I'm going to make some comments about each fo the four primary forwards, but I thought I'd start by putting the postion in context. SF this season has been played by Deng (49%), Sefolosha (18%), Hughes (17%), Nocioni (10%), and Gordon (3%). Deng playing less than 50% of the minutes at SF never bodes well. This means that 1/5th of the time Vinny has been playing a 3 guard lineup. Even with Deng's injury that's way too much rebounding to give up.
The power forward position has mostly been manned by Thomas (39%), Nocioni (36%), Gooden (14%), and Deng (6%). A combined 50% from Gooden and Noc wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world if Gooden wasn't playing center for a good chunk of the time Nocioni was on the floor. Similarly Deng's 6% wouldn't be bad if Nocioni wasn't playing center for about half that time.
It's been great to see that Deng is still capable of producing like he did in the past. I wasn't ever really worried, but watching him go through a month where he shot 40% and uncharacteristically turned the ball over to start the season was difficult at least raise some doubts about whether he could rediscover the things that made him successful. The offense began to come back in December, but his underrated defense really didn't show up until January when he started rebounding again. And despite the knocks on his athleticism, this team gets a whole lot less athletic if he's not playing.
As much as I believe in Tyrus, Deng might still be the player that I'd least want to see go in a trade (excluding Derrick of course). And it's not because I see a lot of potential for Deng to get better. It's because of how productive Deng already is, despite his obvious limitations. As I've said before, he's above-average at offense, defense, and rebounding. You can win with that type of player, and Deng wins his matchup much more than he loses it. Not only has he had a postive PER differential in each of the last four seasons accordng to 82 games, but he led the team in PER differential each of the last four seasons (+4.5, +8.2, +3.4, +3.8). So it shouldn't be a surprise that Deng has had an adjusted plus/minus of at least +4 in every season (+4.3, +7.6, +5.6, +4.6, +4.2). Deng has simply been a consistent difference maker, and I hope he can continue to sustain his recent production.
I've obviously written quite a bit about Tyrus over the last few years, including this dissertation from last summer. So I'm not planning on writing very much, but we'll see what happens. He is one of my favorite subjects.
Before we get to Tyrus's offense, I have a few comments on the other aspects of his game. In that fanpost from last summer I said to look for Tyrus's blocks and steal to return to closer to his rookie levels without hs personal fouls going up. That's what has happened so far. What was unexpected has been the dropoff in Tyrus's rebounding. He never fell below the Aldridge line, but it hasn't been up to the standard he set in his 1st two seasons. I was never really worried for the longterm given what he had done in previous seasons, but his string of double digit rebounding games is an excellent sign that he's got it back together. Now we can talk about the offense.
In December and January combined Tyrus shot 48% from the field and 83% from the line for a 55.5% TS%, and only turned it over 12% of the time. That's an offensive rating of 113 sustained over 30+ games. That's efficient offense despite, not really playing that well on offense, yet.
According to the NBA shot tracking data since December 1st, Tyrus has shot 55.5% in the immediate basket area after finishing only 40.4% of his shots to begin the season. He's made 40.5% of his jumpers after making only 26.3% to begin the season. Interestingly, it doesn't seem to matter how close Tyrus is to the basket when it comes to his jumper. He shot nearly the same % both inside of 16 feet and outside of 16 feet before and after December 1st. Where he got his shots did change slightly. He only went from taking 48% to 50% of his shots in the immediate basket area so he wasn't taking fewer outside shots. In fact he took more longer jump shots. His jumpers inside of 16 feet went from 24% of his shots to just 17% of his shots. So if you've been following along with the math, you know that his long jumpers rose from 28% of his shots to a full third of his shots. Obviously the key numbers are Tyrus finishing 55% of his shots at the basket (71/128) and making 40% of his jumpers (51/126).
As I said, I don't believe Tyrus is playing that well offensively yet. I've been confident for a long time that he would be a guy that could make 40% of his jumpers, which is why anybody telling him that he shouldn't shoot jumpers drove me nuts (fans, announcers, and coaches included). I obviously see all the boneheaded plays too. The jumpers he jacks whenever he hasn't been able to get a shot in awhile. He still doesn't swing the ball enough. And there's the out of control drives to the basket, but Tyrus is a player that can be productive in spite of himself and I think a lot of that stuff starts to go away if he's more involved offensively. His assist rate is nearly half of what it was last season, but it's more the result of a lack of opportunities than selfishness. He's hardly been posted or isolated at all this year. Deng's assist rate has suffered a similar fate. There's a lot Tyrus can do to create opportunities for his teammates. I'll be interested to see if the coaching staff gives Tyrus more opportunities to create offensively. From day one Tyrus has wanted to be a play maker offensively, and he believes he can help the team win that way. The coaches need to recognize that and channel that desire. I've long seen Tyrus as a future 2nd offensive option. Not necessarily the 2nd leading scorer, but rather the 2nd guy you run plays for. The 2nd guy that make something happen on his own and creates fr his teamamtes. Deng might score more points, but Tyrus would get more plays run for him. Maybe that's a pipe dream, but I believe it's tangible with the right coaching and commitment from Tyrus.
If there's an action that has defined both the Bulls defense and Nocioni over the last few seasons, it's probably trying to take a charge. According to 82games the Bulls drew 273 charges in 05-06 and254 in 06-07, but dropped to 187 in 07-08 with the team's defensive intensity declining and more importantly the refs no longer indulging the floppers across the league like they did in the past. It seemed like every member of the team loved to flop, Chander, Harrington, Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Duhon, and Hinrich all drew their fair share. And of course the king of floppers challenged for the league lead.
His ability to draw a charge coupled with good defensive rebounding for a 6'7" player, mitigated most of Nocioni's defensive faults and allowed him to defend the PF position. When he was drawing a charge every 33 minutes (05-06) or every 28 minutes (06-07) the costs of Nocioni's inability to stick to guarding his own man weren't so high. Things changed dramatically last season with Nocioni only drawing a charge every 52 minutes he was on the court (07-08). The decline in his physical ability to get to the spot coupled with the changes in how the game is coupled were a death blow for Noc, and only compounded by his endless whining after he clobbers somebody. I can't find charge stats for this season, but I can't remember the last time I saw Nocioni successfully draw a charge. Instead his foul rate is at a career high 5.1 per 36 minutes.
The key to Nocioni's game was ability to play PF. His positional PER has always been higher at PF than SF, primarily because his offensive opportunities increase. He could actually drive by PFs, which meant his FT rate at PF has been nearly double that of his FT rate at SF each of the last four seasons. He used to be able to match the production of opposing PFs, but that is clearly no longer the case.
As write this I'm trying to remember the Nocioni that surprised people with his athleticism. The guy that could throw down a power dunk in traffic, or make the occasional spectacular block. Or even the guy who was making 50+% of his mid-range jumpers. He could probably still play backup PF somewhat effectively, but that should be a 12-16 minute per game role behind Tyrus. Unfortunately he's paid like a guy that plays twice that.
I think Thabo has settled into who is going to be. He can still improve, but he's basically the player he's going to be going forward. He's not going to be a starting SG, he's probably not going to be a starter period. But, he can still be a key rotation player because of the things he can do well
There's been some improvement offensively. I noticed this before looking at the stats, but he's shooting 61% on his inside FGA after making 55% in his 1st two seasons. He's trying to force things offensively much less than last season, which has led to his usage% dropping to 14% after being at 17% his 1st two seasons. As a result his % FGM that were assisted has increased 7% both for jumpshots and inside shots. That's probably a good thing, and bodes well for his future.
Thabo brings considerable value to the table, but that value doesn't come from being a defensive stopper. When it comes to guarding his man, he's in the neighborhood of Luol Deng. That's an above-average defender, so someone that can force a player to take tough shots, but not an elite defender. His PER against has been similar to Deng's in each of the last two seasons.
Thabo's real defensive value comes from help defense. Thabo's combination of defensive rebounding, blocks, and steals, put him in a select group of players, and most of them are athletic power forwards. His steal and block rates have increased every season. The last couple of weeks have shown what can happen when this team creates transiton opportunities defensively. There's only three players on the roster that can consistently create those type of opportunties, and Thabo is one of them.
There are situations where Thabo fits well. He's a good backup for Deng at SF. When Vinny is playng Nocioni and Deng at the forwards, putting Thabo on the floor at SG makes a lot of sense. Nocioni and Gordon should rarely if ever be on the floor at the same time anyway, at this point they basically serve the same function. Ideally you're keeping two of Thomas, Noah, and Sefolosha on the floor for defensve balance.