NBA

Coverage of pro basketball, with emphasis on the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks.

 

Gasol

The Chicago Bulls came into this summer’s blockbuster free agency period with one big target on their minds, unfortunately for them, they came away with a “Plan B operation.” While it was disappointing not to land one of the most proficient scorers of the past decade, it may go down as the best alternate plan in Chicago basketball history.

The Bulls challenged Carmelo Anthony to turn down more money than most of us will ever see in our lives for the opportunity to contend for a championship with a former MVP, the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, and a top five head coach. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson challenged Anthony to return to New York where he will play on a brutal team, BUT, with a nice fat paycheck coming his way.

Most realistic fans and analysts knew the chances of Anthony coming to Chicago were slim, however some thought maybe, just maybe, there was a possibility Melo wanted to silence his critics who say, “he will never be the best player on a championship team.”
However, it was not meant to be, and Anthony returned to the Knicks with a five-year, $124 million deal, which left Bulls fans wondering why [the Bulls] aren’t able to land the big free agents.

A valid question when you consider the front office’s failures throughout the last decade to lure top free agents to Chicago, instead settling for consolation prizes such as Eddie Robinson, Ron Mercer, and most recently Carlos Boozer.

So, with Melo following the money back to New York, what would the Bulls do next? What was their plan B? In the time it took for Anthony to make his decision most of the smaller fish free agents were already scooped up.

The Bulls decided to move on to their alternate plan, which included the 34-year old, 7-foot Spanish Forward, Pau Gasol. Gasol, a four time All-Star, had spent the last 6 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and won two championships with the team, while also becoming one of Kobe Bryant’s all-time favorite teammates. Rumors of mutual interest between him and the Bulls had been swirling for about five years.

On Friday, the Bulls officially welcomed Gasol to Chicago with a press conference where he discussed how excited he is to compete for a championship in the new look Eastern Conference.

“It was a gut feeling. I thought Chicago was going to be the best fit for me,” said Gasol. “It’s a great challenge, but I’m driven by challenge. I look forward to it.”

While it was a solid pickup for the Bulls, would it be enough to make them the favorites in the new look East?

The Bulls, even without former MVP Derrick Rose, managed to win 48 games and make the playoffs for a sixth straight season last year. However, they once again struggled to find scoring at the end of games which was made loud and clear in their playoff series loss in 5 games to the Washington Wizards.

The good news for Bulls fans is that Gasol is an upgrade over Carlos Boozer. When the Bulls signed Boozer away from the Utah Jazz they had expected him to be a force, executing the pick-and-roll with Rose, much like he had been in Utah with then Jazz point guard, Derron Williams, running the show. The problem with that was Boozer had gotten older, lost a step, and instead settled for 16-18 foot jumpers.

With Gasol, the Bulls will not have to worry about finishing at the rim. Gasol is 3-inches taller, so he will be able to finish against bigger and stronger defenders, something Boozer struggled to do in Chicago. Gasol can also knock down mid-range jumpers and is able to keep defenders honest.

The Bulls are also excited about Gasol’s passing game. While Boozer and Bulls’ center Joakim Noah worked well together down low, Boozer averaged 2.9 assists per 100 possesions, Gasol averaged 5.2 and has not dipped below 3.0 since the 2003-04 season.

So, why were so many fans upset? Well, first of all Gasol is not really a guy who can create his own shot, and he is not going to average 28 points per game, even in his prime that would be unrealistic. Gasol is also 34 years old, and is coming off a season in which he battled foot injuries throughout the year. Also, while Gasol is a force defending under the rim (1,1484 career blocks), you would still figure it would be Taj Gibson and Noah closing out games at the 4 and 5, because they are tremendous defenders and work well together as rim protectors. But, the players who start and finish the game are the least of the veteran’s worries.

“I don’t know how it’s going to unfold,” Gasol said, “you know, who will be the starter, who’s finishing? Maybe we change as we go. We’re going to see once we get everyone out there together. We’re always going to do what’s best for the team.”

Bulls head coach, Tom Thibodeau, was not ready to discuss minutes just yet either. “It should be good,” Thibodeau said. “Pau is conflicted. One minute he wants short minutes, one minute he wants long minutes. We’ll find the right amount.”

The Bulls did not find their shot creator, so instead they have attempted to build a team similar to this seasons NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs beat the Miami Heat and LeBron James without having a “Melo” type player. They won with floor spacing, ball movement, and surrounding point guard, Tony Parker, with great three-point shooters.

With a healthy Derrick Rose playing the part of Parker, the possible return of sharp-shooter Mike Dunleavy, (at this time he is still with the team), second-year player Tony Snell, (who struggled at times last season, but has been looking improved in summer league), and the rookie, Doug McDermott, the Bulls hope to be a mirror image of last years Spurs team and improve on last seasons .348 three-point shooting percentage which was the worst in the league.

To add to the lineup they have been preparing, the Bulls also introduced European star, Nikola Mirotic, on Friday. Mirotic, (who was acquired by the team in a draft-day deal in 2011 from the Houston Rockets), signed a three-year, $18 million deal to play with the Bulls. Since it has been three years since he has been drafted, he does not have any obligations to a rookie contract.

While it is unclear how long it will take for Mirotic to pick up the NBA game and earn Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus trust, Bulls management is very confident in his ability to space the floor and knock down shots from the perimeter as a “stretch four”. On Friday, Thibodeau acknowledged Mirotic as being a real fit for the Bulls.

“He’s a big who is extremely skilled,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a spacing 4 who shoots the 3 very well. He’s versatile in that he can play inside or outside. He has a high basketball IQ and a good motor.” Last season, Mirotic shot 50.8% from the field and 46.1% from three-point range in 31 games with Real Madrid of the Lega ACB last season.

The Bulls offseason may not have gone exactly the way their managment and fans had hoped, but the team will still begin the 2014-2015 campaign as one of the favorites to come out of the East. While the Bulls will be much improved this season it will all come down to Derrick Rose staying healthy, and if he stay healthy throughout the season and be prepared for the playoffs, the Bulls will go as far as he will take them.

Full Audio from Fridays Press Confrence

mcbuckets

In what looked like a match made in Heaven, the Denver Nuggets drafted Doug ” McBuckets” McDermott with the 11th pick in Thursday night’s 2014 NBA Draft.

The Nuggets are known for their run and gun style, high scoring, and lackadaisical defense. McDermott is known for his offensive instincts, terrific 3 point shooting, and at times, well lackadaisical defense.

The Chicago Bulls, who are known for being a gutty, hardworking, defensive minded team, saw something special however, enough to package picks 16 and 19 as well as a 2015 second-round pick for the rights to McDermott, who general manager Gar Foreman grew very fond of over the past few seasons.

“What excites us about Doug is we feel he’s more than a shooter,” Forman said. “He’s a guy who is crafty with the ball, can create his own shot, can go in the post some, has a quick release whether it’s from the perimeter or outside.”

McDermott finished his career as one of only three men in NCAA history with 3,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his four years at Creighton, where he also played for his father.

While many people have ripped McDermott for his defensive efforts, most of that could be a reflection on just how much of the offensive load he had to carry at the college level. “McBuckets”,as nicknamed by fans, quickly became a fan favorite not only at Creighton, but with the Bulls organization as well.

Coach Tom Thibodeau worked with McDermott last summer for USA Basketball and saw much more than just a long range shooter

“If you view him as strictly a shooter, you’re not casting the proper light on him,” Thibodeau said Thursday night.

On paper the Bulls solved one of their biggest needs by drafting a shooter, (the team shot an awful 42 percent from the field, and an even more disgusting 33 percent from 3 point land) but the trade for McDermott, as well as possible moves to come, all serve as part of the “big picture plan”

The Bulls are planning on doing everything in their power to acquire free agent Carmelo Anthony, but other moves need to be made before this is possible.

The Bulls would possibly only free about $11 million of cap space, if they used the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer. So more transactions, and lucky bounces will have to occur this summer for the Bulls to add another superstar.

In the second round the Bulls selected Cameron Bairstow from New Mexico, who averaged 20.4 points per game last season, and will attempt to follow in former Bull and fellow Australian big man Luc Longley’s footsteps.

Below is all of the audio from Tom Thibodeau, Gar Foreman, and new Bulls forward Doug McDermott.

joakim-noahFrom the Chicago Bulls and news wires….

NEW YORK, June 4, 2014 – The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, the 2013-14 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player and winner of four scoring titles in five seasons, highlights the 2013-14 All-NBA First Team.  Durant was the lone unanimous selection, appearing on all 125 ballots as a First-Team pick while LeBron James of the Miami Heat garnered 124 First-Team votes.

Joining Durant and James on the First Team are Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls.  Harden and Noah captured First Team honors for the first time in their careers.  Paul is an All-NBA First Team selection for the fourth time.  Durant makes his fifth appearance on the First Team, while James earned his eighth All-NBA First Team nod.

Durant averaged a career-best 32.0 points to go with 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists, also a career high.  In capturing his fourth scoring title, he joined Jordan (10), Chamberlain (seven), Gervin (four), and Allen Iverson (four) as the only players in league annals to win at least four scoring titles.  He shot .503 from the field, .391 from three-point range, and .873 from the free throw line, leading all players in free throws made (703) and attempted (805).  Durant authored two 50-point games, topped the 40-point mark on 14 occasions, and turned in 17 games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds.

James shot a career-high 56.7 percent from the field this season, marking the seventh consecutive season he has improved his field goal percentage.  He connected on 116 three-point field goals, the second straight season he has made over 100 three-point field goals while shooting at least 55 percent from the field.  He posted his ninth 2000-point season, becoming only the fourth player in NBA history to accomplish this feat, joining Karl Malone (12), Michael Jordan (11) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (9).

Noah, who appeared in 80 of Chicago’s 82 games, ranked sixth in the NBA in rebounding (11.3 rpg), 12th in blocks (1.51 bpg) and added 1.24 steals.  He was one of just three players (Detroit’s Andre Drummond and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis) to average at least 10.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals.  Behind Noah, the Bulls held opponents to a .430 field goal percentage, second-stingiest in the league.

Paul led the NBA in assists (10.7 apg) and steals (2.48 spg), while averaging 19.1 points and 4.3 rebounds as the Clippers won a franchise-record 57 games.  Paul became the seventh player in NBA history to top the 6,000-assist plateau before the end of his ninth season.  He’s only the fourth player in NBA history to reach 6,000 assists before his 29th birthday, joining Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and John Stockton.

Harden finished fifth in the NBA in scoring (25.4 ppg), and added 6.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds. He was one of only two players (LeBron James) to average at least 25.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds.  He finished second in the NBA in free throws made (576), topped the 30-point mark in 24 games and registered two 40-plus outings.  Harden also ranked fifth in the NBA in minutes (38.0 mpg).

The All-NBA Second Team consists of guards Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, forwards Blake Griffin of the Clippers and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves and center Dwight Howard of the Rockets.

The All-NBA Third Team includes the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard and the Phoenix Suns’ Goran Dragic at guard, the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George and the Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge at forward and the Charlotte Hornets’ Al Jefferson at center.

For the first time this season, complete media voting results for each NBA annual award will be posted on nba.com/official following the announcement of each winner.  The All-NBA Teams were chosen by a panel of 125 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada.  The media voted for All-NBA First, Second and Third Teams by position with points awarded on a 5-3-1 basis.  Below are the results of the voting for the 2013-14 All-NBA Teams, with First Team votes in parentheses.  The balloting was tabulated by the independent accounting firm of Ernst & Young LLP.

 

2013-14 ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM

 

Position                             Player, Team (1st Team Votes)                   Points

Forward                             Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City (125)                         625

Forward                             LeBron James, Miami (124)                                       623

CENTER                          JOAKIM NOAH, CHICAGO (101)                  551

Guard                                James Harden, Houston (73)                                     502

Guard                                Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers (86)                                     540

 

2013-14 ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM

 

Position                       Player, Team (1st Team Votes)                            Points

Forward                             Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers (5)                             350

Forward                             Kevin Love, Minnesota (2)                                    237

Center                                Dwight Howard, Houston (9)                                 226

Guard                                Stephen Curry, Golden State (65)                          489

Guard                                Tony Parker, San Antonio (14)                              210

 

 

2013-14 ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM

 

Position                          Player, Team (1st Team Votes)                    Points

Forward                             Paul George, Indiana (4)                                        171

Forward                             LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland (2)                          159

Center                                Al Jefferson, Charlotte (4)                                       191

Guard                                Goran Dragic, Phoenix (1)                                        115

Guard                                Damian Lillard, Portland (2)                                    115

 

 

Other players receiving votes, with point totals: Carmelo Anthony, New York,86 (1 First Team vote); John Wall, Washington, 70; Tim Duncan, San Antonio, 63 (1); DeMar DeRozan, Toronto, 56; Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 40 (1); Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas, 37 (1); Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City, 32 (1); Kyle Lowry, Toronto, 29; DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers, 21; Roy Hibbert, Indiana, 17; Marc Gasol, Memphis, 16 (2); DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento, 14 (1); Kyrie Irving, Cleveland, 7; Dwyane Wade, Miami, 6; Mike Conley, Memphis, 4; Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City, 4; Zach Randolph, Memphis, 4; Joe Johnson, Brooklyn, 4; Lance Stephenson, Indiana, 3; Ty Lawson, Denver, 2; Paul Millsap, Atlanta, 2; Chris Bosh, Miami, 1; Andre Drummond, Detroit, 1; Monta Ellis, Dallas, 1; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio, 1.

 

spurs

spursIn a bit of NBA news that should surprise no one, the San Antonio Spurs are really, really good at basketball. After dismantling the hapless Sixers Monday night, the Spurs win-streak reached fourteen games. Over that stretch, the Spurs have beaten playoff teams such as Miami, Chicago, Portland, and Golden State by an average of 13.5 points per game. Their dominance this season is predicated on a perfect blend of basketball artistry and a system that exploits the weaknesses of their opponents. The Spurs, long deemed a “boring” team to watch, are the most aesthetically pleasing team to watch in the NBA today.

Marco Bellinelli Shotchart

Marco Bellinelli Shotchart

The Spurs are an offensive powerhouse. No player on the Spurs averages over 18 points per game, yet the team ranks seventh in scoring. No player averages more than 6.5 assists per game, yet the Spurs are first in assists per game. No player has gaudy statistics because everyone knows their role. Players like Marco Bellinelli, Boris Diaw, and Patty Mills thrive for the Spurs because they play in a system that emphasizes their respective strengths. For example, the Spurs have engineered their system to create open three-point opportunities in the corners. Marco Bellinelli, an excellent three-point shooter, has been put in the position to shoot these corner shots. He has taken advantage of this opportunity, hitting 46% of his corner three attempts.

In addition to taking advantage of the strengths of their roster, the San Antonio’s offense has used crisp ball-movement to dominate offensively. The Spurs are an unselfish team that is maniacal about creating the best scoring opportunity possible on every possession.Watch in this clip as the Spurs whip the ball around to generate an open look.

While the shot was missed, one can see how the Spurs adept passing can get the defense caught in problematic rotations. Their ability to move the ball is aided by a roster that features big men who are quality distributers. Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw are both above-average passing bigs. The Spurs can thus run an offense that takes advantage of Duncan and Diaw’s passing abilities to create scoring opportunites. San Antonio’s offense features a lot of off-ball cutting action. As you can see in this clip, the Spurs will use one of their bigs in the high-post to pass to open cutters.

San Antonio’s passing prowess creates open looks that increase offensive efficiency. The Spurs are the best three-point shooting team in the league at 39.8%. They also have the second highest true shooting percentage at 57.4%. The Spurs’ offensive percision and potency leaves opponents searching for ways to slow them down. To this point, no one has discovered the formula.

The Spurs ultimate success relies on several players who are advanced in age. Consequently, Head Coach Greg Popovich will probably elect to sit certain players before the playoffs begin, likely bringing an end to the streak. Still, one does not need to rely on a winning streak to realize how dominant the Spurs can be. Streak or no streak, the Spurs have established themselves as the elite team in the NBA.

durant and lebron

durant and lebronWe are in the midst of one of the best NBA MVP races in recent history. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are engaged in an epic fight for supremacy. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, it appears both players are going all-in on earning the award. Thus, we are likely going to see more see situations like the one in Charlotte where LeBron personally destroyed the Bobcats franchise. While it is a two-man competition for MVP, it is still important to note the performance of a handful of other players that have had fantastic seasons. So I have decided to formulate my list for the top five MVP candidates this season, including my opinion on who leads the Durant/LeBron debate.

Before we start, here are a few players who are putting together great season but did not crack the top five. I have also included some short notes as to why they did not make my list.

Dirk Nowitzki- Another fantastic year, but his numbers aren’t quite there.

Kevin Love- Crazy-good numbers, bad team.

Carmelo Anthony- Crazy-good numbers, horrendous team.

Dwight Howard- Putting together a great two-way season, but hasn’t been dominant.

As for the Top Five:

5. Stephen Curry

The Numbers:

  • 24.1 points  and 8.8 assists per game
  • 193 three-pointers made, most in the NBA
  • 615 points off of pull-up shots (Any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took 1 or more dribbles before shooting). 139 more points than the second highest pull-up total, per NBA.com.

The Impact:

During his 2010-11 MVP season, Derrick Rose averaged 27.1 points and 7.7 assists per game. Curry has put up very similar numbers this season, carrying the Warriors to a 36-24 record. Curry’s MVP case is aided by the inconsistent play of his supporting cast this season. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes have failed to make “The Jump” like many expected, leaving Steph to shoulder more of the offensive load for Golden State. In addition to his strong numbers, Curry is one of the most exciting players to watch in the game. Few players around the NBA cause Twitter eruptions like Steph does. Probably because few players can do things like this.

4. Joakim Noah

The Numbers:

  • 12 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game
  • Opponents shooting just 44.5% on shots at the rim when being guarded by Noah, eighth best in the league, per NBA.com

The Impact:

Noah’s numbers are solid, but they only tell a fraction of his impact on the Bulls this season. Noah has helped write one of the most unexpected storylines of the year. After losing Derrick Rose and trading Luol Deng, the Bulls appeared destined for the lottery. However, Noah and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau would not let it happen. The Bulls are now 33-27 on the year and have won eight of their last ten games. They will likely end up as the three seed in the Eastern Conference and will be a pain in the ass for the Pacers or Heat to play in the second round. Chicago can thank Joakim Noah for staying relevant in what looked like a lost season.

3. Blake Griffin

The Numbers:

  • 24.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game
  • Shooting 53.2% from the field, ninth best in the NBA, per NBA.com
  • Shooting a career-high 70% from the free throw line

The Impact:

Chris Paul’s injury on January 3 produced a fork-in-the-road moment for the Clippers. Would they hold their ground in his absence and maintain a top seed in the West or would they slip in the standings and end up with an unfavorable playoff matchup? The Clippers needed Blake Griffin to step up in Paul’s absence and lead the team. He produced with flying colors and the Clippers went 13-5 with CP3 out of the lineup. Not only was a Clippers collapse diverted, but Blake established himself as a top MVP candidate. His play has drastically improved from past seasons. Griffin has developed a solid low-post game with multiple moves on the block. He has become a reasonably dependable shooter from mid-range and the foul line, forcing defenders to respect those facets of his game. Finally, while he has always been an above-average passer, the Clippers are allowing him to make plays with the ball in his hands. This is especially evident on the fast-break, as you can see in the following clip.

 

As for numbers one and two on my list, let us compare the following players:

Player A- 37.3 mpg, 27.5 ppg, 58.3% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 7.0 rpg, 6.4 apg

Player B- 38.4 mpg, 31.6 ppg, 50.7% FG, 39.6% 3FG, 7.7 rpg, 5.6 apg

How the hell do you choose one?

What if we compare memorable moments?

Player A is LeBron James and B is Kevin Durant. The race for MVP, like their numbers, is incredibly close. Durant appeared to have the early lead, putting up video game numbers with Russell Westbrook out of the lineup. However, LeBron has roared back in the last four weeks, including a career-high 61-point face-melter against Charlotte. They are the two best players in the world, playing arguably the best basketball of their respective careers, and doing so on two of the top teams in the NBA.

What makes this race even more enjoyable is the competition level between LeBron and Durant. It seems as if they are fueled by media discussions about who is the MVP. When one player seems to gain an edge, the other responds with a huge game. It’s as if their box scores are battling one another from across the country. As fans, we are the beneficiary of this fantastic theater. It is important that during all of the debating about who is the MVP, we take a step back and enjoy these two players playing the game at unbelievable levels.

Let’s get to it. The MVP standings at this point in the season are…..

2. LeBron James 

The Impact:

LeBron is having another phenomenal year. His efficiency has been particularly impressive this season. He is the only non-center with a top five field goal percentage and his  66.2% true shooting mark is second best in the league, per NBA.com. Amid frequent lineup shuffling and injuries, LeBron has been the sole point of consistency for Miami. Now, the Heat are surging, having won nine of their last ten games, and they have the look of a team hunting for the one seed in the East. Thanks to LeBron, they will probably capture it.

1. Kevin Durant

The Impact:

Durant is putting together the strongest all-around season of his career. As I have outlined already this season, Durant’s playmaking and defense have improved drastically. Like Griffin, Durant was put in a position where he had to carry his squad without a key teammate. It was during this period when Russell Westbrook was injured that Durant solidified his MVP case. Despite Westbrook rejoining the lineup in recent weeks, Durant is still putting up monster numbers, averaging 32.6 points per game in the five games since Westbrook has returned. As long as Durant continues to get his 20 field goal attempts per game, he will keep putting up dominant numbers.

 

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