When does football season start?
One of my first posts here at Down on the Block was about Derrick Rose and his continued bad luck and alienation from his sweet home Chicago. I grew up in Downers Grove, southwest of Chicago, a disciple of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. I adore the NBA as a whole but will always be true to the Bulls first and foremost. Rose saved us from the dark ages post-Jordan and ushered in a new proud era of Bulls basketball. He instantly became my favorite player once the Bulls called his name in the 2008 draft.
Literally everything was perfect about D-Rose’s first four NBA seasons. He was already a legend on the Chicago prep scene, winning two straight state championships at famed Simeon High, where he wore Benji Wilson’s #25 in honor of the slain high school star. He was named Illinois’ Mr. Basketball and the third best high school point guard of the decade by ESPN. Simeon went 120-12 in Rose’s career there. The Bulls, meanwhile, lost 168 games in the same timespan. Yet after a decade of debacles, the Bulls suddenly found their savior. All it took was a charmed 2008 Draft Lottery in which they improbably won the No. 1 overall pick, as well as the good sense to not waste that pick on Michael Beasley.
After the Bulls made Rose the top pick in ’08, the script resembled a sports movie.
2008-09 – Rose won Rookie of the Year.
2009-10 – Made his first All-Star team.
2010-11 – Became the NBA’s youngest ever MVP and carried the Bulls to the No. 1 seed in the East.
2011-12 – Signed a $95 million extension with plans of leading his hometown team for the next decade. Started in the All-Star game. Led the Bulls to another 1-seed. And then…
Pool party. Venetian Hotel. Vegas. My dad, my godfather and I toasting at the pool bar as we watch our league-best Bulls lay waste to Philly in the first round of the playoffs. Daring to dream about the possibilities of finally getting past LeBron and raising a seventh championship banner in the United Center. Rose has 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Then, with a 12-point lead late in the game, Rose finished one of his devastating drives by clutching his left knee in pain upon landing. Part of me knew it right away. Before the news of his ACL tear even became public I knew. Unable to stomach the happy faces around me any longer I left the pool, got piss drunk, lost a ton of money on Blackjack and was a complete mess the rest of the weekend. Somehow, experiencing that dreadful knee injury in Vegas was fitting – the Bulls’ run of good luck ended that day and hasn’t returned. I no longer drink. I tend to avoid Blackjack. But I still mourn for what could have been.
By now you’ve heard the news. The Rose era ended in Chicago on Wednesday, as he was traded to the New York Knicks. It shouldn’t have been surprising, yet I was taken aback and just…sad. I needed a couple days to process the news before writing about it. Really all I was able to do was stage my Rose jerseys for a sad tweet. I’ve been a sports fan long enough to know that all of this is fleeting and a sudden trade can swipe your favorite player off your favorite team in the blink of an eye. But this cut is especially deep.
I think part of me always held out hope (however slim) for a return to past glory. Though that hope is now gone, replaced by a reluctant acceptance, at least the team can move on to the next chapter and try to rebuild. The four seasons that followed the injury were as miserable for Bulls fans as the first four seasons of D-Rose were sublime. With Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol headed out the door behind Derrick, things will probably get worse before they get better.
But rather than dwell on all the pain and negativity and rehash what went wrong after the 2012 injury, Down on the Block chooses to relive the good times. Join me in celebration of 2008-2012 Derrick Rose with the selected works below. Let’s see if we can briefly forget, by losing ourselves in the awesome highlights of Chicago’s once-favorite son.
In his NBA debut, D-Rose dropped 11 points and nine assists against Milwaukee. Tune to 1:55 for a nasty fast break finish, a sign of things to come.
Good luck in New York Derrick. May you regain a piece of what fate took from you.
It’s April and that means the season is effectively over for a number of NBA teams. We’ll be picking through the remains of the fakers, pretenders and never-had-a-chancers to determine what went wrong. This entry will be unique, as we are mourning two teams simultaneously, as they are forever linked due to their collective disappointment. Everyone is to blame in the demise of these two.
We lay to rest the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards together, two teams that half-assed their way through disappointing seasons, and thus, don’t deserve separate graves.
Postmortem: In a deviation from our normal NBA Graveyard format, let’s take a quick look at the Bulls’ and Wizards’ failings at each level of the organizations. Everyone fell short of expectations, starting with the men upstairs: Continue reading
The Chicago Bulls are 17-12, stuck in the mud with about eight other teams in the Eastern middle class. New coach Fred Hoiberg has been shaky at best, leading star guard Jimmy Butler to call him out publicly last week. We can debate whether or not Jimmy should’ve kept those thoughts behind closed doors, but you can feel his frustration. Looking at the Bulls roster, they should not be sixth in the East and fighting for position with the likes of Orlando, Boston and Charlotte.
Since Butler’s outburst, the Bulls have shown signs of life offensively against quality opponents. Interestingly, the offensive outbursts have come from players other than Butler, who has struggled to score at his normal rate lately. Hoiberg responded to the “need to be coached harder” comments by calling three practices Christmas week prior to the OKC game on Christmas day. Be careful what you wish for Jimmy. The Bulls came out firing against the Thunder, winning on the road against one of the top teams in the league. A season ago Chicago was one of only three teams to beat every other team in the league, and they’re on a similar track this year with wins over San Antonio, Cleveland and two over OKC. However, they then tend to lose games to inferior opponents like the Knicks, Nets, even the Sixers last year.
The Bulls followed up the big win in Oklahoma with a tough loss on the road against the Mavs, a game I happened to have good seats for. Which means I witnessed many Nikola Mirotic head fakes like this…Jealous?
Against Dallas, the Bulls’ offense was humming. Derrick Rose was slashing to the rim and finishing, while pushing the pace often. Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson couldn’t miss from mid-range and Mirotic found his three point stroke in the first half. All five starters scored in double-figures, in a high scoring game. But this time the Bulls’ defense betrayed them. You’ve got to hand it to Rick Carlisle, who always plays to his personnel’s strengths. Without Deron Williams, the Mavs relied on high pick and rolls, secondary pick and rolls and the ball moved like a hot potato until a three point shooter was open. At halftime, half of the Mavs’ made baskets came from three. The Bulls and Hoiberg played right into Carlisle’s hands here unfortunately. Gasol and Mirotic refuse to step up to stop the ball handler on the pick and roll, while Gibson flat out didn’t switch onto JJ Barea, leaving him wide open for one of his seven threes just before the half. Barea killed the Bulls from the outside and by the time Hoiberg decided to stick Butler on him, the damage had already been done. The Bulls got crushed in the last two minutes of each and every quarter. Hoiberg was playing checkers on Carlisle’s chessboard.
My dad and I were discussing the merits of putting your wing stopper (Butler) on the tiny guard with the hot hand (Barea) as early as the second quarter. The Bulls didn’t make this adjustment until late in the fourth, and it worked to perfection. Butler’s great defense on Barea helped get the Bulls a desperately needed stop down three with less than a minute left. But now it was the offense’s turn to sabotage the Bulls. For some reason, Hoiberg had Rose throwing the ball in with no timeouts left, when Rose is the one guy you can count on to get open if an inbounds play turns desperate. The play that was drawn up got sniffed out by the Mavs, as Doug McDermott ran into a defender, and with no safety valve the Bulls got whistled for a five second violation. Game over. In confounding fashion.
The rollercoaster Bulls then went home for a Monday night tilt with the Toronto Raptors, the “second best team in the East” du jour, who were getting DeMarre Carroll back from injury. After a back and forth first half, the Bulls dominated the last 20 minutes, mostly on the backs of the bench. Gasol and Rose got to sit most of the fourth quarter as Bobby Portis, Aaron Brooks, Tony Snell and Gibson put the hammer down on Toronto. The bench-heavy lineup, with Butler in the game, played lockdown defense as well. Without Mirotic and Gasol in the game, suddenly teams can’t pick and roll to the Bulls’ D to death.
On a side note, Joakim Noah’s shoulder injury is a blessing in disguise. With Noah out the rotation is less cluttered, the floor spacing has improved and most importantly, Portis has gotten a chance to play. Outside of the Dallas game where he looked a bit hesitant and the refs did the rookie no favors, Portis has been a revelation. He hustles, mixes it up for rebounds in traffic and has shown outside range. His continued development may lead to a “big man for a wing” trade sooner than later, and gives the Bulls offense a dimension it’s sorely lacked. The foundations of a real contender are starting to take shape here, as Chicago’s talent is showing signs of jelling. If the supporting cast plays to its potential, with Rose improving and Gasol and Butler providing consistent offense, this team should claw out of the East muck and challenge Cleveland.
A lack of consistent effort and shooting, mixed with more curious coaching is what can hold them back. For now, they’re a confounding 17-12. To be continued.
Really makes you think. The Bulls gave up 130 points tonight to the immortal Charlotte Hornets. Not quite as bad as the Bears losing 55-14 to the Packers, but it’s eerily similar to the “sacrifice defense for modern offense” routine that Chicago fans are all too familiar with after Trestman’s failed reign.
Maybe Trestman ditched the glasses, put on a suit and tricked John Paxson into making him the new Bulls coach? It’s admittedly far-fetched, but I mean his day job with the 2-6 Ravens can’t be all that demanding.
(For the record I was all for both the Trestman and Hoiberg hires because, well, I don’t know, I’m an idiot? Or I was sick of watching terrible offense and unwisely took stout defense for granted? Let’s go with that. There’s still hope for Hoiberg obviously, but I’m officially a little nervous. Also: D-Rose held under 10 points for three straight games? Make that terribly nervous.)
The NBA season kicks off in two nights. WOOOOOHOOOOOO!!
Now, before we get too excited, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the horrible news that broke today that long time NBA head coach Flip Saunders passed away Sunday after a battle with cancer. This is devastating news, and my heart goes out to Saunders’ family, the Minnesota Timberwolves organization and the NBA at large. Saunders was a great ambassador for the NBA and one of its top coaches. By all accounts he was an even greater man. He will be missed dearly.
The NBA that Saunders leaves behind is in great shape. There are more superstars and top flight teams in the league than perhaps anytime in the last 30 years. There are storylines galore. How will first year college to pro coaches – Fred Hoiberg (Bulls) and Billy Donovan (Thunder) – fare after taking over contenders? Can Anthony Davis make the expected leap to league’s best player sooner than later? Can the champion Warriors prove last year wasn’t a fluke? Will the small-ball revolution continue and teams trend closer toward positionless basketball? How will Kevin Durant’s comeback-from-injury tour unfold? And for that matter, Paul George’s?
Speaking of injuries, the worst trend in recent NBA seasons has been the amount of time missed by hobbled star players. The following sample reads like a USA Basketball practice roster: Durant, George, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire. All of these guys have missed significant game time or whole seasons since 2012. Last season could have been an all-timer in terms of basketball greatness, yet by the end of the playoffs we were so marred by injury that teams were a shell of themselves. Look, injuries are always going to factor into an 82-game season with two months of postseason play; and the team with the most injury luck is normally the last team standing in June. But last season got ridiculous.
It’s why the Warriors are (unfairly in my opinion) having to defend their title verbally before the season even starts. Golden State won a historic 67 games, had the League MVP and more or less rolled through the playoffs, but teams and pundits are still chirping that their championship win was due more to other contenders in their path being decimated by injury. In the Finals, the Cavs were without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. The Rockets lost Pat Beverley and had a hobbled Howard in the Western Conference Finals. After going up 2-1 on the Warriors in the second round, the Grizzlies’ backcourt became dinged up.
I’m not taking anything away from the Warriors. That’s nonsense. But I can’t deny that the level of play goes down considerably with all this attrition. And the basketball watching public suffers. This year, the Pelicans are already a basketball MASH unit, which will put considerable strain on Davis. Please, Brow, please stay healthy.
I read a lot of NBA coverage and listen to a ton of podcasts – I love prognostication. One thing you learn quickly is in any season previews or playoff predictions, the words “If they stay healthy” or “With all things being equal” has to be mentioned constantly. If Durant and Serge Ibaka stay healthy, OKC could win 65 games. If Rose stays healthy the Bulls could get the 1 seed. See what I mean?
Teams recognize this as a huge issue, as does the top NBA brass. You’re seeing teams invest in new wave training staffs and sending players to sports science organizations like P3 in Los Angeles during the offseason. Commissioner Adam Silver is working on ways to eliminate back to backs and four games in five nights, while someday we may see fewer games with more rest in between. Whatever it takes, I’m for it. Because only injuries and hack-a-thons can take away from what should be an awesome 2015-16 season. It’s time to get fired up.
The season starts Tuesday with three great matchups. Here’s a brief look:
Cleveland @ Chicago (TNT) – 7 p.m.
Oh yeah, baby. This is the stuff I’ve been waiting for since June. As a Bulls fan, I’m cautiously optimistic about the Fred Hoiberg era. Rose will be in the lineup after his broken orbital bone injury, and LeBron will also play after his preseason back injection. No Iman Shumpert or Kyrie though, already out with injuries. Sigh. At least the King and D-Rose will be out there. I like the Bulls to get Hoiberg a win in his first regular season game.
Detroit @ Atlanta – 7 p.m.
This may not intrigue casual fans, but I’m very interested. The only thing casual about me is my wardrobe, son… /adjusts basketball shorts. Stan Van Gundy is reshaping the Pistons with one big in the middle (Andre Drummond) and four shooters on the outside. They should play faster and be much harder to deal with defensively. Atlanta won 60 games last year and lost Demarre Carroll to free agency, but signed Tiago Splitter and return with a chip on their shoulder. Nobody thinks they can be as good this year, that last year was an aberration. Time to prove doubters wrong. I like them to start out 1-0.
New Orleans @ Golden State (TNT) – 9:30 p.m.
A rematch of last year’s first round playoff series, which the Warriors swept. This game looked a lot better when the schedule first came out. But as mentioned, New Orleans is banged up badly. They could be without Tyreke Evans, Norris Cole, Quincy Pondexter, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, and Jrue Holiday will be on a minutes limit. Meanwhile the Champs are healthy, playing at home and have haters to quiet. I like the Warriors big.
Here we go. Let’s be careful out there NBA teams. May your injury reports be short and your medical staff be bored.
I was listening to “Waddle & Silvy” on ESPNChicago this afternoon and it was stated that 6 months of Derrick Rose storylines have been crammed into two days. I thought that was a very accurate overview, and as we’ve gotten accustomed to, each of these D-Rose storylines are bad ones. For clarity, let’s list them all out and tackle each storyline below.
I’m going to bounce around here some, but I choose to start by addressing the last bullet, as to me it is by far the most pressing concern facing this Bulls team. Rose’s shattered orbital bone, while some reports suggest he’ll only be out two weeks, could be a big wrench in the hopeful Bulls’ plans. First and foremost, the injury is a traumatic one that has to mess with a slashing guard’s psyche and confidence at least for the near term. Second, the timing of it couldn’t be much worse.
New coach Fred Hoiberg is overhauling the whole style of Bulls basketball. The hope is that the Bulls will become an offensive juggernaut, while not sacrificing much of their well-known stout defense. Under Tom Thibodeaux the Bulls struggled to score points (ranked 29th, 30th and 15th last three seasons) and hit three-pointers (29th, 26th, 15th). In addition to the numbers, the eye test showed that many possessions bogged down after multiple pick and rolls went nowhere and the offense resorted to a late shot clock heave. This was especially the case in the playoffs, when defenses are stouter. Under Thibodeaux any time a solid defensive team had a chance to scout during a seven game series, the Bulls’ offense ground to a halt. This is precisely why, from a basketball standpoint at least, Hoiberg was brought in. His teams at Iowa State never ranked lower than #11 in offensive efficiency, as they pushed the pace routinely after defensive rebounds and utilized early-action screens up top while big men played off the block to open up the lane. Iowa State also ranked in the top 15% of Division I teams in threes attempted last season.
All of this is a huge departure from what the Bulls did offensively under Thibodeaux, meaning this training camp is more important to the Bulls than any in recent memory. There will be a major learning curve. How will Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson adjust to playing much less back-to-the-basket, low-block offense? Will the wings take time learning to push and push and push some more after misses? Most importantly, how will the primary ball handling duties be divvied up between Jimmy Butler and Rose? There have already been questions about the two guards’ chemistry, a partnership that will be tantamount to making this offense hum. There are valid concerns about how well Rose and Butler mesh. I ranked them #2 in my backcourt rankings but the more I think about it, it feels like even more of a homer pick than I first admitted. Rose shined his brightest before Butler played any real minutes in the NBA. Then the injuries happened and Butler shined without Rose. Together for really the first time last season, their grade can only be an incomplete. Butler tended to shoot better from distance with Rose demanding defensive attention but Butler’s attacking numbers fell as he sometimes was relegated to a spot up shooter. There were some awkward crunch time moments when neither guy seemed sure who the alpha was, usually with Rose winding up with the final shot. Training camp is the ideal place to work these things out and build the framework for success when it counts. Now with Rose missing most of camp, he will once again be playing catch up while others pick up the slack early on. And for the love of God I just can’t stomach many more Kirk Hinrich bricks.
Onto a more serious off-court storyline, the sexual assault lawsuit that has been following Rose around for the past month or so. The little bit of detail that I read about is pretty horrible and if true, he has much bigger problems to deal with than a broken face and he shouldn’t even be playing. However, I like to reserve judgment on these kinds of things, because someone calling you a rapist and demanding money doesn’t alone make one a rapist. There haven’t been criminal charges and in general I think the media has done a good job of letting the courts work through this without spouting unfounded conjecture. Even if completely innocent, this is an embarrassing accusation for Rose. And I think that played into the free agency storyline. He was asked about the lawsuit on Media Day, and in his answer, he started talking about all the money his peers have been making this summer in free agency and how he’s looking forward to getting his in two years. This is the comment that started up the Derrick Detractors Demolition Derby in Chicago and nationwide.
Let’s break it down. To me, he is obviously uncomfortable in front of a microphone and cameras to begin with; and on top of that the lawsuit question made him nervous and he jumped to something off topic in the free agency / money comments. Now he’s definitely at fault here, because he obviously had those comments chambered and had been thinking about it all summer when he saw guys like Enes Kanter get $70M contracts. It’s like when your mom would question you about where you were the night before past curfew, and you stutter and fumble around for an answer before changing the subject to the A you got on your last history exam. The problem is the subject Rose jumped to is not one anybody who follows the NBA wants to hear about from him. He had a blank in his chamber, and it got him into much more of a mess than if he had just given an awkward answer to the original question.
Which leads to the final couple points here. A player can be terrible at interviews and awkward with the media and even say dumb things, without being a dumb person. Derrick isn’t Isaac Newton, but I do not consider him dumb. I can’t imagine coming up the way he did in Englewood, on Chicago’s South Side. I’m from the Chicago ‘burbs, a completely different world. But to choose the legal route and pursue basketball dreams in an effort to pull himself out of that situation and bring his family and friends along with him takes personal commitment, character and yes, smarts.
Beyond his basketball skills, it was his story that enamored his fellow Chicagoans with him. Chicago prides itself on blue collar loyalty, and Derrick seemed to embody that, winning high school titles at Simeon, taking his Memphis team to the NCAA title and then coming home as the Bulls’ #1 draft pick. Immediately he got the city excited again about Bulls basketball and won the Rookie of the Year, then two years later the MVP, and he suddenly owned a city whose skyscrapers he once looked at from afar in the rough and forgotten slums of Englewood. We all know what happened next, his first real taste of basketball adversity in the playoffs against Philly, when he blew out his ACL. The arguments on when he was cleared to play but didn’t come back in are tired and stale so I won’t go back down that road, but that was the first time Chicago turned on its hometown hero. It wouldn’t be the last. Only Derrick knows how that’s affected him, but it’s been one thing after another since the initial injury while the bandwagon continues to shrink. The real sad thing about his fall from grace with Chicago is that your average Grabowsky (middle-aged, middle-class, white Chicago male) would probably cross the street in fear if he saw a 17-year old Englewood version of Derrick Rose walking down the sidewalk, yet that same guy sees an MVP D-Rose crowned at the United Center and claims a part of that glory for himself since they’re ostensibly from the same city. Should we be surprised by how quickly Grabowsky shuns the ghetto kid once he doesn’t live up to the standards we’ve set for him? Sadly, I guess we’ve learned the answer to that. Listen, I love Chicago, it’s my favorite city on Earth. But Chicago is more overtly racist than many places in Texas (where I live now) and whole swaths of that city (read: the poor parts) have been left for dead amidst drug gangs, violence and a general ambivalence from the wider population. I’ve gone on a tangent here, but trust me I’ve heard nasty things said in Chicago about Rose and people of his background, and even though I think Derrick deserves a ton of blame for this whole circus, I want to shed a light on some of the unfortunate hypocrisy and hatred going on in the Chi.
Man. The season hasn’t even started yet and I’m already depressed. Let’s go out on a high note with this clip of D Rose finding some of his old magic in last year’s playoffs. I wonder how many of the Grabowsky’s calling for Rose’s head today were jumping and cheering after this shot banked in just four short months ago…
Get well soon, Derrick.
As a Chicago Bears fan, the NBA season can’t start soon enough. As a Chicago Bulls fan, can’t someone unplug Derrick Rose’s microphone? More on that later.
Media Day marks the start of NBA training camps, and showcases the Association in all its quirky glory. You know the NBA is back when Twitter videos pop up of a star player wearing a fannypack while lip-synching and dancing to Montell Jordan.
After reading up on each team’s version of the Media Day circus, here are my winners and losers – although much like Media Day itself, this is mostly good-natured fun. Except for D-Rose (Dammit).
Media Day Winners
D-Wade – You have to applaud Wade for how he’s crafted his brilliant career. He won a title with Shaq early in his career, convinced LeBron and Chris Bosh to come play with him and won two more titles, and now he’s again a cornerstone of an impressive roster. Most importantly his balky knees haven’t affected his dance moves. This is just a phenomenal performance.
Body Image – A common theme, much mocked by the basketball internet, is the recurring training camp storyline of who’s dropped weight, added 15 pounds of muscle or gotten swole in the offseason. This year’s Media Day did not disappoint. NBA Media Day quote sheets can resemble an issue of Cosmopolitan with all the LBs shed and miracle diet plans. This year’s winners? Kyle Lowry, who struggled with injuries down the stretch and is no longer a spring chicken, is now looking “svelte” and jokes were made about the impostor wearing Kyle Lowry’s jersey at Media Day. Jared Sullinger also shed some much-needed poundage, while Rudy Gobert added muscle to help him bang down low. Danilo Gallinari is looking trim after Eurobasket. Let’s move on.
Phoenix Suns – Everyone was curious how Markieff Morris would comport himself after throwing a fit when the Suns traded his brother, and demanded a trade himself. Surprisingly, he said he is putting it all behind him and looking forward to playing with his Suns teammates. This is big for Phoenix, who need Kieff’s skills and not his poor attitude in a year when they can compete for a playoff spot. Glad to see he’s on board, and it makes sense. I mean, he can still see Marcus at Thanksgiving, right?
Houston Promise – Ty Lawson has spent the summer getting his personal life sorted out, and is sounding like the change of scenery is doing him some good. He’s poised to help the Rockets compete for a title and will take pressure off of James Harden, keeping the MVP candidate more fresh for a deep playoff run.
“This is like the turning point,” Lawson said at Monday’s Media Day activities in Toyota Center. “What type of career you gonna have, Ty? Are you gonna win championships or are you just be like one of the mediocre players?
“A point guard’s career is always judged on if you win or not. You can have the most points, the most stats, whatever. But if you don’t win a championship as a point guard, then you’re not really one of the best point guards out there. So this is my chance to really prove something, prove my career if I win a championship here.”
Alcohol is a powerful foe; I join Houston fans in rooting for Ty to defeat it.
Amateur Comedy – Media Day allows players and coaches to goof off and test their standup comedy skills in front of a willing media. There’s no pressure yet and everyone’s in a good mood (and getting softball questions). Some highlights include:
Mike Malone – The new Nuggets coach sounds like he’s making an instant impact on the team, who figure to be a bottom-feeder this season. He preaches an up-tempo style, which suits the high-altitude Nuggets, and is quickly building a team identity. He doesn’t want a lot of fouls screwing up his team’s pace, stressing quick defense to offense transition. I love this Malone quote from yesterday: “Fouling negates hustle.” What a gem.
Optimism – Ghandi would be proud. Optimism reigned supreme at Media Days, as it does every year. Here are some things to be happy about going into the season, NBA fans: Joakim Noah is healthy and ready to play like his old self…Fred Hoiberg loves the Bulls’ roster flexibility…Kevin Durant and new coach Billy Donovan have hit it off, are excited to work together…rookie Stanley Johnson has the Pistons glowing…star shooting guards Bradley Beal and DeMar DeRozan aren’t worried about their contracts and are just focused on winning…even George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins are (supposedly) getting along.
Media Day Losers
D-Rose – I’m not going to drop a hot take here, but I’ll just say that as a longtime, staunch Rose supporter it’s getting harder and harder to defend him when he says dumb things to the media. I don’t think his talk about free agency is a huge deal but it’s definitely not a good look at this point in his career and as a leader of a team trying to fundamentally change under a new coach.
This Pop Interviewer – Man this video makes you cringe. The best part is even after Pop has made it plain that he’s messing around, the interviewer looks like he’s in a Southwest Airlines “Wanna Get Away” commercial. Brutal.
Brooklyn Nets – Hey Deron Williams, your former teammate Joe Johnson is confused why you wanted to leave the Nets so bad? “It’s not that bad here,” Johnson said. That should be plastered onto the outside of the Barclays Center.
New Orleans Pelicans – Things on the whole are looking up with a young beast in Anthony Davis and new coach Alvin Gentry. However, Gentry said at Media Day that Tyreke Evans is their undisputed point guard. On its face, I question this strategy. Less Evans dribbling, not more, would be my prescription for the Pelicans. The more foreboding news reading between the lines here is that Jrue Holiday must not be ready to come back and be a reliable contributor, let alone the main point guard.
Jeremy Lamb – In his first season as a Hornet, Lamb is setting himself up to learn some harsh realities. Here’s what he said at Media Day: “I like to shoot the ball but I also like to make plays for my teammates. I think it’ll open up things for Big Al but also he can kick out if they double team him…[I] like to help people play to their strengths.” Obviously Lamb, only 23, is still learning the League. Double team or not, Al Jefferson doesn’t kick it out, young’n.
George Hill – Apparently he plans on sporting this bleach blonde dye job during the season. This is not the way to build upon your best season as a pro.
Cancer – It was awesome to see Craig Sager, who has been fighting Leukemia for the last year and is receiving treatment in Houston, make it out to Rockets Media Day. NBA broadcasts aren’t the same without Sager and his colorful suits, and Down on the Block would like to wish him a speedy recovery. There was a great moment yesterday when James Harden sought Sager out in a crowded media room and gave him a hug. Here’s hoping there are some good vibes in that Beard…
For much of my life my stance on guards was that they were a necessary evil. For a big man they struck me as selfish, short-sighted showboats. Much of their movements seemed superfluous, and they were hesitant to throw it in to the post even when there was a mouse in the house. I could see their mind turning as they saw me with great low block position and a beckoning arm raised for the ball, always judging, thinking, “What if I never get the ball back?”. It baffled me that they lacked confidence in my ability to pull a fundamental spin move, ball fake, switch hands and kiss it off the glass for two. But, alas, someone needs to bring the ball up the court – I know damn well I’m panicking and getting stole on when that half court trap comes at me.
So it became necessary to build an uneasy alliance with one or two guards who seemed to see the light, who realized that a center isn’t a black hole (except for Al Jefferson), and that a skilled big man with court vision can draw a double team and kick it back out to the original passer or another shooter behind the arc, or find a slashing forward for an easy bucket. It’s not that point guards are inherently selfish – though some are – it’s that they’re control freaks, with maybe a dose of Napoleon syndrome. As a big man you have to at least feign understanding with these tiny dribble machines for the offense to function properly and the team to ultimately succeed. It’s a constant tug of war. One my favorite books is Pat Conroy’s “My Losing Season”, in which the diminutive Conroy’s coach, talking to the author years after their Citadel days, tells him: “I always hated guards”, to explain away why he was always suck a jerk to him. As I read that, I reflected on many years of being ignored in the post and then berated for not offensive rebounding a contested brick, and a satisfied smile began to curl. What wisdom in those words.
With all that said, I’ve softened my stance on the guard positions as I’ve gotten older, maybe because I don’t get to play as much anymore to witness their treachery in action. You simply can’t deny the level of skill and artistry which the NBA’s best guards display on a nightly basis. In recent years the traditional center position has been de-emphasized yet I crave the NBA more now than I did as a kid. Credit where credit’s due, and as Stephen Curry showcased last season, the point guard position in particular is crucially important in today’s game. And what it means to be a top point guard has changed: not only must they be the court general that drops hot dimes and penetrates a defense, a sweet stroke from three-point range is now almost a prerequisite. A guy like Curry opens up the floor for his bigger teammates since you can’t leave him open at any time. Done right, it’s sublime.
There’s also something to be said for a great partnership between backcourt mates. It can take many forms, such as Klay Thompson checking a bigger, scoring point guard for the small Curry so he can conserve energy for the offensive end; or a Kyle Korver/JJ Redick specializing in catch-and-shoot and bending a defense by moving without the ball while their respective point partner Jeff Teague and Chris Paul run the show and get them the ball at the right spot. Like any partnership it can take time, and it can backfire. The initial promise can disappear when egos, unclear roles and overall team chemistry come into play and sends backcourt mates into feuds. In the best cases you have classic male bonding. The worst case? Well, you remember Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton exorcising their 2nd Amendment right in the Wizards locker room, right?
Without further ado, I present my current NBA Backcourt Rankings, with some color commentary on each tandem. Point guard is listed first, then shooting guard. One note: though the key criteria for ranking is total starting backcourt play, I will elevate a backcourt if one of the two is a superstar, regardless of how bad his backcourt mate may be. Case in point: I’m taking Russ Westbrook (awesome) and Dion Waiters (decidedly not awesome) every day of the week over two solid guards like George Hill and Monta Ellis in Indiana. Combined PER is from the 2014-15 season.
Low on Talent and/or Experience
30. Emmanuel Mudiay & Randy Foye (Denver Nuggets). Combined PER: N/A. I was in Denver last weekend, and excitement for the Nuggets hasn’t been this low since the pre-Melo days. I like Mudiay and think he will be good, but this year will be tough with a thin roster and a lot being asked of him. As for Foye, I was surprised he is still in the league, let alone starting. Gary Harris may take his job.
29. Tony Wroten & Robert Covington (Philadelphia 76ers). Combined PER: 29.6. Wroten was a great fantasy sleeper if you were punting on turnovers, prior to his injury. He’s erratic and too eager to look for his own shot. Covington is a solid player, whose best role would be coming off the bench for a contender. In Philly he’s their top perimeter player.
28. Jarrett Jack & Wayne Ellington (Brooklyn Nets). Combined PER: 26.2. I don’t have anything to really say here except Jack and Ellington are both fine role players off the bench. But they should not be a starting backcourt in the NBA. Joe Johnson will get some time at the 2, which would push this pairing up further.
27. Jose Calderon & Aaron Afflalo (New York Knicks). Combined PER: 19.5. Knicks fans should probably just watch old tapes of Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe to stay sane this season. Calderon has been a solid pro, but will be 34 this season and doesn’t have much upside. Kendrick Lamar “used to be jealous of Aaron Afflalo”, but my guess is the script has flipped on that one.
26. Trey Burke & Alec Burks (Utah Jazz). Combined PER: 25.6. Great alliterative backcourt, but the greatness stops there. While my fellow Colorado alum Burks can score and is worthy of a starting 2 spot, his ceiling is low. It’s really a shame that Dante Exum went down with a knee injury, as this would have been a valuable growth year for him with a talented front court to play with. Burke just hasn’t shown the same magic he had as a Michigan Wolverine. He could get benched if he shoots them out of games.
25. Ricky Rubio & Kevin Martin (Minnesota Timberwolves). Combined PER: 31.9. All that Rubio hype never really panned out, did it? It turns out you need to be able to shoot and score in the lane nowadays as a PG. You can get by if you do one or the other really well. Rubio does neither. The journeyman Martin brings some stability to the position and should put up stats on a bad team. He won’t make them better, however.
24. Rajon Rondo & Ben McLemore (Sacramento Kings). Combined PER: 22.8. Everything with the Kings is a potential disaster, which is why it’s a precarious spot for Rondo to land. He has a chance to rebuild his reputation here and earn a big payday next summer when the cap jumps up, but his glory days are farther and farther behind him. Rondo plus Demarcus Cousins plus George Karl likely equals turmoil. It should be captivating to watch. McLemore may be a diamond in the rough – we’ll see how much better he gets with more playing time this year.
23. Jrue Holiday & Eric Gordon (New Orleans Pelicans). Combined PER: 31.5. I can’t overstate how much the Pels need Holiday healthy for a full season, to take some pressure off the Brow and prevent slipping into becoming the Tyreke Evans Show. His injury history doesn’t leave much room for optimism. Gordon’s own injury-plagued career can only be called a disappointment.
22. Reggie Jackson & Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit Pistons). Combined PER: 31. When Jackson left OKC for Detroit last season he found more opportunity and his numbers jumped to 17.6 points and 9 assists per game. Though capable of scoring he’s wildly inconsistent and committed 3.5 turnovers per game for Detroit last year. KCP is a solid scorer who won’t keep opponents’ coaches up at night.
21. Damian Lillard & Gerald Henderson (Portland Trail Blazers). Combined PER: 33.9. What a bittersweet time for Dame. On one hand, the Blazers handed him the keys to the team’s future to tune of a 5 year, $120M extension. Yet, he’s the last man standing in the starting five from a team that won 51 games and looked superb at times last year. He’s got to make some kind of effort to improve defensively. Henderson is an efficient shooter, though his PPG dropped last season in Charlotte.
20. Deron Williams & Wesley Matthews (Dallas Mavericks). Combined PER: 31.8. On paper this looks great. Williams has looked good on paper for years, though, just not on the basketball court. He’s back in his hometown now and should be motivated to prove doubters wrong, but that ship may have sailed. Matthews is one of the top 2 guards in the league but the torn Achilles puts his ongoing value and effectiveness in question. Especially this season, I’m not expecting big things.
My Interest is Piqued
19. Kemba Walker & Nic Batum (Charlotte Hornets). Combined PER: 30.7. Batum is a good addition in Charlotte assuming he’s completely healthy after a frustrating down season for him last year. He’ll provide help on perimeter defense and is a great passer and rebounder at the 2 spot. Walker is the star of this team and is an exciting scorer. His ability to win as a team’s best player at the NBA level is questionable.
18. D’Angelo Russell & Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers). Combined PER: N/A. This pairing should make for good theater if not a lot of wins. I’m buying Russell stock and think he will win Rookie of the Year. He’s also already making waves by doing impressions of Kobe and sharing good-natured jabs with his backcourt mate on Twitter. Russell’s growth as a player could either be helped or hampered by Bryant, depending on what Mamba shows up this season.
17. Marcus Smart & Avery Bradley (Boston Celtics). Combined PER: 22.5. Opposing guards will dread playing the Celtics this year. The Smart-Bradley tandem is physical, hard-nosed and quick to pick pockets. They should get better as they play more together, but Smart needs to improve his efficiency while putting the ball in the basket more often.
16. Elfrid Payton & Victor Oladipo (Orlando Magic). Combined PER: 29.7. Perhaps the two most important cogs in the young Magic’s engine. Payton showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie and should be more consistent in Year 2. Oladipo is the one player on this team with star potential in 2015-16. These two are just getting started and hopefully will share a backcourt for many years.
15. Michael Carter-Williams & Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks). Combined PER: 31.1. Giannis is listed as either a 2 or a 3, but I think he will play more backcourt this season as the Bucks integrate Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker into the starting lineup, with Khris Middleton playing the 3. The Greek Freak has the potential to be great – like top 20 player in the league great – and should improve in all areas this year with more polish. MCW is a big PG who gives the Bucks a defensive answer for the Kyrie Irvings and Derrick Rose’s of the East. Both guys are pretty atrocious shooters, that must improve quickly.
Solid and Steady
14. Mike Conley & Courtney Lee (Memphis Grizzlies). Combined PER: 30.1. I love Mike Conley – his top priority is getting teammates involved in the offense and feeding his awesome big men. He’s as steady as they come, and he shoots lefty. A lot to like there. Lee is just sort of there…you can count on him for 10 points and 1-2 threes per game, which has not been enough for low scoring Memphis to get past the West powerhouses.
13. George Hill & Monta Ellis (Indiana Pacers). Combined PER: 38. Maybe it was just because I totally ignored the Pacers last season, but I was amazed when looking up Hill’s stats. He was excellent! He shot almost 48 percent while scoring 16 points a game with an out-of-nowhere 21.5 PER. Monta should help boost Hill’s pedestrian assist numbers. Last year’s Pacers were not so good at trivial things like scoring. Ellis had one of his best seasons last year as well, functioning as a point guard at times for Dallas. We’ll have to see how these two fit together. It could go bad real fast if Ellis reverts to being a chucker.
12. Jeff Teague & Kyle Korver (Atlanta Hawks). Combined PER: 35.4. These two had a great season in 2014-15 and the continuity will help the Hawks this year. If they want to even sniff 60 wins again, Teague’s passing and Korver’s shooting will be main factors.
Carried by a Superstar PG
11. Kyrie Irving & Iman Shumpert (Cleveland Cavaliers). Combined PER: 32.6. Kyrie may be out the first couple months recovering from surgery but he’s a top 5 point guard when healthy. Shumpert is a defensive role-player on this team, but they could really use better shooting from him.
10. Russell Westbrook & Dion Waiters (Oklahoma City Thunder). Combined PER: 39.2. Russ went HAM last year with Durant out of the lineup. Many can argue that he hurt the team with his ball-dominance, but I won’t complain because it produced Oscar Robertson-like stat lines and endless quality Vines. His PER was nearly 30 and if he was paired with even a league-average guard rather than Waiters, they’d be a few spots higher on this list.
Loaded with Talent
9. Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors). Combined PER: 36.7. Both battled injuries last year at different times but when they shared the floor Toronto became a perimeter nightmare for opposing teams to guard. Both really fizzled in the playoffs, which will need to change if they want to stay in the top 10.
8. Chris Paul & JJ Redick (Los Angeles Clippers). Combined PER: 42.2. Paul is a generational point guard who will make all his teammates look better. Redick, however, is not just a normal player. His off-ball movement drives defenders crazy and he creates so much space for Paul and the bigs to work due to the threat of his 3-point shooting. The Clippers should be improved this year, and have a terrible taste in their mouths given their last two playoff flame outs. Expect big things.
7. Tony Parker & Danny Green (San Antonio Spurs). Combined PER: 32.4. This was a tough one to figure out, especially since Parker has noticeably declined with age. But these two are champions that have proven they can win playing together. Green’s 3-and-D is hugely important to new-look San Antonio’s title dreams.
Show and Prove
6. Eric Bledsoe & Brandon Knight (Phoenix Suns): Combined PER: 28.9. You may say this is a reach. But I have faith, even if these are basically two point guards sharing a backcourt. Knight played his best basketball last season in Milwaukee. Bledsoe is a cornerstone for Phoenix. Phoenix has a wide range of outcomes based on things like Markieff Morris’s sanity and Tyson Chandler’s age, but one thing that is not a question mark is the backcourt.
5. Goran Dragic & Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat). Combined PER: 40.2. Dragic and Wade actually shot better than any other backcourt last season, 48.5%, after the February trade that sent Dragic over from the Suns. The pairing never got a chance to play together with Chris Bosh, who thankfully is cleared to play this season. Dragic is good enough to shoulder the scoring load on those nights when D-Wade’s knees are barking. This should be a phenomenal partnership.
4. Ty Lawson & James Harden (Houston Rockets). Combined PER: 45.2. They haven’t played a game together yet, but the potential makes your mouth water. Harden had an MVP-like year handling a bulk of the Rockets’ scoring, but he also was asked to handle the ball pretty much all game. That’s not a sustainable strategy as the miles on Harden’s body add up. He also was tops in the league in turnovers, many times having to force plays late in the shot clock when the offense broke down. If they can figure it out, Lawson can be the primary ballhandler, always a threat to beat his man for an easy layup or pull from three, while Harden works the angles and gets more open shots. Lawson needs to figure out his alcohol issues first and foremost, but he’s found his way into a great situation.
Only Injuries Can Stop Them
3. John Wall & Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards) Combined PER: 33.9. This star pairing is entering its fourth year together and I’m betting the improvement over Year 3 will be vast. Beal in particular had a tough time finding his rhythm after an early injury. Yet Washington still swept Toronto and pushed top seed Atlanta to six games in the playoffs. Wall is a blur on the court with great court vision and a killer instinct to take and make the final shot. Beal is a pure shooting guard that can play some defense and make a defense pay for helping on Wall. With a clean bill of health, this is the year Wall and Beal put themselves on the map as a top-3 backcourt.
2. Derrick Rose & Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls). Combined PER: 37.2. Rose, in his first real meaningful regular season minutes in three years, showed hints of his old brilliance and some serious inefficiency. His PER last year was eight points lower than his career high of 23.5, he shot just 41 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. Rose will never be the player he was in 2010; that’s the bad news. The good news is now he doesn’t have to be. His backcourt mate Butler came into his own last year and will be the Bulls’ 2 guard for the foreseeable future. There have been questions, mostly baseless in my opinion, about friction between Butler and Rose. Only time will tell, but I believe they will be a force together under a Fred Hoiberg offense that will be more imaginative and fluid than past Thibodeaux attacks. I predict this year that Rose will have a career high in assists.
The Gold Standard