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Return of Thomas will helpBulls turn up the D

Bulls legend Scottie Pippen won six world championships during his 12 seasons in Chicago and was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in 1996. Now, he’s back to write a regular analytical column at Bulls.com and share his thoughts on the team and NBA.
Scottie Pippen at Bulls.com

Tyrus Thomas

"The return of Thomas won’t turn things around all by itself," writes Pippen. "But he will help their defensive effort. His ability to defend and control the paint can go a long way. He has always played bigger than he is and he possesses great jumping ability and speed. He can anticipate as a defender and that is going to give the Bulls an opportunity to be in close ballgames a lot more than they have been during last month or so."

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As 2009 comes to an end, we have to remember there is a lot of basketball still to be played in the NBA this season. The Bulls are not where they want to be and I’m sure that is something they are addressing every day internally. But this team is still in the mix for a playoff spot. And I haven’t seen anything that can’t be addressed or corrected if the players are still willing to compete and work.

The chemistry that they have been forced to put on the floor this last six weeks doesn’t make it easy. Playing Joakim Noah and Brad Miller together is fine because they are both solid players, but they don’t necessarily give you what you need. Miller is great at hitting an outside shot, but he doesn’t have much athleticism. They are missing a guy who can go block shots, get loose balls and have an impact on the defensive end of the floor. That’s one important element of what they’ve been missing. To have some additional athleticism and size on the court would go a long way.

That brings us to Tyrus Thomas, of course, who is set to return this weekend. He’ll make a difference for the Bulls. Losing him in early November seemed to hurt the team’s confidence that it was starting to build. The Bulls were 3-2 at the time and had just won in Cleveland. They were playing good basketball and it was because of their defense. When you look at the last six weeks, they’ve been fairly consistent from an offensive stand point. It’s the defense that is lacking—you don’t see as much knocking loose balls and blocking shots as you did at the start of the season. Without those things have come the struggles. This isn’t an exceptional offensive team, so they need to be strong on the defensive end of the floor. When the losses start to pile up, as they did on the team’s west coast trip, the frustration starts to set in and there can be a trickle effect that begins. Guys start taking bad shots. They try to force plays. They look for opportunities that may not be there and only make matters worse.

Scottie Pippen

"Without Michael, we were a team without a great bona fide scorer," Pippen wrote of playing without Jordan. "But we had a system that we ran pretty well and we all knew how to get our shots. We played as a team, a cohesive unit, and that helped us win."

Vinny Del Negro said it this week, there is no savior on this team. The return of Thomas won’t turn things around all by itself. But he will help their defensive effort. His ability to defend and control the paint can go a long way. He has always played bigger than he is and he possesses great jumping ability and speed. He can anticipate as a defender and that is going to give the Bulls an opportunity to be in close ballgames a lot more than they have been during last month or so. If Thomas can help the team rebound the ball better, that helps start the break more quickly and they can take advantage of some of the more mobile players on the roster. Big guys like Thomas and Noah want to run as well; they aren’t looking to slow the pace or make the guards wait. Hopefully Thomas getting back into the mix helps in those areas and leads to some easy baskets. At a minimum, it will certainly improve their depth, which clearly has been thin at times this season.

I was fortunate to play on a lot of winnings teams and never experienced what the Bulls are going through as a player. But I do remember the times we played without Michael Jordan. We obviously knew what we were missing and we knew we had to make up for it. I felt a lot of that fell on my shoulders and tried to do more with my athleticism and anticipation. Those things play a huge role for teams that are faced with adversity. Without Michael, we were a team without a great bona fide scorer. But we had a system that we ran pretty well and we all knew how to get our shots. We played as a team, a cohesive unit, and that helped us win.

Every player in the NBA will tell you they want to win. But when it comes down to guys knowing what to do and doing what it takes, you might be surprised at the number of players who are not there. Whether it’s a player who is older or one who has had a lot of success already, some players are simply content with being in the NBA. What the Bulls need now are players that compete and fight no matter how tough things get. No matter how many losses are suffered, every night is a new night. If you are willing to play hard and try to bounce back by doing something that maybe you didn’t do in the last game to get better, that kind of mentality will take you a long way. I still see that in this Bulls team. They are young and they do care. They still have something to play for and they want to make it to the playoffs, which is entirely possible in the Eastern Conference. Whether you’re a starter or a reserve, I hope this Bulls team shows some pride. I know it’s not easy when you’ve suffered some bad losses as it’s easy to get knocked off the track, but they simply cannot lose focus and accept losing.

Teams that truly care about winning and getting better will turn it around. Everybody is talking about this situation needing change. At the end of the day, whether it’s a coaching change or a trade that is made, that doesn’t have an impact on what is happening on the basketball court. It doesn’t change what is expected out of the players. They still have to go against talented opponents and they still need to bring it night in and night out. The game and its challenges won’t all of a sudden become any easier with change. It’s still basketball and it comes down to effort on a consistent basis.

One thing I have noticed is that on offense, the ball rotation is such that guys are not getting to the basket enough. It is almost as if the floor is too spread. When there are opportunities to be aggressive and get to the basket, especially with a guy like John Salmons, it seems that he can’t do it because he sets up too far away. He is a player who can help the Bulls as far as getting to the lane and drawing fouls. Salmons’ numbers are down this season and I think things will turn around if it steps it up in this area. He’s a legitimate scorer and he proved that last season. Being more assertive on the offensive end and getting to the foul line will slow things down for the team. It will allow them to talk and communicate as a group. They’ll have a better feel for what they want to do on the defensive end. A lot of times, these games go by so fast for the players that they’ll find themselves down double digits before they really get a break and know what hit them. Salmons needs to re-gain some of the confidence he played with last season. When he came to the Bulls in February after the trade, he came in with something to prove, almost as if he wanted to show Sacramento they shouldn’t have given him up.

With Salmons and every player, they should ask themselves what they need to do to help this team get better. Do they need to get to the foul line more often? Are they hitting the offensive boards like they should? Is the team getting steals and doing the little things on the defensive end? I don’t mean to single out Salmons by any means; this needs to be a collective effort from top to bottom for the Bulls to get moving in the right direction. There are several winnable games for the Bulls in the coming weeks and we will have a better idea what this team is made of soon enough.


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