Saturday, January 31, 2009

Signs of Life

Okay, so blowing out two of the league's worst teams (even on the road) is no great shakes, but when your accomplishments have been as few and your failures as great as the Bulls' this season, this is a pretty decent-sized reed to hang your hat on.

It's been nice to see Deng once again begin to resemble the player who I was once so excited by. (Seems like eons ago.) And it's not just the increase in his scoring; He's been getting to the line almost five times a game this month; he'd previously only been getting there around 3. His rebounding this month has skyrocketed to 8 per game, up from a meager five. And he's been active in passing lanes defensively, nearly doubling his steals this month to almost 2 per game. (Although perhaps this is a mixed blessing; it seemed to me that, at least in the 2nd quarter of the Minnesota game, Rodney Carney was abusing Deng with back cuts to the rim; that stretch might've very well cost the Bulls that game.) Nevertheless, this is the player the Bulls were expecting when they shelled out $70-plus mil. this summer; If Deng can maintain this level of play for the rest of the season, I'll be feeling a lot better about that extension.

But the bigger treat during this recent stretch has been Joakim. Over the past six games, Noah is nearly averaging a double-double, with 9.5 ppg (on 62.5% shooting) and 9.3 rbg, while blocking more than 3 shots a game. (Although those blocks, too, can be a mixed blessing, as KD astutely pointed out the other day.) Take away the Toronto game (where Noah did most truly and profoundly shit the bed) and his numbers over this stretch would be even better.

What's the difference? Well, certainly he's probably finally in game shape at this point (and let's hope he's learned his lesson about staying in shape in the off-season). But the real difference is minutes. When Noah plays around 25 minutes or more (and he's been around 30 in this recent stretch), he is a perfectly adequate and productive NBA center. Period. Indeed, compare him against Drew Gooden at the position, and you find that Noah is almost as productive and that the opposing team's centers are considerably less so against Noah than Gooden. On that front, it'll be interesting to watch tonight's matchup with Shaq. For all the manhandling Noah might receive on the defensive end, he should be able to offset much of that if he runs the floor like he did against the Kings last night.

One last thing: I thought this quote from Orlando GM Otis Smith w/r/t Jameer Nelson was interesting: "I always said: 'Name me 10 guys that are better.'" Something to keep in mind with Ben Gordon. I'd say Kobe, Wade, Roy, Ginobli and Joe Johnson, for sure. Some older cats (Ray Allen, Vince, Rip) might be somewhat more productive, but they'll be declining soon. You've got some dudes who might be more productive, but have injury history (Monta, Kevin Martin, Michael Redd). Mayo might be, but he's not there yet. In any event, I'd say it's certainly arguable Gordon's one of the top 10 SGs in the NBA. As far as our position players go, you can say that about Rose and...anyone else?

7 Comments:

Anonymous bullshooter said...

When Noah is playing well and earning his minutes, can you name 10 better? Of the guys who are actually centers, and not PF's like Gooden playing out of position I'd say Noah is right at the cusp already. That's mostly due to the fact there are only about 15 true centers left in the league though. And he didn't get abused by Shaq nearly as much as I thought he would.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous bullshooter said...

You could probably make the Top 10 argument about Deng, too. Looking at the numbers, he's right in the middle, and if he keeps playing the way he has been since coming back from injury, he'd be up there. The Top 10 might not be the argument to make. Top 5 are the guys worth going after and worrying about. Being on the cusp of the Top 10 means you'll probably be able to get a multiyear contract, but it doesn't mean a lot more than that. Looking at where Deng and BG are compared to the others at their position should help you realize how mediocre they have been this year. BG's numbers outside of scoring are all actually bad compared to the Top 20 guys based on PER. http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/statistics?sort=per&qual=true&pos=sg&seasonType=2&action=upsell&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fnba%2fhollinger%2fstatistics%3fsort%3dper%26qual%3dtrue%26pos%3dsg%26seasonType%3d2 . He's number 14 on the list. His Ast and Reb ratio are two of the lowest, his TO ratio is one of highest. And other teams target him on defense. You could just as easily make an argument that he shouldn't be starting and should be sixth man.

3:24 PM  
Blogger BenGo07 said...

Actually, I think your Hollinger link strengthens my argument somewhat. Look at some of the dudes ahead of Gordon on that list. Iggy plays some two, but I consider him much more of a three (as does his coach: http://www.82games.com/0809/08PHI6.HTM#bypos), so I would take him off. Scratch off Redd, Martin and McGrady due to their trouble with injuries, and Gordon's now in the Top 10 in Two Guard PER. Among starting two guards, he'd be in the Top 8, right behind Ray Allen.

Now look at the seven guards ahead of Gordon: Do you think any of them are available? With the possible exception of Vince (whose skills are in decline), I doubt it.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous bullshooter said...

That also makes my point. BG's PER is ~16, just slightly above average. He's replaceable because you can easily get that kind of production from somebody else. Top 5 is what means something. And it's always how much guys produce, not where they end up on the list.

6:16 PM  
Blogger BenGo07 said...

It's plus 16 (after a bad January), and I don't think you can get that production easily from somebody else. (Certainly from no one on the Bulls' current roster; Hinrich's lifetime PER is under 15. Thabo's having his best year yet, and he's at 13.)

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Bullshooter said...

That's the thing about PER, its biased towards scoring. A guy who scores 15 and takes care of the ball and doesn't get abused on defensive is every bit as valuable as a guy like BG who scores 20 but can't guard anybody and turns the ball over too much. But the PER isn't going to reflect that. And looking at the list, BG is only in the top 20 because of his scoring, and really only because of his great deep shooting. And I'm not saying that Kirk or Thabo are the long term answers at starting SG either, just that bulls shouldn't feel particularly fortunate to have BG as their starting SG.

10:20 AM  
Blogger BenGo07 said...

Three responses:

1) There's a reason PER is biased toward scoring. That's half the game!

2) It is nice to have a player at the shooting/scoring guard who can...score.

3) By position, the PERs of the Bulls' opponents are:

PG 15.3
SG 14.8
SF 14.6
PF 18.6
C 21.7

Defensively, Ben Gordon is far from the Bulls' biggest problem. Offensively, he is arguably their 2nd biggest asset, one whose deep shooting is extremely valuable alongside their biggest asset, Derrick Rose.

12:06 PM  

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