I am so frustrated watching this team, which has no plan from the highest levels of the organization to how they behave on the court. Reinsdorf bungles most things he touches, Paxson has no clue what to do with the roster except draft and stockpile more lottery picks, Vinny is completely searching for anything to work, and the players are showing him nothing really does.
So instead of watching a real basketball team, you instead get a series of gimmicks. And while it's not fair to expect this team to know how to fit together yet, and the Bulls losing to the Cavs on the road is not unexpected, the gimmicks we've seen are obviously not a way to find something sustainable and successful.
The first one is the continued starting of Thabo Sefolosha. It's a gimmick: he starts over players better than him because he's tall. He can't really play, never really shown he's been able to, was scoreless in 17 minutes tonight. He did have 4 rebounds and assists, but Derrick Rose has to start each game with this pump-faking non-threat next to him, and it puts the team into holes to start the first and 3rd quarter. It was only -2 in the first and -1 in the third, but it's not criminal to see your starters take a lead, and there's been too many stints where Thabo gives them absolutely nothing on offense putting further pressure on Rose with no shooters on the court.
Now that they're put in these deficits, the next gimmick arises: play small. It starts with Nocioni at the 4, then mutates into 3 guards with him, and even then 3 guards with Deng, with the already-small-for-a-center Drew Gooden joining a lot of those combinations. Whatever fools' gold arose after the Orlando game was mined for again...and depending on the perspective they were good enough (that's the 'if you're demented' perspective), as they were able to shoot their way back within single digits. But it's still a gimmick, so even if it works it's not a long-term solution, so who cares?
The worst part is that these deficits and the desire to play small means that Thomas and Noah continue to see their minutes cut. 15 for Thomas, 9 for Noah. Tyrus rushed his only attempt of the game, but I thought he was still helping weakside (as he usually does) and hustling back on defense (I swear Skiles, I saw it). He gets a 2nd foul and doesn't come back in that half. I even saw Vinny literally pat Thomas on the head after he was taken out, so I don't think it was an effort question...either it was the need to go small (of course an athletic 4 like Thomas or Noah could go small too, but it's really 'go Noc'), or saving fouls he wasn't going to use (another gimmick). In the 2nd half they were down so far that Vinny felt he had to keep Noc and Gooden in there for any chance to get back in the game. They wound up unable to do it, and it's another wasted game for Thomas. So consider it two failures for the coaching staff and John Paxson's underdeveloped big men.
But at least we got to see Drew Gooden play 37 minutes and shoot 4-13. This guy is not the missing post player. He's a decent jump-shooter, and then on drives looks nearly as awkward as Thomas. He did a good job early bodying Ilgauskas and taking charges on defense, and the fact that he had to be paired with Nocioni in the frontcourt to end the game isn't really his fault. But he is way too aggressive with his shot, and any good he does only brings the fear that he'll try more of it. He certainly deserves to play, but not this much.
This frontcourt is not that deep, so I never imagined that Thomas and Noah would play so little, especially together. Nocioni played 26 minutes and couldn't follow up his good output on Monday. This is because if he did that all the time, he'd be better than he is. Though Noc also gets some reprieve for being paired with Gooden so much: it's just not a good enough rebounding and defensive frontcourt to be successful, and it showed as they were completely unable to secure defensive rebounds down the stretch. And of course for no reason, Aaron Gray, a walking lurching gimmick in and of himself, was put out there with Hinrich/Gordon/Rose/Deng. Vinny must've landed on poor Aaron in whatever spin-wheel he used to make substitutions tonight.
Some other observations:
- Gordon had 31 points on 19 shots in 31 minutes. The attempts got a little more crazy as the night went on, but he looked inspired on both ends. He was creating (5 assists and 2 TOs), and even soared for a rebound and a shotblock on defensive possessions. You could tell how shouldering some of the offensive load helps Rose, though I would've preferred more of Rose creating for Gordon than the other way around. Can we just start Gordon already? please?!?
- Hinrich has now had a second straight near-useless night, 2 points in 20 minutes. Though to be fair to him, he had to play the SF for a majority of his time on the court. Again, gimmicks. What happened to the Vinny plan of placing players in roles that gives them a chance to succeed?
- One of the more positive things to take from this game: the reappearance of Luol Deng. He wasn't able to do much in the first half, but he wasn't forcing bad jumpers as a reaction this time. In the 3rd quarter he really found his stroke, and even finished 2-4 on 3-pointers. It wasn't a perfect game (not enough FTAs considering he played 40 minutes), but I think just getting his shooting out of this mega-funk was an important first step.
- One of the aggravating byproducts (the most important thing was the tanking of the game) of the Gooden/Nocioni frontcourt was how Ben Wallace was able to rebound amongst it. It was too bad, as I enjoyed some classic Wallace awfulness, including Mike Brown using him to screen 24 feet away from the rim.
- The Cavs did use some small ball themselves if the point was to bait them into it. But they have LeBron and the lead. And Varejao is a better finisher than Gooden or Noc.
- About that: they couldn't finish when Rose was finding them inside. Gooden decided to drive into the defense for no reason, and Noc just jumped and flailed. Thomas and Noah should be able to convert this better, though the way Thomas has finished inside the past season I can't be so sure. At least he'd get fouled.
- One accidentally positive thing the 3-guard lineup did was get James to turn his ankle. Then on 2 possessions where James was hobbled on the other end, Hinrich had a TO (led to a cherry-picked basket by James) and Gordon followed by almost turning the ball over himself.
- Before resorting to gimmick-ball, I thought the offense was making a concerted effort to move off the ball to start the game. But the Cavs are a very good defensive team. The Bulls also tried to run as much as they could, which is always nice.
- Oh yeah, Derrick Rose. He's still awesome. Please help him, Bulls.