Should Chicago Bulls Be Confident or Disappointed in Start to Season?

The Chicago Bulls aren’t off to the type of start that many fans and pundits had predicted before the season. Should the team be concerned, or is it too early in the year to worry?

Chicago currently owns a 17-9 record, fourth-best in the Eastern Conference. But after making several offseason moves, a much hotter start was expected.

Four-time All-Star Pau Gasol and scoring point guard Aaron Brooks were signed as free agents. And the rookie combo of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic was picked up as well.

With this newcomer quartet added to holdovers Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, the Bulls instantly morphed into legitimate title contenders.

They were supposed to run away with the conference, especially with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers needing time to gel.

Sitting at fourth place, though, isn’t inspiring at all. What are some reasons for Chicago’s not-so-spectacular start to the season?

 

Injury Bug Has Bitten Hard

Injuries are clearly the worst part of sports. They can simply destroy teams. Just look at the Indiana Pacers, who went from a title contender to a likely future lottery participant without Paul George.

Chicago has battled injuries quite a bit this season. Rose has missed 10 games, Gibson and McDermott have sat out nine and Noah has missed seven. In addition, Gasol was sidelined for three contests while both Butler and Kirk Hinrich have sat out two.   

The starting five of Rose, Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Gasol and Noah have played together in only eight of the team’s 26 games, posting a 6-2 record.

Maybe the Bulls would own the top record in the East right now if it wasn’t for injuries. It’s not very easy to win games when you’re often missing key players.

Rose, who has dealt with ankle and hamstring injuries this year, caused doubters to say, “Oh no, here we go again” a few times. But fortunately, the former MVP has played in 11 of the last 13 games.

If the dreaded injury bug can stay away from Chicago—especially away from Rose and Noah—there’s no telling what this squad can accomplish.    

 

Where’s the D?  

When you think of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, championship-caliber defense is the first thing that comes to mind.

Since his arrival, the team has never finished a season ranked worse than third in opponents’ points per game. This year, though, they rank 11th, allowing 98.4 points a night.

A season ago, the Bulls gave up at least 100 points on 16 occasions. Opponents have accomplished the feat 11 times already this season.

Even the Philadelphia 76ers dropped 115 on them (November 7), although Chicago managed to win the game. Yes, we’re talking about the same Sixers, who are currently 2-23 and possibly on their way to becoming the worst team in NBA history.  

The Bulls could’ve won their December 6 matchup with the Golden State Warriors, but they just couldn’t stop Draymond Green, who put up 31 points and knocked down seven threes. He was left wide-open throughout the game.     

So what’s up with Chicago’s D? Gibson gave his opinion, via Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:

It’s just new guys…That’s all it is. Most of the guys are coming from teams, they’re not really defensive-minded teams first. So of course it’s going to happen, but that’s just my opinion. That’s what I see on the court. I’ve been here for a while. I know what I’m talking about. Joakim knows what he’s talking about, he was the defensive player of the year, of course he’s going to know what he’s talking about. We’re on the court, though.

Whatever the reason is, the Bulls need to play the kind of defense that we’re all accustomed to seeing.     

 

Confident or Disappointed?

While they may not have the league’s best record, the Bulls should still be confident and not disappointed. There’s so much talent on this team it’s scary.

Heading into the season, they featured a Big Three in Rose, Gasol and Noah. Little did we know that Butler would emerge and make it a Big Four.

Butler is playing out of his mind this year, leading the Bulls in scoring with 21.9 points per contest. Already known for his elite defense, the November Player of the Year has developed into one of the game’s top two-way players.

Meanwhile, Rose has shown flashes of his old self at times. For example, he recorded 31 points during the December 12 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. It was his first 30-point effort since March 2012.

Gasol has proven to be the perfect pickup. The two-time NBA champ is providing scoring, rebounding as well as excellent rim-protection.

And following offseason knee surgery, Noah hasn’t resembled the MVP candidate he was last season. Yet, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year will return to form as the season progresses.

The Bulls also possess a nice bench which includes Gibson, Brooks, Hinrich and Mirotic, who may wind up winning Rookie of the Year honors. 

Plus, the team should be confident after picking up huge wins over the Toronto Raptors, Trail Blazers and more recently, the Memphis Grizzlies (November 19) without Rose and Noah.

There’s no reason for disappointment if you’re a Bulls fan.     
 

All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com and accurate as of December 20.

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Should Lakers let Bryant take game-winning shots?

The case against letting Kobe take the final shot.

      
 

 

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Should the Los Angeles Clippers trade for Lance Stephenson?

With the signing of swingman Lance Stephenson having turned into a disaster for the Charlotte Hornets, multiple media reports indicate that the Hornets are actively trying the trade the talented, yet volatile Stephenson. Make no mistake, Lance Stephenson is the ultimate case of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde basketball player. When Stephenson is at his best, he’s a triple double threat every night who can also play quality defense along the perimeter; when Stephenson is at his worst, he has an almost unique ability to suck the life out of his teammates and coaches in the locker-room and out on the court. He’s the equivalent of betting your mortgage on red in a game of roulette.
That being said, for the Los Angeles Clippers, Lance Stephenson just might be exactly what they need. The Clippers are a basketball team that is essentially one player from joining the Warriors, Spurs, and Grizzlies as the elite contenders in the melee that is the Western Conference. A player with Lance Stephenson’s skill set could be

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Fantasy basketball: Who should be in your lineup?

LeBron will attack from the opening tip, while Duncan may not play in back-to-back games.

      
 

 

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What Each Top 25 Team Should Be Worried About so Far in 2014-15

It may seem like it in the early going, but life is far from perfect for the nation’s best college basketball teams.

For every impressive showing fans have seen from the likes of Kentucky and Duke this year, there is something to worry about that could derail a national title run. In a single-elimination tournament come March, all it takes is one off-game to end the championship dreams of these squads.

With that in mind, here is a look at one thing each Top 25 team should be worried about thus far. The Associated Press Top 25, as of Thursday, Dec. 11, was used to compile this list.

All statistics are as of the completion of Wednesday night’s games. Ken Pomeroy’s numbers can be found here

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Golden State Warriors Should Avoid Collateral Damage of Signing Ray Allen

Between their 14-game winning streak and Stephen Curry‘s MVP-caliber play, the 19-2 Golden State Warriors have quickly inserted themselves into the title conversation just a month and some change into head coach Steve Kerr’s first season at the helm.

So it’s only natural to expect a coveted free agent like Ray Allen to take notice as he mulls a potential return to the NBA at age 39. 

The Warriors certainly haven’t forgotten about him.

General manager Bob Myers admitted on Thursday to 95.7 FM The Game that Golden State had expressed interest to Allen’s camp. Via CSNBayArea.com, he added that, “it’s uncertain as to what Ray wants to do.”

It’s also uncertain just how interested the Warriors are.

Here’s the problem,” Myers said. “We don’t have enough minutes as it is, so it’s just a question of chemistry.”

In addition to the heavy minutes starters Curry and Klay Thompson demand in the backcourt, Kerr also has to find playing time for Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston at those forward and guard spots. Upon power forward David Lee‘s return, Draymond Green may have to spend less time at the 4 and more time at the 3—further complicating the crowded wing rotation.

Though Allen could theoretically usurp the 13.6 minutes per game currently going to Leandro Barbosa, that’s nearly half the playing time he earned with the Miami Heat a season ago. That means he’d likely siphon at least 12 more minutes away from others—potentially more as the rotation shortens during the postseason.

There’s no getting around the temptation to add an iconic shooter who’s made more three-pointers than anyone in league history. Two-time champions with a penchant for clutch heroics are few and far between.

And there’s little doubt Allen would earn his share of playing time, which—in one sense—is precisely the problem.

What happens when guys like Iguodala and Livingston see their roles shrink? Already relegated to reserve gigs in spite of their starting pedigree, the prospect of further marginalization could ruffle feathers and disrupt an already-delicate balance.

Barring a serious injury that would create a need for Allen, it’s hard to see his addition ending well for everyone involved. Virtual players may deal with that kind of thing in video games, but damaged chemistry is a hazard in real life. When guys stop buying in, it shows on the court.

The Warriors can’t risk that, not with things going so unbelievably well at the moment. 

They’re already making 37.6 percent of their three-point attempts, which is tied for the league’s fourth-best mark according to TeamRankings.com. And with a respectable 25.1 long-range attempts per contest, it’s hard to argue this team really needs another marksman.

Even if Allen marginally improved an offense that currently ranks sixth in efficiency (with 107.3 points per 100 possessions according to Hollinger Team Stats), it’s less clear that he’d be of much value to a defense that’s been exceptional so far. Allowing just 94.5 points per 100 possessions, the Warriors lead the league in defensive efficiency, and that has a lot to do with personnel like Iguodala and Livingston—the same guys who stand to lose the most from Allen’s addition.

Per TeamRankings.com, Golden State’s opponents are only making 30.5 percent of their three-point attempts (fourth best league-wide) while scoring just 19.3 points per contest via three-pointers (fifth best league-wide). Maintaining that kind of pressure on the perimeter is a tall order for a guy in his 19th season. That three-point stroke may be immortal, but lateral quickness rarely is.

With their chemistry and defense already in championship form, the Warriors would have to think long and hard about any tinkering, even when it comes to an apparent no-brainer addition like Allen. 

The 10-time All-Star is also giving his future plenty of thought. Earlier this month, ESPN Radio’s Ryen Russillo tweeted that he’s “Hearing Ray Allen is telling teams ‘talk to me in January’ [and] will make a decision in February.”

In November, ESPN the Magazine‘s Chris Broussard noted the range of suitors who’ve likely made Allen’s decision such a difficult one.

While none of those teams has a desperate need for Allen, all but San Antonio could almost certainly use another shooter off the bench.

Joining former teammate and four-time MVP LeBron James in Cleveland is the safe bet. While the Cavaliers haven’t been as dominant as Golden State in the early going, they remain among two or three teams favored to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

By the time Allen’s ready to make a decision, the Cavaliers will have likely developed more of a rhythm with one another. They may not be better than the Warriors, but they may well be the more attractive destination—and a better fit.

“Until he signs, that’s going to be a target for everybody,” Cavs general manager David Griffin told reporters in September. “Ray is someone who fits us as a shooter. His championship pedigree fits us at a really high level. With James [Jones], Mike [Miller] and LeBron here, I think he’d feel comfortable with our group.”

It might not be a fairy-tale ending, but it probably makes more sense than trying to make things work on the West Coast.

No one will fault the Warriors for doing their due diligence. In a world where injuries strike without warning, it would be irresponsible not to.

But sometimes the best moves are the ones that aren’t made—especially when your team holds the league’s best record and shows no sign of slowing down.

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Nick Young on Magic’s tanking talk: He should ‘stay at Dodger Stadium for a while’

A majority of the talk at Los Angeles Lakers’ practice on Wednesday revolved around NBA icon Magic Johnson’s comments earlier in the week about how the team should tank, giving some tangible meaning to a predictably lost season in the way of improving its chances in the lottery. “I hope the Lakers lose every game…Read More
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Denver Nuggets Should Either Find Role for J.J. Hickson or Trade Him

The Denver Nuggets currently sit 11th in the Western Conference with a 9-12 record. Denver has been a quality team offensively, ranking eighth in the NBA in points per game, but has struggled mightily on the defensive end, giving up 105.8 points per contest.

The Nuggets’ main concern is that they lack players who can contribute on both ends of the floor. However, one individual who has been able to excel both offensively and defensively is J.J. Hickson, who is averaging 15.1 points per 36 minutes and is fifth on the team in defensive rating.

Hickson continues to put up big numbers for the Nuggets in 2014-15, yet he has failed to see significant playing time (he is averaging just 18.8 minutes per game this season). Coach Brian Shaw is doing Denver a great disservice by not playing Hickson for 25-28 minutes per game and should either increase his role off the bench or find a contender willing to acquire the big man from North Carolina State.

There is no question that Shaw is underusing Hickson this season. Not only is he sixth on the team in player efficiency rating, but his total rebounding percentage of 20.43 also makes him one of the most prolific guys at grabbing boards in the league.

To put things into perspective, Kenneth Faried, who is the Nuggets’ starting power forward, is averaging 15.6 PPG and 9.41 RPG and has a defensive rating inferior to Hickson’s. Although Faried is a more skilled player, Hickson is capable of contributing more on the stat sheet and should be rewarded with more playing time going forward.

In addition, Hickson’s averages are not surprising given the impressive numbers he’s put up in recent years. Over the past two seasons, he has averaged 11.8 and 12.7  and 9.2 and 10.4 RPG, respectively. He has averaged double-digit points per game for three teams in his career, which is proof that he can mesh with different systems and coaches.

Hickson is clearly capable of putting up big numbers in a high-octane offense and can be counted on to shoulder a bigger workload going forward.

If there has been one concern for Hickson in 2014-15, it is that he has shot just 41.8 percent from the field even though the majority of his shots come within the key. However, he has still shot over 50 percent from the field in his career and should see his shooting mark rise back to his usual average as the season continues to progress.

The Nuggets would have many suitors if they chose to trade Hickson to a contending team. Big men who can score and rebound are always a commodity at the deadline, and playoff hopefuls such as the Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat are all currently in the bottom five in team rebounding.

Both Toronto and Los Angeles have the combination of picks, young players and expiring contracts available to acquire him. Denver would be able to net a solid return for someone who is not being properly used and could use its third power forward, Darrell Arthur, to take over Hickson’s current role off the bench.

Arthur is currently averaging 15.6 PPG and 8.2 RPG per 36 minutes and could exceed with an increased role in Hickson’s absence. Like Hickson, Arthur is 26 years old and has reached his prime as an NBA player. The Nuggets would not have to worry about finding another power forward in the draft, especially with Kenneth Faried also on the roster.

Few players are capable of averaging a double-double over an entire season, but Hickson has proved he is gifted enough to accomplish such a great feat. If Denver and Brian Shaw are not willing to give him the opportunity to succeed, they are better off trading him to a contender and acquiring assets for their young, exciting squad. 

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Why Syracuse Basketball Fans Should Hit Panic Button After Early Struggles

Call me an instigator for stirring this pot, but I think three losses through just eight games is enough to cause some anxiety for you if you are a Syracuse basketball fan. 

Before I dig into the Orange’s problems this season, let’s put these three early losses into historical perspective first.

Previously, there had been just six times during Jim Boeheim’s 38-year coaching tenure at Syracuse that the Orange had lost three nonconference regular-season games in a year.

Out of those six seasons, Syracuse went to the NIT four times and the NCAA tournament twice.

The last time it happened, it was during the 2007-08 season, and Boeheim’s team finished 21-14 and was knocked out in the NIT quarterfinals by UMass. 

Syracuse has not failed to make the NCAA tournament since that season.

Keeping this streak alive, however, would be a great challenge for the Orange this year. 

After suffering defeats at the hands of Cal, Michigan and St. John’s over the past three weeks, Syracuse—which started the season at No. 23—did not receive a single vote in the AP Top 25 poll (most recently released on Dec. 8) for the first time in six seasons. 

The Orange’s schedule doesn’t appear to give them any breathing room in the near future, either. 

A 7-1 Louisiana Tech visits the Carrier Dome on Sunday, and seventh-ranked Villanova awaits the Orange after that.

That’s not counting the games in the rigorous ACC that currently features six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 poll.

So just exactly what is wrong with this year’s Orange?

Well, you can point to their poor shooting as one of the main culprits so far. 

Syracuse is shooting a ghastly 44.4 percent from the field as a team this season, and its number of three-pointers made (27) ranks at No. 329 among all Division I programs.

The 27 made three-pointers were out of 129 attempts, which make up a shooting percentage of just 21.1.

Trevor Cooney, who led the Orange last year with 37.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc, is making just 28.3 percent of his attempts from there this season. 

Michael Gbinije and Ron Patterson, two players who made over 30 percent of their three-pointers last season, are combining to shoot just 12.8 percent this year.

In a radio interview with ESPN Radio Syracuse’s Brent Axe, Boeheim commented on what he would like to see from his team moving forward.

I don’t think we have to be radical. We don’t have to go from making three to making 10. We have to make five or six,” Boeheim said. “You don’t, maybe, want to shoot a lot some games but if you can’t get near the basket you have to take some threes. We don’t have to make 10 of them but we have to make some of them.

Which makes me wonder just exactly what is Gerry McNamara doing with this team? But I digress.

Then there’s the development of freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph, who has been playing like, well, a freshman.

Joseph has struggled on both sides of the ball this season, committing an average of 3.3 turnovers per game and still going through the learning curves in Boeheim’s zone defense.

Look, replacing three double-figure scorers in C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant is not an easy transition to make, and no one can fault Syracuse for going through these early struggles, but for fans who have witnessed this program be so successful in the past few seasons, this year will no doubt be a downer.

Boeheim should always deserve some benefit of the doubt to turn this team around, but the ditch may already be too deep for him and his team to climb out of this season.

Oh, and there is that NCAA investigation thing going on as well, so the worst may be yet to come.

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Milwaukee Bucks: Should Ilyasova start?

Ersan Ilyasova has been one of the stand-out players for the Milwaukee Bucks this season. He can always step up with a big game when the team needs it, and he has been on fire as of late before his injury.
Although Ilyasova often gets a high number of minutes with an average of 18.6 per game, it still isn’t as many as most starters in the NBA. With the way Jason Kidd likes to change his starting lineup, should he reward Ilyasova when he comes back with a starting position?
Ilyasova lost his starting spot with the arrival of rookie-standout Jabari Parker. The most obvious position choice for Ilyasova is at the power forward spot. Parker has that spot locked up, and why shouldn’t he? Parker has been playing very well for the Bucks and should continue as a starter.
Parker prefers to be a power forward to a small forward. If Ilyasova started as a power forward, it would most likely move Parker to small forward. This, then could potentially push emerging star Giannis Antetokounmpo from the starting lineup, whi

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