Tag Archives: 2016-17 NBA

The Bulls draft night was a success because they didn’t trade Jimmy Butler

After that bombshell of a trade dropped on Wednesday, many fans and followers around the league wondered what the Bulls organization would do as an encore performance in the NBA Draft on Thursday night.

And if you followed along on Twitter throughout the night, it seemed to get very close to a 1-2 punch of losing Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler on consecutive days to officially start the tear down. Depending on who you listen to, it was either GarPax listening to offers but taking none too seriously, or Tom Thibodeau getting revenge on his former employers by making it seem like they were shopping their now franchise player.

Alas, none of this came to pass, as all that was left was two reasonable picks made by the front office. We’re breaking them down for you here.

Denzel Valentine

The Bulls drafted Denzel Valentine out of Michigan St. with the 14th overall selection in the first round on Thursday night. Valentine stands at 6’5” and 220 lbs, with a large 6’10” wingspan. He is a 22-year-old out of Lansing, Michigan and progressed tremendously each year in college under the tutelage of the legendary Tom Izzo.

For those Big Ten fans out there, they remember Valentine as the do-it-all senior leader who drove the Spartans to a 29-6 record and a #2 seed in the tournament, even after missing a couple weeks in the middle of the season.

In his Senior campaign, his best by far in East Lansing, Valentine averaged 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game, shooting a staggering 44.4% from deep on 7.5 attempts per game. These numbers are indicative of what Valentine can do on the court, namely, everything. This will be a nice change of pace from a front office who have drafted some one-dimensional players in the first round over the past few years, like Doug McDermott.

What makes Valentine tick is his court vision, passing ability, and general high basketball IQ. These are all attributes that successful NBA wings tend to have. On top of that, as illustrated by his 44% from deep, Valentine is a plus-shooter from the outside. However, with Nikola Mirotic and McDermott already in the fold, his court vision and passing ability will probably be called upon more.

Valentine also possesses quality ball-handling abilities as he was the de facto point guard for the Spartans last year. This will help replace Rose in that facet of the game and his overall versatility on offense will be a sight for sore eyes for many Bulls fans who have seen too many one tool players recently.

However, as with every prospect, there are certainly some weaknesses in the Bulls shiny new first round toy. For starters, let’s point out what Gar Forman said after trading Derrick Rose. Forman exclaimed that the Bulls were looking to get younger and more athletic following along with the recent trend in the league. His first chance to do that didn’t exactly follow along those guidelines.

Valentine is 22 years old, or to put it another way, four years older than #2 overall pick Brandon Ingram. While Valentine is obviously still younger than almost every Bull, GarPax have recently selected some of the oldest players possible in McDermott and Valentine.

As for the athletic portion of Forman’s proclamation, Valentine doesn’t exactly check off that box either. He ran an underwhelming 3.46 3/4 court sprint at the draft combine. To give you an idea of that statistic, it is equivalent to what the 7’1” center Zhou Qi out of China ran in his combine effort. That’s not who you want to be compared to in terms of speed if you are hoping to be a successful wing in the Association.

Another issue with Valentine is his below-average defensive abilities. While he does posses a strong ability on the boards, especially as a wing, the rest of his defensive game is not up to the same standards. Given Valentine’s relative lack of quickness, he often struggles to stay in front of quicker guards, meaning it will be tough for him to stick at the 2 position on the court. This also means it will be tough to keep both him and McDermott on the court at the same time as there may be too little quickness and defensive ability to compensate for.

One final small issue is one that Bulls fans do not want to hear. Potentially troublesome knees. Valentine has never had a serious knee injury but did miss a couple weeks last season after needing arthroscopic surgery in one of his knees. Bulls medical staff don’t see it as a pressing issue but it will definitely be something to keep an eye on.

Overall, this was a solid selection from the duo of Forman and Paxson. A relatively low-risk pick with a well-known prospect. Valentine will help spread the floor and become a solid playmaker that can play just as well off the ball as on, which may be his most important attribute given he will be sharing a court with Butler.

Paul Zipser

With the 48th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft the Bulls selected 6’8” Paul Zipser. I know that anytime someone hears a tall, lanky, German guy was selected, they immediately want to compare him to Dirk–but that’s not the case here. However, Zipser is a very nice compliment to the Bulls first round selection, Valentine.

The German native is considered one of the most NBA-ready foreign prospects given his age (22) and experience with the German national team and Euroleague. Zipser is expected to join the Bulls this season. Many of his strengths align with needs of most NBA teams: most notably, shooting and defense.

Zipser is regarded as a small forward with the possibility of playing power forward in a small ball lineup. Zipser has a nice shot, shooting 49.5% from the field this past year in what is regarded as the second best league in the world in Germany. He also contains a surprising quickness for a forward. Combined with his length, these assets make him an above-average defender for multiple positions.

Overall, I like this pick. Going with an experienced overseas prospect who can shoot and play well off of the ball as well as defend is what you are looking for in a role player. And any serviceable rotation player you can pick up in the second round is a added bonus to a solid draft night for this front office.

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You can still hate LeBron James

Well folks, it happened: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers crawled back from a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 deficit against the seemingly insurmountable Golden State Warriors to claim a championship for the city of Cleveland. And as is tradition in 2016, Twitter became a luscious garden of Hot Takes, as the tears of a million Jordans provided the necessary nourishment for takes—ranging from scorching hot to borderline absolute zero—to bloom beautifully for all the Internet to enjoy.

But as Twitter harvested this fresh crop of Takes, something bizarre and disarming occurred: the world reached a sudden consensus that the time to hate LeBron James had passed. As an experienced user of the Internet, I’ve come to be wary of any perceived Internet consensus. It’s important that there are people out there who think things like “a hot dog is a sandwich” or “Young Thug is not a religious figure”—these disagreements bring balance to the Internet force and allow us to identify idiots on the web.

So on Sunday night, as the timeline collectively asked no one in particular “How can anyone dislike this guy?”, it became clear that something was afoot. Two primary narratives emerged: the first from people who have always liked LeBron, painting the ever shrinking bandwagon of LeBron haters as “Michael Jordan fanboys…clutching their 1992 Air Jordan tennis shoes while quietly whimpering.” The second was from people who have long disliked LeBron but can no longer hold onto that disdain because of “the way he delivered” throughout this epic series. Both narratives are oddly detached from the way that we consume sports.

Let’s establish a baseline of facts so that I seem reasonably intelligent: LeBron James is one of the top five basketball players ever to play in the NBA and the best all-around player in the NBA right now. He has a remarkable set of physical gifts and can do things that nobody—Jordan, Magic, Bird, you name it—could do. He absolutely dominated the last three games of the Finals, and the notion that anyone else deserved MVP is nothing short of preposterous.

But all of these facts were facts two weeks ago, two months ago, and two years ago. To say that LeBron played amazing basketball in these Finals understates the historic evisceration he handed the defending champs. I hate LeBron James, but I’m not a moron. So why, suddenly, did LeBron become beyond reproach from good old fashioned hate?

As a 10-year-old Pistons fan in the summer of 2003, I hated LeBron from the instant he was drafted by the Cavaliers. I delighted in telling all of my friends that Darko Milicic would win a title before the self-titled King, and I delighted even more so in being proven right less than a year later. I was a little shithead.

During the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals I was forced to confront the fact that LeBron was rather good at basketball, good enough on his own to decimate my beloved Pistons. But that didn’t mean that I stopped hating his guts. As his first tenure in Cleveland twisted and turned, with the Cavs never assembling an adequate supporting cast for LeBron to deliver a title to his hometown, I cheered on his continual failures because they validated my hatred. And when LeBron went on national television and committed the most perplexing public relations faux pas of the 21st century, I roared with excitement as the LeBron hate train left the station.

I own a “LeBron went south but his mom rides West” shirt that I wear at every conceivable opportunity. (I should probably wash it.) I laughed at his 2011 Finals collapse, reveled in hot takes about whether or not he had a clutch gene, and, ultimately, avoided ESPN for days after his first two titles, still clinging to the only argument I needed, Shawn. And as he came back to Cleveland looking to avenge his Decision, nothing made me giddier than seeing Steph Curry become the cool little behemoth standing in the King’s way.

Given this history, why would any of the events of the last two weeks cause me to change my mind about LeBron James? I never hated him because he wasn’t good at basketball, because he wasn’t as good as Jordan, because he wasn’t clutch, because he was an unrepentant crybaby on and off the court, because he subtweeted his teammates and coaches, or because he comically lacked a degree of self-awareness that anyone in the public eye should have. On the contrary: all of those irrational criticisms were true—became true, even—because I hated him.

Sports hate is not rational. We yell and scream at and about people who are literally the best in the world at what they do because it gets our juices flowing. More often than not, we cherry pick moments and narratives on and off the field to create heroes and villains among a crop of people who are pretty similar to each other in a vacuum. (The reminders over the past few days that LeBron is by all accounts a model father and spearheads significant charitable endeavors buttress this notion; it’s not like the guy just now became a decent human being.) That’s how we explain away nitpicking the performance and behavior of multimillionaire superstars in bizarrely different ways—“can you just IMAGINE if LeBron had thrown HIS mouth guard at a fan?!?!”—and it’s what allows us to harvest our bounty of hot takes in the first place.

But there’s something special about that sports hate. No, I’m not just going to suddenly shut up and enjoy the greatness of an athlete that I’ve always despised. And no, I’m not going to just give in, essentially waving the white flag because the guy is just too damn good. I’m a hater through and through, and the number one object of this perverse fandom is punk ass LeBron James.

I know I’m not alone. Whether it’s Tom Brady, Alex Rodriguez, or Sidney Crosby, the world loves to hate athletes who have proven themselves great time and time again, and even when we occasionally pause to ask ourselves how and why that hate flows, we remember that Brady is a deflator, A-Rod is a steroid abuser, and Crosby is soft.

So on behalf of LeBron James haters everywhere, I will begrudgingly step forward and take this L. But when the 2016-17 season gets going, I’ll be right here, ready to kick the LeBron hate train into high gear as I always do, hoping for him to once again fail and whine about it so I can laugh in his stupid face. And despite what the tides of Twitter may tell you, dear reader, you’re more than welcome to join me on the hate train—which is suddenly far less crowded than it was two weeks ago—for what is sure to be another exciting season of literally hoping a complete stranger sucks at his job in a way that will disappoint millions of people. All aboard!

Bulls make out well in shocking, emotional Derrick Rose trade

In a move that caught just about everyone by surprise, the Bulls traded Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks Wednesday afternoon. The move signifies the end of an era that will be remembered by all with mixed emotions ranging from the highest of highs to the lowest depths that exist in basketball fandom. Derrick Rose was never just a basketball player here in his home town. Rose’s first few years were the first time this city dumped it’s hopes and dreams into a Bull since the departure of Michael Jordan. And how could you not when he was doing this and this.  Rose captured our hearts with his humble demeanor and our excitement with his physics-defying drives to the hoop.

Rose tore his ACL in the first round of the playoffs in 2012 while leading the deepest team he would ever play for in Chicago and was simply never the same. Two additional knee injuries robbed Rose of nearly three entire years in his prime. Rose’s 66 games played this year were an incredible accomplishment to those of us who wondered if he would ever string together a few healthy months again. While it was encouraging to finally see his ability to withstand the rigors of the NBA, it was clear that the Rose who treated gravity like an optional feature would never return. And so, with one year and $21 million left on his contract, the Chicago Bulls have decided to turn the page.

While the idea of Derrick in Knickerbocker garb is sickening to many Bulls fans, the front office should be commended for haul they brought back in return for the former MVP. Here’s the full trade:

New York Receives;

Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday and a 2017 second round pick

Chicago Receives:

Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant

The big prize for Chicago is veteran center Robin Lopez, who will be entering year two of a four year, $54 million contract next season. Lopez’s brother Brook garners more attention around the league than Robin because of his smooth post moves and reliable mid range jump shot. But where Robin is lacking on offense compared to his brother, he more than makes up for on the other end.

Robin is one of the more underrated defenders in the NBA. He’s not going to erase your shot like DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside. He’s not going to blitz and trap the pick and roll like Serge Ibaka or Draymond Green. What he will do is put himself in the best position to wall off the basket and help his team win every possession. According to NBA.com, Robin defended the eighth-most shots at the rim of any NBA player. Racking up contests at the rim is often more an indicator of scheme than skill, especially when you consider that Brook Lopez and Pau Gasol rank in the top four in this category. While Robin’s limited athleticism force him to play exclusively in the conservative, drop back style, he was one of the absolute best at it.  Of the ten players who defended over 600 field goal attempts at the rim, nobody forced shooters into a lower field goal percentage than Robin Lopez.

What Lopez lacks in athleticism he makes up for with positioning and intelligence. Lopez is someone who can always be counted on to be in the right places and help cover for his teammates. The Bulls perimeter is not going to be much better next season if Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic play big minutes. But with a steady presence in the paint, their mistakes will be far less glaring.

Judging just by a box score, Lopez appears to be a very poor rebounder for a center, averaging just 7.3 per game. Piling up high rebound totals is often an indication of excellent leaping ability, a trait Lopez has never possessed. While Lopez is never going to lead the league in raw rebounds collected, he is still able to make important impacts on the glass. Lopez is an expert at boxing out and creating opportunities for his teammates to grab loose balls. The Knicks were an overall average rebounding team in 2015. But when Lopez, who averaged 27 minutes a game, was on the court, the Knicks rebounded at a top five rate in the league.

Lopez is not and has never been interested in being the focal point of an offense. In his eight years in the league, Robin has only finished one season with a usage rate around 20%. Instead, Robin scores many of his baskets by creating space with his body and tipping misses into the hoop. Lopez rebounded 13% of his teams own misses this past season, the 13th highest rate in the NBA. Lopez is a below average finisher at the rim, shooting 61% between zero and three feet, but he at least consistently puts himself in the position to attempt those makeable shots.

Acquiring Robin Lopez heading into this bonkers free agency period when there are no other starting caliber centers on the roster (sorry Cristiano Felicio) is a huge weight off the Bulls’ shoulders. Lopez is going to make $13.5 million per year over the next three years, which sounds like a steep price for a guy who has never averaged more than 11 points a game. But when you compare his contract to the ones likely to be given to Bismack Biyombo, Ian Mahimi and Festus Ezili, Lopez, who is just 28, will become an overnight bargain. While the trade did not create any cap space for the Bulls in 2016, they essentially filled their greatest hole without having to dip into their roughly $25 million of space.

Jerian Grant had a rough rookie season, but there is reason to hope he can develop into a solid NBA point guard. After four years of running spread pick and roll at Notre Dame, Grant went missing in the Philmuda Triangle. Grant never grasped the offense in New York and was never given a great opportunity to learn on the job, averaging 16.6 minutes per game behind long time veteran Jose Calderon.

That Jerian was never able to earn more minutes was a moderate indictment on Grant’s ability to do anything on offense. Grant shot a miserable 22% from three and a discouraging 52% within three feet. Some of that struggle could be attributed to him getting the ball in unfamiliar spots and being asked to do unfamiliar things. Still, a lack of true NBA athleticism may prevent Grant from becoming a quality guard. Grant will find himself in a familiar system under Fred Hoiberg, and if he has any chance to succeed the Bulls will have three cost-controlled years to find out.

Jose Calderon is a great shooter, averaging over 40% from three in each of the last four seasons. Unfortunately, shooting is pretty much all the 34-year-old point guard can do at an NBA level anymore. Calderon has seen his assist rate plummet since his peak days in Toronto as his athleticism has declined. Calderon was never a great athlete, but his threat of shooting used to be enough for him to create penetration and set up his teammates. Time has robbed Calderon of what little speed he ever had, limiting his ability to facilitate an offense. Calderon is also a turnstile on defense. The Knicks held opponents to three fewer points per 100 possessions when Jose was on the court versus when he was off.

The trade also allows the Bulls to sharpen their focus as the draft and free agency approach.  With the center position firmly covered between Lopez and Felicio, the Bulls can focus their attention on adding a point guard and deepening the wing rotation. This is not a draft or free agency class deep at either of those positions, but if the Bulls can snag Wade Baldin at 14 and throw a big contract at Kent Bazemore or someone in his ilk, they will be right back in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.

A quality center on a value contract, a mildly intriguing prospect and a veteran shooter are a pretty good haul in return for an injury-riddled Rose who could leave in free agency in July 2017. Jake Weiner and I had been discussing whether the Bulls should trade Rose or Butler this offseason and I had been mostly against trading Rose, simply because I thought we could get nothing back for him better than cap space. By those low expectations, the Bulls made out like bandits in this trade.