Friday, May 18, 2007

The Matadors Are Singing

The end of an opera is supposedly marked by a fat lady singing. The closest I can think of in the case of the Chicago Bulls are The Matadors -- the Bulls' dance team consisting entirely of fat, old guys. Anyway, those fat guys have sung. The Bulls are done.

It is odd that the Bulls led four of the six games at the half, and three games by at least 19 points, and yet lost the series four games to two. I should also note that the Bulls were outscored dramatically during this series when the Redhead wasn't watching. Last night she watched her Tivo'd episode of Ugly Betty during the third quarter. Somehow, she refuses to take responsibility for her role in the end of the Bulls' season.

The Bulls shot five of 18 from three point range last night. That's 27.8%, sad for a team that shot 39% during the regular season, second best in the league. Some credit goes to the Detroit defense on that front. They held opponents to 34% from behind the arc this year, fourth best in the NBA. Still, flat out bad shooting was part of it too. Kirk Hinrich was the worst offender, going 0 for three behind the arc and three of 13 overall. Given how poorly he was shooting, it's hard to criticize Hinrich for becoming pass happy in the second half. Nevertheless, this marked the fourth time this series (at least) that Hinrich played scared at key stretches of the game.

Maybe Hinrich will mature past the yips that plagued him this series (his over-passing resulted in a handful of turnovers in the second half). However, as the Bulls now begin their off-season, I think it's clear that if the team is going to move a member of its core group in a deal for an interior scorer, that guy should be Hinrich. Luol Deng is the team's best player. Andres Nocioni's value is at an all-time low coming off his injury. And, Ben Gordon brings a unique skill (the ability to score explosively) that no one else on the team can duplicate. I'm not sure the team needs to make a deal (Spencer Hawes should be available when the Bulls pick, and he's been compared favorably to Vlade Divac as an offensive minded center), but if they do, Hinrich has value, and his skill set can be replicated by Chris Duhon and Thabo Sefolosha.

The other guy who didn't bring much to the table last night was Ben Wallace. Wallace had six points and seven rebounds, and shot a brutal two of eight from the charity stripe. He was a team-worst minus-17 on the night. His achy back may have played a role in his struggles, but age, and the likelihood of injuries, are one reason why the contract the Bulls gave him was a mistake. He's also one dimensional, and when he can't control the game defensively, he offers nothing on the offensive end. Nevertheless, this contract is well structured as these things go, and Wallace is a valuable part of the front-court rotation going forward. He's just not worth max money. The Pistons have a similar component in Antonio McDyess at a much more reasonable price. In fact, McDyess's player efficiency rating was much higher than Wallace's this year. McDyess scored twice as many points per 40 minutes as Big Ben, and grabbed nearly as many rebounds per 40 minutes (11.5 to 12.2), all for $10 million less, this year alone.

This was a good year for the Bulls. They improved in the regular season, and advanced further in the play-offs than any time since MJ roamed the United Center floor. They discovered a stud scorer in Gordon, a budding all-star in Deng, a potential defensive stopper in Sefolosha, and a energizing, shot blocking, game changing young big man in Tyrus Thomas. But they also discovered some flaws that must be addressed. Namely, they need an offensive minded big man to add to Thomas and Wallace in their front court rotation. The Heat have gotten old, the Pistons will age, the Nets may be dismantled this off-season, the Cavs appear to be as flawed as the Bulls, and the Raptors probably even more so. The Eastern Conference will be wide open next season. Hopefully the Bulls will be ready to claim it.


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