CHICAGO – Halfcourt basketball is a staple of the NBA playoffs. But with so much talk about Brooklyn’s offense and Chicago’s defense in the Nets-Bulls first-round Eastern Conference series, some might assume the teams actually are using just half a court, like a pickup game at some crowded playground.
The sad truth is, without Derrick Rose, the Bulls’ attack often is as entertaining as watching Dad re-grout the bathroom floor. As for the Nets’ defense, the voters spoke loud and clear: While 21 different players received votes for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award announced Wednesday, none of them play for the Nets.
The numbers suggest that while Brooklyn has improved its performance when the other guys control the ball, that wasn’t exactly a priority when GM Billy King went shopping prior to this season with another $330 million of owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s money.
Statistically, the Nets brought defensive improvement along on their move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, just not any dramatic reimagining that way. In 2011-12, their defensive rating of 109.6 ranked 28th and they were 28th in opponents’ field-goal percentage, 29th in foes’ 3-point percentage, 19th in steals and dead last in defensive rebounds and blocked shots.
This season, the Nets got their defensive rating down to 106.2 and their ranking up to 17th. They ranked 23rd in opponents’ field-goal percentage, 21st in 3-point percentage, 19th in steals, 21st in defensive rebounds and 18th in blocks.
No less an authority than Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau sounded sufficiently impressed with what interim coach P.J. Carlesimo and, before him, Avery Johnson did starting in training camp.
“It starts with Brook Lopez,” Thibodeau said of Brooklyn’s All-Star center, known primarily as a dangerous scorer and occasional rebounder. “He’s gotten a lot better at challenging shots and blocking shots. [Forward Reggie] Evans has been an excellent defender. Gerald Wallace, every year you can make a case for him, all-league defense. I think P.J.’s done a great job with them, as did Avery, having a defensive philosophy.
“There’s been tremendous growth, I think, in the last two to three years. They have size, they have versatility. [Keith] Bogans, C.J. [Watson], I had both those guys here and they’re really terrific. [Veteran Jerry] Stackhouse is a little older now but he was a terrific defender for a long time and his team defense is very, very good. [Backup big man Andray] Blatche has very good feet.”
Yeah, Thibs, but are they any good when it comes to that five-guys-on-a-string stuff?
“They’ve got shot-blocking at the rim, they’ve got Wallace who can guard, they’ve got Johnson, who’s big,” Thibodeau said.
Like he was going to say anything different, right?
As for the DPOY award and Chicago placing three players – Joakim Noah (4), Luol Deng (15) and Jimmy Butler (T18) – among the 21 vote-getters, Thibodeau said he was proud of his players. But he also spoke of the multiple, sometimes contradictory factors that influence the balloting.
“I don’t know the metrics that are going into it,” said Thibodeau, whose work in Boston and Chicago since 2007 have led to greater defensive appreciation throughout the league. “I think it’s very difficult to measure the impact of a defensive guy. It’s not like a pitcher against a hitter in baseball and you can say, ‘This is what he’s doing.’ It’s five-man offense, five-man defense and a lot of variables that go into it: there’s rotations, there’s switches. Often a guy gets credit and maybe he wasn’t the person responsible.”
That, the Bulls coach said, is “why you could make a case for several guys who are on the same team.”
Or none on a middle-of-the-pack defensive team such as Brooklyn.