On a six game road trip, you would typically consider it a success if you can go 3-3; but, when final game of the trip is in Philadelphia against a glorified D-League team and you’re already in good shape at 3-2, you want to come out of it 4-2. The Bulls did just that Friday night, taking care of business in the way they’re supposed to, topping the struggling 76ers 105-89 to improve to 10-6 in a game that was never truly in question. They led wire to wire, which afforded Jimmy Butler the chance to sit out the entire fourth quarter and gain some much needed rest.
The first quarter was a seesawing of scoring runs – the Bulls came out of the gate 8-0 with good focus, great energy, and a sense of urgency that was hard to find last year, but has been (dare I say?) fairly consistent in their first 16 games so far. The Sixers responded with their own 6-0 run, the Bulls back with another 8-0 run, and the Sixers closed on an 11-3 run of their own.
The first quarter was the Bulls only real hiccup to speak of, hanging on to just a four point lead, 23-19, as they committed seven turnovers, perhaps a little too giddy. But, the Bulls were able to settle in, with only five turnovers for the remainder of the game and really put the game away in the third quarter with a 33-17 period.
Butler and Dwyane Wade led the way with 26 points apiece, in 30 and 28 minutes, respectively, and both shooting over 60% for the game; Butler with his tenth straight 20+ point game.
Jimmy continues to be the minutes leader for this team, even in a blowout, and is seen in all sorts of five-man combinations. Aside from the starting five, Butler was out there with Isaiah Canaan, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, and Denzel Valentine, which is only the third time this season we’ve seen such a lineup. This lineup also produced some unselfish, but sloppy, play late in the third quarter that resulted in a pair of threes from Valentine and Mirotic, snuffing any Sixers hopes by expanding the lead to 90-64.
It was the Dwyane Wade show early in the fourth quarter, scoring the Bulls’ first 11 points, including a step-back three. His three point shooting is really remarkable – it’s something I never thought would be a reasonable part of his game (especially not a step-back three), but he has demonstrated an ability to make that shot this year, at just about a 39% clip.
Rajon Rondo had quite the performance – it’s true that his numbers were steady and consistent with a classic Rondo game with six points, eight rebounds, and 10 assists, but what was perhaps more impressive was his defense and agitation. He took a charge, was pesky and meddling, and fought through screens, in addition to being a court captain, championing the best court vision on either team.
Note-A-Bull: This team is still without Doug McDermott and Michael Carter-Williams, but fortunately their presence wasn’t needed.
The Sixers are still in rebuild mode, as their most recognizable names are Joel Embiid (who sat this game out), Jahlil Okafor, Ersan Ilyasova, Jerryd Bayless, and Gerald Henderson. Buzz, your girlfriend, woof. They’re still having a hard time progressing, now 4-12 on the season, but are hopeful that all of this will do their players some good and will develop into valuable learning experiences down the road.
Up Next: The Bulls get a few days off and come home to face the Lakers, while the 76ers host the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.
Happy New Year everyone. As of tonight, 2015 is now upon us. We’re over one third of the way through the NBA season and this is when many experts examine some of the awards races throughout the league. It’s always fun to debate which players are likely to take home these awards at seasons end, but I thought it would be more fun to pick who’s winning each award based on the complete antithesis of the usual qualifications. Welcome to the Bizarro NBA Awards race!
Most Valuable Player
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
This award is not an indictment on the talent that Kobe Bryant possesses, because he is a first ballot Hall of Famer and the second best shooting guard to ever lace ‘em up. But Kobe takes home the award based on his awful performance thus far into the season. This isn’t entirely his fault because he is playing with the likes of Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill, Ronnie Price, Wes Johnson, and others in the supporting cast who really have no business sharing the court with Kobe, let alone being in the NBA.
It’s like the Lakers are this huge Hollywood movie project. They’ve got all the greatest special effects, good editing and sound mixing, and the film sets are brilliant and massive. But the Lakers didn’t allocate enough in their total budget to make good casting hires. They signed on Mark Wahlberg, the star, but they didn’t have enough money left over to sign any other big names. So they had to hire Mark’s brother Donnie and a litany of other D-list celebrities to play fifteen different roles. The final product just isn’t going to hold up.
Ridiculous Lakers analogies aside, Kobe’s shooting percentage is way down (37% overall and 27% on threes). With his shooting percentage down, there is also a higher focus on his typically questionable shot selection. There have been many a night so far this season where Kobe will take around30 shots and have very little return in scoring. At this point it’s hard to argue that Kobe is helping this team more than he is hurting it (did you see the Lakers dominate Golden State without Kobe??). By having him out there on a nightly basis, the Lakers have a chance to finish outside the top five of the lottery at seasons end. This is a horrible thing for LA because their first round pick will be given to Phoenix if this comes to fruition. It’s not like Byron Scott or the Lakers front office are going to tell Kobe to sit out the season so they can keep their draft pick, but honestly that is the best course of action. Kobe is not only hurting this team with his overall performance, but he will be hurting the future of Lakers basketball if he is able to regain form and win pointless games for this team down the stretch. If Sam Hinkie was the general manager of the Lakers, Kobe already would’ve been dealt for a 2018 second round pick and the right to swap second rounders in 2019. Bob Dylan once said “the times they are a changing”. However, Ron Burgundy nor Mitch Kupchak ever heard that song.
I’m sorry Kobe, but someone has to take home this award and you’ve been pretty bad this year. But it’s not your fault…
Defensive Player of the Year
The entire Timberwolves team
It’s almost unquantifiable how awful the Timberwolves are on the defensive end; luckily for us sports are all about statistics and we can quantify exactly how awful they really are. The Timberwolves love not playing defense almost as much as ownership loves rehiring Flip Saunders to be their head coach. They’re letting opponents shoot over 49% from the field including over 37% from long distance, as well as surrendering over 109 points per game. You’re just not going to win many NBA games when your opponent is making half of their shots every night and you have to rely on Shabazz Muhammad to lead your team to over 110 points. The Timberwolves are like a hockey team who goes down 1-0 in the first period and then inexplicably decides to pull their goalie for the rest of the game to try and catchup. I mean this is the team that gave the Sixers their first victory of the season; they are no world beaters. The reason I couldn’t zero in on just one winner for this award is because the T’Wolves are so bad at defense collectively, I think it would be unfair to leave anyone out of the spotlight. Flip Saunders the president of basketball operations should tell Flip Saunders the head coach that this team needs to play a little more defense. Or the T’Wolves should just start playing defense like the guys from BASEketball…
Congratulations Minnesota you are the first team to win an individual award!
Rookie of the Year
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
It may be a slightly unorthodox move to give Rookie of the Year to a player that is inactive and hasn’t suited up all year, but this is the bizarro world and giving awards to unqualified recipients is not only accepted, it is encouraged. Normal statistics like points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks are overrated. We should be deciding awards races by how well a person tweets or does the Shmoney dance. Luckily, we have a rookie right in our midst that is absolutely stellar at both.
Andrew Wiggins will likely win the actual ROY award because he can do things like jump really high and occasionally score over 20 points in a game, but we need to measure ROY by more intangible attributes. Joel Embiid has been more entertaining so far from the sidelines than any other rookie has been on the court. Another reason why I personally want to give Joel this bizarro ROY award is because he is also acting as a beacon of hope for my beloved 76ers. He hasn’t even played in an NBA game and yet I can’t stop thinking of how amazing he is going to be. For example, I frequently wake up from nightmares induced from watching the previous night’s Sixers game. When this happens I always head over to my computer and watch Embiid highlights from his time at Kansas to calm me down and ease me back to sleep. This one is a favorite highlight of mine…Dream Shake forever y’all
We don’t know what the future holds, and yes there is always the possibility that he doesn’t live up to the hype. But right now he is carrying a tormented franchise every night while wearing a killer suit at the end of the bench. I think that is significant enough to garner him some credit for this fake award I’m handing out.
Stay Tuned for Part 2 of the Midseason Bizarro Awards. Follow me @jeff_berest for more of my NBA musings and general nonsense and follow @DRosesAndThorns for all your latest NBA/Chicago Bulls news and opinions.
This article is dedicated to myself for giving my heart and soul to the Sixers even though I’ll be getting nothing in return for a couple years. Also, to the recently released Sixer Chris Johnson, because we all know he never had a shot…pour one out for the homie.
Flashback to Draft Night 2013
The Philadelphia 76ers are coming off an abysmal and disappointing season which ended in the firing of head coach/broadcaster extraordinaire Doug Collins and the release of President and acting GM Rod Thorn. We legit had Thorn running this team in the front office and Doug Collins slowly dissipating any chemistry left on the floor. What’s even more absurd is that as a fan, this duo was actually creating a sense of optimism for the franchise the previous two years. Seems silly right?
Oh yeah, one more thing. We had that whole Andrew Bynum trade really not work out in our favor. We dealt our franchise player (if you can call Andre Iguodala one) as well as the walking double-double Nikola Vucevic. I absolutely was in love with Vucevic when he was a Sixer, such a rare type of talent at the center position, and Doug Collins didn’t even put his ass on the floor during the playoffs. Sorry, just letting out some frustration. I think throughout this article you’ll notice I will do that. As a Sixers fan releasing pent up negative energy in a healthy way is step one in the twelve steps to admitting you’re a Sixers fan.
To sum this digression up: Andrew Bynum while with the Sixers played 0 games and averaged 0 points, 0 rebounds, and 0 blocks per game. In comes the dark and mysterious figure that is general manager Sam Hinkie. To be honest, I knew very little about Hinkie when he was hired as GM. I knew he came from the Rockets organization and he was very into analytics. He also wasn’t Rod Thorn so Hinkie had that going for him. I was on board.
So back to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center. Typically an NBA franchise that has recently fired their head coach hires a new one before an important event like the draft. But obviously the Sixers are no typical franchise with Hinkie at the helm. Sam Hinkie legitimately didn’t care who the future coach would be; this draft was all his. Now obviously the Sixers ownership is involved, but they have basically given Hinkie the only keys to the castle. He makes every decision and the only one that he answers to is god; and even god is like “dude, whatever you gotta do to make this Sixers team competitive is alright with me…”
The Sixers roster before the draft featured a bunch guys with mediocre skills. It was non-descript to say the least. But we had one silver lining and that was 23 year old All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. He seemed like a legit building block and a guy Hinkie would be able to put pieces around and go forward wi…..and he’s gone! While everyone was salivating at the prospect of Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel playing alongside each other in New Orleans and blocking around 35 shots a game, Hinkie was behind closed doors dealing for the injured Kentucky product (Noel) as well as a future first round pick.
There was a lot of discrepancy in the reporting of this deal during draft night. While all of the facts were being sorted out, the Sixers were on the clock and had selected Syracuse point guard and future rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams, aka MCW, aka “the Sultan of Steals”, aka “the Prime Minister of Passing” (none of these other nicknames have stuck like MCW unfortunately). After the selection of MCW this basically confirmed that Jrue Holiday was on the move. I had trouble wrestling with this new direction Hinkie was steering us in. But the team was going nowhere and had zero shot of winning anything with just Jrue Holiday, and while the concept of bottoming out and possibly getting Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker was appealing, it was a long way away from next year’s draft.
By the end of the night I was on board and fully immersed in what I refer to as “Hinkieball”. It’s like “moneyball” except completely different and not involving baseball. Hinkie had completely changed the course of the franchise for the better in about 15 minutes. 15 minutes! That’s a fourth of an episode of Homeland! Hinkie moved Jrue Holiday for what would have been the #1 overall pick if healthy (Noel) and a top three protected first rounder next year from the Pelicans in addition to completely overhauling the cap situation. At the end of the 2013-14 season they had an astounding $36 million available. Teams would kill for a cap situation this good. Literally, Mitch Kupchak would go out on a murdering spree in LA right now to give the Lakers just half as good a cap situation as Hinkie has gotten for the Sixers.
So finally the 2013-14 season is upon us. Sixers fans are ready for the tanking extravaganza to begin. We have our several boxes of tissues to wipe away tears that we were to experience in the upcoming months. We also have our slop buckets to collect all the vomit induced from the sickening feeling of watching Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes take a combined 50 shots a game. I actually want you to keep reading so I’m not going to go into actual detail about the Sixers 2013-14 season.
Here are the highlights:
We beat Miami in the season opener and MCW locked up the rookie of the year award on day one of the season. (Editor’s note: also this. Fuck this.)
Sam Hinkie acquired every second round pick in the next three NBA drafts at the trade deadline.
…..and that’s about it.
Also just for a good laugh here are some actual guys who appeared in a Sixers uniform last season.
Those five guys could play against you and some friends in pickup ball at the local JCC and you’d probably only lose by a couple buckets.
Finally, last season was the most awkward I have ever felt about the game of basketball in my life and I wouldn’t wish that kind of suffering upon any of my enemies. It was just weird watching a bunch of not-quite fringe NBA players play bad basketball and hoping that they lose night in and night out. It’s hard to sit there and root for your team to lose, but that was truly the only way to get better. It was also the first time as a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan where losing was not only tolerated but encouraged. It’s crazy to think that this little middle-aged white guy from Houston had completely mesmerized a city that is known to have no patience and is absolutely heartless when it comes to their sports teams’ successes or failures. (Obligatory cliché “snowballs at Santa Claus” joke). But for real, we threw batteries at J.D. Drew for saying he didn’t want to play here. We’re the craziest fan base in the whole world and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.
Anyway we won 19 games last season and finished with the second best odds at landing the #1 pick in June in addition to the Pelicans pick, which ended up being #10 overall. This was going swimmingly for Hinkie and the front office. Sixers fans could finally see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. We ended up landing the third pick, which locked us in at getting Wiggins, Parker, or Embiid. All three of those guys would excite the fan base and reinvigorate the team. Then the Joel Embiid injury threw the whole top of the draft for a loop. Was there a real possibility that the Sixers would take a flyer on an injured big man and sit him for the entire season? I truly couldn’t fathom going through another year like the last.
So obviously and without hesitation, Sam Hinkie took Joel Embiid and put a dagger through the heart of every Sixers fan. To add insult to injury, he traded for Dario Saric and stashed him away overseas, thus twisting the dagger that he had already thrust inside us. What everyone wanted to believe was a one year rebuilding plan ended up being a multiyear process. After hundreds of expletives hurled by me at friends, family, religious statues, and TV media personalities, I finally began to cope with what was going on with my beloved Sixers franchise. In one year Sam Hinkie had gathered a pretty impressive stock. Four top twelve picks (MCW, Noel, Embiid, Saric), approximately $35-40 million in cap flexibility, and the likelihood of gathering another top three pick in 2015. He also acquired Joel Embiid’s Twitter handle, which has been All-Star caliber. The dude hits up Kim Kardashian and Rihanna on Twitter just because. As far as I’m concerned, Joel is the man and we all wish him a speedy recovery.
This brings us into the present and the 2014-15 Sixers squad. It’s definitely been easier to mentally prepare for this current season then it was for last. I’m used to seeing just terrible basketball run across my TV screen, but now it’s being brought to an all-time low. Last year, miraculously we won 19 games. This was largely due to having a combination of Turner, Hawes, Thad Young, and MCW. After Turner and Hawes were dealt at the deadline the team began to plummet down the standings. Not because they were great players, but because instead of acceptable NBA players taking 15-20 shots each a game; those shots were replaced by the likes of Casper Ware and Byron Mullens. This year, the Sixers have no decent veterans who can average 12-15 points a game. This is the reason they are without a win 10 games into the season.
This was the Sixers 2014 opening night starting lineup:
PG Tony Wroten
SG Chris Johnson
SF Hollis Thompson
PF Nerlens Noel
C Henry Sims
Seriously, this is no misprint. These guys can all call themselves NBA starters. I mentioned above that Chris Johnson was let go, and this is no accident, he really is a dreadful player. Johnson was brought into training camp one week before the season started. The Sixers roster is so pitiful this year, that Brett Brown legit had no other options at the two guard spot but to start a guy who just joined the team a week ago.
This whole scenario is so so sad. The Sixers are not guilty of tanking, as much as obliterating any chance possibly winning basketball games. The Sixers are comprised of MCW, Nerlens, and the longest list of D-list celebrity NCAA players who you may or may not remember when they were on a team that was a 12 seed in the tournament. However, second round pick K.J. McDaniels has been a true bright spot for the team and could actually be an integral part of this Sixers team in the future. Early reports on Nerlens Noel are good as well. He obviously needs to develop his body and gain weight and muscle, but his defensive skills are evident and he and Embiid in the frontcourt are not going to be a friendly sight for opponents in the future.
But why be on board with Sam Hinkie and the direction the franchise is going? Is it because we have no other choice and that believing in something is better than not believing at all? I think that’s true for the most part, but I also do personally believe in this plan. Having beyond awful basketball for the next two to three years is a fair sacrifice so that the Sixers are able to prosper for the next ten years after. I also believe in Brett Brown as a head coach. He’s coaching a bunch of college level guys and trying to get them to play together and improve on a night-to-night basis. His record as a coach is not even close to a direct correlation for the caliber of coach he will become when there is finally a real NBA team in front of him. Right now it’s really no fun being a Sixers fan. But if I had the chance to go back to draft night 2013 and stop Sam Hinkie from trading Jrue Holiday and dismantling the franchise I love so dearly; 100 out of 100 times I’m letting him dial up the Pelicans and make that deal.
Keep calm and Hinkie on my fellow Sixer fans, greener pastures are coming.