Tag Archives: Zach Randolph

Note-A-Bulls: McBuckets gets hot and Jimmy finishes the W in fashion as Bulls down the Grizzlies in Me

One of the more undervalued traditions that the NBA does each season is that every Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Memphis Grizzlies play a home game to honor the Civil Rights Leader. One day after beating the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis, the Bulls hopped on their charter to play in the annual MLK game at the FedEx Forum. Memphis is about the last team you want to play in a back-to-back, because of how hard they play and the mentality they had as a team.

Proving they are one the best fan bases in the league, the FedEx Forum was filled with navy blue. The Bulls sported their typical red road jerseys, while the Grizzlies sported their alternate dark blue sleeved jersey. Robin Lopez squared off against superstar Marc Gasol at center court, and Bulls basketball was on the air. Continuing to serve as the starter in lieu of the struggling Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams gained possession off Lopez winning the tip. Taking advantage of his start tonight, Paul Zipser was the first player to register a point in the game. As one might expect when playing the Grizzlies, the quarter started out very slow, and points were at a premium. Both teams occasionally got the ball to sink home, as the first half of the quarter wasn’t very eventful. As the first quarter pushed on, the Bulls offense continued to spiral. Missing open jump shots, free throws, and inefficient basketball led to the Bulls scoring fourteen points in the first quarter. However, Memphis wasn’t able to capitalize on the Bulls poor offense in the first. The score after one was 19-14, in favor of Memphis.

The second quarter was about as opposite a quarter as one could see in a basketball game. Points were not at a premium in the second quarter. The first four minutes of the quarter were almost all Memphis, as they extended their lead to seven at the 8:40 mark. JayMychal Green hit a three to give them that seven-point lead, and the Bulls took timeout. This timeout proved to be of large significance for the Bulls. After the timeout, the Bulls offense woke up.  Keeping on the theme of extended playing time, Doug McDermott took charge of the Chicago offense. He scored ten consecutive points for Chicago, which allowed the Bulls to tie the game at thirty-three, and eventually gain the lead. Of course, Memphis started to see their shots fall, and countered the Bulls’ hot offense. Chicago did jump out to an eight-point lead at the 3:33 mark, and could keep their offense hot until the clock hit triple zeros for the half. McDermott accounted for twenty-two of the Bulls fifty-two points, and Chicago led by six at the half.

The second half began with the Grizzlies cutting the Bulls lead to six off another JayMychal Green three. The Bulls offense looked like it was keeping its game within the first few minutes of the half. Taj Gibson was doing his best to keep the Bulls lead intact, as he had four points and two rebounds in the first five and a half minutes. After the Grizzlies took a timeout with just under six minutes to play in the quarter, Memphis was able to hit their stride. The Bulls led by seven when the timeout was taken, and after the ageless veteran Vince Carter drilled a three, the Grizzlies cut the Bulls lead to two points.  “Vincesanity” kept his hot hand going, as he scored Memphis’ six straight points. But the Bulls were not letting VC give the Grizzlies a lead. Doug McDermott hit a massive turnaround jumper to keep the Bulls lead at three. The third quarter ended just how you would expect it, with Zach Randolph popping a three to give the Grizzlies a one point lead.

Unlike most games for the Bulls, they did not let the momentum for the Randolph three get to them. The second unit pushed the Bulls off to great start in the fourth quarter, as they opened the quarter on a 7-0 run. Rajon Rondo looked useful in the opening minutes of the quarter, as he had a steal off Tony Allen and an assist to Cristiano Felicio. However, continuing to play their style, Memphis would not let the Bulls close the door. Mike Conley hitting a running jumper with just over seven minutes to play to cut the Bulls lead to one. As the minutes dropped, the game got closer. The color analyst for the game, Doug Collins, thought this game would end in the eighties. However, both teams eclipsed the 5:40 mark.  The amount of time continued to shrink, and the Bulls continued to cling on to a small lead. Taj Gibson missed the Bulls’ eleventh free throw of the night, and two possessions later Mike Conley tied the game after hitting a pair of free throws. Jimmy Butler hit a step back jumper with under twenty seconds to play that put the Bulls back up two, and on the other end forced Mike Conley to take a poor shot. The Bulls still led with under ten seconds to play as Doug McDermott got fouled. Dougie hit both free throws, and the Bulls picked up a strong win.  The final score from Memphis, 108-104, in favor of the Bulls.

This game was exactly what you’d expect it to be. The Bulls started out slow after a late game last night, to a team you’d expect to start out slow. There wasn’t much that you could compliment or knock the Bulls on for this game. They had a good offensive outing, considering they played last night, but their defense wasn’t great either. It was nice to see the Bulls’ offense come alive without the likes of Dwyande Wade and Nikola Mirotic. That should instill some confidence for head coach Fred Hoiberg going forward. The biggest knock on the Bulls for the night was how poor they were at the free throw line. You are just asking your opponent to stay in the game if you miss more than ten free throws. This game could serve as a large gain of momentum for the Bulls, as it was a nice win. The Bulls are back to .500 and will travel back to the United Center to take on the struggling Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.

BULLet Points: Lack of urgency dooms Bulls against shorthanded Grizzlies

Anyone who is still watching Bulls games at this point is undoubtedly familiar with all the different versions of this team. There are the “National TV Chicago Bulls”, a team that plays with effort and energy on both sides of the ball. There are the “Can’t Miss Chicago Bulls,” a team filled with marksmen who spread the defense out and take advantage of their shooting ability at all five positions. And then, there are “Not Really In The Mood Chicago Bulls,” the team that probably has the largest slice on the pie chart of which group has shown up the most this season. It was on prominent display Tuesday in Memphis.

  • The Bulls looked flat on offense from the opening tip. The lack of ball and player movement in the first quarter – following an off day – was downright embarrassing. Over and over again, the Bulls settled for contested jump shots early in the shot clock after just one or two passes, never settling into any type of rhythm or flow. For a team wrapping up it’s 78th game of the season, the Bulls tonight played like a group of complete strangers.
  • Despite the groggy start on offense, the Bulls were able to hang tight for the first eight minutes of the game. Zach Randolph made just one of his first six field goal attempts while being defended by Bobby Portis in the post. But when Portis was subbed out for Nikola Mirotic and Randolph found himself switched onto Pau Gasol, the Grizzlies quickly built a lead they never relinquished. Z-Bo came on strong after his cold start and eventually finished with a game high 27 points on 10/19 shooting. The veteran power forward also grabbed 10 rebounds, five offensive, to go along with four assists and two steals. Randolph brutalized Gasol in the post all night, proving that excellent footwork and body control can more than make up for a lack of height and athleticism.
  • Fred Hoiberg did not take advantage of the opportunity to play Doug McDermott big minutes against a team lacking any threat on the wing capable of punishing Doug on defense. On a night the Bulls desperately needed an injection of energy into the offense, Doug McDermott played just 24 minutes off the bench. McDermott  scored 7 points on 3/5 shooting and was a complete afterthought in the game plan. The beautiful hammer plays that the Bulls were frequently running during McDermott’s hot run in late February and early March were absent from the playbook Tuesday. It’s hard to watch one of the only guys on the team who is clearly a part of the organization’s future become a non-factor in a must win game.
  • A man who looked strikingly similar to Jimmy Butler started at shooting guard for the Bulls and failed to score a point until the game was far out of reach in the fourth quarter. The Butler impostor finished 2/8 from the field and lacked any sort of explosion going to the rim or intensity on defense. After the real Jimmy put on a 9/10 performance against Milwaukee on Sunday and a heroic triple double the night before that, it’s a shame this two-bit impersonator filled in against the Grizzlies.
  • Nikola Mirotic’s hot shooting streak continued. Mirotic was the only Bull with any accuracy from deep in this game and accounted for six of Chicago’s 11 made three point shots. All nine of Mirotic’s field goal attempts came from behind the arc, which is totally fine if he’s splashing home 2/3 of his attempts.
  • Derrick Rose finished with a line of 12 points, five rebounds, eight assists and five turnovers. Rose, who played his one year of college basketball in Memphis, shot a very poor 5/15 from the field, including 0/3 from three. Rose attempted only one bank shot all game, a shot I’ve noticed he has gone away from recently after it using it with great success in prior months. Rose is at his best when he makes up for his decreased athleticism with intelligent shot selection. That was not the case Tuesday.
  • It’s one thing to lose big to the Memphis Grit-n-Grind Grizzlies of the last half decade. This is not that team. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are both done for the season, and the Grizzlies have had to find production from unusual places to maintain the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Against the Bulls, Jordan Farmar started and scored 15 points on 50% shooting. Vince Carter scored 17 points in 24 minutes on an array of difficult jump shots. Some dude named Xavier Munford knocked in a pair of three pointers. While talent is the most important factor in a team’s success in the NBA, the Grizzlies showed Chicago how consistently putting forth your best effort for 48 minutes can make up for any gap in player pedigree. If the Bulls can’t muster the fight to take down this banged up team, they don’t deserve the make the playoffs.
  • Coming up: the Bulls head to Miami on Thursday night.

BULLet Points: Bulls Play Sweet Music in Memphis

On Thursday night, the Bulls pulled off an impressive 103-97 win over the highly-touted Memphis Grizzlies, and they managed to do so without Derrick Rose (illness) and Taj Gibson (sprained right ankle). The Grizzlies and the Bulls are built very similarly in their approach – defensive-minded and physical – so it was a fun matchup to watch, and *could* be a preview of the NBA Finals (maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself here). Although Tom Thibodeau says a win is a win, for Joakim Noah and the fans, this was the type of victory they’ve been waiting for, having lost close contests to other title contenders, the Mavericks and the Warriors. Here’s how they did it:

  • It was a gutsy performance that required contributions from everyone in the short rotation, with timely scoring, which even included two clutch free throws by E’Twaun Moore to put the Bulls up four points with under a minute to go.
  • It was the Jimmy Butler take-over show, leading the way with 31 points and 10 rebounds, giving him 66 points in the last two games, the first time he’s scored over 30 points in consecutive games in his career. The 35-point game against the Knicks was a career high. He was a combined 18-19 from the charity stripe.
  • Butler has demonstrated an offensive consistency and reliability that has never before been seen in his career. Once an offensive liability, fans calling on the need for a better shooting 2-guard like Joe Johnson (ha), he is now at times a number one offensive option, even when Rose is in the game. He’s taking guys off the dribble, giving little jab steps and creating space, then swooshing fade-away jumpers. His growth has been incredible to watch.
  • Jimmy is quickly asserting himself as a force to be reckoned with, as opponents are now accounting for him in their defensive game plans. Jimmy will be an All-Star this season, barring some unforeseen set of unfortunate events. Although it’s still early in the season, he’s also running away with Most Improved Player, as no one else even comes to mind in the conversation (he’s averaging 21.9 PPG this season, an increase of 8.8 from last year, which is the biggest difference of any player in the NBA who played at least 50 games last season).
  • Nikola Mirotic with a(nother) breakout performance, scoring 27 points and shooting 6-6 from deep (some from way downtown), no longer hesitating on his shot, and releasing with confidence. His two three-point field goals in the second half came at clutch times when the Grizzlies were trying to close the gap, and he got the Bulls bench on their feet a few times. Niko Suave demonstrated the full package in this one.

  • Noah on Mirotic: “He’s a deceptive rebounder. Tips it to himself and (stuff).” “Niko stepped up huge; such a different weapon with his ability to spread the floor like that.” “I think this guy’s the real deal. And I think that he’s just getting better every game and that’s big for us.”
  • Aaron Brooks contributed 17 points, with more timely shooting. When asked about his inexplicable shot-making below the free-throw line, even he has been quoted saying, “When you watch (some of my shots) on tape you wonder, ‘How the hell did I get that off.’ But in the game it seems little easier to me. It just feels comfortable.”
  • Noah had 10 points and 13 rebounds, saying: “This is the best I’ve felt all season.”
  • The much-anticipated Gasol-Gasol showdown didn’t quite live up to the hype, despite the two having among the best seasons of their careers. Pau, in his worst game of the year, posted just 6 points, 11 rebounds and 1 block; Marc with 13 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block.
    • The real story here was that Pau and Marc spent some time with kids at St. Jude’s Hospital before the game, which is great to hear.
    • For a nice story about the two brothers, read this.
  • The Bulls won despite Kirk Hinrich continuing to frustrate, shooting off-balance and committing a couple of poor fouls late in the game. Luckily, they weren’t as bad as the one against the Mavs, and ultimately were non-factors in determining the outcome.
  • The Grizzlies had not lost a home game to an Eastern Conference team since last year, on December 30th – also to the Bulls.
  • Fun Minutes Fact: Jimmy Butler is 25 years young; his averages in the back-to-back victories: 43 minutes and 41 seconds, 33 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals. Tim Duncan is 38 years old and played 91 minutes in consecutive triple-overtime losses in “meaningless” December games against Memphis and Portland (48 minutes and 43 minutes, respectively). He averaged 27.5 points and 13 rebounds in the two games, with one night of rest in between.
    • More Fun Minutes Facts: Tim Duncan, in his first seven years in the league, averaged the following number of games played/minutes played (rounded to nearest minute): 82/39, 50/39 (out of 50 games), 74/39, 82/39, 82/41 (MVP year), 81/39 (MVP year), 69/37.
    • Final Fun Minutes Facts: Jimmy is averaging 39.9 mpg at 25 years old. MJ at 25 averaged 40.2. Duncan at 25 averaged 40.6 minutes.
    • To those that love scrutinizing minutes played, I say, “pooh-pooh.”
  • Time for some choice Joakim Noah quotations in the post-game:
    • During the E’Twuan Moore interview, Noah kept shouting: “Yeah, how did you feel going to the line? That’s what I want to know! Yeah, yeah, Coach called your number! Yeah, yeah, you weren’t nervous!”
    • When asked if the win was just like any other, as Thibs would say, Noah responded: “I’m not Thibs. Just because he says something doesn’t mean I feel the same way.”
    • “I remember (Butler) working out shooting shots off one foot and I was, ‘Jimmy what are you doing’…He’s shooting shots off one foot against the No. 1 team in the NBA in the fourth with the game on the line (and making them).”
    • “For us it was a big win; Pau told us this game meant a lot to him. I like that sentimental (stuff).”

The Bulls look to improve their record this week in yet another back-to-back, this time against the two top Eastern Conference teams to date, at home against the Raptors on Monday night, and in DC against the Wizards on Tuesday.

Irreconcilable Differences

When I was a junior in high school, I was appointed to the super prestigious position of executive board member of student council. My job was to lead a committee and participate in other exec board activities. I was kind of bummed out when the committee I was assigned to run was the one that met on Monday nights after school, the committee whose only job was to hang up posters advertising school events. I was also unhappy to learn that, starting that semester, all executive board members were being forced to take an extra leadership class that met before school and during lunch. I am proud to tell you that the posters in the halls that semester had never looked better, and likely never will. But I’m a bit embarrassed to tell you that I mouthed off to the teachers in charge of student council quite a bit, not taking the leadership course seriously at all and generally goofing off as much as I could. After just one semester, I was kicked off of executive board.

I could not help but recall that semester of poor behavior while reading and hearing about Lionel Hollins and his status as coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. Hollins has had great success in Memphis since taking over the team in 2009. Each year has seen an increase in the team’s winning percentage from the year before, a trend any organization would normally be thrilled about.

But the immediate results are not necessarily the concern of the new ownership and management group of the Grizzlies. New CEO and president Jason Levien has a specific vision for how the team’s roster should be shaped, how its salary cap should be managed, and, most importantly when it comes to the future of Hollins in Memphis, how the team should play on the floor. Levien is a believer in the new wave of statistical analysis that is sweeping through the league. In his first major decision as president of the club, Levien hired longtime ESPN scribe and inventor of PER John Hollinger as the Memphis’ VP of Basketball Operations. This move marked a historical landmark in basketball, as it announced to the league that the Grizzlies would be thinking about the game in different terms than in the past. While not a revolutionary hire, as Houston GM Daryl Morey seems to have claimed the title of Billy Beane of basketball, it was a fascinating development (On a personal side note, this hire was very disappointing for me as Hollinger’s snarky and hilarious Twitter account, one of my favorites in the league, has become significantly less snarky and hilarious since his hire).

This shift in the front office must have made Hollins feel threatened. For reasons that cannot be explained, Hollins seems very reluctant to embrace what will inevitably become the future of basketball strategy, instead going out of his way to insult his new bosses in a radio interview where he criticized analytics in basketball.

The source of frustration for Hollins stemmed from the Rudy Gay trade, the polarizing decision of new management to trade away the Grizzlies’ starting small forward and leading scorer for what amounted to spare parts and salary cap flexibility. Although advanced statistics (and unadvanced statistics, unless you’re particularly confused by things like three point percentage) pointed to Gay as being an inefficient and wildly overpaid player, Hollins believed he added value to the team in ways that did not show up in one of Hollinger’s logarithms. This clash of opinions marked the beginning of the end of Hollins’s run in Memphis, or so I initially believed.

Following the trade, though, the team continued on with their  successful 2013 campaign. The Grizzlies, who had previously relied heavily upon isolation drives and long jumpers from Gay, allowed their offense to run through Marc Gasol and the high post at a much higher rate. The trade also allowed up-and-coming point guard Mike Conley to take over games at times when he would have normally deferred to Gay. The new-look Grizzlies were able to make their way through a difficult first two rounds of the Western Conference playoffs before eventually being swept at the hands of the Spurs.

I thought that the run to the conference finals, despite being greatly aided by the Russell Westbrook injury, would be enough for Hollins to secure a new contract with the team that so clearly appreciated his leadership style. The current roster includes several players who are signed through the next two to three years, including Gasol, Conley and reclamation project Zach Randolph. The development of these players and their vocal support for their coach seemed like strong reasons to believe that the team and coach would be able to kiss and make up following Hollins running his mouth to the media. Clearly I was wrong.

The Grizzlies and Hollins failed to make any significant progress in their offseason contract negotiations, with  the major hangup being neither years nor dollars but rather major philosophical issues of running the team. Hollins is a rough and tough old-school dude who takes shit from nobody, especially dorky math nerds. Unfortunately, dorky math nerds control his employment status in the city of Memphis. Hollins is likely to land another job. Reports have already begun that he is being pursued by Donald (Duck?) Sterling and the Clippers, an organization so backwards they probably are still deciphering what Hollinger is even talking about.

But how will this decision impact the future of the Grizzlies? Early indications are that Memphis is looking to promote internally, with an eye on Dave Joerger, who has been credited with building the defense that ranked second in the league overall. But will Joerger be able to reach the players in the same way that Hollins was? Will the players lose faith in the organization that cast aside the coach they clearly loved to play for?

For Levien, Hollinger and company, it is a meticulously calculated risk. Such is the new way of business in Memphis.