Author: Matt Moore

Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, Joakim Noah

The Inbounds: The Chicago Bulls can defy expectations again. Is that a good thing?

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

The Bulls were supposed to be a middle-seed in 2011, maybe a 4 or a 5 seed. They took the No.1 overall seed in the East.

Chicago was supposed to be hampered by injuries, particularly those to Derrick Rose in 2012, falling back maybe to a 2nd or 3rd seed. Again, No.1 with a bull-et. (Get it? Because they’re the Bulls? And it’s a Bull-et? Get… OK, sorry.)

This year, Rose is out recovering from ACL surgery, as highlighted extensively by Adidas, and most are not targeting them for a top-four seed, expecting a fall back to the pack. They revamped their roster in terms of the bench and many feel not for the better. Carlos Boozer’s another year older, Luol Deng had a long, hard summer, and Kirk Hinrich is starting at point guard.

But let’s think about this for a minute. Is it really smart to dismiss not only what the Bulls accomplished, but how? The Bulls the past two seasons have not succeeded based on superior talent, in truth. Yes, Luol Deng has really improved offensively and put himself in the top 5-10 of players defensively. Carlos Boozer is so overrated hes’ underrated, and suffers from the same kind of misconception that Joe Johnson deals with. Joakim Noah is very quietly, ironically, one of the better centers in the league at both ends of the floor. They have the talent, but they also have the system. Thibodeau relies on veterans making veteran plays offensively and a barbed-wire trap surrounded by landmines as his defensive construct. Anyone can be good defensively in Thibodeau’s system, or at least invisibly poor, because all you must do is what you’re taught and do so with emphasis and effort. You can be as unskilled or slow as any player in the league, and if you learn the things he teaches, you’re going to be good enough to not be a problem on the floor.

Put it this way, the Knicks can’t put Steve Novak on the floor for stretches because if they do, he leaves them vulnerable defensively, despite Woodson’s excellent defensive coaching. Novak could exist in the Bulls’ system, and while still a liability, be less of one.

So if your liabilities aren’t really liabilities and your strengths are still strength, why are we so quick to shove the Bulls off the top rungs of the Eastern ladder? The Heat will be resting stars as they always do, the Celtics, much the same. Indiana is certainly a threat but it’s hard to argue they’re better than the Bulls at their best. So why can’t the Bulls win the division, and get a top seed?

There’s no reason. That’s how good Tom Thibodeau is. (Which makes the Bulls’ continued all-too-typical wrangling with him over his contract all the more maddening, and that’s all I’ll say about that for now.)

But there’s a question beyond that. Is that what Bulls fans should want? Is that what the Bulls organization should want? Is that the best outcome for them?

It’s hard to say that the Bulls are overachieving if this is the third year they would reach that kind of height, but it’s still true. They’re playing at a level which defies pretty common rational analysis of how good they are, as a sum of their parts. A team can definitely reach higher as a composite and is more than just the individual talents. But is it this much? The results of the playoffs would indicate no. You can toss out last year, sure, if you want to go with Rose’s injury and the emotional impact on the team leading to the loss to the Sixers, but remember, that same team had problems with Indiana, always in close games in a short-but-fierce five-game series, then really had some emotional swings vs. Atlanta, before finally winning Game 1 vs. Miami and looking unstoppable, then getting railroaded like Wile E. Coyote. They just needed a little white ACME sign.

The Bulls need so much to go their way, for Boozer to play as an elite player he’s never really been, for Deng to shoot the lights out when he’s a good but inconsistent mid-range shooter, for the bench mob to constantly overwhelm opponents with hustle (or veteran savvy, I suppose, this year, with the bench significantly different). They can still look really good but eventually, they’ll run up against a mirror that shows how good they really are, and when that comes, they tend to mix down to about the team we thought they’d be in the beginning. It doesn’t take away from what Thibs has done, if anything, it emphasizes it. But we also can’t realistically look at this team as a title contender, and if that’s the case, what’s the point?

The maddening part is that Rose’s injury leaves so much in the air. If the team gels and plays together, it’s going to excite the team and its fans, prompting more belief. If they don’t somehow reach the impossible dream, then it will be crushing, but still be filled with “Well, Derrick wasn’t really back yet.” Rose’s injury causes a constant level of self-doubt, not only towards any positive regard for the team, but for any criticisms as well.

There’s no real way to evaluate the Bulls, other than “really good, but probably not a title team.”

A year in which they did not reach expectations, did not exceed them, just kind of slumped to a close could bring another lottery miracle, a younger player with talent at the least. It could force changes from the front office desperate not to waste Rose’s youth, and a move to amnesty Boozer. There could be change and progress, versus the current results which are just good enough to be able to justify not making any sort of bold move. How do you say “we have to get better” when you were the best team in your conference?

And the answer to that is “by examining the level of superstar talent you need to win a title in today’s NBA.” Rose is a special talent, regardless of his limitations, and has a remarkable future ahead of him. But another year of taking a hammering in the playoffs, fresh off his recovery, would work contrary to the long-term goals.

The Bulls are stuck between a Rose and a hard place, and the only way to facilitate change may be for them to not do the thing they’re best at: playing at a level far beyond what may be sustainable in the playoffs long-term.

Iman Shumpert could be back in December

Iman Shumpert,  Ryan Anderson, Dwight Howard,  J.J. Redick

The Knicks are going to miss Iman Shumpert early this season. Of that there can be no doubt. He’s got too much athleticism and defensive ability, and they need some youth on a roster with a world full of older guys.

Shumpert’s out following ACL surgery and his prognosis has put in a wide variety of possible return dates. But the New York Times reports that based on his progress, he could be headed back to the floor before the end of the year.

All signs Saturday suggested that Shumpert’s rehabilitation this off-season has gone well. He will still miss the start of the regular season, but it appears Shumpert could possibly return in December if his recovery is ahead of schedule.

Last week, Shumpert said he hoped to play in December, but that he doesn’t want to come back too early from his injury.

via Shumpert, Walking Without Limp, Says He Is Feeling Fine –

A December return would be very helpful for the Knicks since that gives him time to get his conditioning up in time for the playoffs. But Shumpert has so much career in front of him, there has to be a great deal of patience shown. They can’t let the future get ahead of him, but they have the depth with Ronnie Brewer and J.R. Smith to be careful.

If they can get him back even by January, that sets them up well to have him integrated and at least 80 percent by the time the playoff starts. They need all their weapons if they want to reach as high as they have set their goals.


One week to training camp… Russell Westbrook will once again kill the rim

Russell Westbrook

The wait is almost over. We’re just a week away from training camp, and the start of the 2012-2013 NBA season. Basketball is almost back. As we get closer we’ll be bringing you reminders of why this game is awesome, what you’ve missed, and what to look forward to.

Russell Westbrook is proof that basketball can be violence can be art.

Some players don’t really put a lot of their personality into their game. Tim Duncan is robotic and clinical, when in reality he’s likeable and funny, for example. But you get the feeling watching him dunk that its’ always some sort of anger management. If he just kills that rim hard enough, people will see how good he is, stop questioning if he’s the problem with the Thunder, stop calling him Robin.

For the rest of us, though, it’s just fun.










NBA community reaches out in Chicago to help peace efforts

Joakim Noah France

In August, 10 people were shot overnight. In one night. In September, there were  eleven homicides in five days. The murder rate always goes up in the summer, in an unfathomably, heartrendingly simple example of how simply our worst instincts can be expressed. Much of the violence this summer has been attached to gang violence, or, an emerging term, “clique” violence, according to NPR. I can’t pretend to understand the socioeconomic conflicts that constitute what is going on in inner city Chicago, but I do know some people, including several with NBA ties, are trying to help.

Steve Aschburner of reported from the Peace Basketball Tournament, an effort to bring awareness and open lines of communication to try and stop the violence. And at the center of the event was a familiar face:

Last month, (Isiah) Thomas marched with Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina to raise awareness about gang violence and Chicago’s soaring murder rate. This time, Thomas – along with Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Quentin Richardson, Zach Randolph, the Chicago Bears’ J’Marcus Webb and others – was trying to bridge the gap between rivals with basketball, using the celebrity of the sports stars to deliver messages about, well, communicating.

“It’s a historical event where the gangs are coming together and they’re going to play a game involving peace, to stop the killing,” Thomas said. “Murder has run rampant in Chicago the last couple years, but gangs are calling a truce for this. By getting them to come together and play a sport, they might come to know each other. We believe it’s hard to kill someone if you get to know him.”

via Chicago Gangs Give Peace Hoops a Chance « | Hang Time Blog.

The event centered around a basketball tournament that split teams by joining up members of rival gangs. Having those kind of players who not only are star athletes they can look up to, but who have a connection to the city and understand what goes on there. And as Pfleger said:

“These cats comin’ down tells these brothers, ‘We care about you. We love you,’ ” Pfleger said. “You see the reaction. People are so thrilled, so excited. This isn’t happening at the United Center. This is happening on 79th St. That’s the key.”

via Chicago Gangs Give Peace Hoops a Chance « | Hang Time Blog.

These events go unnoticed, because that’s how we’re conditioned. This post will get substantially less traffic than whatever explosive nonsense quote we put up in the next 24 hours. And maybe that’s a failure on our part to highlight these things. But its’ a shared responsibility. Fans, regardless of where they’re from or what their lifestyle is, need to take note of these efforts. Awareness needs to be raised, because there’s a war going on and we desperately need to bring more attention to it in order to construct more conversation and then resources to solve these problems.

Addendum: This is yet another indication of the complex figure that is Isiah Thomas. You’re not going to find any lack of criticism for Thomas in my work, not only for his work with the CBA and the Knicks, but with his behavior in regards to the lawsuit against MSG. But there is no denying the strong connection and trust players have with him, nor the way he’s tried to be a positive force for communities and in the lives of players. You can’t paint someone with one brush, and his work in Chicago, which stems from his mother’s contribution (seriously, read the above) is just the latest in the roaming dialogue you can have on any given day about him.

Could LaMarcus Aldridge win MVP? Well, no, but let’s talk about it anyway

LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol

Welcome to today’s “There’s a week left until training camp and I’d chew my own arm off if it meant I could blog about it” post.

Blazers Edge posted a link to a story on Rip City Project on Saturday night. It contained the following passage regarding LaMarcus Aldridge and a possible MVP bid:

It never ceases to amaze me how we go into seemingly every NBA season now with the hopes that Aldridge will finally get his due, but it never quite seems to materialize in the way that it should.  Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are the flashy up-and-comers whom most NBA fans seem to recognize and heap praise on. And although Aldridge is every bit as good (and probably better) than both of them, he never seems to get the respect he deserves.  Maybe that’s due in part to growing up in the NBA with Roy and Oden as far more recognizable teammates, but if so, the time for that is past.  Last season, the Blazers cut the cord with their past, and chose to move into a new era that has Aldridge as the central figure.

Sometimes perception is just as important as numbers when you talk about someone having an MVP-type season.  While Griffin and Love may put up bigger numbers, neither guy is as good as Aldridge on defense, and his arsenal of offensive attacks is far more vast than what either of his counterparts has to offer. Part of that is due to having more years in the league to develop, but because of Aldridge’s more well rounded game, the other two guys should not be mentioned before him in MVP talk.

Now, I’m not saying he will win an MVP, but wondering if he’s capable of having an MVP-type year.

via LaMarcus Aldridge: MVP Candidate, or Borderline All-Star? – Rip City Project – A Portland Trailblazers Fan Site – News, Blogs, Opinion and More.

Now, I’m not here to beat up on a small fan blog for posting a supportive piece about a player. The tone is pretty common on the series of tubes. “The media/people who don’t follow the team I like don’t understand how good the players are on the team I like and instead like other players as if they watched all the games and not just those of the team I like and therefore do not have enough information and they, not I, are woefully uninformed.”

But what I thought was interesting is the discussion of numbers versus versatility.

The way the above argument is framed, Love and Griffin have flashier numbers and that is why they receive the attention. In reality, Aldridge is considered less because of the issues with his numbers, not the superiority of Griffin’s and Love’s. Aldridge’s rebounding is in fact an issue. A lot of that is because of his role in the Blazers’ offense. You can’t throw out the usual pace argument, though, because his True Rebounding Percentage (percentage of all available rebounds snagged) still fell woefully behind Griffin and Love’s. That’s an issue.

But the core there is the versatility argument. Aldridge has more post moves than Love or Griffin, has the face-up jumper and some moves off the dribble (though Love’s versatility is pretty strong considering his range). Do we underrate versatility? You might be able to make that argument when we look at the candidacy of Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, even Steve Nash. But LeBron James kind of renders that point irrelevant. His strength lies not just in his brilliance, but in his versatility. That first point though, is where Aldridge gets tripped up.

He doesn’t shoot at an elite level. He doesn’t rebound at an elite level. It’s not enough to be able to do more than one thing if you don’t do any one single thing at a level which can be considered the best on any given night. He’s elite in the post so you can consider that, but it’s hard to really focus on that given how pitiful the Blazers’ offense was and how much they needed that, though that shouldn’t necessarily eliminate him. But the field goal percentage still hurts him there.

Now that I’ve made it seem like LaMarcus Aldridge is lacking in so many regards, let’s clear this up.

Aldridge is a fantastic player. He is the sun and the moon for the Blazers, and he’s remained so since his rookie season, despite the franchise constantly billing Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, then Nicolas Batum over him. He’s been an All-Star worthy player the past three years and yet still took so long to nab his spot. He doesn’t complain in the press, he doesn’t show up his opponent, he has an actual drop-step hook and he goes out and guns it every night when the Blazers aren’t tanking. He’s worthy of being on the list of consideration. He just can’t be considered a serious contender, because of the level of play in this league. It says nothing bad about Aldridge that he’s not on the serious list. It just says a lot about those who are.

And in the end, considering how he approaches the game, and his life, and the level of headaches he provides those around him, I’d rather have him than a lot of other candidates anyway.