NBA Playoff Preview: Chicago vs. Indiana

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SEASON RECORDS
Bulls: 62-20 (No. 1 seed in East)
Pacers: 37-45 (No. 8 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Bulls 3-1, with the Pacers winning the most recent when Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough just took over.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Bulls: Off. 105.4 (12th in NBA); Def. 97.4 (1st in NBA)
Pacers: Off. 101.8 (23rd in NBA)’ Def. 103.5 (12th in NBA)

THREE KEY BULLS:

Derrick Rose: The soon-to-be MVP is pretty much everything to the Bulls offense — he is the guy they run off screens to get shots, he is the guy they give the ball to in isolation. What will be interesting in this series, and particularly as the playoffs move on, is how the Bulls adjust when teams make it a priority to get the ball out of Rose’s hands.

Luol Deng: He is key in two ways: 1) He will get the defensive matchups on Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy Jr., the two guys the Bulls will key on stopping; 2) He is the difference between the Bulls having an average offense and a good one. Rose will get his, as will Carlos Boozer most nights, but when Deng gets going with them the Bulls offense is infinitely harder to stop.

Taj Gibson: The Bulls depth — and the ability of that depth to control Mike Dunleavy and Josh McRoberts off the Pacers bench — will be one of their keys in this series. Gibson (or whoever the Pacers put on Dunleavy) needs to make him work on defense as well. Which means attack the rim, when Gibson spots up he is far less dangerous. He needs to use his athleticism and attack.

THREE KEY PACERS

Danny Granger: Indiana has got to find a way to score on the Bulls stout defense, and Granger is the guy most capable of creating his own shot and knocking it down. His game has taken a step back this season — he is not shooting at as high a percentage, he is turning over the ball more — but simply put he must have a monster series for the Pacers to have any chance.

Darren Collison: No one man can stop Derrick Rose, it takes a team effort. But Collison is the first line of defense. He has to guide Rose to help, he has to create turnovers and make life hard for Rose, and when the Pacers decide to trap or take other steps to get the ball out of Rose’s hands, he cannot let Rose just split the double and waltz inside. The other key for Collison — holding on to the ball. Collison can be a turnover machine, particularly when he is handling the ball on the pick-and-roll. The Bulls are one of the best pick-and-roll defending teams in the league. If he turns the ball over and the Bulls get easy points in transition, the Pacers will not be able to keep up.

Mike Dunleavy Jr.: The Pacers take a lot of jump shots and Dunleavy is their best guy curling off screens and on catch-and-shoots — the things the Bulls are going to make very hard but the Pacers have to execute to have a chance. He has to get looks and he is going to have to knock down some contested shots for the Pacers to have any chance. And he should put the ball on the floor too (which he is better at than people think, he’s got a pretty rounded game).

OUTLOOK

The Bulls are the league’s best defensive team; the Pacers are a pretty good defensive team. So rule one, bet the under. The key here is the Pacers are not a good offensive team either and what strengths they do have play right into the hands of the Bulls defense. That showed in the regular season meetings when the Pacers mostly struggled to score.

Indiana likes to run guys off screens, have them pop out to open spaces for quick shots or to get room to attack — you can bet the Bulls will bump guys off those lines in this series. Chicago will grind it out, take Pacers players off their preferred lines. Also, the Bulls close out hard on shooters, taking away clean looks. Indiana needs to find a way to get some easy buckets.

The best way to attack the Bulls is to get out in transition — the Bulls are not a great transition defense team. Once you let them get set in the half court they are a wall. Problem is, Pacers do not like to get out and run, and they’re not good at it when they do.

On the other end of the floor, the Bulls are going to do what they do, which is run Rose off a series of screens and put him in isolation and get enough points. The Pacers will have some success slowing this, they are a good defensive squad. But will it matter?

Indiana did beat the Bulls once this past season — the Bulls had one of their worst interior defensive games of the season and Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert combined for 44 and 19. Want to bet on them being able to do that four times in seven games?

PREDICTION

The Pacers just do not have the offensive firepower to hang in this series. It’s going to be a low scoring series. Also expect some ugly games. But the Bulls are the better grinders.

Bulls sweep, 4-0.

NBA’s minor league to offer $125,000 salaries to not-yet-draft-eligible 18-year-olds

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The NBA will lower its age limit to 18, effectively ending the one-and-done era.

Eventually.

In the meantime, the best option for most top players leaving high school is college basketball. But while the NBA takes its time changing a rule (that it never should have implemented in the first place), the NBA’s minor league will offer an alternative route.

G League release:

The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.  The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.

NBA G League Select Contracts are designed for year-round professional growth and will include opportunities for basketball development, life skills mentorship and academic scholarship.  These offerings are slated to include basketball workouts during the summer months through existing NBA infrastructure like NBA Summer League and NBA Academies, year-round education programs designed to increase players’ ability to personally and professionally manage their careers, and a scholarship program for athletes who want to pursue higher education after their playing days.  Additionally, the NBA G League will further enhance player experience through existing partner relationships and NBA player development programming.

The $125,000 salary is nice and a sizeable jump from the standard minor-league salary, which these players were already eligible to receive. Select Contract players can also sign endorsements and receive loans from agents while remaining eligible to play, unlike in the NCAA.

But it’s not as if college basketball players aren’t compensated. Though their compensation is limited by the NCAA cartel, players still get tuition, room and board and cost-of-living expenses. And of course many get under-the-table money, too. The value of that compensation – particularly the tuition – varies by person.

Access to NBA infrastructure could swing some players, but that also comes with risk. Older professionals could expose younger, even more talented, players. Experience and physical advancement matter.

So does the stage. Top college-basketball players are nationally recognized stars who appear regular on television and are revered on campus. Minor-league players are relatively anonymous and play in mid-sized cities away from much fanfare.

There’s still plenty to sort out, and the details could affect how many players enter this new program out of high school. But it’s nice they have another option.

It’d be far better if they could just declare for the NBA draft if they feel they’re ready.

Anthony Davis challenging Michael Jordan as best opening-game player on record

AP Photo/Michael Wyke
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Anthony Davis called himself the NBA’s best player.

He sure backed it up last night.

Davis posted a 32-16-8-3-3 to lead the Pelicans to a 19-point win over the Rockets, considered by many to be the NBA’s second-best team. The performance immediately vaults Davis to the forefront of any MVP discussions.

But for him, it was just par for the course. Davis has repeatedly dazzled in season openers. When 18-6-2-3 qualifies as the dud, you know Davis is doing something right.

Davis’ box scores in New Orleans’ first game each season:

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That makes Davis’ average season-opener game score 24.1, one of the best ever. Only Michael Jordan has a higher mark on record (since 1983, as far back as Basketball-Reference records go; minimum: three games).

Here are the leaders:

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Obviously, Davis cares more about how he finishes than starts. The Pelicans have made the playoffs only twice with him, getting swept in the first round in 2015 and falling in the second round last season.

But it should be clear by now: Davis comes to play as soon as the season tips.

PBT Extra: Boston can be team to dethrone Golden State Warriors

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I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve seen it on NBA Twitter. I’ve debated it with sports talk radio hosts.

“This NBA season is already decided, nobody has a chance against the Warriors.”

Not true.

Boston has a shot, as I get into in this PBT Extra.

Absolutely the Warriors are the odds-on favorites to win it all, if healthy they should three-peat. They were my pick. But I believe Boston has a legitimate shot to dethrone the Warriors — they have the wing athletes, the switchability on defense, the scoring, the versatility. A Boston/Golden State Finals is going six or seven games… if we get there. It’s just day two of a long season.

But I believe in Boston.