Tag Archives: San Antonio Spurs

BULLet Points: Bulls fall short in San Antonio

It’s always a tall task trying to beat the San Antonio Spurs, a franchise whose name is synonymous with “well-oiled machine.” They’ve been able to plug in players and win consistently year after year, always contending for a title under Gregg Popovich. But beating them this year at home proves to be particularly impossible. With a starting lineup that includes future Hall of Famers and established stars alike, along with arguably the deepest bench in the league, the Spurs came into tonight unbeaten at home this season, at 30-0.

The Chicago Bulls have fared well against the Spurs in recent contests, able to knock them off three out of the previous five games, a feat hardly any team can boast. Tonight, the Bulls hung tight with strong performances from E’Twaun Moore and Justin Holiday, but without Jimmy Butler, they would ultimately fall short, 109-101. Let’s dive into some of the BULLet Points:

  • As stated, E’Twaun had a stellar game, stepping in for Butler by carrying the largest minutes load at nearly 36. He finished with 20 points, six rebounds, four assists, and a steal, shooting 8/12 overall and 4/5 from downtown. Several of those threes came in clutch spots, either stopping a Spurs run, or helping close the gap during a run of the Bulls’ own. Justin Holiday also stepped in nicely and shot with confidence, contributing 12 points, five for eight from the field.

  • Derrick Rose‘s box score doesn’t tell the full story, although it is promising: 21 points on 9/21 shooting, 1/2 from beyond the arc, six assists and only two turnovers. But the troubling thing is just the two free throws. For at least the first half of the game, Derrick elected to shoot off-balance jumpers, step-backs, and contested bank shots, rather than drive to the hole. His shot selection still needs improvement – now that his speed and quickness are back, he should focus on attacking early, rather than the other way around.
  • FRED HOIBERG TECHNICAL FOUL ALERT. That’s right: Mr. Calm, Cool, and Collected drew his first ever technical foul as a coach or player in the NBA. After playing ten seasons in the NBA and coaching over 60 games this season, he finally caved. In a 10 point game that started slipping from the Bulls, Taj Gibson went up for a dunk and got hit on the arm by the smaller Tony Parker. Taj blew the jam, there was no call, and Fred lost it on the ref (which, for him, probably sounded something like, “Terrible call, sir! Just terrible! Hogwash!”). Although I’m ecstatic to see some tech-worthy emotion on the part of Fred, sticking up for his players, I wish it would’ve come earlier in the game, when the foul may have resulted in some additional calls for the Bulls. But, beggars can’t be choosers. You can catch it here:

  • Per Sam Smith, “Since his return from back surgery, Mike Dunleavy is averaging 9.5 points in 13 games and shooting 50 percent from threes in about 23 minutes per game. He’s averaging 12.2 points over the last five games and a season high 18 points in Monday’s win over Milwaukee in a season high 35 minutes.” Tonight, Mike struggled a bit, after having such a great chemistry with Butler back on the court a few nights ago. Tonight, just seven points on 2/8 shooting in 30 minutes. If anyone benefits the most from Butler being on the court, it’s Dunleavy. In their whopping 24 minutes together this season, their OffRtg is 123.0, DefRtg is 68.6, for a team-best net rating of 54.4 (!!!), a PIE of 91.7, and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.89. I love small sample sizes.
  • The Bulls struggled down the stretch with mental lapses, turnovers, and missed assignments. It didn’t help that Taj was ineffective and racked up four fouls early into the third quarter. Pau notched a double double with 21 points, but committed an unforgivable seven turnovers, trying to thread the needle on too many passes.
  • Odd stat of the night: the Bulls scored exactly 27 points in three of the quarters, while the Spurs scored exactly 27 points in two of them.
  • This was the 40th straight home win for the Spurs, tied for 3rd all-time with the Orlando Magic. This Spurs team is quietly only three games behind Golden State, at 55-10. Kawhi Leonard led the charge tonight against the Bulls with 29 points, going +19, alongside 26 from LaMarcus Aldridge and 20 from Tony Parker.
  • Coming up: The Bulls endure a back-to-back against the Heat at home.

 

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BULLet Points: Bulls grind out win against the Spurs

  • Monday night at the United Center was a great all around performance from the Bulls, who clawed their way to a 92-89 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. No singular performance had an overwhelming influence on the outcome of this game, with no Bull scoring more than 18 points. But with five players in double figures, a balanced offensive attack did the trick against the NBA’s best defense on a per possession basis.
  • The story of the game was the great play off the Chicago bench. All four Bulls to enter the game after the opening tip finished with a positive plus/minus rating, with Joakim Noah and Doug McDermott leading the way at +10 each. This was especially impressive considering the skill of San Antonio’s bench, shouted out Tuesday morning by Zach Lowe as one of the best in the league.
  • Noah, in just 23 minutes of action, had himself a throwback performance that makes me wonder if he’s finally trusting himself again on the offensive end. Noah scored eight points on 4/6 shooting. This game marked only the fifth time this season Joakim attempted six or more shots, and the first time he hit more than half of them. All of Noah’s shots were through traffic deep in the paint, a place he has struggled to find his touch lately. Hopefully this performance, coupled with the brief spurt of offense in the win over the Trail Blazers, is a sign of good things to come.
  • Noah dished out seven assists Monday night, tying his season high. And according to NBA.com, he was also responsible for three additional secondary assists. While Noah is never going to be a polished scorer in the NBA, the mere willingness to look for his own shot has a tremendous impact on his teammates. When defenses know that Joakim is not even thinking of shooting, his man sags off him, clogging passing and driving lanes for everybody else. But when Joakim shows he’s not afraid to take it to the hoop, the Bulls spacing is much improved. Noah has dished out five or more dimes in five games this season, with each game featuring at least five field goal attempts from the big man.
  • The Bulls were severely shorthanded at guard with Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich both nursing injuries that sidelined them Monday. Thankfully, E’Twaun Moore was able to contribute 17 solid minutes behind Derrick Rose. Moore is a chunky defender who smartly uses his body to contain point guards and wings. He lacks the ability to facilitate the offense, but he managed to shoot 3/6 from the field and only turned the ball over once. Why it took injuries to two inferior players for Moore to be dubbed the backup is a mystery, and I hope his role remains in tact even when the Bulls return to full health.
  • Doug McDermott’s +10 was very exciting, considering his on/off numbers have been abysmal a month into the season. McDermott did most of his damage during a hot run in the second quarter where he scored ten of his twelve points. Doug was 1/2 from three, and knocked down a couple of tough runners in the lane, a shot he has consistently hit all season. More impressive than the offense was Doug’s solid defensive performance. McDermott did not do his typical “chicken with its head cut off” routine off the ball on defense. Instead, he operated within the scheme and managed to do the small things that were required of him.
  • Pau Gasol’s 18 points and 13 rebounds earned him player of the game honors, but his 18 points came on an inefficient 24 shooting possessions. While he wasn’t victimized horribly by guards racing by him to the rim, he was mostly unable to recover to Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge, sacrificing quite a few wide open jump shots. Aldridge was 10/18 from the field and was able to get off open shots seemingly whenever he wanted.
  • Derrick Rose had another disappointing game, shooting 5/17 and only getting to the free throw line twice. Several times he was able to get to the basket off the dribble, but lacked the explosion to elevate and cleanly finish his layups. (Rose has not dunked yet this season, according to Basketball Reference). Rose had some success with his mid-range bank shot in this game and will hopefully go to it more and more as the season progresses. It has been his only reliable way of scoring so far.
  • I attended Monday’s game in person, and the thing that left the biggest impression on me was Kawhi Leonard. He’s already taken home a Finals MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy, but seeing him up close truly made me a believer. His combination of strength, size and instincts make him very difficult to guard inside of 18 feet. At one point, Leonard was backing down Jimmy Butler on the baseline about ten feet from the hoop. Just when it seemed like he had dribbled himself into a bad spot, Kawhi spun around Butler and soared to the rim off two feet for a dunk, all in one clean motion. The speed at which he elevated from the floor to the hoop seemed non-human. It was like a glitch in a video game where a character transports through space without taking any steps in the middle. When San Antonio’s big three finally call it quits, the organization will be left in good (and gigantic) hands.
  • Coming up: the Bulls host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.

Free Agency Bonanza Podcast with Jake Weiner & Jeff Berest

(D)Roses and Thorns contributors Jake Weiner and Jeff Berest connected to talk about the 76ers recent moves and a whole lot about all the free agency news. Including Danny Green, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Greg Monroe, Khris Middleton, Brandon Knight, Wes Matthews, Tyson Chandler, LaMarcus Aldridge and much more. And of course, Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy Jr. may have come up.

In Thibs We Trust

Did you hear something? What was that noise? Maybe it was just the wind … Nope, there it is again. What on earth is that? Oh, right, those are the rumblings of Tom Thibodeau chopping block rumors. It’s getting pretty loud. I keep trying to ignore it, but it’s impossible now.

I guessssss I’ll address it.

I can’t speak to the legitimacy of the rumors, but there’s no denying that the Front Office and Thibodeau don’t always see eye to eye; however, is that reason enough to think that they’ll actually fire Thibs? That this is likely his last season with the Chicago Bulls?

Maybe. But if they do, I think that’s insane. Absolutely, positively, bat-shit insane.

Here’s why:

Winning Ways

If a head coach is supposed to produce wins, Tom Thibodeau has done just that. He has a career record of 239-127 (.653) as of February 18th, 2015, and was 112-36 (.757) in the two seasons before Derrick Rose’s injuries, including two number one seeds. To put this in perspective, the only other active coach with a better win percentage over his career is … you guessed it, Gregg Popovich (.684). Tom Thibodeau is 7th all-time in coaching record among those with more than two full seasons of experience (this excludes, for example, active coaches Steve Kerr, who walked into a great situation in Golden State, and Dave Joerger, who hasn’t coached two full seasons yet with Memphis).

This season is nothing to scoff at, either, at 34-20 (.630), and DRosesAndThorns has written at length about why the Bulls are likely to only go up from here.

He and his staff have also taken nameless or left for dead point guards like C.J Watson, John Lucas III, Nate Robinson, DJ Augustin and now Aaron Brooks and transformed them into productive, effective, and valuable back-ups and sometime starters.

Let’s also not forget that Thibs was an Assistant Coach for the 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics, under Doc Rivers, and is widely credited for creating the defensive scheme to contain Kobe Bryant in the Finals. A scheme that has taken the NBA by storm in the years since.

tom-thibodeau

Minutes Management

It is generally popular to criticize the coach and the leadership first, whenever a team seems to be underperforming; after all, the coach’s job is to get the most out of his players. It is especially popular to criticize Tom Thibodeau specifically in his minutes management, especially when a team like the Spurs has demonstrated success while resting players. But Thibs is an old school thinker – there may not be a right and wrong (see: Fun Minutes Facts), in this discussion, but maybe a case-by-case.

As it relates to the Spurs, they have the luxury of having been together for years, and developing a winning chemistry. The Bulls are still working on this. Also, the Spurs are consistently a top seed, so they aren’t exactly tanking the regular season to ensure they’re rested come post-season – it’s a byproduct of winning regular season games. As mentioned in the Fun Minutes Facts (really, check that out, if you haven’t), Tim Duncan and Tony Parker sitting is a recent development due to their aging, not because they think every good player should be sitting. Players should play – especially the young ones. That’s how you get better, that’s how you prepare for the playoffs where the intensity is higher, and that’s how you win.

Could Tom be a little more lenient on minutes played at the end of a game in order to reduce the risk for “meaningless” injuries during garbage time? Probably. But a win isn’t a sure thing unless a team is up about 20 points with less than two minutes left. Leaving in a few starters for an extra 90 seconds at the end of a game to ensure victory means more by the end of the season in obtaining a high seed than having 90 extra seconds of rest. Having a high seed matters: In the last 25 years, the teams to win the NBA title have had the following seeds, with number of titles in parenthesis: 1 (14), 2 (6), 3 (4), 4 (0), 5 (0), 6 (1), 7 (0), 8 (0). I gather that it’s important to have a top 3 seed. With the Hawks playing the way they are, and competition with the Cavs, Raptors, and Wizards, there are five teams vying for three good spots, contrary to preseason expectations, which would have you believe this was a two horse race. Maybe these other teams got offended. They’re playing pretty good ball, making it that much tougher for the Bulls to land a top seed, and all the more reason why each regular season victory is meaningful.

Thibodeau’s practices are often not scrimmages, either. From Sam Smith:

 “a mischaracterization about Thibs is the overworking of players. Yes, he plays them a lot in games, though not as much this season, but rarely, if ever, scrimmages in practice. He believes in resting that way…. So I think the Bulls practices… sound mostly boring. There are drills like scrimmages, but a lot of walking through your plays and the opponent plays.”

He’s not running players into the ground for 40+ minutes then forcing them into a grueling 5 on 5 the next day. If he was, we would hear more about it. The players would probably be making more noise.

If the FO really had major, relationship-beyond-repair type issues with Tom Thibodeau on this, one would think they would make player minutes mandates and force him into canceling practices, having more rest days, etc. But that isn’t happening in any significant quantities, other than injury-recovery minutes limitations.

rose thibs

Addressing Rumors

Do the rumors hold water?

“The perception around the league is that Tom is losing his locker room…. Rose made some of his strongest comments to date, saying ‘We’re just not on the same page,'” – Chris Sheridan.

“Bulls did have Sunday off. But players talked about first 2-day break since Dec. 21 as chance to recover. Instead, Thibodeau calls practice.” – K.C. Johnson

Both of these statements suggest that there’s some tension between the players and Tom Thibodeau. But Rose was referring to the players in the locker room not being on the same page, not Thibs. Not once have the players attacked Tom. In fact, they frequently come to his defense. Here’s an example, post-firestorm. That article also makes mention of Van Gundy’s unfortunate comments, where he attacked the Front Office. I think we all wish he would’ve stayed quieter on that one.

Oh, and there’s also this, from Sheridan… 

“But then I went checking around, speaking with another source who is plugged into all things regarding he Bulls, and was told that nothing [Thibs losing the locker room] could be further from the truth. Didn’t Thibs guide the Bulls to winning records and playoff appearances the past two seasons despite being without Derrick Rose? Didn’t they just win 10 of 11? Does that count for nothing?”

This is the same guy that was cause for much of this stir from the start, and once he investigated a little closer, he was turned away.

Water not held.

So why doesn’t the Front Office come out and make a statement, and quiet the noise? Well, historically, they haven’t exactly been forthcoming with information. They’ve shrouded things in mystery, so why would this be any different? And besides, sometimes management organizations like to keep employees on their toes just a little in order to get the best out of them. It’s not a management style I would agree with, but that could be part of it. Or maybe the rumors are just so ridiculous that they don’t want to even address them because they know they’ll go away soon.

Members of the media are paid for stories and headlines that get reads and hits and attract attention, so undoubtedly, if you find a mole hill, wouldn’t you make it into a mountain? I would. So take all of this with a gigantic grain of salt. Or several grains of salt. Or several gigantic grains of salt.

Bottom Line

Forget the notion of “trading” Tom Thibodeau (pre-Doc, this was basically unheard of), or firing him. In my opinion, Thibs is here to stay for the remainder of his contract, despite all the articles claiming that the relationship between Tom and the Front Office are “Beyond Repair.” Ignore the noise – it’s distracting to the goal. Tom is the right guy for the job, and the players respect him. None of them have made any direct comments that Thibs is the problem, nor that he’s losing his guys – all the rumors are just speculation.

Is it possible all of this is out the window if the Bulls lose in the first round? Definitely – since front offices are under a lot of pressure to make sweeping change to Win Now. But: If the Bulls make a playoff run that lands them in the Eastern Conference Finals or further, and the FO really does let him go, it will be one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history.

In Thibs We Trust.

The Trade Machine Diaries, Part 2

The ESPN Trade Machine has been a great innovation for avid basketball fans like us. If only real trades were able to go down so easily and without everyone’s consent like in your 2K franchise. I tried my best to come up with 15 realistic trades with all 30 teams involved. So when I say “go” everybody grab a dance partner and make a trade…go!

(Disclaimer #1: because you can’t swap draft picks in the trade machine, I ad-libbed and traded picks based on what I thought was fair value. Disclaimer #2: You may or may not be aware that I’m not a real NBA GM, so what I thought was fair value is subjective. Enjoy.)

If you missed Part One of the Diaries, check them out here.

Philadelphia 76ers/Los Angeles Lakers

Philadelphia sends Tony Wroten to Los Angeles for Wayne Ellington and their 2015 second round pick

As good as Tony Wroten has performed in a Sixers uniform, the fact remains that no one player is safe on a team that is winless through its first 12 games. If you ask Sam Hinkie to weigh Tony Wroten against a second round pick that is likely to be in the top 38, he’s going to choose the draft pick every time. It’s nothing against Wroten; Hinkie is all about collecting future assets. The Lakers probably shouldn’t deal this pick because it seems like this year’s draft is going to be a relatively deep one. Lin and Nash are out the door this summer and Wroten has proven to be a valuable commodity. He’s explosive, can get to the basket at will, and might be a player who can build on his recent success. If the Lakers figure Wroten is better than anyone they’ll get at the top of second round, it makes perfect sense to pull the trigger. Tony Wroten is an obvious upgrade at PG compared to whatever the Lakers have lined up for 2015.

Toronto Raptors/Golden State Warriors

Toronto sends Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes, and a second round draft pick to Golden State for Andre Iguodala

It’s been no secret that Andre Iguodala is unhappy with Steve Kerr and his new role off the bench for the Warriors. If the Warriors really want to make a commitment to Harrison Barnes, trading Andre Iguodala would be a good indication. It may not be the most basketball savvy move for Golden State, but their payroll could use the relief. They receive the expiring deals of Landry Fields and Chuck Hayes, which would benefit them in the offseason. They’ve already committed a ton to David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson, and Steph Curry, so this type of “salary shedding” deal is necessary for the Warriors. Messing with your teams chemistry while you’re winning isn’t generally a good thing to do, but adding Iguodala for almost nothing makes the Raptors a legit contender to make the Eastern Conference Finals. Terrence Ross is not yet the model of consistency at the SF position, and adding Iguodala, an all-around player and distributor, will help DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Jonas Valanciunas.

Memphis Grizzlies/Utah Jazz

Memphis sends Kosta Koufos and a (top 22 protected) first round pick to Utah for Rudy Gobert

In this scenario Memphis is preparing for life after Marc Gasol. The smart money has Gasol leaving for a huge deal elsewhere (MSG?) in the offseason. Utah has an excess of big men, which is a very valuable commodity these days. Utah cautiously chooses to keep Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors over Gobert. In return, the Jazz gets a protected first rounder and the expiring contract of Kosta Koufos. Rudy Gobert is hardly a finished product, but Memphis could do worse on short notice.

Milwaukee Bucks/New Orleans Pelicans

Milwaukee sends Jared Dudley to New Orleans for John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette, Jeff Withey and a future second round pick

Milwaukee has certainly over performed thus far into the season. The Bucks really don’t rely that heavily on Jared Dudley as is, but now with players like Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek Freak, emerging even more, it’s harder to justify giving extended minutes to Jared Dudley. Of course veteran leadership is important for a team like the Bucks, but who actually believes that Dudley is an integral part of this Bucks team? New Orleans is a rising team in the West but their second unit could use some improvements. They really lack depth overall when Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and “the Brow” leave the court. Dudley isn’t the most prolific scorer, but he can at least give the Pelicans a little spark when the starters are on the bench.

(GIF via Tumblr)
(GIF via Tumblr)

Los Angeles Clippers/Denver Nuggets

Los Angeles sends CJ Wilcox and Ekpe Udoh to Denver for Nate Robinson

Right now the Clippers backup point guard is Jordan Farmar. Farmar isn’t the player he used to be when he played with the Lakers championship teams. A bonafide contender like the Clippers should make finding a replacement for Farmar a top priority. At this point, the Nuggets will probably be selling most of their assets, and luckily for Lob City, Nate Robinson is on the block. Besides Jamal Crawford, there isn’t much scoring out there for the Clippers second unit. Knicks fans will begin to pine for the old days when Crawford and Nate were wearing blue and orange. There will be more than enough buckets out there for the two of them when CP3 and JJ Redick leave the game.

New York Knicks/Oklahoma City Thunder

New York sends Iman Shumpert, Samuel Dalembert and Arnett Moultrie to Oklahoma City for Kendrick Perkins and a lottery protected first round pick

It’s entirely possible that Iman Shumpert is not part of the Knicks’ future. Shump is a talented young player but who knows if Phil Jackson has eyes on other potential talent at the two guard spot in free agency. They receive Perkins’ expiring contract as well as a future first rounder from OKC. No, you did not read that incorrectly: for once the Knicks would be receiving a first rounder instead of giving one away. For the Thunder, this could be a last ditch effort at trying to keep Kevin Durant from fleeing to DC. Russell Westbrook, Durant, Serge Ibaka, Shumpert and Steven Adams could contend for the title.

Orlando Magic/San Antonio Spurs

Orlando sends Andrew Nicholson, Dewayne Dedmon and a second round pick to San Antonio for Austin Daye, Jeff Ayres and a future first round pick (top 22 protected)

The frontcourt in Orlando is quickly getting very crowded. The Magic drafted Aaron Gordon fourth overall this year and have big plans for him. They also signed Channing Frye to a four year contract (a questionable signing to say the least) and currently have other bigs on the roster like Kyle O’Quinn and Nik Vucevic and wings in Tobias Harris and Mo Harkless who can play the four as well. The Spurs are the team that would recognize Nicholson withering away on the Orlando bench. This doesn’t really affect Tim Duncan, since he’s immortal and will probably continue playing well into his 50s. But honestly, you’d have to think he only has one or two years left in the tank. Nicholson is kind of a speculative, buy low prospect for the Spurs. They’ve done it before with guys like Danny Green and Boris Diaw. No doubt, if Nicholson were to dress in a Spurs uniform he’d be a solid contributor. Meanwhile, the Magic grab another future asset.

Dallas Mavericks/Washington Wizards

Dallas sends Charlie Villanueva to Washington for Drew Gooden

Hey, these guys are still getting paid to be in the NBA! Finally we’ve reached the end. Sorry that this trade is anticlimactic but those are the breaks of trying to force a deal with every single NBA squad. Some of these trades are bound to be duds.

Follow @jeff_berest for more of my NBA musings and @DRosesAndThorns for more Bulls and NBA coverage.