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.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

Associated Press
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Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.

Devin Booker’s 3-point-contest victory bright spot for Suns (video)

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Los Angeles – Devin Booker‘s Suns have the NBA’s worst record (18-41).

“I think everyone is fed up with the losing, from the top to the bottom of the organization,” Booker said this afternoon. “So, for us, it’s what’s next?”

A 3-point contest victory.

Overcoming Phoenix’s poor record to draw an invite to All-Star Saturday Night, Booker won the 3-point contest with a whopping 29 points in the final round.

That score left little margin for 2016 champion Klay Thompson, who capped the event with a 25-point round that was otherwise the night’s high. Clippers forward Tobias Harris, in his new home arena, finished third.

Booker was all smiles after the rare victory.

“Season not going how we planned, but I know a lot of the city was ready for this All-Star Weekend, having somebody participate,” Booker said. “So, I’m glad I could win it.

Where he and the Suns go from here is still questionable, but he has a plan.

“I’m going to win the dunk contest next year,” Booker said. “No, I’m just kidding.”

Full results

First round

Klay Thompson 19

Devin Booker 19

Tobias Harris 18

Wayne Ellington 17

Bradley Beal 15

Eric Gordon 12

Kyle Lowry 11

Paul George 9

Second round

Devin Booker 29

Klay Thompson 25

Tobias Harris 17

Spencer Dinwiddie not just happy to be here, wins All-Star Skills Contest

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LOS ANGELES — Anyone who knew the Spencer Dinwiddie story knew not to count him out when he looked down.

That was true when at Colorado he had played his way into the first round of the draft, maybe the 2014 lottery, until an ACL injury derailed him. He had to battle back from a devastating injury, push his way back through the then D-League to the NBA, and wait for his chance. When he got it this season in Brooklyn (after the Jeremy Lin injury) he grabbed it and has had a quality NBA season for the Nets.

So when Dinwiddie was behind the Kings’ Buddy Hield in the first round of the All-Star Saturday Night Skills Contest, he needed a little help. Dinwiddie got it when Hield missed his first three (you have to close out the race with a made three), Dinwiddie caught up and drained his on a pull-up jumper.

Forget the fact Dinwiddie is shooting 28.5 percent on pull-up threes this season, he did the same thing to Jamal Murray in the semi-finals.

Dinwiddie boat raced Bulls’ rookie Lauri Markkanen in the finals when the big man struggled with the passing skill and got so far behind it was over.

“It’s big for me to even be at All-Star Weekend considering the road that’s been in my career, very up and down, Dinwiddie said. “Obviously being in the G-League both on assignment and as a G-League player, thank you to the Brooklyn Nets for giving me this opportunity to play and be here.

Then it all really feels and seems full circle because I got to come home and do it in front of my family.”

Dinwiddie was born in Los Angeles and played his high school ball at Taft High School in Woodland Hills (in LA’s San Fernando Valley). He went against the likes of Jrue Holiday and DeMarre Carroll, and he learned some hard lessons there.

It’s all paying off now for Dinwiddie, who has proven he belongs in the NBA.

And that he’s got skills.