It’s early, but the Bulls’, Grizzlies’ defenses not exactly impressive

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Last season the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies make playoff runs (Chicago to the second round, Memphis to the conference finals) based on defense. Both teams had enough offense to get the job done even if it wasn’t pretty (and it often wasn’t), but these were teams built around suffocating defense. That was their identity.

Which has made the start of this season odd in Chicago and Memphis.

You can’t draw sweeping conclusions from just three games, but it’s worth noting that so far the Chicago Bulls have been pedestrian while the Grizzlies have just been outright bad on the defensive end.

Chicago is allowing 100.7 points per 100 possessions so far, which is 15th in the NBA. Middle of the pack. Average. Not very Tom Thibodeau like.

That’s better than the Grizzlies, who are giving up 108.2, 29th in the NBA.

Memphis underwent a coaching change last summer — Dave Joerger was in, replacing Lionel Hollins for whom he had been the lead assistant. The hope with the move was someone who worked better with management, would keep the same defensive system in place while finding a way to add a little fluidity to the grit-and-grind offense that makes Memphis a team other teams hate to play against.

The offense is different, there is more movement, but with the focus on that end of the court the defense seems to have suffered. Check out this Zach Randolph quote from the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“This ain’t us,” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “I don’t know if we’re focusing on the offense or not, but we’re a defensive team and that’s what we’ve got to hang our hats on. And another thing is we’ve got to come out faster.”

Opponents are shooting 46.5 percent against Memphis, the seventh highest percentage allowed so far, but the real killer is teams are shooting 41.7 percent from three. The Grizzlies with that big front line led by Marc Gasol are still doing a solid job protecting the paint, but look at where the damage comes on their opponents’ shot chart.

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As for Chicago, the Bulls are getting beat more in transition and just on lack of focus issues — when the Sixers were storming back to beat the Bulls Saturday Jimmy Butler twice but burned on backdoor cuts. That’s not typical of the Bulls defense, which is known for its multiple efforts. Here is what coach Thibodeau said to the Chicago Tribune after Saturday’s loss.

“You have to get back as a team,” Thibodeau said. “You have to get set as a team. You have to communicate and respond to that communication. You have to finish your defense. It requires multiple efforts. If you don’t do that, you’re in trouble in this league.”

The good news if you’re a Bulls fans is that the 100.7 per 100 possessions allowed so far is not far off last season’s mark of 100.3, which was fifth best in the NBA. To start this season some teams are off to a hot defensive start, many of those squads will come back to earth while the Bulls can improve.

It just seems there are lot of things that need to get turned around in Chicago right now, and we didn’t expect the defense to be one of them.

Tom Thibodeau on Timberwolves not getting first-rounder in Jimmy Butler trade: ‘Getting good players was a priority’

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The Heat offered Josh Richardson and a first-round pick. The Rockets offered four first-round picks or Eric Gordon, Nene and two first-round picks. The Pelicans reportedly offered Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round pick.

But the Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler to the 76ers for Robert Covington and Dario Saric in a deal that included no first-round picks and Minnesota getting only one second-rounder.

Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau:

We wanted quality players. I think that that was important for us.

When you look at, to get two starters off a team that won 52 games, and they’re both young, and they’re going to get better, and they’re both very good defensively. They both shoot the 3, so we think they fit well with the guys that we do have.

And so once we once got to that point where felt we were getting multiple rotational players, then we felt it would be time to execute the deal.

It was what was best for the organization. Obviously, getting good players was a priority. But the pick part is important, and we felt we got a good pick from Philly.

It was what does it mean for the team? If you get two rotational players, that’s good. And then if you can get a pick, that allows you to do more things. And so I think that’s all part of it. You always try to think about what the possibilities could be.

Thibodeau might have taken the best offer for the the Timberwolves by the time he actually accepted a deal. Miami pulled the Richardson offer after his strong start to the season. Getting four first-rounders from Houston required taking Brandon Knight‘s negative-value contract, and it’s unclear exactly how the picks were protected. New Orleans has the best record of those three teams, so an unprotected pick carries less value.

But it’s also impossible to overlook Thibodeau’s present-minded attitude. That’s how he already approached everything. Now, he appears to be coaching for his job this season. Nobody ever expected him to prioritize long-term assets.

Covington and Saric are good players, but Minnesota was also 4-9 at the time of the trade. Are Covington and Saric good enough to lift the Timberwolves out of this hole and into the playoffs? It’s a tough ask. In 2020-21, Saric will be up for a big raise, and the Timberwolves already have a lot of money committed. They might have to downgrade the rest of the roster to keep Saric and avoid the luxury tax. This is a narrow window for Minnesota to get value from this trade.

That said, blame Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor for creating this situation. By allowing Thibodeau to remain in charge without much job security, Taylor is practically demanding Thibodeau emphasize the present. If Taylor wanted draft picks, he should have fired Thibodeau earlier.

Caris LeVert suffers injury so horrific, it brings teammates to tears and opponents to prayer (video)

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Caris LeVert has been one of the Nets’ biggest bright spots. The hard-working 24-year-old was a Most Improved Player candidate, and he seems well-liked throughout the organization. He’s even already hit a couple gamewinners this season.

But LeVert’s breakout campaign hit a devastating snag tonight, as he injured his leg.

The reactions of both his Brooklyn teammates and the Timberwolves say everything. This is a tough one.

Markelle Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.