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October 25, 2010
Five Thoughts
Mavericks and Bulls

by Bradford Doolittle

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CHICAGO | On the last day before the real NBA games begin in earnest, which feels a little like Christmas Eve, I'm got a couple of lingering desk-drawer items that need to be cleared away in order to begin the season with a fresh slate. Both of these will be submitted in Five Thoughts format because they involve the last two preseason games I attended. Sure, the games are gone and probably forgotten, but preseason basketball isn't about the games, it's about the teams and players. That's why I want to get these observations out there. We begin with the Mavericks and Bulls, who played in Chicago on Oct. 16, the day before I embarked on a week-long sojourn in the Pacific Northwest. (And hence, no Five Thoughts till now.)

According to my notebook, here are some takeaways from that game.

1. The Mavericks are deep but ... During shootaround that morning, I talked to Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and was interested in Dominique Jones, a subject of an upcoming installment of The Baseline, the column title I've assigned to my more featurey pieces for the site. I was wondering about whether Jones' defense could carve out a regular role in what is a crowded backcourt situation.

Carlisle started ratting off the names of Dallas' guards. Jason Kidd. Jason Terry. Caron Butler, who will swing between the two and three. J.J. Barea. When he gets healthy, Rodrigue Beaubois. Down on the end of the bench is DeShawn Stevenson. It's an embarrassment of riches, but what strikes you is that there isn't a classic two-guard in the bunch. Is that a problem? Perhaps, at least in that it gives Carlisle some added complexity when trying to figure out how these parts fit together. Butler has been and will continue to be more of a three. Kidd, Terry, Beaubois, Barea and Jones are all point guards either in body or in style. Stevenson can't play anymore.

I'm not saying this is a problem. In fact, it may turn out to be a great situation. The point is that I look at that group of guards it's hard for me to figure out who plays how much and with whom. That'll be main thing I'll be watching in Dallas early in the season.

2. The Chandler-Haywood monster. Here's what Carlisle had to say about his center combo:

"We want run. We want to be a run-first team. (Tyson Chandler's) ability to run the floor is definitely an asset. As far as divvying up the minutes, we've got to find the right lineup and the right people to fit with the starters and the second group. That's how we'll figure out the minutes. Those two guys, (Brendan) Haywood and Chandler, it's their job to play to full capacity when they're out there, to play to exhaustion. We want a seven-foot ass-kicker on the floor all the time."

I'll admit that, perhaps because Kevin Pelton drew the Mavericks chapter in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11, I hadn't really thought much about the Dallas center situation. As it turns out, Chandler arrived in camp healthier and more well-conditioned than he's been since his peak season of 2007-08, when he was running with Chris Paul in New Orleans. This is partially a result of his time with Team USA in last month's FIBA World Championship, but the ray of hope for Dallas fans is that Chandler was healthy enough to play on that team.

With Haywood around, Chandler is not going to have to carry the position. In the game in Chicago, the pair combined for 19 points, 12 rebounds--six off the offensive glass--and a couple of blocked shots. I love Chandler in a lineup with the probable first unit of Kidd, Butler, Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki. Despite the collective age of that group, it's a unit that can really run the floor. I think defense is the end of the floor in which Dallas can make the biggest leap as it tries to get over the hump in the West, and Chandler should be a big part of that. However, he could also become the same sort of quasi-viable offensive option he was with the Hornets considering the talent that will be surrounding him in the Big D.

3. Second thoughts on the Bulls' second unit. In the book, I wrote about Chicago's depth and how it will help the Bulls close the gap on the elite teams in the East. I'm not backing off that statement yet, but there are real concerns about the playmaking on Chicago's second unit. C.J. Watson was 2-of-13 against Dallas in the Oct. 16 game, which probably exacerbated my concerns, but I'd been feeling shaky about Watson anyway. I guess in watching him with Golden State, I never realized how ill-suited he is to initiate a team's offense. He's just not a great ballhandler and is susceptible to good ball pressure. When he makes that first pass, it's not so much to get the play going as it is to just get rid of the ball so he can go spot up. At least that's my early impression.

Worse, the Bulls lack a second second-unit scorer, and this is precisely where the team's lack of a second elite shooter to pair with Kyle Korver comes into play and is precisely why Chicago general manager Gar Forman should be banging on the door of Portland general manager Rich Cho about disgruntled guard Rudy Fernandez. Fernandez is the player the Bulls need to complete their roster for the upcoming season.

4. Assist man. Joakim Noah missed the Bulls' last two preseason games with flu-like symptoms. Probably for the best because Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had been working Noah hard during the preseason and the emergent center doesn't exactly have the best track record of health. Before sitting out, Noah was neck-and-neck with Derrick Rose for the Bulls' preseason team lead in assists. I'm not sure this is a good or a bad thing. It's just a thing. Thibodeau seems intent on taking full advantage of Noah's versatile skill set. He wants to run to take advantage of Noah's ability to run the floor. He wants to give Noah's regular minutes at four to take advantage of his agility and to get more size on the floor. He wants to run an inside-out offense that plays off the passing ability of Noah and Carlos Boozer. These are all good things. However, one of my biggest criticisms of the system used by former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro was that it left Derrick Rose playing off the ball too often. So far, Rose is off the ball even more frequently under Thibodeau, or at least was until Noah sat out. Overall, I've really liked the offensive flow of Thibodeau's system, but there have been way too many turnovers. I'm not sounding an alarm here--just pointing out something to watch. That said, I'm convinced Noah will get a triple-double or two this season.

5. The Cube. There was a missed opportunity on my part. I was hanging out in the Dallas locker room before the game when Mark Cuban strolled in. Though I was with "the dumbest guys in the room" Cuban came over and shook my hand, as well as those of the other writers. For two weeks, I'd been fielding occasional queries about Cuban's statements regarding the failings of statistical analysis in basketball. One of the writers I was standing with was the venerable author Sam Smith. Sam is really amazing to watch. He knows absolutely everybody and, perhaps more importantly, everybody knows him. I have to resort to wearing funny hats just to be recognized. Meanwhile, Sam walks up to every coach, player, referee, team official--you name it--and starts talking like they were in the middle of a conversation that's been going on for a long time. Anyway, though there were four or five us standing there, Sam started talking to Cuban and I decided to politely sit tight, waiting for an opening. Lesson to aspiring sports writers: You can't do that. There is no politeness in sports journalism. I stepped out for a moment to listen to Rick Carlisle. When I returned, Cuban was alone, hunched in a corner, with a lollipop sticking out of his mouth. I decided not to bother him, and am still irritated with myself.

You can follow Bradford on Twitter at twitter.com/@bbdoolittle.

You can order a copy of Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 here.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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