Posted on: February 17, 2012 2:03 pm
By Matt Moore
In this week's edition of the Friday 5, Ken Berger discusses Linsanity, Bulls minutes, and who's on the trade block headed into All-Star Weekend. You can follow Ken Berger on Twitter @KBergCBS.
1. So, hey, that Jeremy Lin kid's pretty good. We've beaten the subject into the ground here at CBSSports.com this week, but it bears opening the Friday 5 nonetheless. Let's forget about how Melo fits in, or D'Antoni, or even Lin's play directly. Is the best thing for the Knicks about this run that it's brought the locker room together and they're having fun again?
Ken Berger: Well, I think that's a by-product of what Lin has brought to the table. Among the many elements of this perfect storm was the fact that the Knicks were running the most point guard-dependent offense in the sport and had some of the worst point-guard play anyone had ever seen. Plug in a competent point guard, and the Knicks would've played better. Plug in someone performing as well as Lin has performed, and you have the makings of something special. So it started with Lin's production, which has instilled confidence in the locker room and made everyone relax in an environment that can be extremely high on stress. The Knicks now believe they can win, and confidence is a big part of the battle.
2. You wrote in Post-Ups this week about the Heat flying under the radar. How good is that for them to avoid the spotlight for a few weeks?
KB: Who? Oh, the Heat. I'm not sure it's either good or bad for them. I think it's great for the league as a whole that people are captivated by something other that how LeBron and Wade are getting along or playing together on any given day. And the fact that people are captivated by basketball being played the right way, an enjoyable way, is a pleasing diversion from the usual poisoned brew of trade demands, coaches getting fired, agent agendas, egos colliding and the like.
3. I've been critical of Tom Thibodeau and his approach to minutes with Luol Deng and Derrick Rose with various injuries considering the long-term goals of the Bulls in this insane schedule. But I'm not a doctor and I'm not a trainer. In your mind, if the doc's say it's fine and the trainers say it's fine, should Thibodeau just disregard the notion of exhaustion, and if so, is it because they really do need that top seed?
KB: I'm not a doctor or a trainer, either. And Thibodeau presumably learned how to manage minutes from one of the masters in that department, Doc Rivers. I think the time off due to back spasms will do Rose some good. But to a degree, when he's healthy, he's going to be on the floor for 38-plus minutes. Same goes for Deng, especially if you're in a close game and the opponent (like the Celtics, for example, with Paul Pierce) has an elite wing scorer who needs to be dealt with. It's a fine line with this schedule for coaches between resting their stars and winning as many games as possible. To get where they want to go, the Bulls need homecourt advantage. Once they secure that, Rose and Deng and anybody else who needs to put themselves back together for the playoffs can have as many minutes off as they need.
4. Ken, I know you've enjoyed writing about actual basketball for the past few weeks. But trade season's back, bro. Who are you expecting to be chattering next weekend in Orlando?
KB: Well, of course there will be the Dwight-fest. After that, I think the biggest name being discussed will be Steve Nash. A point guard could make all the difference in the world to the Lakers and Magic. For the same reason, Ramon Sessions will be on the radar.
5. With J.R. Smith joining the Knicks, what was the driving force behind his decision and what should the Knicks be concerned about with him, if anything?
KB: J.R. seemed to enjoying the process of being recruited, and will wind up with more money at the end of the day by joining the Knicks. The way Lin has the Knicks' offense humming, J.R. could see a lot of future dollar signs swishing through the Nets at Madison Square Garden. Even off the bench, he could be an electrifying scorer in Mike D'Antoni's offense. Plus, he's played with Anthony before, so there's a comfort level there, and Knicks official Mark Warkentien was a big supporter of Smith when both were in Denver. Concerns? What concerns? Oh, yeah, J.R. is a knucklehead. But he's a knucklehead who can make a jump shot. So the risk-reward is pretty heavily in the Knicks' favor.
Posted on: February 14, 2012 1:24 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 1:29 pm
The comeback will wait for Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said on Tuesday that his starting point guard did not participate in the team's shootaround and will not play against the Sacramento Kings at the United Center on Tuedsay night.
"Each day, he’s feeling better," Thibodeau said. "But it’s still not where we want it to be. We’re going to be patient and see how it goes."Over the weekend, we noted that Rose had visited a back specialist, who diagnosed him with "lower back spasms" but said that Rose had no structural damage in his back. He has since been listed as day-to-day by the team.
Rose, 23, is the NBA's reigning MVP and was voted by the fans to the starting lineup of the 2012 All-Star Game. He's averaging 22.0 points, 7.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 35.5 minutes per game this season for Chicago.
The Kings game will be the third consecutive game that Rose has missed, as he did not play during a Bulls win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday and a Bulls loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday. The game against the Kings marks the beginning of a 5-game homestand leading into the All-Star break. Chicago will host Boston on Thursday, the New Jersey Nets on Saturday, the Atlanta Hawks next Monday and the Milwaukee Bucks next Wedneday.
The Bulls currently sit atop the Eastern Conference standings, with a record of 23-7.
RELATED: CBSSports.com's Matt Moore thinks the Bulls should take it slow with Derrick Rose.
Posted on: February 12, 2012 10:56 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2012 9:56 am
The fact that Derrick Rose (back) missed Sunday's game against the Celtics normally wouldn't raise red flags -- until it was reported that he will see a back specialist Monday and has been experiencing pain in his back for some time. That raises the following questions:
--Why are we just finding out Derrick Rose has been dealing with back spasms for a week?
--Why are the Bulls, who are quite secretive about injuries, burning Rose and Luol Deng at both ends through injuries?
--What happens if coach Tom Thibodeau, notorious for too many minutes on key personnel, pushes them too far -- particularly in a condensed season?
We start with this from the Chicago Tribune in regards to when exactly this back issue popped up for Rose:
"It's been hurting the whole trip," Rose said. "I just played through it. It tended to get worse after every game. I was really worried about it. But I'm trying to stay positive. I don't know what the diagnosis is. I just know my back is not right."via Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose will see back specialist Monday - chicagotribune.com.
Wait, so Rose has had this issue for a few weeks and has been playing on it?
OK, so not so surprising. NBA players are always dealing with a variety of ailments. Players play through pain on a regular basis and if they were held out because of every bit of tightness or discomfort they would never play. This season measn it's worse than usual.
But if Rose is different. He's already dealt with multiple issues this year, most recently an ankle sprain that held him out multiple games. The account given by Rose indicates that he had a problem, played through it, it got worse, played through it, it got worse, and he played through it.
Bulls' head coach Tom Thibodeau is notorious for playing his guys too many minutes, with Luol Deng the most extreme example, logging 35-plus minutes even in blowouts. There have been questions about whether Thibodeau is risking damaging his players and running them down with a long and grueling playoff run still yet to go. You would think that with Rose being the MVP, making up the vast majority of the offense, its best and most important player, and the key to any championship run the Bulls may have, that there would be an emphasis on resting him to keep him fresh as to avoid running him down. Instead, the Bulls played him against three lottery/borderline lottery teams when they already have a multiple-game lead on the Heat for the top spot in the East and even if they were to hold Rose out a month, could very well still be in the top three. Rose could sit the rest of the season and still be a top-five seed.
The Bulls are pretty secretive about injuries. Nearly everything is "day-to-day, gametime decision." Luol Deng tore a ligament in his wrist. Day-to-day, gametime decision. Derrick Rose can't move or breathe. Day-to-day, gametime decision. And much like the Patriots in football, it works. It keeps things hidden from the opponent. But versus the NFL, with limited media availability, the NBA plays nightly, which means these situations seem to pop up constantly.
To be clear, it's not that the Bulls are forcing him out there, nor are they being irresponsible. Rose and Deng have both played well on their injuries. They know how they feel. They know if they can play. But there's also a heightened sense of responsibility to one another the Bulls possess and it seems to border on the pathological. Guys play through pain all the time, but this season has to be about thinking long-term. You can't survive in this schedule with an injury, and the results are piling up on the Bulls.
Hopefully the specialist discovers nothing of note, and Rose is able to return to the floor. But questions about what cost the Bulls are putting into their regular season record at the cost of their long-term durability will persist.
Posted on: December 13, 2011 1:53 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2011 2:59 pm
By Matt Moore
Back on Dec. 10th, the Chicago Tribune reported that Dwight Howard was not considering the Bulls. Chicago has not been on the list of teams Ken Berger has reported since February under consideration by Howard and his management. And Tuesday, ESPN reported that Howard's list has been narrowed to four teams, the New Jersey Nets, the Dallas Mavericks, the L.A. Lakers, and the Orlando Magic.
So the question now is "Why won't Howard consider the Bulls?"
For starters, it would make a huge amount of sense for both parties in terms of basketball. For the Magic, they'd be able to get back a decent return on Howard, something that not many other teams will offer. Joakim Noah as a centerpiece, with Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, potentially Luol Deng, and a salary dump of Hedo Turkoglu along with picks could probably be had. That's a fine haul for the Magic. But maybe Howard simply doesn't care about what his team gets back and in fact wants to make sure they don't give up too much so that he can have a good group behind him wherever he lands.
The bigger upside is for Howard. He would no longer have to be the sole source of offense and would have the pressure to be "the man" split between he and Rose. Howard wants help? How about the MVP point guard who can create offense for himself as well as anyone in the league? He'd be set with a young player just starting his rise to greatness and already established. Rose isn't an alpha dog and wouldn't have problems with Howard, Rose has good enough vision even as a score-first guard to create oop after oop for Howard on the pick and roll. Throw in Carlos Boozer as now a much-better-fitting third option (unless they unloaded Boozer which they may have to for salary purposes), and some combination of the Chicago shooters and you have all the help Howard's been asking for.
Furthermore, how about the best defensive player in the league playing under the best defensive coach in the league? Tom Thibodeau could get the absolute most out of Howard's considerable abilities (not that Stan Van Gundy hasn't already done a stellar job and in fact in large part helped make Howard into the defensive presence he is), and would let him dictate what he wants on offense instead of forcing perimeter shots like SVG.
The only conclusion is that it's some combination of weather and style that Howard balks at in regards to Chicago. Howard is rumored to prefer warm-weather destinations, coming from the south and having played there for his career. Chicago isn't exactly balmy. Then again, not like Brooklyn is all palm trees and sun tan lotion. The bigger question may be from a marketing perspective. New York or L.A. provide him with media opportunities galore, and for a guy who loves the camera as much as Howard does, that might be the kicker.
One entity sad about this development? Adidas, who have both Howard and Rose under their label. The two teaming up under the colors of Nike's icon Michael Jordan's former team? Priceless. The money would be there for Howard in Chicago, but maybe not the level of fame he wants.
Posted on: November 1, 2011 5:05 pm
By Matt Moore
Tuesday night would have been a reckoning if there were a season. It would be about more than just a good season. It would be about the past and the future. About a decade of tireless effort, of painstaking consistency and a drive to get it right, and it would be about the years to come, and how bright and hopeful they are.
If there were an NBA season, we'd be watching Bulls-Mavericks Tuesday night.
The Dallas Mavericks suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous NBA fortune more than any team short of the Trail Blazers over the past ten years. They built a championship core, and instead of rebuilding or tearing it down when it didn't work, they kept tinkering, adjusting, taking what worked and trying to make it better. Mark Cuban sunk hundreds of millions into the team in payroll, staff, training, promotion, everything. It's a massively powerful organization, that still didn't have a ring to show for it. Tuesday night would have been the night that Dirk Nowitzki could take a step back and appreciate how far he'd come, how all the work and the trust and the blood, sweat, tears, and teeth in his arm were worth it. For Jason Kidd it would be a sweet way to usher in the sunset of his career. And the Mavericks, a tighnit group of professionals, could savor entering the season as the top dogs.
The Bulls would just be hungry. Hungry to spit that taste of embarassing defeat from their mouths, hungry to show they still have the best defense in the league, show they were not a flash in the pan, that they don't need massive overhauls. Derrick Rose would be ready to ask "Why not me, again?" for MVP.
It would be a terrific matchup.
Jason Kidd's experience, bruising defense against Rose's blistering speed, which would require long stints from Caron Butler in help defense, along with every other Maverick between Rose and the rim, especially Tyson Chandler. We'd see a chess match between two of the best tacticians in the league in Rick Carlisle and Tom Thibodeau, as Thibodeau would seek to body and help on Dirk at every turn and Carlisle would seek to continue to do what the Mavericks did last season, punish teams for helping by burying them from deep, and collecting offensive rebounds for extra possessions. Joakim Noah vs. Tyson Chandler is some sort of future-present meet past-present. J.J. Barea (assuming he re-signed, along with Chandler), would be going at it with C.J. Watson. And Carlos Boozer, at least for some limited possessions, would be left on an island with the Finals MVP.
Oh, the fun we would have had.
It would have been such a great way to follow up from the most exciting season in over ten years, to embrace a team made up of stars of the past ten years who are in no way done versus a team of stars for the next ten years (plus Carlos Boozer) who are just getting started. It would have been fierce. It would have been fun to argue about who should get the shots in crunch time, whether Rose looks healed mentally and physically, whether the Mavericks really can make a run at a repeat.
Instead, American Airlines Center will be silent and dark Tuesday night. It is day 124 of the NBA lockout.
Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:29 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2011 3:11 pm
Posted by Ben Golliver.
Preseason is always a fun time of the NBA calendar, guaranteed to be chockfull of "Player X added 15 pounds of muscle" and "Lottery team Y finally seems poised for a playoff push" stories. Of course, no preseason means no preseason stories. No hype, no hope. More Adam Silver, more David Stern. What a bummer.
So here's a rundown of seven stories you would have been reading had the NBA and the NBPA gotten their collective act together in time to save the schedule. These stories are lost everywhere, except for here.
1. Security Detains Eddy Curry Outside AmericanAirlines Arena
MIAMI -- It appears that Eddy Curry will not be joining the Miami Heat after all.
Following nearly a year of reports indicating that Curry had lost an NBA-record 468 pounds since he was released by the Minnesota Timberwolves at least year's trade deadline, the free agent center was forcibly removed from AmericanAirlines Arena property by a cadre of four security guards on Tuesday. The use of force was deemed necessary after direct requests to leave from Heat president Pat Riley and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra were not heeded.
"We didn't want to do it but we really had no choice," said Joseph Watkins, the guard assigned to carry Curry's left leg. "I was just following orders."
"What can I say? I got my hopes up," Curry explained. "I kept reading over and over that Miami was interested in me and I thought I could help LeBron [James] win a ring finally. I thought they would change their mind if I showed I was determined. I guess they wanted to go a different direction."
After the trimmed-down center had been dragged to an auxiliary parking lot, Riley briefly asked a reporter who Curry was before returning to the Heat's training session, which was closed to the media. When practice broke, Spoelstra indicated that the defending Eastern Conference champions were comfortable with their center rotation of Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Dexter Pittman, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, and Bill Wennington, and are not in the market for another big man.
"We like our guys," Spoelstra said.
Curry told the Associated Press that he isn't sure when or where his next basketball opportunity will come but did indicate that he would like to have the plastic handcuffs removed from his wrists, or at least loosened, as soon as possible.
2. Bloody Prank Signals Rift Between Thunder Stars?
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- A severed head was discovered inside a backpack belonging to Kevin Durant on Friday.
The Thunder's All-Star forward pulled the ghoulish, plastic mask -- which bore an uncanny resemblance to coach Scottie Brooks and had been doused in ketchup to simulate the appearance of blood -- out of his signature carry-all following an evening workout. With a look of bewilderment, Durant tossed the mask into a nearby trash can before returning to the team's practice court to work on his free throw shooting.
"I'm just out here trying to get better," Durant said, shrugging off his unsettling discovery.
It's not yet known who placed the mask in Durant's backpack, although suspicion was immediately cast upon Russell Westbrook. The mercurial guard led the NBA in postseason technical fouls in 201, rarely passes the ball because he's so self-involved and sometimes has a "funny look" -- according to multiple teammates -- in his eyes. Center Kendrick Perkins apparently implicated Westbrook in the incident when he stormed out of the practice facility, repeatedly yelling the words, "I told y'all! I told y'all!"
The incident raises anew the question of whether Oklahoma City's two All-Stars will be capable of coexisting as their careers and games develop.
"Halloween is Monday," Westbrook said, cryptically, before rushing a free-throw extended jump shot and completely hurdling teammate Eric Maynor to claim the offensive rebound.
Thunder president Sam Presti did not offer an alibi for himself, but what else is new?
3. Rivers: More Needed From Rondo For Green To Succeed
A lightly sprained ankle for starting center Jermaine O'Neal caused local sports talk radio hosts and callers to go into hysterics on Monday, rehashing the ill-fated swap that brought Green to Boston in exchange for starting center Kendrick Perkins, who was sent to Oklahoma City.
"Jeff is still getting acclimated, and [president] Danny [Ainge] and I still believe he will be a key piece for us," Rivers said.
During the portion of practice open to the media, Green dribbled the ball off of his foot, missed three three-pointers, was late on two defensive assignments and appeared to frustrate aging forward Kevin Garnett, who was seen shaking his head sadly rather than barking instructions like usual.
When pressed, Rivers said that the eventual solution to what he called Green's "learning curve issues" will have to come from All-Star starting point guard Rajon Rondo.
"Rondo gets him wide open jumpers, wide open lay-ups, makes 10 plays a game defensively, and he leads by example," Rivers said. "But I have eyes, you have eyes. You can see it. It's clearly not enough. We're looking for Rondo to keep leading and to do even more, to carry all of us. [But] especially Jeff."
Pausing for a moment, Rivers, to the surprise of the media present, chose to vividly underscore his previous point.
Asked to respond to Rivers' comments, Rondo stared ahead blankly, as always.
4. Greg Oden No-Shows At Day One Of Blazers Camp
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Once again, the gym is full of NBA players and hopefuls. Once again, the biggest one among them is missing.
The Portland Trail Blazers opened training camp to the media for the first time on Monday, only to reveal that center Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, was nowhere to be found. Oden, who signed a 5-year, $70 million extension during the early-October free agency period, has played just 82 games in his 4-year NBA career and has rarely been available to the media since suffering his most recent in Nov. 2010.
Through a spokesperson, Blazers president Larry Miller refused to comment about Oden's status, leaving new GM Brandon Roy -- who was promoted to the position after Miller used the amnesty clause to rid the Blazers of the four years remaining on his contract -- to face the media scrutiny alone. Roy said the team would not rush its center back to the court, noting that Oden's recovery from microfracture knee surgery was still "on schedule," although he did not divulge further specifics.
Blazers coach Nate McMillan looked irritated by the questions. "I've got 18 guys here fighting hard to grab one of our roster spots, let's talk about them," McMillan said.
Mike Conley, Sr., Oden's agent, offered a possible explanation by email. "Rehabilitation has kept Greg off the court for almost a year. During that time, in addition to completing a multi-disciplinary strength and flexibility training program, Greg has worked hard on improving and honing his invisibility. I'm pleased to hear that his work has evidently paid off. How many 7-footers do you know that can literally disappear in the blink of an eye? We feel this will make him even more valuable in the years to come."
Oden's whereabouts are not currently known at this time. His status for Portland's season opener is also up in the air.
"We'll just have to see," said McMillan.
5. Kings Guard Completes First Pass
SACRAMENTO -- Kings coach Paul Westphal couldn't help but beam. After all, he had just witnessed an important milestone for his young team.
"I've been preaching unselfishness and ball movement all week and it was great to finally see these guys take that message to heart and execute it," Westphal said, his shirt soaked with sweat.
After back-to-back-back two-a-day practices and a morning session that yielded no progress, Jimmer Fredette became the team's first guard to complete a pass during scrimmage play on Thursday night. Prior to the pass, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons and free agent signing Jamal Crawford had each managed to take a shot, draw a foul or commit a turnover on all of their possessions. Meanwhile, rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas, arguably the team's best playmaker on paper, left the practice facility on Tuesday after being frozen out for 263 straight trips up the court and hasn't been heard from since. A team official assured CBSSports.com that the organization is "not alarmed."
Fredette's pass occurred when he inadvertently took the ball out of bounds following a made basket by Evans. Looking confused, and with no other option other than committing a five-second violation, Fredette reluctantly inbounded the ball to Thornton, who promptly dribbled coast-to-coast, only to have his running lay-up attempt swatted out of bounds by center DeMarcus Cousins. Westphal shouted encouragement -- "That's what I'm talking about!" -- and blew his whistle, briefly stopping practice to single out Fredette for praise.
"It was nothing, really," Fredette said, afterwards, looking a touch sheepish.
6. Adelman Closes Practices To Timberwolves Executives
MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- Two hours after a minor shouting match erupted between Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and president David Kahn on Monday, the two men pledged publicly that they had put the matter behind them.
"Direct communication is integral to creating a winning atmosphere," Kahn told a group of reporters on Monday afternoon. "Rick and I exchanged ideas, as we often do, and we were able to come to a resolution that is amenable to both parties. We thank you for your interest but this matter has been resolved. We look forward to a successful year."
The dispute, two league sources said, began when Adelman chided Kahn for openly cheering for rookie point guard Ricky Rubio, while wearing a Rubio jersey, in front of the entire team. That exchange escalated when Adelman decided to play veteran Luke Ridnour with the starting unit, instead of Rubio, prompting Kahn to yell loudly, "Come on!"
According to the sources, Adelman then threatened to quit on the spot, issuing a "you go or I go" ultimatum just weeks after formally accepting the position and signing a 4-year contract.
"This is my team and I make the coaching decisions," Adelman told reporters bluntly after practice. "That's it. Any other questions?"
The resolution, according to sources, will keep Kahn and other team executives off the practice court for the rest of training camp, although indications are that Kahn and Adelman have agreed to revisit the matter once the regular season begins.
Rubio, who competed for the Spanish national team at this summer's EuroBasket tournament, finished Monday's scrimmage with 0 points and two assists in 37 minutes.
7. Thibodeau Thanks Fans, Admits They Could Be Right
CHICAGO -- The Bulls held an intra-squad scrimmage at the United Center on Friday, allowing fans and season ticket holders the rare opportunity to watch the team go through its paces free of charge.
NBA MVP Derrick Rose drew the loudest cheers and the longest line of pre-game admirers, Luol Deng pledged $10,000 to charity at halftime, and new free agent signing J.R. Smith, who bought his own way out of a one-year contract he signed to play in China, autographed a diehard fan's neck with a tattoo gun. But the clear highlight of the festivities came when the NBA's reigning Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, took a microphone at center court just before tipoff to thank Bulls fans for their loyal support during the team's run to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals.
"You guys are the best fans in the league," Thibodeau said, to wild applause. "We hear you loud and clear every night. You give us a true home court advantage and we, all of us, from me to the players, appreciate it."
Seemingly overwhelmed by the extended standing ovation he received, Thibodeau shuffled quickly to the sideline before catching himself and returning to the microphone to offer a final thought.
"Just to let you know," the defensive mastermind continued, "We also hear you loud and clear about Carlos Boozer."
The simple mention of the power forward's name elicited instinctive and ravenous booing from the fans, who were in no mood to forgive Boozer's disappointing showing in the 2011 NBA Playoffs and the team's controversial decision not to use the Amnesty Clause to shed his massive contract during free agency.
"Yes, we've received thousands of letters, text messages, phone calls and emails. For the sanity of Illinois' hard-working postal workers, please stop sending them. We understand that you think he is soft, that he isn't good enough to be a No. 2 guy, and that he isn't clutch enough to put us over the top against Miami."
Here, the second-year head coach drew a breath and exhaled, the long, lonely nights in his office preparing schemes and reading the fan correspondence clearly weighing upon his heart.
"Look, you're probably right about all of it. But how the hell are we going to trade him?"
Boozer, who mysteriously broke his hand for the second consecutive offseason, was not medically cleared to play in the scrimmage and was not available to provide a statement. Nobody noticed or cared.
Tags: Ben Golliver, Brandon Roy, Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls, David Kahn, Doc Rivers, Eddy Curry, Erik Spoelstra, Greg Oden, Jeff Green, Jimmer Fredette, Kevin Durant, Larry Miller, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA Lockout, Paul Westphal, Portland Trail Blazers, Rajon Rondo, Rick Adelman, Ricky Rubio, Russell Westbrook, Sacramento Kings, Tom Thibodeau
Posted on: September 1, 2011 10:21 pm
By Matt Moore
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Defense wins championships. That's not actually true, as some of the best defenses never win titles because their offense can't muster enough points to outscore a college team. But it's certainly vital. You'll never find a modern NBA team win with terrible defense. But who have the best systems? We know who the great defenders are, but how much are they a product of the system, and how much is the system a product of them? We sought to answer those questions with our own form of the defensive system power rankings.
1. Chicago Bulls: There's a reason Tom Thibodeau is considered a defensive genius. Look no further than the fact that the Bulls were the defensive icon of the league despite considerable injuries last season and the fact that Carlos Boozer was a heavy-minutes starter. The key to Thibodeau's system is help and precision attack. There's no anticipation of meeting the player at the point of field goal attempt, the initial penetration is deterred by a series of help defenders cutting off multiple options. It's a system that masks individual defensive weaknesses. That's why players like Omer Asik, Boozer, and C.J Watson suddenly become strengthpoints.
An interesting component is that the Bulls are so focused on preventing scores, they manage to avoid fouling. They had the 22nd lowest free throw rate in the league. Compare that with Boston's 10th rating, and you find a much cleaner defense. That's partially attributable to the different personnel but it's also indicative of the Bulls' approach. They attack the dribble, cut off the lane, and contain, contain, contain.
Their cohesion is nearly perfect, their communication is nearly perfect, their approach is nearly perfect. Guarding LeBron James nailing long-range threes? You've got be perfect to beat that.
2. Boston Celtics: The ugly older brother of the Bulls' defense. The Celtics use the same help mechanisms to deter penetration and attack the rim, but are far more willing to commit to a club to the head to make their point. Intelligent design matched with brute force. Another key difference is their reliance on their individual personnel. Kevin Garnett is of course the field general, and its his willingness to commit to any assignment or range that fuels the system. But Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo are all equally essential along with the rest of the team. The problem is that the central reliance on personnel gives way to vulnerability. Eventually age catches up with the Celtics.
What bolsters them, though, is a philosophical dedication. The Celtics are willing to do the hard job, no matter how tough. It's not just a matter of professional dedication, its a prideful philosophy, an extension of the family unity they've tried to instill in the team. That's really what separates the Celtics, their almost militaristic dedication to the defensive discipline they try and execute for 48 minutes.
The Celtics' defense is only going to continue to slide as the players' abilities downgrade with age. But until then, they're still stocked with the most experience, ability, and knowledge of their system of any team in the league.
Again, with the LeBron thing.
3. Miami Heat: If the Celtics and Bulls both rely on system built on systemic fundamentals and philosophy, then the Heat's concept is a bit different, if nearly as effective. Their strengths begin with their talent. Having three of the most athletic players in the league gives you a basis. LeBron James' ability to play on the perimeter, on the wing, in the post, and battle for rebounds gives them versatility. Chris Bosh is never going to win anyone's heart over with toughness, but guarding those stretch fours in a league where they can torch you is important, and Bosh does it well. Dwyane Wade still gambles more than he should, but he also makes plays more often than you want if you're facing him.
This isn't to say the rest of the Heat are schlubs. Udonis Haslem is a big, tough, difficult defender who has the savvy to arm wrestle a weapon to the proverbial ground. The Heat have veteran players who don't lack for experience, and it helps tremendously.
The most interesting wrinkle in their defensive system, though, is one of their anticipation. Consider that the Bulls and Celtics both react to where the ball goes. They're always playing a game of stop what's in front of them. It's a very Eastern-philosophy, "stay in the moment" kind of mindset. But the Heat look to anticipate. They run to the corner shooter before the ball arrives. They play on a string, but not just in terms of shutting down one option and then reacting, but getting ahead of the offense to prevent the quick open look opportunity. The result is a load of shot clock violations.
The problem is personnel. They have neither the wing stopper they can commit at the cost of offense, nor the body in the paint at center to defend the rim. There's a reason why Shane Battier and Eddy Curry reportedly top the Heat's list of targets in free agency. A few better options defensively in terms of personnel might have won them two more games in the Finals, which was all that stood in their way of vindicating all that premature boasting.
4. Orlando Magic: It's good to have the best. Dwight Howard makes more of an impact defensively than any other player in the league, the reason he's the defending Defensive Player of the Year (again), and why he was an MVP candidate last season. If you don't believe me, watch just the Orlando Magic defensively some time. A team with Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu in prominent roles was a top five team defensively last season, and that impact begins and ends with Dwight Howard. Howard reacts to the baseline, swats the weak side, covers both the ball handler and roll man on the pick and roll, and is big and tall and super-athletic. He's a freak of nature, and one that's learned to be smarter on defense every year.
But to say that it's all Howard does a disservice to Stan Van Gundy's work. Van Gundy, after all, is the coach that has brought Dwight Howard to the defensive level he's at, making it a priority for the young big man since 2007. And it's Van Gundy who manages to pull this kind of defensive effort out of a team with that roster. That Van Gundy is able to generate cohesive defensive efforts with Brandon Bass, Jameer Nelson, and Jason Richardson in key roles along with the others speaks volumes of what SVG is capable of.
His biggest weakness is that personnel, which has gotten worse each season since 2009. Howard's hit his ceiling defensively. Unless SVG gets better supporting talent, there's only so many rabbits he can pull out of his hat.
5. Los Angeles Lakers: It's good to be tall.
The Lakers' defensive system is a question mark as Mike Brown takes over. But if we look at what the Lakers have done well in the past, it's pretty simple. Be tall, be active, apply pressure. The Lakers will talk about experience and veteran savvy, but their biggest asset is the fact that Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum combine to create a redwood forrest down low through which passes cannot flow. The result is a lot of perimter passing just to get the ball to the other side, or wild looping cross-court volleys. Combine that with Derek Fisher's ability to counter his slowness with pestering opposing point guards into personal fouls, and Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest's proficiency in perimeter defense, and you have quite the set.
Honestly, this roster probably has a lot of upside in defense, still. Jackson was too busy handing out novels and waxing poetic on what other player or coach he was degrading that week to really focus defensively other than to talk about, well, focus. The Lakers with Brown could be the best defensive unit in the NBA next season. Whenever that is.
Milwaukee Bucks: Skiles continues to struggle with offense, but his teams always attack the ball and stay disciplined. It's sloppy at times, but Skiles' grinding approach is a proven tactic.
Dallas Mavericks: Rick Carlisle talked in the Finals about "defending with five guys" and that's the best part of the Mavericks. They use any and all weapons at their disposal. Their defense isn't why they won the NBA championship, but it was why they won the Finals. Versatility combined with determination and good chemistry with sound principles made them formidable enough to compromise teams enough for their offense to do the rest.
Memphis Grizzlies: Unconventional is the word, here, as the Grizzlies run counter to every defensive tradition in the NBA. They don't play position, they attack the ball. They don't focus on misses, they swarm for steals. They don't deny layups, they pester and pressure until the offense collapses. Out of nowhere, Lionel Hollins turned one of the worst defenses in the league into one of the best. Tony Allen's influence helps, so does Shane Battier's, but it's Memphis' adoption of the blue collar ethic of the town that helped them make their playoff run.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 12:33 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 2:32 am
Posted by Royce Young
The Heat finished the Bulls in Game 5, 83-80, with an incredible Dirk-ish comeback to lock up their place in the NBA Finals. Time to pull out the red pen and make some marks.
LeBron James: I'm not going to fall into the "The real MVP showed up!" talk. Derrick Rose won the MVP for what he did during the 82 games in the regular season. If they were to hand out a playoffs MVP, LeBron, along with Dirk, would be right there to get it.
That said, LeBron was truly phenomenal in this series. In every single way. His numbers are stellar (25.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 6.6 apg) but really where he made the difference was his defense on Derrick Rose. That switch in the fourth quarters of Games 4 and 5 is really what ended this for the Heat. A dud in Game 1 is all that keeps this from being a perfect mark. Grade: A
Dwyane Wade: Maybe he wasn't totally healthy, but I don't think that's a worthy excuse. Wade seemed to check out of Game 4 for about 47 minutes and struggled again in Game 5. His numbers were very un-Dwyane Wade-ish (18.8 ppg on 40.5 percent shooting) but he did hit some big time shots in Games 4 and 5. That's just so very Dwyane Wade. Grade: B
Chris Bosh: Most saw the Bosh-Boozer showdown as a hinge to the series. And there's no doubt Bosh got the best of the matchup. He had two 30-point games, scored 22 on 12 shots in Game 4 and finished with 20-10 in the deciding game. I don't really think at any point in this series you could say that Bosh was a liability. He wasn't perfect defensively and wasn't always strong on the boards, but when Bosh plays like this, the Heat are really good. Grade: A-
Miami's role players: It was Udonis Haslem showing up out of nowhere in Games 2 and 3. Then it was Mike Miller in Game 4. All season long people waxed about how, at some point, the Heat were going to have to get contributions from players outside the Big Three if they were going to win. They were going to have to find their Robert Horry, their Derek Fisher, their Insert Solid Champion Role Player. And right on cue, Miller and Haslem stepped up and saved the day in the Eastern Finals. That's going to have to continue, but don't dog the Heat's role players anymore, because they stepped up. Grade: A
Erik Spoelstra: Spoelstra trusted his bench, made a few good adjustments and, really, managed the game pretty well. After Game 1's disaster, Spoelstra kept his message strong and kept his team right where it needed to be. Some of his decisions were a bit weird with what he was doing with his big men, but it worked out in the end because his group advanced. Grade: B+
Derrick Rose: I feel like Rose deserves to be graded on a curve. He clearly was forced into half of his bad decisions because of the circumstances he was in. But shooting 35 percent for the series and turning it over 19 times in four games hurts. Plus, he missed crucial free throws in both Games 4 and 5. That's nobody's fault but his.
He took responsibility for the meltdown in Game 5 and it was good of him to do so. No doubt he was under an incredible amount of pressure to make every play for the Bulls. But in moments where he just needed to be himself and make a good play, he tried to make great ones. He pushed, pressed and didn't finish games. He's young, he'll grow from this. But this just wasn't his series. Grade: C
Luol Deng: Really, Deng did a pretty solid job adding secondary points for the Bulls. He averaged better than 17 points per game on good percentages and hit some pretty big shots. His defense on LeBron was good enough, I'd say. Because Chicago lost, it's obvious that he probably needed to be better, but, before the series, I think if you told people that Deng would average 17 points and seven rebounds for the series, they'd say he must've had a great set of games. Grade: B+
Carlos Boozer: In two games, Boozer was very good, on one end. In Games 3 and 4 he averaged 23 points and 14 rebounds. But for the series, he finished averaging 14.4 ppg and 10.2 rpg. That should tell you that he had three other meh games. His Game 5 was awful as he scored five points on 1-6 shooting. Not to mention his statuesque pick-and-roll defense in every game of the series. Grade: D+
Tom Thibodeau: It's hard to blame Thibodeau too much for the lack of offense for the Bulls, because that's kind of sort of been the way they've played all season long. They always relied on their defense, always counted on rebounding well and always hoped Rose would give them just enough to finish out games.
When their shooters got hot and a couple players scored the ball well, they could pile up some points. But to expect them to magically grow an offensive game in the Eastern Finals was unreasonable. Now that's probably as much of an indictment of Thibodeau as anything else because his team never had an offensive identity and that bit them hard in this series, but to put it all on him isn't really fair. Grade: B-
Composure: Missed free throws. Bad fouls. Dumb turnovers. Silly shots. Forced passes. All of it piled up to two blown leads in Games 4 and 5 for the Bulls, and it ultimately ended their season. Yes, it probably was as much a sign of their youth and inexperience, much like the Thunder. But you've got to just keep playing. Basketball is basketball, no matter the situation, no matter the pressure. The Bulls just tensed up at the worst moments. Grade: F
Tags: 2011 Bulls-Heat, 2011 Conference Finals, 2011 EC Conference Finals, 2011 EC Playoffs, 2011 Heat-Bulls, 2011 NBA Playoffs, Bulls-Heat, Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls, Chris Bosh, Conference Finals, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, EC Conference Finals, Eddie House, Erick Dampier, Erik Spoelstra, Heat Bulls, James Jones, Joakim Noah, Joel Anthony, Keith Bogans, Kurt Thomas, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Luol Deng, Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat, Mike Bibby, Mike Miller, NBA Playoffs, Omer Asik, Pat Riley, Ronnie Brewer, Tom Thibodeau, Udonis Haslem, United Center, Zydrunas Ilgauskas