Sam: An early glimpse around the NBA

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Sam: An early glimpse around the NBA

Friday, Nov. 12, 2010
4:21 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After Blake Griffin's stellar debut performance, many observers seemed prepared to hand the 2009 NBA Draft's top pick the Rookie of the Year award some he would have won if not for missing his entire "true" inaugural campaign. While most of that had to do with the former Oklahoma star's prodigious blend of power, athleticism and skill, some of it was due to 2010 No. 1 overall draft choice John Wall's woeful shooting night in Washington's decidedly non-competitive season-opening blowout loss at the hands of Orlando.

Fast forward to the present, and although Griffin has remained productive for an initially (let's give ex-Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro some time to turn things around) dysfunctional Clippers squad, he hasn't received consistent opportunities although the recent injury to center Chris Kaman could change that.

Meanwhile, Wall--who makes his Chicago regular-season debut Saturday night--is coming off his first career triple-double (a 29-point, 10-rebound, six-assist effort, with six steals and only one turnover, to boot) in Washington's victory Wednesday. Although his team isn't exactly a contender, not only has Wall's shooting been better than advertised, but he's been dynamic defensively (the speedster's already recorded a nine-steal outing) and doing the "Dougie" aside, has displayed a mature approach beyond his years.

The fact that he'll have the ball in his hands the majority of the time (despite ex-primary ballhandlers Gilbert Arenas and former Bull Kirk Hinrich alongside him) means that although his rookie mistakes will be magnified, Wall will also have more chances for success. Of course, it's still extremely early to make any definitive judgments and Griffin should develop into a fine player, but logic and evidence both point to Wall making the bigger immediate impact.

Dilemma in Philly

The No. 2 pick in the draft, Chicago product Evan Turner, has had an uneven start to the season thus far. New 76ers head coach Doug Collins has been tinkering with his early-season rotation to try to find a balance between playing veterans and creating opportunities for his talented youngsters, like Turner.

Perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the former Ohio State star was Springfield, Ill., native Andre Iguodala, one of the NBA's ironmen, recently missing games with injury. Philly fans had been previously clamoring for Turner to see more action, but playing the same position as the team's star isn't quite the recipe for more minutes as a rookie.

Besides being swingmen and hailing from the same state, Turner and Iguodala share other similarities. Both are versatile, yet ball-dominant talents, who aren't proficient outside shooters.

Iguodala's name has come up in numerous trade rumors as of late (most recently, relocating to New Orleans to join up with Chris Paul; speculation of him being a key piece in a potential Carmelo Anthony deal also hasn't yet ceased), but regardless of his reported discontent, something has to give, as the Sixers have been seemingly stuck in neutral for the past few seasons, ever since deciding to let veteran point guard Andre Miller walk in free agency.

Not only does Turner need more playing time, but the team's reins have seemingly been foisted upon second-year point guard Jrue Holiday by Collins, top executive Rod Thorn and the organization in general. Add reserve guard and scoring machine Lou Williams to the mix, and that's way too many perimeter guys who prefer playing on the ball.

The situation doesn't end there, as the once highly-regarded Thaddeus Young can't seem to find a niche (already shifting between forward spots, Young--one of many class of 2007 draftees that didn't receive an extension--has been supplanted by veteran and ex-Bull Andres Nocioni, a Sixers offseason acquisition) after a promising start to his career. Couple that with talented young big man Marreese Speights languishing in Collins' rotation--despite the underwhelming play of center Spencer Hawes, who came to Philly from Sacramento with "Noce"--and it's almost a sure bet that a move is made by the February trade deadline.

Look on the bright side--at least former Bull Elton Brand looks to have regained a semblance of his former self under Collins, making his hefty and virtually untradeable contract appear a lot better.

Just Like Clockwork in Utah

After a rocky start to the season--All-Star point guard Deron Williams almost tearing off rookie Gordon Hayward's head in the midst of the team getting blown out was surely the Final Four hero's "welcome to the NBA" moment--the Utah Jazz are rolling. Was there ever any doubt that they would eventually do so. Well, just maybe.

Losing what seemed to be half of the team to the Bulls in the offseason (not to mention second-year swingman Wesley Matthews to Portland, after the Trailblazers made an overwhelming offer to the former undrafted free agent) was a huge blow, although salvaging the summer with the highway robbery of big man Al Jefferson from Minnesota eased the pain a bit.

But when Jefferson reportedly arrived to training camp out of shape, a closer examination of the roster revealed unproven commodities (Hayward, backup center Kyryl Fesenko and second-round pick Jeremy Evans) and possibly over-the-hill fill-ins (such as Raja Bell and Earl Watson) in key roles, a handful of unimpressive early losses appeared disastrous to some observers.

Then came Utah's last three games, in which the Jazz overcame double-digit halftime deficits to wind up victorious, most notably in a early-season classic against the Heat, in which power forward Paul Millsap went for a career-high 46 points. Williams is obviously the team's leader--and also the player who many believe is the best point guard in the NBA, although a healthy Chris Paul is staking claim to his former throne--and Jefferson was the squad's big-ticket acquisition, but Millsap's emergence from reliable reserve to prime-time player could be the formula needed to keep the Jazz in contention.

Now out of currently sidelined Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer's shadow, Millsap is relishing his new role and thriving in it. In a stacked yet wide-open Western Conference (sans the two-time defending champion Lakers), Utah wasn't even viewed as the best team in Northwest Division entering the season--that title went to young Oklahoma City--but at the end of the day, who really wants to bet against the grit of the blue-collar Millsap, the brilliance of Williams, a still-adjusting Jefferson (who possesses the best low-post offensive game this side of Pau Gasol) and Jerry Sloan, the league's longest tenured coach, who puts all the pieces in place while running his vaunted flex offense? Exactly.

BoshHeat

Not to pile on the guy in the wake of his possibly misinterpreted "good cable TV" comments (out of context or not, the remarks still lacked foresight), but Chris Bosh is having a devil of a time adjusting to the spotlight's glare in Miami--on and off the court.

It's unfortunate that Bosh, a likable guy by all accounts, has been roped into the "villainy" surrounding the Heat, but it shouldn't shock him. More concerning, however, should be his role in the Heat's disappointing start.

Bosh is an established talent, but even in Miami's wins, his inside presence and impact on the glass has been almost non-existent. Observers can point to the Heat's gaping holes at point guard and center, the team's unimaginative, mostly halfcourt style of play or the fact that either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade alternately dominates the ball while the other four players on the court simply watch, but when Bosh's backup--Udonis Haslem, at two inches shorter and making a fraction of his salary (the Miami native and longtime Heat player opted to return to the franchise for far less money than he could have commanded elsewhere on the free-agent market)--is more of an inside force, the scrutiny toward Bosh is justified.

Never known as a great defender during his Toronto days, Bosh did establish himself as a double-digit rebounder with the Raptors. There's been no sign of that in Miami.

Additionally, while the slender Bosh is much more comfortable playing a finesse game and facing the basket than posting up, sometimes sacrifices (such as the financial ones made by James and Wade in signing for less than a maximum free-agent contract; it was argued in July and can certainly be argued now that Bosh is a borderline max player and should receive less money) need to be made--unless Bosh (and the Heat coaching staff) considers himself truly incapable of playing more with his back to the basket.

Regardless of how it happens, Bosh must make an impact for Miami to realize its vast potential. But short of a complete game transformation, how would that take place?

Bosh isn't Dennis Rodman (nor will the Heat eclipse the 72-win Bulls team for which "The Worm" was a key component), but perhaps a focus on performing like the 2008 Olympics of himself would do the trick. On the star-studded "Redeem Team," he was an integral, if underrated player, who knew he wouldn't receive a lot of offensive touches, instead concentrating on offensive rebounding, running the floor in transition and being active on the defensive end. That version of Bosh was willing to do the dirty work, make the hustle plays and even mute his skilled offensive game for the ultimate reward: winning.

James and Wade were on that squad, too, but the magnitude of their skills and stardom allowed them to play virtually the same games they do in the NBA, even with a group full of remarkable individual talents. James functioned as the alpha-dog all-around player and lead facilitator (even putting supreme floor generals Paul and Williams in supporting roles), while Wade was the same relentlessly attacker he's always been, taking turns with fellow scoring machines Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

And those are the roles the duo will eventually play for the Heat, if they are to reach the success that's expected of them. Of course, chemistry and offensive flow will need to develop, team defense can't be overstated and the squad's role players must be consistent (and improve, namely at--again--point guard and center), but options No. 1 and 1A will almost certainly do what they've always done.

It's up to the (distant) third fiddle to swallow his pride, step to the challenge--something he was accused of not doing as the leader of some mediocre Raptors teams--and block out any and all distractions. This is what he--more so than Wade, who stayed put, or even James, whose every move was analyzed long before "The Decision"--wanted, since he had the option to be the top option or at least a much closer second in other free-agent scenarios.

Now is the time to put up or shut up for Bosh, because it definitely won't get any easier from here, as premature calls for him to be traded (it won't be future Hall of Famers James or Wade, Haslem can easily step in for him and nobody else on Miami's aging and inflexible roster would bring back any value) will surely grow louder. The Heat is truly on.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

Taj Gibson began working on his 3-point shot as early as this past offseason. That work in the gym from beyond the arc continued into training camp, the preseason and eventually the regular season.

The eight-year veteran didn't attempt his first 3-pointer until the 21st game of the season, and that came in the final minute as the Bulls trailed by nine against the Pistons. Gibson's 27-foot heave from the left wing was off, and he proceeded to play the next 17 games without attempting another.

But recently Gibson had a conversation with head coach Fred Hoiberg, who knew the 31-year-old power forward had been putting in additional time to work on his corner 3-pointers. Hoiberg told Gibson he believed in his corner 3-pointer and that he'd allow the Bulls' forward to shoot them in games.

On Jan. 10, Gibson took a pass from Rajon Rondo midway through the first quarter and hoisted a 3-pointer from the left corner. He connected, marking just the second made 3-pointer of his career, and his first since the 2010-11 season.

Between triples Gibson, always a reliable midrange shooter, attempted and missed 22 3-pointers. But with the added practice time and confidence, and a blessing from his head coach, Gibson believes the 3-pointer can become an asset, going as far to say he’d like to shoot two triples per game.

There is, however, one aspect of the shot still standing in his way.

"When you get out there you never really realize how far it is until you're lined up and the crowd is like, 'Shoot it!'" Gibson said after Thursday's practice at the Advocate Center. "Your teammates are behind you, but it's fun. Hopefully (I) look forward to trying to make some in the future."

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Gibson attempted two more triples in Saturday's win over the Hornets and another in Sunday's win over the Grizzlies. All three were off-target, but just seeing Gibson step into the attempts and fire with confidence was a sight for sore eyes on a Bulls team lacking from outside.

Through the season's first half the Bulls rank last in both 3-point field goal percentage (31.7 percent) and 3-pointers made (6.4 per game). Their 276 total made 3-pointers as a team are less than two pairs of teammates (Houston’s Eric Gordon and James Harden, 301; Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, 283).

The Bulls' expected top 3-point shooters – Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Denzel Valentine – have combined to go 114-for-350, or 32.5 percent. Starters Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade haven’t fared much better, albeit on fewer attempts, while Chicago's trio of point guards have made 29 percent of their 144 3-point attempts. Simply put, there's ample opportunity to see what Gibson can do from deep without messing up the team's current perimeter shooting.

"It's something that he worked on a lot in the offseason. So yeah if he's open in the corner we want those shots," Hoiberg said. "It’s obviously a huge part of today's game. The 3-point shot, to have multiple players that can stretch the floor out there, those teams are really hard to guard."

Gibson's not the only Bulls big man experimenting. Robin Lopez said he, too, has been working on his outside shot in practice. Gibson joked that Hoiberg hasn't yet given Lopez permission to fire away from deep, while Hoiberg cracked that Lopez might be jealous of the 5.2 3-pointers his twin brother, Brook, is attempting this season in Brooklyn.

Lopez, like Gibson, has always had a dependable midrange shot. Per NBA.com, his 44.4 field goal percentage on midrange shots is fifth among centers this season.

"That’s something I've been working on more this season. I don't know if it's game-ready yet. That's more of a confidence issue," said Lopez, who added he's been working with assistant coach Pete Myers on the shot. "I think the way the NBA is going, I don't see why not. If Brook can do it, I definitely can."

Lopez is 0-for-5 from distance in his nine-year career, including 0-for-1 with the Bulls this season. But the defensive-minded center knows the ever-changing NBA game now includes teams wanting to get as many perimeter shooters on the floor at once. If he and/or Gibson can eventually be part of that, he knows the difference it could make.

"I think it's wonderful for the game. I think there's a real premium on skill at all positions on the court. I think that's going to continue. You're going to have more skilled and more talented big men," he said. "There's always a new breed of big men right around the corner."

Bulls Road Ahead: Trying to get back to .500 yet again

Bulls Road Ahead: Trying to get back to .500 yet again

Mark Schanowski and Mark Strotman break down what the Bulls need to do to get back on track on this edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

A stellar win over the Grizzlies on Sunday has all but been forgotten, as the Bulls lost to the Mavericks on Tuesday. Now back under .500 for the fourth time this season, the Bulls will have to regroup as they prepare for a back-to-back against the Hawks and Kings.

See what else they had to say in this week's Bulls Road Ahead.