51 Q: Is coach Fred Hoiberg the answer in Chicago?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Fred Hoiberg the answer in Chicago?

In the minds of a lot of fans and experts, the Chicago Bulls are the team best positioned to challenge to Cleveland for supremacy in the East.

You can credit Steve Kerr for that.

Or maybe you should blame him.

Last season, Kerr came into Golden State with no head coaching experience, following a respected coach who had won 51 games, put in a more up-tempo and motion-based offense, broke up the traditional starting lineup, kept the focus on the defensive end, and won a title.

This season, Fred Hoiberg comes into Chicago with no NBA head coaching experience, following a respected but headstrong coach who won 50 games, will install an up-tempo and more motion based offense, likely will change around the traditional front-court lineup, and is talking about keeping a defensive focus.

There are plenty of similarities.

Will that be enough to make the Chicago Bulls contenders?

Probably not. Because beyond the similarities, the Bulls have far more questions to answer than those Warriors did — specifically ones about age and what their key players have left in the tank. Plus, the Warriors were incredibly lucky on the injury front last season — is anyone willing to bet that happens with the Bulls?

Health of the players — specifically running them into the ground until they were tired and more injury prone — was the biggest sticking point between Tom Thibodeau and John Paxon, Gar Forman and the rest of Bulls management. In this case management was right. In an era where more and more studies are showing players perform better and their injury risk goes down with increased rest, Thibodeau coached from an old-school “if they’re healthy they can play” mentality. The result was Jimmy Butler playing a league-leading 38.7 minutes per game, followed by Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose all playing at least 30 minutes a game (and Mike Dunleavy was at 29.2.). We’d seen this Bulls movie before — they broke down physically and never fully recovered from their injuries. By the time the playoffs rolled around, they didn’t have the legs and health to truly threaten a banged-up Cavaliers squad.

We know this for sure — Hoiberg is going to rest guys. Minutes per game will go down, and there will be more nights off for guys who need it. Bulls players should be fresher come the playoffs.

The question is will that be enough to bring key guys back to near their peak form? Noah, Gasol, Taj Gibson, Kirk Heinrich, and Mike Dunleavy are all 30 or older, and while Rose is 27 there is some heavy mileage on those legs. Even with more rest, at the age of these players injuries are more likely. The bigger question becomes, is a little more rest going to return Rose and Noah close to the level of a former MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively?

That is the one key difference between Kerr’s and Hoiberg’s situations — Kerr took over a young team with guys like Klay Thomson, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and others. Those players are early in their career, relatively healthy, and still taking big steps forward in levels of play each year. Kerr had a team primed to improve, to grow, if the right coach came along.

Hoiberg takes over a Bulls squad that has been a borderline contender for five years now. Even rested, how much more are Rose, Noah, Gasol or Gibson are going to improve? We know who and what they are.

That said, Hoiberg should be able to put guys in better positions to succeed. The Bulls are going to play faster — Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams loved to push the tempo then run drag or double drag screens early in the clock — and that can get guys in better matchup before the defense sets. Gasol and Noah can set a double-drag for Rose, with Noah rolling to the rim and Gasol popping out for a jumper, and you can imagine how that is hard to defend if Rose is his old self. His half court sets have a lot of weakside movement, which is a needed change. Younger players such as Tony Snell, Butler, promising rookie Bobby Portis, and even Nikola Mirotic could thrive off the bench in this system.

The one interesting fit will be Gasol. As we saw at EuroBasket this summer, he operates best in the post or the elbow, where thanks to his fundamentals he can score or beat teams who collapse on him with great passing. But Hoiberg’s system doesn’t run a lot of post ups. If Gasol is relegated more to the perimeter, does this become a situation more like Mike D’Antoni’s Lakers where they struggled to find a fit for Gasol? Probably not, Hoiberg will be flexible, and expect them to try at times to get Gasol the ball deep in the post early in the clock when he beats his defender down court. Still, Gasol’s fit is something to watch.

One thing to expect — Hoiberg to shake up the Noah-Gasol combo, pairing one with Mirotic and one with Gibson in the rotation (then trying to find a spot for Portis). That alone has the potential make the Bulls front court more dynamic. The Gasol/Noah pairing is a little too slow for what Hoiberg wants to run.

As for defense, I don’t expect a big drop off — as much as scheme, Thibodeau’s defense was built around out-working the other team, and that kind of mentality doesn’t instantly fade away. Hoiberg may tweak the system, but the Bulls defense should still be top 10.

Hoiberg is going to bring needed changes to Chicago — ones Thibodeau was too stubborn to implement (in part because of his feud with the front office).

Will it make the Bulls better? Maybe, Thibs is a good coach and Hoiberg is unproven; we’ll have to wait and see.

Will it have them fresher come the playoffs? Almost certainly.

In that sense, Hoiberg is the answer the Bulls have been looking for.

But that answer doesn’t automatically lead to contention for a title. This is still an aging Bulls roster with some Thibodeau-level miles on the key players, and no matter what Hoiberg does it’s hard to imagine him lifting this team up past a healthy Cavaliers team.

It’s going to be interesting to watch them try, however.

Andre Drummond gets elbowed, loses tooth, kicks chair out of his way (video)

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Andre Drummond keeps looking ornery.

His Pistons stink. He’s in the midst of trade rumors, though apparently not headed to the Hawks or Knicks. And he was on the wrong end of Thomas Bryant‘s hustle during Detroit’s loss to the Wizards yesterday.

Drummond got elbowed in the face and lost a tooth. Then, while exiting the floor, he kicked a chair out of his way.

Drummond:

It was surprising Bryant didn’t get called for anything, especially because Pistons forward Markieff Morris had already been ejected for this flagrant 2 on Davis Bertans:

LeBron James on fan throwing item at Bronny during game: ‘Just disrespectful’

Bronny James
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LeBron James‘ son, Bronny, has an incredible amount of attention on him for a high schooler.

Unfortunately, someone took it too far while Bronny was playing a game in Massachusetts yesterday. A young-looking fan threw something at Bronny during a game.

LeBron:

LeBron, via ESPN:

“I didn’t see it or hear it, actually. While I was on the opposite side of the floor, I did see the referee stop the game or stop the inbound, and the cop came up there,” he said. “I didn’t even know what happened until the video evidence showed me when I got here.

“It’s just disrespectful, and it was a little kid too. I don’t know how old that little kid was, so I don’t know if he learned that on his own or if he learned it at home. Whatever the case may be, it’s disrespectful. I wonder how old that kid is, if he is the age around Bronny’s age [15] or [James’ son] Bryce’s age [12]. I’d like to see them try that while they’re paying attention.”

You can hear LeBron as a parent in these words, wondering the age of the thrower and where he learned the behavior.

It’s a shame the fan acted this way. Hopefully, someone teaches him a lesson about why this was wrong.

Three Things to Know: Don’t take Damian Lillard for granted, he explodes for 61 points

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Damian Lillard explodes for 61, reminds everyone he is elite. It’s not so much that Damian Lillard is forgotten by fans around the nation as much as just taken for granted. Because he plays in the Pacific Northwest and doesn’t end up on national television all that often, and because he’s been consistently so good for so long (but without the Trail Blazers being seen as a real threat to win a ring), fans sleep on him being one of the best and most entertaining guards in the NBA.

Not on Monday.

On Martin Luther King Day, Lillard reminded everyone just how special he can be scoring 61 points, knocking down 11 threes, and scoring seven in overtime to make sure Portland beat Golden State in a showcase TNT game.

The Warriors threw every defense they could find at Lillard: Double teams, a few triple teams, and most of the night Warriors players would pick him up full court. It didn’t matter. Lillard looked every bit the guy who finished top six in MVP voting the past two seasons, the All-NBA guard the last two seasons (and likely a third in a row this season), the guy who just can’t be stopped when he is on. Lillard scored 42 through the first three quarters, added a dozen more — including some clutch threes — in the fourth, then had seven more in OT. It was a virtuoso performance.

Lillard will likely get taken for granted again by fans this season, especially on a Portland team that is 19-26 and made a trade over the weekend — sending Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, and two second-round picks to Sacramento for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel, and Caleb Swanigan — that was about cutting the team’s luxury tax bill in half. It also signaled to the league the Blazers would be sellers at the trade deadline, looking to get out of the tax entirely. (Expect for Portland to try and ship out Hassan Whiteside in a money-saving trade next.)

It’s a trade that largely waved the white flag on the season. Maybe things go right, Jusuf Nurkic comes back and Portland makes a push up to the final playoff slot in the West — and that’s a big maybe — but they are not a postseason threat this year.

Just don’t wave the white flag on Lillard, he’s still one of the game’s elite guards.

2) Kemba Walker owns LeBron James (at least once in the last 29 games, but he’ll take it). Kemba Walker, toiling away his career in Charlotte on teams where the dream was just making the playoffs, never seemed a threat to the LeBron James juggernauts in Miami and Cleveland. LeBron had beaten Walker 28 consecutive times.

Monday it was Walker’s turn.

Boston crushed the Lakers in a game that had fans flipping over to America’s Got Talent because there was more drama on that stage than the TD Garden. The Celtics took charge with a 12-1 run in the second, grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.7 percent of their missed shots for the game (led by Ennis Kanter), got 20 points from Walker and 27 from Jayson Tatum in a “don’t you dare leave me out of the All-Star Game” performance, and cruised to a 139-107 thumping of the Lakers. Boston led by 14 at half and the entire fourth quarter was basically garbage time.

Jaylen Brown dunking on LeBron pretty much sums up the night.

After that play, Brown stared down LeBron and got a technical — I hate that tech. Let the players show some emotion, let a little trash talk go down. If we wanted emotionless performances we’d put on a Keanu Reeves movie.

“I ain’t going to lie, that was pretty nice, pretty awesome,” Brown said after the game (via the AP). “LeBron, he’s gotten so many other guys. Just to be out there against one of the best players to ever play the game is an honor. I always like that matchup and it gives me a little extra boost.”

For the Lakers, this is a was a “flush it and move on” game that happens to every team over the course of a season. I’d be careful reading too much into this one game. Anthony Davis returned from his bruised tailbone but looked rusty. LeBron was just off, the Boston defense took Los Angeles out of their flow, and the Lakers stood around a lot and didn’t move off the ball. Marcus Smart had a good defensive game, Tatum’s length helped on that end, but mostly this was just an off night for the Lakers. There are questions about this Los Angeles roster, but one night in Boston didn’t tell us much about them.

3) Russell Westbrook now has a triple-double against every team in the NBA. Before MLK Day, only LeBron James had recorded a triple-double against every franchise in the NBA.

Russell Westbrook, welcome to that club. Monday he scored 32 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds against the one team still on his list — the Oklahoma City Thunder, for whom he had played up until this season.

Much like Lillard (mentioned above), we tend to take for granted just how impressive a player Westbrook is — triple-doubles are hard to come by and he just racks them up like they’re his birthright. We need to take a step back and admire what Westbrook does. we’re not going to see the likes of him for a while.

Westbrook’s play didn’t turn around Houston’s slump. The Rockets fell to the Thunder 112-107, that’s four losses in a row and 5-of-6 for the Rockets. In a tight West, these kinds of streaks can damage playoff seeding and Houston needs to right the ship quickly.

Friends reach out offering help after disturbing video of Delonte West surfaces

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Delonte West battled bipolar disorder during his eight NBA seasons, a career that was cut short in part by a series of actions likely tied to his condition.

He’s been out of the league since 2012, but his challenges have not changed. Over the weekend, a disturbing video of West being attacked and beaten on a Washington D.C. street surfaced. It was followed by a second video showing West handcuffed and apparently talking to the police (or waiting to talk to them), where West used graphic and disturbing language to accuse another man of pulling a gun on him.

In the wake of that, West’s former St. Joseph’s teammate Jameer Nelson posted this on Twitter:

West’s former coach at St. Joseph’s Phil Martelli followed that us, as did others on social media.

Others who knew West also chimed in:

Let’s hope West gets the help he needs.