Bulls on fast track to recovery

GAME TIME:

target="_blank">Bulls 98, Pistons 87

It’s often said

that speed kills, and indeed it was Chicago’s speed that

murdered Detroit on New Year’s Eve.

The Bulls’ jet-set includes several top-notch

performers.

• Derrick Rose’s quickness is augmented by his

long strides as he approaches the hoop. He can certainly finish in

traffic and is especially dangerous on the run, but Rose’s

offensive weapon of choice is a spinning-fallback-flip-shot that he

can unleash with deadly accuracy going both ways.

While he’s far from being a selfish player, Rose

continues to make questionable decisions when he looks to pass the

ball in the paint. And this is precisely why he’s more of a

combo-guard than a true point guard.

At the other end of the court, Rose’s athleticism

enabled him to make an occasional block, but Rodney Stuckey

repeatedly attacked him for profit. Rose’s primary problem on

defense is his inability to react when his opponents spin and/or

quickly reverse direction. Good ball-fakes also froze him.

• Joakim Noah grabbed 21 rebounds and demonstrated that

he is perhaps the most active center in the league. His talents

include immaculate timing, uncanny anticipation, strong hands,

quick feet and quick, bouncy ups.

Noah’s man-to-man defense wasn’t challenged

because the Pistons (like the Bulls) lack a proficient post-up

scorer. But his rotations were exemplary, and his screen/roll shows

were aggressive.

On offense, Noah has mastered a driving, spinning,

right-handed jump hook. And he also climbs the offensive glass (6

offensive rebounds) with all-out hustle and willpower.

At the same time, his handle and his passwork are horrible

— 8 turnovers. Overall, Noah is a terrific complementary big

man who would be even more effective if paired with a burly,

low-post point-maker.

• Tyrus Thomas can run and jump with anybody —

and his defensive range is likewise among the league’s best.

Even though, Charlie Villanueva posted Thomas and rudely bumped him

out of the play, TT is demonstrating much more discipline on

defense than he ever has.

On offense, Thomas scores on the run, on crisp backdoor cuts,

and he even dropped a running left-handed hook. If he can maintain

his focus, the young man can be an incredible pace-changer off the

bench.

• While Kirk Hinrich isn’t the blazer that some

of his teammates are, he’s quick enough to turn the corner on

screen/rolls, get into the middle, and make effective passes. What

Hinrich can’t do is create his own shot. Like Rose, Hinrich

is a combo-guard and is best utilized as a utility backcourtsman

off the bench.

He’s a scrappy defender, but was overpowered by Stuckey

and was frequently late in keeping up with Ben Gordon’s

tricky moves.

• Luol Deng has a kind of angular, loose-jointed

quickness. His timing is off as he rounds into game shape after his

latest injury, but he works hard on defense and will eventually

reprise his role as a consistently dynamic pull-up shooter and

baseline scorer.

• At 6-9, 225, Taj Gibson is quicker than he looks. His

current role is to hit the boards and play defense — both of

which he does extremely well considering that he’s a mere

rookie. He offers excellent help on high S/Rs and

ball-penetrations, and he held his ground when Villanueva tried to

abuse him in the low post.

Gibson missed his only two jumpers, but his release is soft.

The rook has a bright future in the NBA, but he’s not

the point-plus big that the Bulls so desperately need.

• Although James Johnson only played 13 minutes, he

proved to be another fleet-footed rookie. Measuring 6-9, 245,

Johnson shows signs of being a wide-ranging defender.

Not all of the Bulls were speedsters.

• John Salmons is relatively slow with the ball, but he

knows how to take advantage of angles and lanes. Primarily looking

to shoot — 6-10, one assist, 17 points in 26 minutes —

Salmons is the only other player on the team (besides Rose) who can

routinely create his own shots. And if Salmons is shooting well,

he’s playing well.

On defense, Salmons relies on know-how, and he too had

trouble staying in touch with Gordon.

• Brad Miller has always been a quarter horse competing

against stallions, but at age 33 he’s lost a step.

Miller’s contributions are supposed to be accurate passing

and the ability to knock down open jumpers. But he managed only a

single assist to go with three turnover-passes.

Miller’s immobility was particularly evident on

defense.

So, then, if warp-speed and energetic youth constitute the

hope for the future, what does Chicago need to mature into a solid,

playoff-worthy ball club?

A legit point guard. This is totally essential since the

Bulls might be one of the worst passing teams in the NBA. Virtually

all of their 24 turnovers came on a wild variety of inept passes.

A hefty low-down scorer who compels double teams. Against the

Bulls, only Gibson, Thomas and Rose posted up a collective total of

four times, producing three points.

Another wing who can create his own shots.

Don’t blame Vinny Del Negro for Chicago’s

disappointing 13-17 record and their miserable performances on the

road. This game marked the third consecutive win for the Bulls,

which signals a significant improvement.

It’s now up to John Paxson and Gar Forman to fill in

the missing pieces that would conceivably transform this young,

buzz-quick outfit into a team that even the NBA’s elites

would not be eager to face anywhere at any time.

STRAIGHT SHOOTING

Here’s the one and only sure-fire

truth about the NBA: Every thing changes every season.

That’s why repeat championship are so

rare — only five teams have accomplished this in the

last 30 years.

That’s why three guys who were named Coach of the Year

since 2006 are currently unemployed:  Avery Johnson, Sam

Mitchell and Bryon Scott.

And that’s why — disregarding the respective

impacts of injuries and age — some players get markedly

better, and some get markedly worse from one season to the next.

All of which gives me still another chance to make a list.

Worse than before

Chris Andersen has lost that extra oomph, perhaps due to the

weight of his new ultra-bucks contract.

Andrew Bynum has regressed to where his most descriptive

adjective is once again “potential.”

Boris Diaw doesn’t seem able to function in a

normal-paced offense.

Randy Foye has devolved from a future star to a role player.

Kevin Garnett has become little more than a mid-range jump

shooter.

Manu Ginobili has lost his faith — in himself.

Richard Jefferson’s game got lost somewhere between

Milwaukee and San Antonio.

Mehmet Okur plays like he’s aged 10 years during the

offseason.

James Posey’s scoring and shooting are lower than

ever — perhaps he’s still mourning for his halcyon

days in green.

Hedo Turkoglu is still struggling to learn how to speak

Canadian.

David West is obviously playing with an invisible

refrigerator strapped to his back.

Better than before

J.J. Barea gets taller the more he plays.

Aaron Brooks’ on-the-job training has been remarkably

successful.

Erick Dampier has suddenly become a go-to scorer.

Chris Douglas-Roberts has asserted himself amid the confusion

in the swamps.

Goran Dragic’s apprenticeship to Steve Nash has him on

the express track to brilliance.

Monta Ellis has taken full advantage of his free license to

do whatever he wants with the ball.

Channing Frye has become a high-flying angel in 3-pointer

heaven.

Carl Landry is like a Saint Bernard puppy — his

game gets noticeably bigger every day.

David Lee now has an accurate mid-range jumper.

Steve Nash is running again.

Zach Randolph has become a bona-fide superstar.

J.J. Redick’s hard work is paying off.

Josh Smith’s shot-selection has greatly

improved — where he used to take 1.3 treys per game, now

he takes one every 10 games.

Jason Thompson has suddenly been transformed from being a

jack-of-all-trades to a master of all of them.

Beno Udrih has benefited from Sacramento’s addition of

Tyreke Evans to excel at his natural position as shooting guard.

VOX POPULI

I was always intrigued by Reggie Miller and the fact that

he was so good despite his rail-thin body. Could you do a breakdown

of his game? –

Chris, Corona, CA

At 6-foot-7, 195 pounds, Miller was certainly

“rail-thin”, and a thin rail at that. But his body was

extremely lively, active and quick. He was also a fiery, emotional

player.

Miller had tremendous range and a quick, step-back release

that made his jumpers virtually unblockable. He could finish in

crowds, pull-and-pop going either way and his head fakes were

always convincing. Miller’s specialty was running all-out

along the baseline then running hard and quick off screens. With or

without the ball, nobody in the league came off screens tighter,

quicker and with more energy than he did. At every opportunity,

he’d also look to draw fouls by jumping into his defender.

He was also extremely dangerous in transition situations.

Pulling up for a 3-ball was an acceptable option for Miller (39.5

percent lifetime from beyond the arc), even when the Pacers were

working on a 3-on-2 fast break.

Passing was not his forte since he always had eyes for the

hoop.

Opponents defended Miller by denying him the ball and playing

him as physically as possible. That meant tailgating him around

screens instead of topping the screens.

His primary tactics on defense were to gamble in passing

lanes and to flop at the slightest contact. In fact, Miller loved

to run out on defense (i.e. take off downcourt as soon as his man

hoisted a shot).

As I’ve said many times previously, Miller was a good

clutch shooter, but this aspect of his game was highly overrated

because so many of his clutch shots came against the high-profile

Knicks.

How good was he?

Not good enough to be the go-to scorer on a championship

team. Almost good enough to get voted into the Hall of Fame. But

plenty good.

TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY

We were returning to Albany from a

game against the Bay State Bombardiers in Brockton, Mass. The

players were driving the van and I rode shotgun as Phil Jackson

drove the car that was provided by the team. Instead of taking the

same route along the Mass Turnpike and N.Y. Thruway that the

players took, as usual, Phil decided to drive along the back roads.

And indeed, because of a recent snowfall, the rural scenery was

absolutely gorgeous.

We made two stops along the way.

The first was at an extremely weathered wood-sided house.

According to Phil, the house was built by his ancestors in the 18th

century and was the oldest surviving domicile in the country. I

didn’t — and still don’t — know

whether or not to believe him.

Our second stop was at the shore of a beautiful frozen lake

that was surrounded by several snow-capped ridges. Without a word,

Phil got out of the car, walked out onto the surface of the lake

and seemed to adopt a meditative attitude.

It seemed like a good idea, so I did the same, finding a spot

about 30 yards to his left and perhaps 10 yards farther out then

where he was standing.

A perfect time and place to appreciate the hushed scene. The

stillness. The virginal snow cover. The glory of creation. Ah, the

blessings of this life and this world. The peace and the …

WHAP!

My mediation was rudely interrupted by a snowball to the back

of my head that neatly knocked my hat off.

Under the circumstances and still wearing his gloves, it was

a great throw.

Without a word, without even a laugh, we climbed back into

the car and continued our journey.

During the 35 years or so that we’ve been buddies,

there’s one thing that I’ve learned about Phil:

There’s absolutely no way to anticipate what he’s

thinking or what his next move will be.

Perhaps that’s one reason why he still intrigues me,

and why our friendship has lasted so long.

If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please

email charleyrosen@gmail.com and he may respond in a future

column.