Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

October 30, 2009

Five thoughts on the Bulls-Spurs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 12:55 am

The Bulls got their season off to a happy start, bumping off the Spurs 92-85 at the United Center in Chicago. The Spurs were playing their second game in as many nights after beating New Orleans on Wednesday, but Gregg Popovich did not play his starters heavy minutes and, after the game, seemed disappointed at San Antonio’s lack of chutzpah. He also seemed disappointed by some of the post-game questions (Were you overconfident? … How are the new guys looking? … Why didn’t your team have any energy?). Can’t blame him for that but from the perspective of an analyst who is trying to bring an insider’s perspective to his work, that kind of drivel is a time-suck that makes you want to grab that phallic-shaped microphone from the radio dude standing next to you and start cracking heads. But I digress …

My main takeaways from Thursday’s game:

* The Bulls really beat the Spurs on the hustle board, with a 52-44 edge on the boards (on a similar number of opportunities), a 14-10 edge in blocks+steals and generally winning the mystical “getting-to-loose-balls” category. The ringleader in the Bulls’ “energy” triumph was Joakim Noah, as per usual. Noah is developing into a really nice player. He was active on the glass (six offensive boards), ran the floor, moved the ball well in the halfcourt, operated in the two-man game with Derrick Rose and played solid defense on Tim Duncan. Yes, Duncan had an outstanding game, but it was much more because of his own efforts than it was due any defensive shortcomings on the part of Noah. Noah worked on his jump shot during the offseason and sank a relatively smooth-looking 17-footer in the first half. It’s not going to be a staple of Vinny Del Negro’s offense, but maybe Noah’s defenders will have to think twice about excessive sagging when Noah has the ball in the high post region.

* Del Negro expressed a desire to limit Derrick Rose’s minutes as his young point guard was appearing in his first game in three weeks because of an ankle problem. Mission accomplished. Rose played 33 stress-free minutes and looked as good as ever, with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to go with one turnover. His supposedly-improved jumper was rusty (five-of-12 shooting), but he clearly outplayed his Spurs counterpart, Tony Parker, who didn’t score in the second half. Just as important as Rose’s efforts, however, was the fact that the Bulls were able to maintain, and even increase, their lead when Rose was off the floor.

* Popovich bemoaned Chicago’s second-chance points afterwards. The Bulls grabbed 15 offensive boards, to the Spurs’ eight. (Again — on a similar number of misses.) DeJuan Blair played just 12:43 in the game, while Popovich went with a lot of small lineups. “I was trying to score,” he said in the post-game presser. Coming up short in the offensive rebound column isn’t new for the Spurs. Last season, San Antonio was last in the league in offensive rebound percentage. That was only slightly unusual. The Spurs always rank near the bottom of the NBA in offensive rebounding, perferring to get guys back to the defensive end of the floor. What was unusual is that a hallmark of Popovich’s teams has been the ability to lock down the defensive glass. In that respect, the 15 offensive boards Chicago grabbed had to be particularly galling.

* Popovich said before the game that with San Antonio’s improved depth, he expects to play a faster pace this season. I’ll believe it when I see it for 30 games or so. The highest the Spurs have ranked in pace factor during Popovich’s 13 seasons prior to this season is 19th.

* After a sluggish preseason, Luol Deng had a nice outing for Chicago. He was eight-of-13 from the floor and had 17 points, nine rebounds and a couple of assists. He was aggressive in taking the ball off the dribble and working off the blocks, which is a great sign for the Bulls. Deng also limited Richard Jefferson to nine points and two boards and three-of-nine shooting.

I also logged some stuff in-game with Twitter. You can follow that and get future Tweets at @bdoolittle.

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