Tag Archives: injuries

Rose’s (Non) Controversial Statement

I was listening to ESPN Radio on XM yesterday, and my ears perked up when I heard mention of the Bulls. Whenever the Bulls get national media attention, I’m not shy about it – I get excited. I’m always eager to hear how the Bulls are perceived from the outside.

But when I turned up the volume, my delight quickly turned sour when I heard the topic of conversation: Derrick Rose’s comments Tuesday. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the full quotation:

“I know a lot of people get mad when they see me sit out. But I think a lot of people don’t understand that when I sit out it’s not because of this year. I’m thinking about long-term. I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball, having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to. I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past. Just learning and being smart.”

People look angry, ok, uh oh, I’m seeing some pitchforks, alright everyone just take it easy, let’s not get into mob mentality here… oh boy, too late.

I was pretty shocked and disappointed to be hearing this discussion on a national scale a day after the comments were made, and still receiving texts from friends I haven’t heard from in years a full two days later asking my thoughts on the issue. I was shocked and disappointed not because they were covering the story, but about how one-sided the attacks were. Friends, you asked for my thoughts, well, here they are, ready for it?

Derrick Rose owes us nothing. Did you hear that? I said, “DERRICK ROSE DOES NOT OWE US ANYTHING!” … Sorry for shouting. Actually, #SorryNotSorry.

I’m not going to sit here and make excuse after excuse for what Derrick said on Tuesday, but I’m also not going to ask him to leave the Bulls and be a stay-at-home dad. Yes, Derrick’s comments were not very smart in an NBA context. But he’s also never been great with words and interviews, so why should we expect anything different this time? There’s a name for this, and it’s called #DerrickRoseSaysStuff – You should look it up.

These comments are easy to attack and he’s a prime target to villainize and crucify over the kind of statement that is rarely made by superstar athletes in today’s social media frenzy and in a culture of creating a public persona veneer (e.g., Russell Wilson. If you don’t know how he handles post-game interviews, here’s an example). It becomes increasingly juicy to take the low-hanging fruit on this one as a media member in an environment where so few things said are out of line, so, naturally, Derrick was attacked.

But here’s something to keep in mind now, for Derrick, and later, for the rest of this Bulls team, in light of any injuries that may come: Sports fans are contrarians and hypocrites. They like to get upset and point fingers and find scapegoats. They will criticize as though they’re speaking from experience, and they will instruct as though they’re the National Basketball Associate Professor.

If Derrick played every game this season on those sprained ankles (a very common basektball injury, I might add, but is placed under the microscope because, well, it’s Derrick Rose), people would say: “What if he aggravates the ankles? You have to protect your investment! He has a max contract to win us a championship, not to play too much in his first ten games! If we don’t have Derrick in the playoffs, we can’t win! Thibs is playing him too many minutes and he’s running all these guys into the ground!” etc., I think I’ve ranted enough on that end…

And if Derrick misses any time at all for any reason, health-related or not, the response is: “Why isn’t Derrick on the floor? What is he getting all this money for, to sit on the sidelines? He should be helping his teammates! Look at how hard Jo plays and Derrick is just sitting there! He should be out there helping us win!” It’s a lose-lose situation, which is why I don’t waste my time getting wrapped up in it (yet here I am writing a response). The reality of it is that this will all be water under the bridge if, and when, Derrick starts to consistently play well for a long stretch, and the Bulls are winning. But that’s not the flavor of the day, his comments are.

The larger issue, though, is this feeling of entitlement sports fans have that athletes somehow owe them something, especially Chicago fans as it relates to Derrick Rose. Derrick gave Bulls fans an incredible rookie year, an all-star season, then an MVP year, which was followed up by two horrifyingly unfortunate knee injuries, back-to-back, sidelining him for two full seasons, which included missing a highly anticipated playoff run against the Heat’s Big Three.

In the time that Derrick has missed, fans have gotten jaded and turned to criticism, not because of anything Derrick did in particular, but because of how fans interpreted and channeled their own feelings against expectations. Because fans know how great he can be, Rose was made into an idol and a gold standard. He was lauded and heralded as the next great Chicago athlete. And with that fame came plenty of criticism. Derrick said it himself in April 2012 amid the lockout season: “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t take anything for granted. But it seems like the better I play, the more attention I get. And I can’t get away from it. You play great, you get attention. But I hate attention. It is weird. I’m in a bind. The more you win, the more they come.”

But if Rose never returns to his MVP-caliber level for any reason at all – be it health, motivation/drive, talent- Chicago fans will be disappointed, and they will project and misplace their anger and frustration at Derrick and the Bulls organization, when in reality, it’s each fan’s own lofty expectations culminated into a mob mentality. There’s always someone to blame. Be thankful for the entertainment that we do get as fans, and everything else will be seen as icing on the cake. If you aren’t thankful, you’ll be a miserable sports fan. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

But #DerrickRoseSaysStuff sometimes. What Derrick said and what Derrick probably meant are two very different things. Most athletes can, and should, be concerned about their overall health, even after basketball is over. They are people, after all, and not commodities/goods/services, despite what the contract and ownership structure may have us think. Does this mean Derrick should walk now with his money and live happily ever after? Of course not. He’s getting paid to play, but moreover, and this is important, he’s getting paid to make good basketball decisions.

And this is why his comments don’t reflect his mentality when the ball is in the air – none of this will affect his play on the court. Do you think he was worried about blowing out his back on this play?

via @_MarcusD_
via @_MarcusD_

Or, worried about his knees on this one? No, Derrick isn’t thinking about his health or his son’s graduation when he’s playing the game he loves to play. He’s thinking about making good plays, and all he cares about in that moment is winning. And that’s all we can ask of him. He can worry about his health and future off the court, and what he thinks about for 15 years down the line is frankly none of our business. -“Then he shouldn’t have said what he said!” – Yes, I know. But I think you’re missing my point.

Ok Derrick, let’s try to go back in time, and say this instead: “I’m just being smart and thinking about being healthy when it counts.” Wow, what a great statement. Always says the right thing. Such a wise man, that Derrick Rose.

 

Round One Preview, Part 1: Western Conference

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The NBA regular season held our attention for the full 82 games this season, as nearly every playoff matchup came down to games that were played on the final day of the regular season.

Before I go on, I would like to bid adieu to the 14 teams that did not qualify for the playoffs. League Pass addicts across America shed a tear when the Phoenix was eliminated from the postseason. This year marks the first time in NBA history that the the Knicks, Celtics and Lakers will all miss the postseason. The poor Timberwolves will go down as the team with the best point differential to ever miss the playoffs.

And with that, let us not speak of any of those teams again for a very long time. There are much more exciting matters at hand.

The first round of the playoffs promise to be excellent in the West and potentially interesting in the East, which is about the best thing a person could ask for. The West is loaded top to bottom and is where this preview begins.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Dallas Mavericks

The Spurs have been locked into the top slot the last couple of days and have been resting guys accordingly. Dallas, on the other hand, has been going full throttle down the stretch to edge out Phoenix for the final spot in the postseason. After losing to Memphis on Wednesday night, the Mavericks find themselves in the worst case playoff scenario. Had they held off Memphis Wednesday and held onto the seven seed, Dallas could have potentially hung tight with OKC in round one. That matchup, like all of Dallas’ potential matchups, would have featured a talent imbalance not in Dallas’ favor. But with the Thunder as an opponent, at least the Mavericks could boast a sizable coaching advantage. Instead, coach Carlisle has to gameplan against Greg Popovich who is known for being a gameplanner himself.

The Spurs should easily dispose of Dallas, a team that can score with the best of them but has been very porous on the defensive end. Dallas gives up 105.9 points per 100 possessions, good for 22nd in the league. That’s not going to hold up against the Spurs’ 6th ranked offense in terms of efficiency. San Antonio’s drive and kick system is specifically designed to systematically pick apart a team like Dallas that plays matadors at both guard spots in Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon.

Dirk and company are too skilled an too prideful to just roll over in this series, but don’t have nearly enough fire power to keep up with San Antonio. I expect at least one crazy Nowitzki game winner, but do not expect more than one Dallas victory.

Prediction: San Antonio in 5

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(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies

A rematch of a round two matchup from a year ago, this version of Thunder-Grizz promises to be a lot different with a healthy Russell Westbrook running point for the Thunder. The Grizzlies won 50 games this year despite enduring a six week stretch without reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. New coach Dave Joerger took some time to learn how to best use his roster, but has certainly become more comfortable at the reigns. Gasol’s return from a knee injury returned the Grizzlies’ defense to elite levels. Since January 15, the day Gasol rejoined the lineup, only the Bulls have played stingier defense per 100 possessions.

Oklahoma City enters the playoffs with high aspirations. After making the Finals in 2012, the Thunder lost their All-Star point guard to injury in the first round last year. Westbrook, who has re-injured his knee this season, seems to be fully healthy now. Since the calendar turned to March, Westbrook has averaged 23.4/7.2/5.8 a night on a pretty strict minutes limit. That limit will no longer be in place now that the games actually matter and Westbrook is ready to unleash himself on the Grizzlies.

Memphis, as defensively gifted as they are, will not be able to stop Kevin Durant. They probably won’t even be able to contain him. Durant has never been better than he is right now, on the verge of taking home his first MVP trophy. The Grizzlies extended Tony Allen specifically for this type of matchup, but Allen, at just 6’4″, will struggle to bother Durant’s shot. That’s no slight to Tony, as the entirety of the NBA has been unable to do much against Durant this season. KD has been averaging a cool 32 points a night on 50% shooting from the field, 39% from three. Durant has also broadened his game this year, more willing to put the ball on the floor now than in years past. According to SportVU data, Durant is driving the ball nearly six times a game this season, just one fewer than Lebron. On those 5.8 drives per game, Durant is scoring 6.2 points per game, the fourth highest mark in the NBA.

My final note on this series, which will be won decisively by the Thunder, is that Memphis allows the Thunder to play big, something that Scott Brooks loves to do for no reason. Facing a starting lineup of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Thunder have an excuse to give Kendrick Perkins run and not have it totally kill them.

Prediction: Thunder in 4

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(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) Golden State Warriors

News of Andrew Bogut’s cracked ribs makes the likelihood of this series being an interesting one very small. The Warriors have the third best defensive rating in the NBA this year despite starting sieves at point guard and power forward. Golden State’s defensive success can be largely attributed to two men: Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, the latter of which will likely not be healthy in time for round one. Bogut has truly anchored the Warriors defense this season, acting as a final line of defense in the (frequent) event that Steph Curry lets his man by him.

The Clippers have seemingly gone under the radar down the stretch, being pushed aside in the media by the streaking Spurs and the floundering Pacers. But to the careful observer, LA’s Other Team is just as likely as OKC or San Antonio to make it out of the West. Blake Griffin has taken huge strides this season as a defender, post scorer and ball handler. Chris Paul’s shoulder injury ended up being a blessing in disguise as the Flyin’ Lion seemed to really come into his own in Paul’s absence.

It won’t be a cakewalk for the Clips, as Steph Curry and company promise to keep games exciting with their ability to make quick comebacks. No lead is safe against Golden State who is both fourth in three point attempts and percentage. With Bogut and David Lee both nursing injuries, I fully expect Curry to let it fly in the playoffs. Steph already averages 7.9 trey attempts a game, of which he makes 42%, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number climb to nine or ten against the Clippers.

The Clippers’ last two postseasons have ended in part because of a lack of offensive creativity. In the playoffs, when teams really have the time to study every little thing a team does, it is more important than ever to have a sophisticated system. With Vinny Del Negro at the helm, offensive sophistication was never a strong suit of the Clippers. But this season, under Doc Rivers, I expect the Clippers to fight off the offensive stalling that has been characteristic of their recent playoff runs. The Warriors will shoot their way to a couple of close wins, but there’s no way Chris Paul doesn’t get his team to the second round.

Prediction: Clippers in 6

LMA

(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers

The 4v5 matchup out West might be the most purely entertaining series of the entire first round. In Portland and Houston, we find ourselves with two teams that love to score and don’t care much about slowing anyone down. Houston and Portland finish the season ranked 12th and 16th in defensive rating, respectively, making them far and away the poorest overall defensive matchup in round one. The two teams also rank fourth and fifth in offense, with the Rockets scoring 108.6 points/100 possessions and the Blazers scoring 108.3.

The Rockets defensive efficiency with Dwight Howard on the floor is a slightly more acceptable 102.2. That number hangs right at 102.1 when Omer Asik takes the floor. So why the poor overall numbers from the Rockets? Dwight has sat out eleven games this year and Mutant Judge Reinhold has sat out 34 contests due to various injury issues both physical and emotional. With neither rim protector in the game, Houston’s horrendous perimeter defenders routinely get torched. James Harden in particular has shown little to no interest in playing defense this season. But with Asik back in the fold and Dwight well rested and recovered from his recent injury, I expect Houston to show a level of stinginess they were rarely able to achieve during the regular season.

If not for Phoenix, Portland surely would have been the Little Engine That could team, a squad that some pundits picked to get the 7 or 8 seed, but not good enough to make any serious noise. But after getting out to a scorching start, the Blazers spent the majority of the season in the top four in the Western Conference. Portland’s explosive offense has come back to earth a little bit in the second half of the season, especially its clutch performance numbers. But Portland’s success is certainly no fluke, as Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge both submitted All-Star offensive seasons.

They say the long two is dead in the NBA but don’t tell that to Aldridge, the player who by far and away led the league in that type of shot. And while it would be nice for the former Longhorn to learn to shoot from just a few feet back, it is hard to complain with the results he puts up. LMA is currently shooting 48% from between 16-24 feet, in addition to the 57% he shoots at the basket. Aldridge is a tricky matchup for Houston, a team that lacks any sort of traditional power forward who has the size to make life difficult for Aldridge on the block and the speed to chase him around the perimeter. Dwight Howard, for all the rim protection he provides, is no longer the type of player who can completely dominate the entire floor defensively. 2009 Dwight could have made life miserable for Aldridge on the wings. 2014 Dwight will probably live with the inefficient shots.

The question mark for Portland offensively comes from the point guard position, where Damian Lillard will be matched up against the cagey and relentless Patrick Beverly. Beverly famously injured Russell Westbrook in last years playoffs when he lunged for a steal as Westbrook attempted to call timeout. Beverly has developed quite the reputation, and the swagger to go with it, since moving into the starting lineup this year. Tasked with tracking the oppositions’ number one perimeter option, Beverly has dedicated all of his energy to the process, knowing full well that his starting back court mate James Harden can pick up the slack on offense.  Beverly, who has recently dealt with knee issues of his own lately, will be key in slowing down Lillard and the Portland attack.

Prediction: Houston in 7 (but really we’re all winners because these games will be in the 120s).

Quick Bulls Thought: Life Without Jimmy

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In wake of the news that the Chicago Bulls will be without the services of starting shooting guard and flat top aficionado Jimmy Butler for the foreseeable future (a future that includes the Bulls’ annual circus trip that begins tonight in Denver), I took some time to look at how Butler’s absence will impact the team.

Glancing over Butler’s traditional box scores leaves one with the impression that Butler’s injury may not have much of a negative impact on the play of the Bulls. Averaging 11.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists a game, Butler’s game on the surface does not seem to be all that remarkable. Surely Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy, the two players coach Thibodeau will rely on to cover Butler’s shooting guard responsibilities, will be able to replicate numbers like that. One might even venture as far as to suggest that the Bulls could benefit from having a better ball handler or a better shooter on the floor for more minutes. But the reality is that this injury will really test this veteran squad that has championship aspirations.

The Bulls this season are averaging just 98.9 points per possession, an offensive efficiency that ranks 22nd in the NBA and sandwiches them between Orlando and Philly. But with Butler on the floor, the Bulls see their offensive efficiency rise to 102.1, a number that is just about league average, per stats.nba.sportsVU.

Part of the reason for this is that Butler opens the floor up for his teammates as he has developed an effective three point stroke from the corners. Butler is shooting 38.5% on his three pointers, and is accountable for nearly all of the Bulls’ action from the corners. Per the always excellent sportsVU feature, the Bulls are shooting 63% and 57% from the left and right corners when Butler is on the floor. When Jimmy hits the bench? 11% and a freaking ZERO from the right side.

Mike Dunleavy Jr., brought in as a sort of Kyle Korver supplement after Reinsdorf decided he’d rather have $500 grand than the best pure shooter in basketball the sharp shooter was traded to Atlanta a year ago, has not been solid through the first portion of the season, stroking an impressive 54.5% from deep. But the difference between Dunleavy and Butler is that Mike D requires a lot more off ball action in order to free himself for an open shot. Butler’s attempts seem to come more in the natural flow of the offense. Butler’s ability to take guys off the dribble who run out at him too hard forces defenders to give Jimmy some breathing room on his shot.

The Bulls defensive efficiency rating is 92.8, good for third best in the league (the Pacers are #1 if you were interested). That excellent defense is due mostly to the play of the Bulls starting unit, which as already logged 129 minutes this season. The second most used five man lineup has only shared the floor for 45 minutes. That starting unit has a defensive efficiency of 92. In Butler’s absence, I would expect Thibs to rely heavily on lineups featuring both Rose and Hinrich. Unfortunately, that pairing is surrendering a gaudy 110 points per 100 possessions.

The nature of the rigorous NBA season is that almost all teams will have a key rotation member go down for an extended period of time with an injury. The Bulls are lucky that Butler’s toe will likely heal in two or three weeks. But an injury like this will force the Bulls to look and see how deep this team is. Over the course of an 82 game season and a potential 20+ game playoff run, every member of the team will be counted on to contribute. Whether or not those players can rise to the challenge is the difference between a nice season and a championship.