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Coach Vinny’s Hard Luck Training Camp – or – More Chicago Bulls Confusion

Poor Coach Vinny. He’s new to the job and the wheels promptly fell off his training camp plan. The Ben Gordon drama goes until very nearly the literal last minute, with Gordon signing just before the midnight deadline. Then Gordon gets hurt in practice and barely sees any time in preseason games. Well, at least you’ve got Gordon for the year.

Then Joakim Noah gets poked in the eye and is out long enough to mess with his wind. That’s two starters you’re barely seeing in the first 4 games, when the initial plan was to have the starting rotation set for the 5th pre-season game. So much for that plan. Perhaps we’ll, see the real line up for pre-season game number 6 when the Bulls have a return engagement with Dallas on 10/21. Maybe not until the next day, when they visit Minnesota. If not then, they’ve only got one more preseason game left to insert the real starting line-up.

It doesn’t bode well for establishing chemistry in a new system when two possible starters are out hurt, but that’s the luck Vinny Del Negro is catching to start his tenure. It’s amusing to watch him on the bench. Something of an anti-Skiles, he sits there with this look on his face that seems to say “Did you really just make that turnover? No. I must be imagining things.” It somewhat reminds me of a parent whose children are just slightly out of line, trying to ignore it and hoping they don’t act up enough that he has to stand up and do something about it. Definitely a change in the temperament department.

What have we learned about the Bulls, thus far?

Interior defense isn’t going to happen with a Drew Gooden at center and Tyrus Thomas at power forward. Neither has the bulk to bang with the larger specimens at those positions. Gooden, in particular, is not a shot-blocker. With those two up front, there’s a veritable red carpet to the rim for opposing players. This is not to say Aaron Gray is swatting shots like Mark Eaton or is particularly quick on rotations, but he’s a big guy and will eat up space. He also isn’t going to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of most of the people he’s guarding. You can’t knock Gooden for being smaller than some of the guys he’s guarding, that’s just reality intruding. The best post defender remains Noah. Alas, the second best post defender might be Michael Ruffin, who has mercifully been injured thus far. You think Noah’s offensive game is rough? Ruffin might make you cry. He’s tough enough to guard centers while being 6’8″, but Ben Wallace scores circles around him.

What about Derrick Rose? Insanely athletic, probably a couple months away from being a legit starter. Oh, he’ll probably start, because he needs the minutes. He just isn’t quite acclimated to things yet. Nor are the Bulls acclimated to him. When you insert Rose into the line-up, you change the tempo of the game, which leads us to the thorny part of Coach Vinny’s line-up quandary: do you structure the rotation to account for speed differences?

Without Rose in the line-up, things are a moderately up-tempo pace, running when opportunity presents itself and then going into a motion offense. With Rose in the offense, the team is flat out running and you go from a motion offense in the half-court to more of a penetrate and dish offense, Rose being freakishly fast and elusive off the dribble.

Were the players all on the same page, the post game becomes slightly less important with Rose on the floor and the ability to hit the spot up jumper takes precedence, as Rose will draw the help defender. Moreso, speed down the floor becomes a premium, as if you can beat your man down the floor, garbage dunks are yours for the taking.

Without Rose in there, we’re seeing a lot of lackluster jump shots, just like last year. Whether this is just Skiles and Boylan being engrained in the players or an inner lack of aggression is an interesting questions I cannot answer, but a legitimate question it remains. This would suggest you need what passes for post-scoring on the floor.

If you look at is this way, the first thing you become is disappointed that the front court hasn’t figured out the part about beating their man on the fast break. Gooden was getting beat down the court by Erick Dampier, for crying out loud. Thomas has jets he isn’t using. Gray… well, Gray is running hard, he just isn’t that fast.

Based on this, here’s how I would set the rotation:

Team 1:

C: Noah (active defense, faster down the court than most centers)
PF: Thomas (speed and athleticism, can get up for the lobs the Bulls are starting to throw)
SF: Deng (can’t not start him, though there is an argument to be made about Nocioni’s greater range if Rose is drawing heat)
SG: Gordon (the main 3-point threat, along with Nocioni, best pure shooter and not gun shy)
PG: Rose (let him learn and let him run)

Team 2:
C: Gray (good post scorer if they remember to feed him; space-eater)
PF: Gooden (primary scorer in the second team and can post other forwards)
SF: Nocioni (your 3-point threat and premier irritant for the other team)
SG: Hughes/Sefolosha (pick one – Hughes has shown a lot more aggression in the preseason, but should drive to the hole, not try long jumpers; Sefolosha once more looks unsure of himself, even if he’s more the future)
PG: Hinrich (while he might be trade bait and a combo guard, he’s your only other viable point, let’s just hope his shot comes back)

This way you run full tilt with Rose and give yourself more post (date I say “traditional”) options with the second team.

The Bulls are unlikely to be a top defensive team unless some serious progress is made, but they do have scoring potential. Do I find these line-ups likely? Indications are Vinny likes Hinrich at the two and Gooden at the five, but you can’t say with those injuries. I’d have less complaints with Gooden at center if he’d run a little harder. You need to make up the points you’re giving away on the other end.

What to do with Larry Hughes is a big question. Hughes is a good player in entirely the wrong system. A decent ball hawk, he can definitely push the tempo. He’s good slashing to the rim and drawing fouls. His jumper off the dribble is moderate at best and his spot up shot reminds one of a British children’s show called “The Clangers.” In this system, there’s too much spot up shooting for him. Granted, when the team starts to look lost and over-pass, he’ll put up the shot, it just isn’t a good shot. Paradoxically, if not him, then who. There needs to be more aggression. Gordon will give some of that, and that’s why I like Gordon on team one and both Gooden and Gray on team two with a mandate to feed the post when in the half court game. If Sefolosha wants to assert himself and is still hitting his jumper, so much the better.

In the meantime, we can all wait and see what the line-up looks like in the final pre-season game against the Bucks. It may not be settled until then.

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