bulls’ current success to a stretch of home games against weak opponents. True enough. But a win is a win, and there are a few very positive developments I've seen in the last few weeks that suggest there has been solid development since the circus trip: 1) the emergence of Deng, 2) winning many games convincingly, by solid margins, 3) Ben Wallace looking comfortable. The Wallace rebounds look great, but I've been most impressed with his passing. They are running the offense through him to an extent, and he's either distributing the ball to cutting forwards very nicely, or is actually taking it to the hoop if left alone. He looks acclimated.

One minor rant: the Bulls, without a bona-fide star, are hurt by the refs. Of course I'm a fan and I'm partial, but it's seemed this way in recent years. Case in point Tuesday's game against the Lakers. Kobe did foul out, but was also drawing fouls after being basically brushed across a fold in his uniform. Ben Gordon got suplexed inside and there was no call. Sad to say, I think this happens fairly routinely, partially because the Bulls aren't a team that drives a lot, but mostly because they don't have a marquee star. Jordon got cheap call, too. It's something to watch come playoffs - the Bulls managed to beat the Lakers playing five-on-eight basketball, but that will be hard when playing big name star teams like the Cavs or Heat in long series.

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