A 7 post collection

Book Review: The Soul of Basketball

 •  Filed under book reviews, nba, bulls

If you jumped into a time machine to the Summer of 2010 and then the ensuing basketball season, there would be about three things you'd notice about me:

  1. I was always at The Gingerman (yes I know it's the GMan now, but it will always be The Gingerman to me)
  2. Basketball, specifically LeBron's free agency and the Chicago Bulls, were a constant topic of conversation both when I was sober and when I was not.
  3. I was working too much on a project in the Northern Suburbs of Chicago, so my outlet was basketball and alcohol. Two solid outlets based on points 1 and 2.

With those three things, it was a no-brainer that I was going to pick up and read The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA by Ian Thomsen. The book was about what I expected, which was that I wouldn't learn much new since I was one of those people that consistently refreshed Twitter for every morsel of information from July 1 2010 until that fateful day that LeBron James announced he would be taking his talents to South Beach.

But this book was able to tell me some new things. I didn't know much of Dirk Nowitzki outside of what he did on the basketball court, so a lot of the new information I learned was about him. The history of his training regiment, his internal anguish and how much he took his team's losses on him even though outwardly he always kept that same demeanor, and how he always felt like an outside. The one thing that shocked me the most is that during the Summer of 2010, not one team besides the Mavericks went and contacted Nowitzki. They were all chasing LeBron, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. But not one reached out to him. I don't think it was because they didn't think he was worth it, but because they assumed he was re-signing in Dallas no matter what. I can't count number of times I said while discussing NBA Free Agency while drunk with friends that the Bulls should just reach out and point Dirk to Huettenbar as a rectuiting pitch and see what happened. We knew he was staying there, but the fact no one called is just crazy. I mean why not try?

Thomsen obviously had great access throughout for this book and it showed in his reporting with all four of the major characters in the title. But I think he missed an opportunity to tell the full story of the 2010-2011 NBA Season by completely ignoring the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls were less than a supporting character in this novel, they were a two sentence piece during free agency and just a one sentence entry between Miami beating the Celtics and then getting to the NBA Finals against Dallas. I mean Derrick Rose was named the MVP that season pretty much because he wasn't LeBron, and that aspect of the season needed some attention on it. Also treated sort of like a by product of the season and not a real story was the Oklahoma City Thunder. They were a bit player in the Dallas run to the NBA Finals, but it would have been good to build them up more with their young core of Durant, Harden, and Westbrook that would be vanquished by Miami's Big Three. I felt both of these were storylines Thomsen could have and should have explored if he wanted to really talk about the soul of basketball and the "saving of the NBA".

Quick Review: 3 out of 5 stars.

A Perfect Example of Zach Lowe

 •  Filed under nba

Since I discovered him on Grantland, ESPN's Zach Lowe has long been my favorite writer on the NBA and I try to catch everything he does. It's not always easy, but when I do I always learn. I am just getting to December 29's 10 Things now, but this part on the TNT crew and what he thinks they should have done is a perfect example of what makes him the best. He doesn't just critique, he goes on to show what else this team could have done to make their criticisms even stronger.

I suspect Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O'Neal using the Wolves-Lakers Christmas game as a vehicle to hammer analytics did not go over well on NBA Twitter.
I didn't mind it. Those guys are entertaining. Between guffaws, they were actually having an interesting chat about the value of playing fast, Tom Thibodeau's minutes management, and the tradeoffs of having your biggest players -- and best rebounders -- shoot so many 3s.
My only wish: that during their lamentations over the (alleged) death of the post-up, one of them would mention how shifting illegal defense rules have made posting up so much harder than it was when they played. At one point, they reminisced about how Houston's championship teams used Hakeem Olajuwon's post game to draw double-teams, and manufacture inside-out 3s -- the "right kind" of 3s, in their view.
That was the perfect jumping-off point for a discussion about how rule changes unlocked better ways to defend the post! Defenses in the 1990s had to trap hard. Illegal defense rules (mostly) prohibited players from lurking in no-man's land to deny entry passes, swipe at the ball, or clutter those inside-out passing lanes Olajuwon exploited. Help defenders can do all of that today.
Every step of executing a post-up is harder now. There are few people alive more qualified than Barkley and O'Neal to discuss that. I wish they would.

This is how you do it.

Deadspin on Thibodeau

 •  Filed under nba

I don't like dwelling on the past, but the people that know me have known I have always had a softspot for the Minnesota Timberwolves. So I was exciting when they hired Thibs, and thought he would do there. I admit to watching their games and enjoying them, too. But this article probably neating summarizes the qualms many people have had with Thibodeau as a head coach for the Chicago Bulls, too.


The holy shit statistic to me was this one highlighted in the article:

According to the NBA’s stats site, Minnesota’s starting five—Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson, Karl-Anthony Towns—is the NBA’s most used five-man lineup, by miles. Through 28 games, that lineup has logged 167 more minutes—nearly three and a half more games—than any other lineup.

To me, I think this is the curse and wisdom of Tom Thibodeau. He wants to win every game and feels each game in December is as important to win as a playoff game in May. As a Bulls fan, this coaching style definitely ended up getting them the number one seed in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons. It was a great run, but it was also short-sighted. Sure, injuries happen. But you can work to minimize them through a concerted effort to rest players throughout the season as all modern sports science tells teams to do, and teams are now doing.

Side note: I think this article was actually written by John Paxson and provided to Jerry and Michael Reinsdorf before Thibs was fired.

Win #1

 •  Filed under nba, bulls

Sure the Hawks suck, but I will take a win anywhere I can get it with this Bulls team. I was working on a few things most of the night, so I didn't get to watch anything besides the final five minutes. Of course there was enough there to have some comments.

  • Why in any situation would the defender on Markkanen hedge towards one of the Bulls ball handlers in a high pick situation? I mean Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine, David Nwaba, and Kay Felder aren't going to be taking many people to the rim on a high screen ... so why even bother hedging on the screen and leaving Markkanen for a second? The play is designed to get him shots. But that's what Mike Muscala did for Markkanen's game sealing three. I bet Budenholzer will get on him in film session for that.
  • I know the Bulls offense is pace and space. But damn in the final four minutes when you are nursing onto a lead, the Bulls should not be jacking up threes early in the shot clock like they were playing a video game (or are the Golden State Warriors).
  • Robin Lopez's pass from the three point line to a cutting Justin Holiday was basketball poetry in motion. We won't mention the fact that it took about four cuts and a lot of running around for anyone to get close to being open for Lopez. And no one ran to the ball.

I like winning. It makes things more fun.

Thank you, The Athletic

 •  Filed under bulls, nba

Yesterday I complained about the Bulls beat writers, and specifically highlighted Nick Friedell and his blazer who has been covering this team since, I believe, before the Thibs era. But in the last two days, the beat writers at The Athletic have done just what I want them to do, focus on the now and not on the how we got where we are.

The recent hire at The Athletic, Darnell Mayberry, has been a refreshing read. He comes to Chicago after covering the Thunder and provides a much needed new perspective. His recent article, 10 takeaways from the Bulls' first three games, is everything I pay for from a beat writer. Just a snippet or two to show what I mean:

Two early areas of concern are Markkanen’s passing and his physicality. He has yet to register an assist despite ranking second on the team in minutes at 34 per game, and he’s turned it over eight times. It’s a very tough ask — and feels like nitpicking — for a 20-year-old rookie with three NBA games under his belt. But Markkanen’s improvement as a passer will only help make him a more lethal scorer because it would allow him to keep defenders off balance with his playmaking ability. But there’s a silver lining. It took Kevin Durant six seasons to log more assists than turnovers.
Some of Markkanen’s early playmaking and ball security issues remind me of a young Durant, who, when he wasn’t throwing it to the other team, often fumbled the ball off his foot or got stripped easily on drives to the hoop. Durant’s read-and-react recognition gradually improved, and there’s no reason to think Markkanen won’t also improve in that department as things slow down for him and he gets settled and becomes more comfortable in his feel for the game.

It's not that Mayberry compared Markkanen (I am going to have to remember that there are two K's and just one N. It's tough) to Durant, it's that he spent time thinking up the comparison. I don't think Lauri is going to be Kevin Durant, but I love reading about the parallels.

But Mayberry is not the only one at The Athletic Chicago. All summer I have been reading Stephen Noh, too. He has the history behind him, but once the season has gotten started he has focused on the floor, and I appreciate it. Of course he's also focusing on Markkanen, but there isn't much else given that LaVine and Dunn are hurt and there are only so many shenanigans Robin Lopez can do with mascots. A quick example from some of Noh's work on Lauri:

Coach Fred Hoiberg did some really nice things to get Markkanen going right away. The Bulls ran the same play, a popular NBA set called “Oklahoma,” to set Markkanen up for open 3-pointers twice within the first few minutes of the game.
Robin Lopez is the best screen-setter on the team, and the Bulls should use him a lot to get Markkanen open. The play worked like a charm twice in a row, giving Markkanen plenty of space to get his shot off. Kudos to Hoiberg for thinking of the best ways to get those two big men to play off each other.
Hoiberg also had Markkanen frequently setting screens away from the ball. That's another clever way to get any player open, and a couple of times Markkanen was able to catch the ball with a head start and with the defense off-balance.

So while the traditional beat writers and bloggers still wish we were in the past, I will be staying reading The Athletic and looking to the future. It's the only way to get through the season, but at least we have a direction.