Chicago is winning under coach Fred Hoiberg as it works out some kinks (and bad habits) on offense from seasons past
POSTED: Dec 14, 2015 11:13 AM ET
To date, the Bulls rank in the bottom third in both scoring average and Offensive Rating.
In This Week's Morning Tip
You can be anesthetized, watching the Warriors.
The fallacy in watching a team as in sync and finely tuned as Golden State is thinking that kind of symmetry comes easily, or is the norm at this time of the season. In fact, the opposite is true. Most teams are still struggling mightily to find their way, to figure out what the best version of themselves is going to be.
All across the NBA landscape, there are questions in December. The Los Angeles Clippers can't find a small forward, and they can't get a rebound. The Houston Rockets have no idea when Dwight Howard will be able to go night in and night out. The Washington Wizards seem to have forgotten everything Paul Pierce taught them about mental toughness. The Atlanta Hawks, who won 60 a year ago, are currently not in the playoffs in the East. The Memphis Grizzlies can't win at home and the Miami Heat have been terrible on the road.
In that context, the Chicago Bulls' struggles so far this season are the norm. But it doesn't make them any less eye-catching for a team that is expected to be among the Cleveland Cavaliers' chief challengers in the Eastern Conference.
They don't look like a team that's quite bought in to what their new coach is selling.
The biggest thing is, we've gotta get more consistent. We show flashes.
– Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg
Chicago's ownership and management famously replaced coach Tom Thibodeau with Fred Hoiberg last summer, with the idea that Hoiberg would meld his past NBA knowledge as a player and executive with the new ideas he developed in college at Iowa State, creating an offense that would be more diverse and explosive. But so far, it isn't working to plan. The thing that's kept Chicago afloat so far has been the same thing that was Thibodeau's specialty -- defense.
"He's just given us so much freedom," All-Star guard Jimmy Butler said of Hoiberg, "that sometimes, guys (aren't) in the right spots. It's correctable, though. That's what practices are for, watching it on film. The guys have got to buy into the extra work that it takes to be great in this league."
The Bulls have blown big leads and played listlessly for stretches, including losing a 19-point, fourth-quarter lead last week in an inexplicable loss to the Phoenix Suns, who were concluding a long road trip. Post-All-Star break doldrums are expected; ennui before Christmas is troubling.
"We're learning," Pau Gasol said Thursday. "We're going through a little bit of a slump. But I'm hoping that this is a lesson to be learned for us, and part of our growth process as a team. We've got to find a way to be more consistent, always play with the same type of energy, effort, sense of urgency, understand the importance of each and every game. Because otherwise, we're just making things hard, or harder, for ourselves."
Even a win like Chicago earned Thursday over the Clippers was mushy. The Bulls were in control until Blake Griffin was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul in the third quarter. Afterward, the Clips were the team with all the juice, with their bench bringing them back from a 16-point deficit to give them a chance to tie the game in the final seconds of regulation.
It's different when you lose three, especially with the team that we have and the goals that we've set as a team. It's kind of different... It's a little surprising, but it's still early. We still have a lot of room to improve.
– Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose
"The biggest thing is, we've gotta get more consistent," Hoiberg said afterward. "We show flashes. The biggest thing is consistency with our group, as far as getting out and playing with pace. When we do play with pace, we're pretty darn good ... if we get that ball moving, we're pretty effective. When it sticks on one side, that's when we go into our droughts, and we've had too many of them this year. But just keep working and hopefully get better."
Let's be clear: a lot of teams would love to have Chicago's troubles. The Bulls are just a game and a half behind Cleveland in the Central Division, and sit at No. 3 in the East. Despite the changes to the starting lineup, with Joakim Noah coming off the bench, Taj Gibson now starting at power forward (former starter Nikola Mirotic has been in a prolonged slump), and despite not having Mike Dunleavy, Jr., for a minute yet this season, Chicago already has wins over the San Antonio Spurs, the Cavs, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Clippers.
Inside Access: Clippers vs. Bulls
An Inside Access look at the first meeting between Chris Paul and Derrick Rose since 2011, in a game that went down to the wire as Pau Gasol led the way to a Bulls 83-80 win.
Defensively, Chicago has carried on in the Thibs Tradition. The Bulls are a solid seventh in the league in points allowed (97.5) and 3-point percentage allowed (33 percent), 14th in opponent assists allowed, third in defensive rating (an estimated 96.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) and fourth in opponent effective field goal percentage.
But the Bulls' offense still looks clogged. And as ever, the finger is pointing at Derrick Rose.
Everyone is adjusting to the new offense. Gasol is just now getting more looks in the paint, after admittedly needing to ease his way into the season following his star turn at EuroBasket this summer. Butler is averaging almost 21 a game, though his shooting percentage is down from last season.
But Rose's numbers are way down across the board: 36.4 percent from the floor, 23.4 percent on 3-pointers. Of the 28 players around the league who are taking more than the 14.9 shots per game Rose is taking, only one is shooting worse -- Kobe Bryant (32.4 percent).
The reason would appear obvious. Until Saturday, Rose had been wearing a face mask after suffering a broken left orbital socket the first day of training camp, an injury that has led to season-long double vision for Rose, even as he plays game after game. But Rose says he's healthy and the Bulls say he's doing fine physically.
Yet Rose doesn't look like he's benefitting from the new system. His looks don't look easier or cleaner.
And as a team, Chicago is struggling to find that spark. The Bulls are ninth in the league in pace, with an estimated 99.85 possessions per game. But they're just 21st in the league in scoring average, 28th in offensive rating (97.2 points per 100 possessions) and 26th in fast-break points (10.5 per game).
Suns vs. Bulls
Mirza Teletovic scores 20 points, including the game winner, to lead the Suns past the Bulls, 103-101.
Transition scoring isn't necessarily an indication of offensive efficacy -- the Spurs, at 10.1 points per game, are worse. But Hoiberg has made it clear he wants to play with even more pace. (FiveThirtyEight.com's Kirk Goldsberry, one of the smartest guys doing basketball analytics -- informative without being a pedantic scold -- posits that the Bulls are taking way more midrange shots this season than the corner threes they favored in recent years. While Rose has increased his pick and roll looks this year, it hasn't translated into more production for him at the rim.)
Rose is preaching patience.
"Offensively, we're going to be all right," Rose said. "When you lose three in a row, it's not because of your offense, it's straight because of your defense. Communication, or rebounding -- like I always say, we have to rebound the ball. Even the guards -- we have to crash down, get into the (opposing) bigs' legs, and help our bigs get to the loose balls."
Knowing that every stat points to decreasing offensive effectiveness for any team as the shot clock winds down, Hoiberg wants Rose to get the ball past midcourt within three seconds. Rose thinks he's forcing tempo, but it doesn't look like it when you watch the Bulls in transition. With few exceptions, he just doesn't seem to have the burst he had prior to all of his injuries.
"I feel like I've been pushing," Rose said. "But as far as a team, as far as individually, I think I've been playing with a pretty up-tempo pace, as far as pushing. Of course, teams are going to load to me a little bit more whether I push it, just like everybody around me."
We're going through a little bit of a slump. ... We've got to find a way to be more consistent, always play with the same type of energy, effort, sense of urgency ... Because otherwise, we're just making things hard, or harder, for ourselves.
– Chicago Bulls center Pau Gasol
Gasol said it would be unfair to put Chicago's offensive woes all on Rose.
"He's playing hard, he's trying, hasn't been able to find it consistently. He's trying to figure it out, just as we are as a team," Gasol said. "It's not on just only him. We also, as a team, we need to get to our spots and run the floor better, and quicker, so he can explode his quickness and probe and get shots for everybody else as well. So it's not just him pushing the ball; it's everybody getting to their spots and spreading the floor, and allowing him to do what he does."
Butler concurred: "A lot of times, we don't (run), because maybe we're discouraged that we got scored on, gave up some baskets. So if one guy doesn't run, then it messes up the break for everybody. We'll be fine. We'll pick it up. It's not just on him. It's on me, it's on all the wings, it's on the bigs ... it's on everybody. It's basketball. Everybody knows what spots to be in on the floor. Get there as soon as possible."
Maybe it was just the three-game losing streak that had everyone in a bit of a funk. Maybe it's just one 72-hour patch in the midst of a long season.
Inside The NBA: Clippers-Bulls Analysis
Shaq, Kenny and Isiah break down the Clippers-Bulls matchup.
"It ain't happened here in a minute," Rose said. "It's different when you lose three, especially with the team that we have and the goals that we've set as a team. It's kind of different... It's a little surprising, but it's still early. We still have a lot of room to improve. We've just got to enjoy the games."
But Gasol knows there's a line between patience and balance and believing everything will turn out right, and turning up the heat like all good teams do to separate themselves from the pack. In an Eastern Conference where the floor has risen considerably this season, you don't want to have to fight through a bunch of teams hungry to get back into the playoffs. Plus, there are teams like Atlanta and Washington that are on the outside looking in but capable of going on a win streak any minute.
"We've got to have longer stretches of high intensity, high level of execution, high concentration," Gasol said. "Sometimes we jus have too many breakdowns, too many letups. We have to find that and understand that this is what it's going to take for us to take the next step to be amongst the best teams. We have all the talent in the world. We have a lot of talent, we have a lot of depth. We have all the tools that are required for us to contend. Now we have to maximize what we have."
(previous rank in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)
1) Golden State  (2-1): Luke Walton is on the hot seat. I am kidding. It is a satirical examination of our win-at-all-costs mentality in sports. That sentence is not real. Thank you.
Warriors vs. Bucks
Greg Monroe scores 28 points for the Bucks, who beat the defending NBA champions, snapping the Warriors' NBA-record start at 24 wins.
2) San Antonio  (3-1): Parity/parody: Three of the Spurs' five losses this season have come to Eastern Conference teams, including last week's in Toronto.
3) Oklahoma City  (4-0): Here they come: six straight opponents under 100 points, five straight wins, Kevin Durant looking sharper and sharper.
5) Miami  (1-3): All of a sudden, Heat's outstanding defense looks very vulnerable against ultra small-ball opposing lineups. We'll see if that's the case or an anomaly.
6) Toronto  (4-0): Coach Dwane Casey said his team would get back to defense, and it has -- third in the league in points allowed, second to San Antonio in opponent games under 100 points allowed (17).
Spurs vs. Raptors
DeMar DeRozan scores 28 points with six assists, Kyle Lowry adds 19 and eight assists as Toronto edges San Antonio 97-94.
7) Indiana  (1-2): What is up with the defense all of a sudden? Allowing 115.4 points, with opponents shooting 49.4 percent -- and 42 percent on 3-pointers -- in the last five games, which have, not surprisingly, included four losses.
8) Dallas  (1-2): Saturday's home loss to Washington dropped the Mavs to 5-5 at American Airlines Center this season.
9) Chicago  (2-2): Bulls, in their 50th season, will play the franchise's 4,000th regular season game on New Year's Day against the Knicks. Entering play today, Chicago is 2,086-1,904 in its NBA lifetime.
10) L.A. Clippers  (3-1): This may be the oddest, least predictable bench in NBA history.
11) Charlotte  (3-1): Kemba Walker is playing the best basketball of his career, leading the resurgent Hornets.
Hornets vs. Grizzlies
Kemba Walker has 33 points and Nicolas Batum adds 20 points as the Charlotte Hornets beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 123-99.
12) Memphis  (1-3): Coach Dave Joerger benched Zach Randolph and Tony Allen Sunday to try and get more movement into the offense. But the clock is ticking in the 901 -- loudly -- toward some kind of substantial change.
13) Utah  (1-3): Still playing with a lot of heart, but not having "The Stifle Tower" (aka Rudy Gobert) hurts down the gut of games. Case in point: that last-second possession for OKC Sunday night, when Kevin Durant drove unimpeded down the lane for the game-tying dunk.
14) Boston [NR] (3-1): For the last couple of years, everyone, including me, has been assuming that the Celtics would have to make a blockbuster trade in order to be a true playoff threat. Maybe we all have this all wrong.
15) Houston [NR] (2-1): The Rockets' offense under J.B. Bickerstaff is undoubtedly performing better than it did under Kevin McHale.
Dropped Out: Orlando .
Milwaukee (2-2): You beat the men, you get to be the men. The Bucks, particularly Greg Monroe, were terrific Saturday night in ending the Warriors' win streak.
GameTime: Bucks Halt Warriors
Mike Fratello and Rick Fox break down the Bucks' win over the previously unbeaten, champion Warriors.
L.A. Lakers (0-4): In time, though, "Coach, let 'em go" may well be the most important four words of the Lakers' season, and of their immediate future.
Can Jerry Colangelo make chicken salad out of mystery meat?
The 76ers' new Special Advisor to the Managing General Partner and Chairman of Basketball Operations only had a few minutes late Sunday afternoon. He was walking into Grand Canyon University Arena in Phoenix to watch the GCU Coyotes play Omaha in a non-conference game, before Grand Canyon -- and its coach, former Phoenix Suns great Dan Majerle -- begin Western Athletic Conference play next month.
GameTime: Jerry Colangelo To Philadelphia
The Philadelphia 76ers named Jerry Colangelo as the Special Advisor to the Managing General Partner and Chairman of Basketball Operations.
That Colangelo has a soft spot, still, for Majerle, should be no surprise. Relationships are at the heart of the 76-year-old Hall of Famer's effectiveness in bridging gaps and creating partnerships as a coach, general manager, owner and executive. His ability to get and maintain the attention of current NBA players 40 and 50 years younger than he as Chairman of USA Basketball resuscitated the country's international basketball program at one of its lowest points, and led it back to hegemony in the sport.
Now, 76ers' co-managing owner Josh Harris is leaning on Colangelo to leverage those relationships in an attempt to jump-start his franchise.
"I could be helpful. I could fill in the blanks a little bit. That's what I'm trying to do. You don't want people to be fearful or looking over their backs. I'm not that way. It's a sensitive deal, too, but I think it's good to have another voice, and I think it's going to be beneficial, too.
– Sixers executive Jerry Colangelo
The announcement last week that Colangelo would be coming aboard was viewed as a necessary restart for the Sixers, regardless of their record -- this morning, after Sunday's loss in Toronto, it's 1-24 -- both in Philly, where the franchise has no discernable pulse with the fan base, and around the league, where teams and agents had grown increasingly frustrated with General Manager Sam Hinkie's style.
The 76ers tried to point toward stability on Friday, announcing a two-year contract extension for Coach Brett Brown. But the issue isn't Brown -- if anyone on earth deserves more money and time, it's Brown. It's whether the team will finally begin to address the talent chasm that separates it from the rest of the league.
"I have to mentor and I have to advise, and I mean that across the board -- ownership, coaching," Colangelo said Sunday. "Brett has been on the phone with me a lot. There aren't a lot of basketball people in the organization. And then with Sam, I've been there and done that, and I'm trying to help, move things along."
After the news conference announcing Brown's extension, Hinkie said he welcomed Colangelo and his extensive contacts.
"My network and his network don't overlap a lot," Hinkie said. "The folks I have on speed dial and the folks he has on speed dial are very different. He has deep and wide relationships with the best players in the world, particularly the best players in our country. I don't think that's going to be a panacea immediately, but I'd be shocked if that doesn't help us over time."
This can descend into cliché, but I swear this is true: after the Brown presser, I was on the elevator going down to the court level at Wells Fargo Center. Two fans got on, a man and a woman, and we started talking about the season. They were season ticket holders, had been for years, the man said.
"This has got to be tough for you," I said.
"Well," he said, "drinking a lot helps."
Harris is ultimately the guy who's responsible for that cynicism. He signed off on taking the team down to the studs after he led the group that bought the team from Ed Snider and Comcast-Spectator in 2011. He didn't want a team that scuffled along, maybe made the playoffs a few years in a row, but had no real chance to win a title. So he okayed the idea that the 76ers would wait, and wait, and wait, until they could draft a difference-making, franchise-shifting player -- Hinkie's "Process."
Again, as I've said and written many times, Hinkie has never lied about his and his team's planned transparency, so he can't get heat for that, at least. Until they got that special player, they had no interest in spending money on veteran free agents, or keeping many of the players they did draft if they could flip them for future picks, and had no problem losing as many games as possible to get as high a Draft pick as possible.
Up or Down: Jerry Colangelo Joining Sixers?
Will Colangelo change the direction of the franchise?
So out went All-Star Jrue Holiday for rookie Nerlens Noel, as did 2013 Kia Rookie of the Year winner Michael Carter-Williams for a first-round pick that will go to Philly from the Lakers if it isn't one of the top three picks in the 2016 Draft, and on and on, over and over. Next year, because of Hinkie's machinations, Philly could have as many as four first-round picks, and the 76ers anticipate European star Dario Saric will come over after spending the last two seasons in Turkey.
No one doubts that Brown does yeoman's work trying to get the best out of what he's been given, or that the organization is committed to finding any edge -- the sleep monitoring, the army of assistants devoted to player development.
But at some point, the wins and losses matter.
"It's tough, because the first thing you know about Philly is our record," guard Kendall Marshall said. "I think once you're around the guys, they don't hang their heads. Nerlens (Noel), everybody. Great kids, great guys. They all come to work. They're all trying to get better. They're in there every single day. You just have to understand that it's not the greatest situation to be put in, but guys are trying to get better."
Marshall was viewed as an important man last week by the Sixers. The former first-round pick was finally ready to play again after rehabbing a torn ACL suffered last year. No matter that Marshall is on his fourth team in four seasons. Just having a competent, semi-veteran point guard would do wonders for the team.
The Sixers have been in a lot of games this season, with chances to win. But they haven't been able to finish. It's the lament of the bad: even for 42 minutes, unable to finish in the last six, when the stars show up.
"It is very frustrating at times, especially when they start to rack up," Noel said. "But the fact that we're in them speaks for itself. Being up in the fourth quarters going up against Dallas, Memphis, multiple teams that are playoff teams, Boston, it makes us feel good about ourselves. But moral victories won't get it done. We've got to get it done in crunch time."
The league evidently felt it was time to do more than watch, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver getting involved in recent weeks. Harris has been talking with the league office about the direction of the franchise, and Silver did, I'm told, have "a significant hand" in putting Harris and Colangelo together. (And, according to a source, former Commissioner David Stern, a longtime friend of Colangelo's, helped moved things toward a marriage as well.)
The league was irate about how the 76ers handled the disclosure of numerous incidents involving Jahlil Okafor, including two videos that were obtained by TMZ showing Okafor in separate fights in Boston this season with fans, a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer of another incident at a Philadelphia club which involved Okafor having a gun put to his head during an argument, and a report by longtime Philly broadcaster Howard Eskin that Okafor was recently clocked doing 108 mph by police driving across the Ben Franklin Bridge.
The 76ers finally suspended Okafor for two games, and announced that he would have security with him at all times for off the court activities going forward. But Hinkie did not make any public comments about Okafor -- his name wasn't even on the team's official statement announcing the suspension -- and it was left to Brown to speak for the organization.
Hinkie allowed that he could have handled things differently.
"I would say I was present when decisions were made, but there are some things we can do better," Hinkie said last week, after the Brown announcement. "We purposely laid low, and I purposely laid low, for a number of reasons. And I've always been very comfortable, and Brett's been very comfortable, being out front for us when need be, because we trust each other, and we're attached at the hip in a lot of ways. But sometimes, another voice helps."
He expressed regret that the team had incorrectly predicted Marshall would be ready for the start of the season, when he wouldn't play for another month.
"I think already there's a bunch I learned, and a bunch more I could learn," Hinkie said. "I think there are ways we could have communicated better about some of the things we were looking at. I think we could have communicated better about Kendall Marshall's injury, for example ... and obviously all the stuff with Jahlil, I think we sort of live and learn -- both him and us."
Hinkie was receptive -- not that he had a choice -- when Harris suggested Colangelo come in.
"We talked about the ways in which our organization could be better, and the ways we could round this out," Hinkie said. "With a name like that, and the sort of experience, we're kind of like stewards. And he was a steward of the same club across five decades. Like, all of a sudden, I already have something to talk with him about, because I'm genuinely curious about it. Just that, that worldview and what that's like. We talk a lot about setting decisions in place, and knowing the ramifications of those decisions over time.
"He lived this: 'I took this guy, and six years later, this happened. I passed on this guy, and regretted it for a decade. I lost a coin flip for Lew Alcindor, and thought about it for 40 years.' And, by the way, was resilient and had a great career regardless. I think there's a lot to be picked up there."
My network and his network don't overlap a lot. The folks I have on speed dial and the folks he has on speed dial are very different.
– Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie, on Jerry Colangelo
That worldview and experience made the new arrangement easier for Hinkie to accept. (Colangelo will continue to work out of Phoenix, with no plans to move to Philly any time soon.)
"If the conversation had been, 'hey, we'd like to talk to you about ways in which we may improve, and we'd like to bring in your twin,' that might be different," Hinkie said.
Changes are already afoot. Sources confirmed a Yahoo! Sports report Saturday that the 76ers plan to bring in former Suns, Knicks and Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni within the next few weeks to sit on the Philly bench as associate head coach. Other sources said the Sixers are talking to former star Elton Brand and NBA veteran Shane Battier about joining the organization, hoping to bring in guys with sterling reputations to serve as role models for the young players.
"Josh definitely wants to pick up the pace, but some of the people in the organization just don't get it," a league source said over the weekend.
But Jerry Colangelo made one thing clear Sunday: there will be no role for his son, Bryan, the former president and GM of the Raptors and former GM in Phoenix -- where he was twice named NBA Executive of the Year -- in Philadelphia. "They (the 76ers) have a president and GM," he said. "That's been speculation, I know, but that hasn't come from anywhere."
I had asked Hinkie if he'd wondered what the Jerry Colangelo hire meant for his own future in Philly.
"I think those are kinds of questions everyone asks," Hinkie said. "Even today, I think many people would have, many coaches, in that situation -- and I'm sure Brett, in his heart of hearts, along the way, has thought the same thing. Yet, look. Here we are. What is our record -- 1 and 21? He's been a part of this and has helped me and others build this program."
The decision to extend Brown was on another track entirely, and something that Hinkie had been contemplating for months. Brown had another year and three quarters on his initial contract, but no coach likes going into the final year of their deal, thinking that uncertainty usurps their authority with players. The Sixers agreed.
"The more we talked about it, it just felt like the timing was right," Hinkie said. "I tell people this: I lived in the Homewood Suites next to PCOM (the Sixers' practice facility) for four months. (Brown) lived in the Hilton for eight. I knew then he had a level of commitment and a work ethic that would make him fit in with the kind of culture we were trying to create ... obviously it's been there for a long time, and he's doing great, and we were really proud of how he was progressing, and how he was progressing our program. At the end of the day, it wasn't a hard decision."
Brown has been worn down by the losing at times, but the son of a Maine high school coach and teacher -- "most of my friends are lobstermen," he said on Friday -- is still willing to keep rolling the rock up the hill to try and get his team a little better, a little better, until the roster improves.
"To have lived and breathed what we've all been through, from Sam, Josh Harris and (co-managing owner) David Blitzer, with the people in this room, I see the people in this room, often," Brown said Friday. "And so, you, too, kind of know, almost, everything that I'm saying. To have experienced that time frame, and see the growth that we've made, take the hits that we've made, why wouldn't I want to see this through? We have started something extremely difficult, but it's going to end up extremely special."
Of course, that leaves the rest of this season, where Okafor is back on the court, showing his substantial offensive potential, and the 76ers hope they'll get better results from Nik Stauskas and Noel and their other young players.
"Progress is just how much you're playing better together," Noel said. "I think the point guard role has been steadily getting better. Guys understanding how to run a team. T.J. McConnell is a fresh-out rookie. Tony (Wroten) is just getting back. Isaiah (Canaan), he's a scoring point guard. So I think we're just figuring things out. And I love (Marshall). First game back, he puts it on the money every time."
At the same time, "at this time last year, we had two wins," Hinkie says. "This year, we have one. We didn't finish with two wins last year (they ended up 18-64), and I don't think we'll finish with one this year."
But Harris has finally gotten tired of incremental progress. The Sixers are going to give the Process a push, and they're counting on Colangelo's 50 years in the league to provide a roadmap.
"Relationally, I could be valuable," Colangelo said before ducking in to see Coach Majerle's squad Sunday. "I could be helpful. I could fill in the blanks a little bit. That's what I'm trying to do. You don't want people to be fearful or looking over their backs. I'm not that way. It's a sensitive deal, too, but I think it's good to have another voice, and I think it's going to be beneficial, too."
It's time for you to start thinking about the future. From Jason Mery:
I think that (Dwyane) Wade should embrace a new role. While Maimi's D has been superb, and he's having a great season, he'll be starting to show that old sluggishness as we hit the end of December as he has been so recently inclined to do. I think Wade should start playing the sixth man role.
Now hear me out. Goran Dragic and Wade are still conflicting for ball handling time on the floor. Wade may play shooting guard, but he likes having the ball in his hands. He is a talented playmaker and has a long list of savvy vet tricks to mess with people, and those would work better against less skilled secondary players. He would also be able to increase his scoring efficiency by being forced to deal with less talented defenders, typically. Third, he would be able to solidify their own second unit with the presence of a superstar and the confidence it brings. Finally, it would allow Erik Spoelstra to continually limit his minutes to a 25 or less rate that would keep him more fresh come playoff time.
Nightly Notable: Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade scores 26 on 12 of 15 shooting, adds 7 rebounds and 9 assists as he tries to put the Miami Heat on his shoulders against the Washington Wizards.
Like the DeLorean, Jason, your idea, while promising, has no chance at large scale success. The Heat would never consider benching Wade, and Wade would never consider that as an option, unless James Harden or Klay Thompson shows up in a Miami uni this season. Maybe not even then. Plus, his presence has a ripple effect on the entire starting unit -- he stresses a defense, which creates open shots on the weakside for Gerald Green or Justise Winslow, driving lanes for Dragic, lobs and easy putbacks for Hassan Whiteside, and so on. And Miami's got some of the best defensive five-man units in the league with Wade out there. No chance the Heat mess with that.
The Line of Success(ion). From Clint Cunningham:
Who receives their first head coaching try in the NBA from the Spurs' assistant coaches: Ettore Messina, a European great with loads of experience or Becky Hammon, the first female paid assistant in the NBA?
After Hammon coached the Spurs to the Summer League title in Vegas, I wrote about the possibilities that she could, someday soon, get a shot. I still think it's possible, but I suspect the next young assistant the Spurs tout as a potential NBA coach will be Ime Udoka, who already gets high marks for how he deals with players -- not surprising, given he was a solid role player himself in San Antonio and Portland. Messina certainly has a lot of fans around the NBA, and if he made it clear he wanted to be a head coach, I'm sure he'd get serious consideration. But most -- not all -- of his teams in Spain did not play all that fast, and you wonder if a coach with that history would be as well received in today's pace and space era.
The Minnesota Wild. From Cade Pierson:
How good do you think the Wiggins/Towns duo really can be? Could you see the Wolves being a legit playoff team in 2-4 years?
Yes -- with some more additions to the roster. By then, KG and Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller will be gone, and the young Wolves will be on their own. They almost certainly will need at least one or two young vets to play alongside them to be able to challenge for a playoff spot -- and almost certainly a two guard who can shoot. The Wolves will have cap space, to be sure, to go after someone in 2017 -- a J.J. Redick or an Anthony Morrow, both unrestricted that summer, would be a great fit.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and ... puppies! Puppies born in a test tube, but, still ... puppies! to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
(last week's averages in parentheses)
1) Stephen Curry (31.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 7.7 apg, .423 FG, .775 FT): Looked beat by the end of the road trip, especially with Klay Thompson out against Boston and not back up to speed during the streak-ending loss in Milwaukee.
Best Plays From Warriors' Win Streak
Check out the top plays from the Golden State Warriors' impressive winning streak.
3) Kawhi Leonard (15.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, .500 FG, .917 FT): One would like to think NBA fans are sophisticated and smart enough to vote Leonard in as a starter for February's All-Star Game in Toronto. One would like to think that.
5) Paul George (26.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4 apg, .367 FG, .864 FT): Called last week's game with the Warriors a "must win". The Pacers didn't, uh, win.
11 -- Consecutive regular season wins by the Spurs over the Hawks after San Antonio's 103-78 victory over Atlanta Saturday. On top of beating the Hawks 18 straight times in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich has beaten his former assistant, Mike Budenholzer, six straight times since Budenholzer became Atlanta's coach in 2013, winning by an average margin of 15.7 points per game.
Spurs vs. Hawks
Kawhi Leonard scores 22 points with eight rebounds, Manu Ginobili adds 17 as San Antonio wins it 103-78.
11 -- Wins without a loss this season by Detroit when the Pistons score 100 or more points, the last two coming in blowout weekend wins over the 76ers and Pacers.
11 -- Years that the Mavericks have hosted their "Seats for Soldiers" event at the American Airlines Center, in which fans with front-row, choice seats donate them for a game to returning veterans. This year, fans gave tickets valued at $350,000 to more than 100 wounded service members from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, veterans from the Adaptive Training Foundation and reserve troops from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to watch the Mavs and Wizards Saturday.
1) The Warriors' streak ended Saturday night, at 24 straight wins to start this season and 28 straight regular season wins dating back to the end of last season. But they were Must See TV for six weeks, destroying opponents with the most exciting basketball we've seen in a very long time during a regular season run, behind MVP Stephen Curry and a team of hard-nosed players who rose to the challenge of seeking greatness every night. And, yes, 72-10 is still very much in play, now that they're off the road and home for five straight and seven of their next nine through early January.
2) Two weeks ago, I said it was on John Wall to get the Wizards straightened out. They're still a long ways from straight, especially with Bradley Beal now out at least two weeks after yet another stress reaction in his right leg. But Wall has been sensational of late for Washington -- including his 26-point, 16-assist gem Saturday night in a road win at Dallas.
Wall Delivers 16 Dimes
Watch the highlights from John Wall who delivers 16 assists to go along with 26 points in the Wizards win over the Mavericks.
3) A great read by the great Bonnie Ford on Mark Cuban's bankrolling a University of Michigan study on the efficacy of using Human Growth Hormone to help athletes get over injuries faster -- and the implications that could arise if the trial shows potential.
3A) And, good to see the union being proactive with its former players.
4) Coach Lieberman, doing Hall of Fame things.
1) There were two John Williamses when I broke into covering the NBA. There was the John Williams I covered, with the Washington Bullets -- to this day, I still think he's one of the 15 or so most talented people who ever played that I saw with my own eyes -- and the John Williams, nicknamed "Hot Rod," who played with the Cavaliers. Hot Rod Williams was 6-foot-11 and immensely skilled, a guy who could post up and shoot, rebound and defend, and play all three frontcourt positions. His place in league history came when he became one of the first players to get a significant offer sheet -- a seven-year, $26.5 million contract from Miami in 1990 that made him, at the time, the highest-paid player in the league, making more than Michael Jordan or Isiah Thomas or Larry Bird or Magic Johnson. Cleveland matched Miami's offer, and Williams played five more seasons for the Cavs before going to Phoenix and Dallas. That he died last week at 53 from cancer hurts my heart. He was a really decent guy.
2) Dolph Schayes played in a different era of the NBA, but he was dominant in it, leading the Syracuse Nationals to the 1955 NBA title, making 12 All-Star appearances and six first-team all NBA teams. And he was a great storyteller and ambassador for the game long after his retirement. May he rest in peace.
Remembering Dolph Schayes
The entire basketball community is saddened by the loss of Dolph Schayes, who passed away earlier today at the age of 87. One of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, Schayes led the Syracuse Nationals to the 1955 NBA championship. NBA TV's Jared Greenberg remembers the life and career of an NBA pioneer.
3) Good to hear that the NBA and the Players' Association met formally last week. But until both sides publicly commit to not re-opening the CBA a year from now and interrupting the game while it's on an incredible uptick in popularity, my skepticism that a lockout isn't inevitable will remain high.
4) Actually glad that the new Star Wars movie is premiering in selected cities this week -- if only because the mania/marketing campaign that has touched almost every mass gathering of people in the last few weeks is increasingly grating.
5) I try not to judge. Really, I do. But I am having a hard time stifling a laugh at the buffoonery that led to this ... unfortunate outcome.
He sits quietly, as the Pistons' assistant athletic trainer, Jessica Schaefer, brings two giant heating pads, one for each quad. There is another game on the schedule in 80 minutes, and Reggie Jackson must be ready to, again, live up to his own hype.
Jackson had believed he was ready the last couple of years to run an NBA team, to the point of agitating a sour exit from Oklahoma City last season, where he turned down a lucrative extension offer to back up Russell Westbrook. The Thunder traded Jackson to Detroit in February, where he got his chance, with Brandon Jennings out for the season. Jackson only played in 27 games for Detroit after the trade, averaging 17.6 points and 9.2 assists. But the Pistons saw enough to give Jackson the keys to the franchise for the foreseeable future, with an eye-popping five-year, $80 million deal, that had players like John Wall muttering.
But Detroit believes it has solved the point-guard center puzzle for a generation with the 22-year-old, rebound-inhaling Andre Drummond at center, and the 25-year-old Jackson on the ball.
"We thought he was a top half of the league, at least, starting point guard, who hadn't had the opportunity," Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy said Friday. "And when you start looking around, compared to salary cap and everything, what those guys are worth, we thought we got a great deal. A 25-year-old guy, and we paid him $10 million less than the Heat paid (Goran) Dragic at (age) 30."
Jackson Shines In Portland
Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson lead Detroit past Portland.
Jackson has had several explosive nights already this season: 40 points against Portland, 34 points and 16 assists against Phoenix, 31 points against Houston, 23 and 12 against Cleveland -- all Pistons victories. But he and his team are still a work in progress as they mesh together, and Jackson had an awkward return to OKC last month, going just 4 of 16 in a bad loss that ended with Jackson cussing a fan (for which he was fined $25,000), and Kevin Durant and Westbrook tossing shade-ish words his way.
Like all point guards, Jackson is trying to master the needle thread of when to attack and when to distribute, when to feed Drummond or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or look for his own shot. Of late, Van Gundy said Jackson's been "maybe a little too conservative" in not setting the pace. "I'd like to see him on the attack a little earlier in games," Van Gundy said, "not for himself, but to make plays. He's a little jump shot oriented early in games. But other than that, I don't have too many complaints. The guy's been great."
Me: You've wanted to be a lead guard for a while. How tough is the patience part now when you're still learning your teammates and yourself out there?
Reggie Jackson: It'll wear on you. When I'm on the court, I might be annoyed. But I go home and sit down at night and think about it. That's when I start to calm down, where you get away and breathe, relax, and you watch film, and start to see the real good that we're doing.
Me: You watch every game afterward?
RJ: Yeah, I try to pick it up before we get to another game, see what we're doing, whether it'll be on the plane or whether we'll be at home, before I go to sleep or if we're at the hotel, try to figure out where we can get better and where we're improving.
Me: I always wonder when a guy "gets" a team, or is viewed as the leader, how he develops his voice. What has that process been like for you?
Nightly Notable: Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson records 31 points, five boards and 8 assists to lead the Pistons over the Rockets.
RJ: I didn't try to force it. I'm just trying to be me. I've got some great veterans around here who've been playing, been on some good teams, and know what it takes. I've got Steve (Blake), and I take advantage of that. He's a good guy who's done all this winning in this league, seen good teams. That helps as well. Joel Anthony, it's a good group of guys. It allows me to grow kind of at my pace.
Me: Screen and roll has been your bread and butter so far this season. How do you expect it to evolve over the course of the year?
RJ: I'm just trying to figure out where the easy baskets have been. Right now, our offense has been struggling. We have streaks where it's really working well. We're in the course of figuring out those streaks and the dead spells. Just as a team, trying to find a way to get easy transition baskets, get more, and basically (use) screen and roll for when I want us to find easy baskets for each other, whether it be screens, whether it be cuts. When we figure that out, we'll be better. We'll be a scary team on offense. We're still trying to find out a way to put 48 minutes of defense together. Even to this point we're still a pretty good defensive team in this league.
He probably just wishes it would have ended better ... people forget that there were three really great years, three and a half, really great years where the guys battled. It just wasn't in our fortune for us to be there forever.
– Reggie Jackson, on Russell Westbrook's comments
Me: What, or where, is the process with you and Andre trying to figure each other out?
RJ: Um, to be honest, it's been a roller coaster. (laughs). We came in, started off like veterans, just like people think, trying to find chemistry. Just getting to know each other off the court has been helping us to push each other on the court. That's somebody that genuinely likes you. And I genuinely like him. I want what's best for him, as well as he does for me. In that aspect, we're going to help each other get this whole organization where it hasn't been for a while. Neither of us have really been to The Finals -- I was on the bench (in 2011). We've both got aspirations to do great things in this league, try to maximize the other to the best of our ability and really help lead this team in the direction that I think Stan has a great vision for.
Me: So I guess there's some give and take between the two of you, some disagreements on occasion?
RJ: Yeah. He wants me to play one way, and I want him to play one way. He sees at times where I might be settling and he wants me to attack, and I feel like I'm doing what's right. But it just inspires me to go out there and be better, as well as I think times where I'm asking him to try to go down there and take a lot more pressure than what he's already taking and he may feel there's a mental barrier to do so, but I'm asking him to go beyond his own (limits). We just push each other to really be our best, which ultimately will help our team.
Pistons vs. Suns
Reggie Jackson scores 23 points as the Pistons defeat the Suns 100-92.
Me: I believe in creative tension. When talented people are put together, they're going to have differences of opinion. I think it helps.
RJ: I think it does help. It just helps us see the game from a different light, try to come together and just put it together. I think it's always good to have somebody else in the back pushing. We push ourselves extremely hard, but having somebody else from the outside see something more probably in you, it helps.
Me: Has this been what you thought it would be?
RJ: It's been more. It's been a lot of what I envisioned, an opportunity I've been dying for. Taking on the role has been more than what I've even envisioned at this level. I think the one year I had the ball at BC my junior year, that took a lot on me. Just getting this opportunity in the NBA, and seeing how hard it is to bring the energy night in and night out. I've already had nights where I can feel the energy dwindling, and times where I may not be at my best. It's mentally fatiguing. Stan's challenged me to figure out ways to beat this mentally. And he really challenged me. He said 'you asked for it; you've always wanted to be the guy. You talked about it. You've gotta walk the walk.' He's been helping along this way, just continuing to pressure me to walk the walk and find more in myself that I even know is in there.
Me: So why does everybody have your name in their mouth?
RJ: I don't know, man. They asked me and I spoke about what I wanted. You're going to have some naysayers and people bashing you. They talk about me, I guess I can take that. You've got eyes on you and you've got to perform every night.
Me: Was the reaction in Oklahoma City disappointing? I mean, Russ was kind of throwing shade at you.
RJ: He probably just wishes it would have ended better ... people forget that there were three really great years, three and a half, really great years where the guys battled. It just wasn't in our fortune for us to be there forever. I had to take my opportunity to try and lead a team. And I'm enjoying every moment of it.
[Van Gundy] said 'you asked for it; you've always wanted to be the guy. You talked about it. You've gotta walk the walk.' He's been helping along this way, just continuing to pressure me to walk the walk ...
– Reggie Jackson, on coach Stan Van Gundy
Me: When the Pistons made the commitment this summer, what did that say to you?
RJ: It said they did their homework. It just said they had ultimate faith in me. You always want the opportunity, but it's not always presented to you. I think they did an extreme amount of work, my team, basically trying to figure out what the possibilities were out there. I think everything worked out in the right nature. It just meant a lot. Especially making the commitment they did. A lot of people didn't see myself being that type of player. It means they were telling people before it all started that they think I'm a very big piece to this, a major puzzle piece. For them to commit to me with that is necessarily saying it's more than just a sample size. It allowed me to go out to go out there this summer and put in all the work that I needed to and that I'm going to continue to need to to be a significant player in this league.
Me: What new tool did you put in your bag this summer to come back with?
RJ: I'm trying to improve my shooting, but I'd say mental. Learning how to try and be aggressive on a night in, night out basis. I'm still learning that. That's what I tried to focus on this summer, trying to be that player night in and night out.
Me: Is that something you can try and take from watching KD and Russell every night?
RJ: Oh yeah, that same focus. Especially Russ. He was locked in. I think everybody knows he's set with his routine. He finds a way to bring that engine night in and night out. It seems almost inhumane. But there's definitely a method to it, watching him. Because this game does take a lot out of you, especially to be that leader and that energy night in and night out. He does a great job for his team, and just watching him over the years, I think it'll help me and my future, just developing and playing with the same mentality.
Me: Have you changed your routine because of those new responsibilities?
RJ: I think just trying to silence the noise, give me time to find time to focus and study what's going on. I'm going to be out there a heavier amount of minutes trying to make things happen for the team so that we can be successful every night and we can be victorious. Just my routine of working out, so you've got to get into whatever you need to a lot quicker. It's about quality versus quantity. So I'm figuring out that I've got to cut down the time, but I've got to make sure the quality of my work is still second to none and peak at all time. Time is of the essence. You've got to use it.
--76ers' center Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid), Saturday, 12:24 a.m., showing off his new physique and mocking reports that he'd gained weight during his rehab from surgery, in part, by indulging a fondness for Shirley Temple drinks.
"Grit and grind is fading away. That stamp was marked by the defensive end and I can't say night in and night out we're gritting and grinding."
-- Memphis forward Tony Allen, speaking ominous words after another bad Grizzlies loss at home, on Friday, to Charlotte. The Grizz had already lost by 30 at FedEx Forum to Cleveland, by 16 to Golden State, by 15 to Atlanta, by 20 to San Antonio and by 37 (!) to Oklahoma City before falling 123-99 to the Hornets.
"I still hate it. I'll never embrace it. I don't think it's basketball. I think it's kind of like a circus sort of thing. Why don't we have a 5-point shot? A 7-point shot? You know, where does it stop, that sort of thing. But that's just me, that's just old school. To a certain degree, you better embrace it or you're going to lose. And every time we've won a championship, the 3-point shot was a big part of it. Because it is so powerful and you've gotta be able to do it. And nobody does it better than Golden State, and you know where they're at. So it's important. You can't ignore it."
-- Gregg Popovich, to reporters Wednesday, decrying the primacy of the 3-pointer in today's NBA.
"It was surprising because we were still so young. It's not like we were some old team with guys that needed to start over again somewhere fresh. I'm 26 years old. Dame is 25. Wes is only 29. [LaMarcus] just turned 30, and Robin Lopez just turned 27. We were still young. I thought we had another run."
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