Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown

We at Jordan Pushed Off recently (January 17th) had the opportunity to attend a game between the Chicago Bulls and the Spurs of San Antonio. The Bulls kept the score surprisingly tight, but eventually succumbed by five points, 92-87. Here's a helpful guide: The Spurs are 15-2 when they hold their opponents under 90 points. If you want to beat them, y'all need to score.

To illustrate why the Bulls are mediocre and the Spurs great, some simple video that we took from our upper-level seats may be instructive. Most of these clips were taken late in the fourth quarter, when the score was tied or within 3 or 4 points.

The Spurs are great because they have lots of options in their offensive attack. Their first option is to dump the ball into Tim Duncan in the post. If he’s paired with a weak defender like Drew Gooden, he’ll probably get an easy score:

If he's against a relatively stronger defender like Joakim Noah, Duncan is an excellent passer and he will toss the ball out to a perimeter player who is poised to do some damage. Here, Duncan’s pass finds its way to an open man who succeeds in drawing a foul:

If Duncan doesn’t have good post position, Tony Parker is excellent at driving to the hoop and tossing up a floater or a layup:

Otherwise, if Parker is not in the game, Manu Ginobili can always be relied upon to shake and bake and get loose for his deadly mid-range shots:

Finally, when all of the above are not working (or the Spurs just want to mix up their attack to keep the opponent guessing) the Spurs’ role players are well-trained to flip the ball around the perimeter with crisp lag passes that eventually induce the defenders to run around like chickens, leaving somebody open for a J:

(And let us note, of course, that the Bulls surely knew that these gambits were coming, but defensively could do nothing to stop them.)

Meanwhile, what tricks do the Bulls have up their sleeve? Luol Deng and Ben Gordon are in their fifth NBA seasons and should have developed some go-to moves and clutch reliability by now, but they really haven’t. The Bulls’ best tactic in crunch time is to give the ball to their rookie point guard, Derrick Rose, and hope for the best. Unfortunately, against superior defenders like the Spurs, his best is not good enough. Here, he hogs the ball for an entire possession, drives, and gets thwarted at the rim.

It got so bad for Chicago that with two minutes left, down by one point, they let Andres Nocioni (!) take over and play the hero. As you might expect, he failed:

Imagine a Bulls team featuring LaMarcus Aldridge instead of Tyrus Thomas; Tyson Chandler instead of Drew Gooden; Leandro Barbosa instead of Kirk Hinrich, JR Smith instead of Ben Gordon; Thaddeus Young instead of Joakim Noah. Instead, John Paxson, blessed, in a way, with multiple lottery picks, made one poor draft choice after another. To be sure, drafting is a gamble fraught with huge uncertainties, but when you repeatedly screw it up one year after another, you've got a problem.

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