Joakim Noah

The Bulls miss Joakim Noah on offense. Seriously.

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Do you want to know one key reason advanced statistics have found a foothold in the NBA front offices? Because they give you evidence to challenge your beliefs and understanding of the game. It can confirm or make you re-evaluate what you think you know. And a good GM is always questioning everything.

For example, when Joakim Noah left the Bulls to have thumb surgery, they were going to keep on scoring just fine with Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer. Where Noah would be missed is on defense. Right?

Wrong.

Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated’s Point Forward blog looked at the numbers since Noah went down and found just the opposite.

Using Hoopdata.com’s points per possession metric (which differs slightly from the one I usually use — on Basketball-Reference), we see Chicago has scored just over 103 points per 100 possessions this season. That’s just about league average.

Since Noah was sidelined, Chicago has hit that mark just six times in 14 games despite an incredibly easy schedule, and they’ve come in at 102 points per 100 possessions or worse — the equivalent of a bottom-10 offense — in seven of those 14 games. Toss out one huge outlier — their 121-76 destruction of the Sixers last month — and the Bulls’ offensive numbers without Noah look even worse. Their defense, meanwhile, has shot to the top of the league in points allowed per 100 possessions.

Why? Well, one reason is what you’d expect — the Bulls are not as good an offensive rebounding team with Noah. The fall off is not dramatic, but it is felt.

The other reason Lowe found is less obvious — the Bulls three-point shooting has gone missing. They are taking two fewer threes a game and are shooting just 30.5 percent since Noah went down. That could be just random coincidence (14 games is a small sample size so you can see big streaks like that) or it could be that having a big man who can roll to the rim opens up some better looks on the perimeter. Either way, it has hurt the Bulls scoring.

The Bulls will be without Noah for another month, maybe more. They need to find a way to get the offense working again.

The defense by the way? Never better.

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.