The big story of this one was that just about no one on either team's front-court seemed the least bit interested in playing defense. It was just points, points, points for both teams because they put the other team's big men in the two-man game, got to the front of the rim at will, collapsed the rest of the defense and created wide open shots.
Let's start with the Mavs:
1) This play against Taj Gibson pretty much summed up Dirk's defense tonight:
It's kind of amazing that more teams haven't been exploiting Dirk this season. If you put him in the pick-and-roll, the only thing he can do is back up all the way to the rim and hope you miss the pull-up jumper. It's a problem in the regular season and it's going to be an even bigger one in the playoffs - maybe the biggest reason the Rockets won so easily last season was they repeatedly put Dirk in the 4/5 pick-and-roll and got wide open dunks or 3's out of it.
2) Dwight Powell
I like Dwight as a player but his defense is really bad. He's not big enough to hold up in the post, he's not long enough to protect the rim and he's not aware enough to guard out on the perimeter. He bites at every pump-fake and he jumps himself out of position constantly. It's all part of the learning process for a young big man and he has the tools to be a pretty good defender in space ... eventually. Watching him really closely this season makes me appreciate Rick Carlisle's reluctance to play young players.
3) ZaZa Pachulia
This was a tough game for him. The Bulls were ruthlessly attacking him - whether it was Pau Gasol posting him up at the front of the rim or their guards taking the ball right at him in the lane. There was one sequence in the first half when ZaZa literally moved out of the way to give Jimmy Butler a wide-open lay-up.
It wasn't much better for the Bulls.
I can see why people have been talking trash about Fred Hoiberg if he was starting Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic together for so long. It takes about five minutes of watching those guys play together to see that they are way too slow to play any type of defense and having them both out there is pretty much an invitation for a lay-up line at the front of the rim.
Mirotic was hitting 3's tonight - which I suspect was in large part thanks to a brain fart by Rick Carlisle where he started the game with JJ Barea on Mirotic and allowed Nikola to get a few easy baskets early and build his confidence up (I'm not sure I've ever seen an NBA game where there was a one-foot difference between the offensive and defensive player that wasn't the result of a switch) -
and he looks really good when he's hitting from outside because it opens up the rest of the game. You just have to be able to protect him with a defensive-minded big man and that's obviously not Pau at this stage in his career.
- Mirotic and Taj have played 74 minutes together this season and have a rating of +24.9. Make of that what you will. If I was trying to win games in Chicago, I would think long and hard about playing smaller upfront with my two youngest big men. The league is going smaller anyway and Mirotic and Taj are the two guys who are most comfortable playing in space on offense.
You definitely don't want to play either Mirotic or Pau with Doug McDermott, who might be the worst defensive player in the league. It's not like he's not trying out there - because it definitely seems like he is - it's just that he's not very physically capable and everyone in the league knows it. Guys go out of their way to attack him, whether he's guarding on the perimeter or trying to hold up in the post.
- The good news is that McDermott seems a lot more comfortable on offense in his 2nd year in the league. He looks like a guy whose never going to miss an open 3 and they can be very valuable in the right system, especially when they are 6'8. Just as important, McDermott showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and finish in the paint with a floater. He's a great shooter with a developed offensive game so he just needs to not be absolutely terrible on defense and he'll be a good NBA player. He should get a little better on defense as he gets older and stronger if only because I'm not sure it would be possible for him to continue to be this bad.
The thing about the Bulls right now is that it seems to all come back to Pau Gasol, who may or may not have some type of devil's bargain with the front office that guarantees him a starting spot. The problem is there's a real ceiling on any team that starts and gives a 35-year old Pau huge minutes. He just can't play defense anymore (which only makes Tim Duncan's ability to remain relevant at that side of the ball all the more impressive) and the only way for him to be effective is to demand the ball on offense and clog up the middle of the lane.
- The way the league is going now, I don't even want to mess with big men if they can't play defense. It's hard enough for them to guard in space in the pace-and-space era but if they aren't physically capable at it and they aren't even trying, it's just hopeless.
- The real problem with building a team around post scoring is that most guys who are good at that aren't very good at playing defense. Your typical wide-bodied space eater down low doesn't have the lateral quickness to guard in space and there are so many ways to score in the modern NBA that there's no reason to build your team around a big man who can't play defense just to dump the ball into him and slow the pace of the game on offense. I'd have no problem building a team around a guy who can post up AND play D like LaMarcus Aldridge - it's just that those types of players are very rare.
- If Pau opts out of his contract in the off-season, how many teams are really lining up to give big money to him, especially if he refuses to come off the bench?
- I can't believe the Bulls are letting him get away with that because what type of message does that send to the rest of the team? We're going to let one guy's personal agenda fuck up everyone else's money because we aren't going to maximize the best interests of the team in order to placate his ego? It's no wonder the mood around the team is so unsettled these days. The one thing about NBA players it that you can't shit a shitter and they know good and well who the best players on the team are and what combinations of players should be out on the floor. It's not rocket science.
- If I'm the coach, I'm not even going to coach a team that won't let me dictate the rotations because that's the most important part of my job. If I'm not being allowed to play the best players, than people are judging me on how good a job I'm doing when I'm being punished for someone else's mistakes. Just look at what happened with Marc Jackson. Dollars to donuts Jackson didn't think he could bench David Lee because of how much money Lee was making and because he was such a leader in the locker room and now he looks like an idiot and who knows when he will get another chance to be a head coach. If you are going to down with the ship, go down playing the best players. Life's too short to do it any other way.
A few other observations from this one:
- This was my first chance getting to watch Derrick Rose in person in I don't even know how long and he looks 100% physically. He's moving around and flying around the court like a pre-injury Rose. His timing isn't there and his numbers are terrible but at least from an eye-test perspective he looks like the same guy. Of course, it helps to be guarded by JJ Barea and Ray Felton.
- I wonder if he would be better in a situation like Deron Williams and get a fresh start where A) there wasn't as much pressure and B) he had less of a role on offense because C) he made less money. I would be definitely be willing to take a chance on Rose just to see if he could find himself where there wasn't so much of the weight of history on his back. The only thing is that he doesn't have a consistent 3-point shot and that just makes your life so much harder as a guard.
- This was a tough night for Bobby Portis. He got a turnover when he walked over the inbounds line, he picked up a few offensive fouls and he just generally seemed out of it all night. It's just part of the learning curve for a young player
- Hoiberg still has a lot of learning to do when it comes to maximizing his rotations at the NBA level. This isn't the Big 12 - you aren't going up against Rick Barnes and Scott Drew and the other coach is going to kill you if you have a bad line-up out there for any amount of time. There was a 1:40 stretch at end of the 1Q when he had Cameron Bairstow and McDermott on the floor and they were -6 and that was the difference in the game.
- JJ Barea was 7-8 from 3 and that's what the Mavs needed with Deron Williams out with a hamstring injury that hopefully isn't a long-term thing. Williams has been the Mavs best player this season and they really need him out there - if Barea hadn't been shooting like Steph Curry this game could have gotten really out of hand tonight.