With a busy, music-heavy Saturday and a recuperative Sunday behind me, I spent last night on the couch watching basketball. Some thoughts...
1) Seattle at Philadelphia
I like what Nate McMillan's doing with the Sonics. I'm still not convinced they'll finish much over .500, but he's getting the most out of the available talent, playing as many as four perimeter players at once, spreading the floor, and using Evans, Fortson, James, and Collison to set picks, reverse the ball, and rebound.
Last night, half of their field goal attempts and makes were three-pointers. They looked like the Lithuanian National Team. High marks for their spacing, ball movement, and shooting. As an American, I would have liked to have had Ray Allen on the Olympic team, but I can't begrudge Sonics fans the treat of a rested, energized Allen providing more excitement in the first two weeks of the season than they expected to witness the entire year.
2) Niagara at Providence
I watched Providence lose to the University of the Pacific in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March in Kemper Arena. Pacific had a nice, well-coached team and Guillame Yango's a sleeper both to make a run at an All-American team and in the second round of the NBA draft, but Providence lost because Ryan Gomes didn't touch the ball on offense for long stretches of the second half unless he rebounded the result of a teammate's ill-advised shot.
Ryan Gomes is good enough to win college basketball games by himself. He's talented and he plays hard and Providence missed an opportunity to take advantage of that last season.
I was shocked to watch the second half of this game last night and see Providence (minus Marcus Douthit, Sheiku Kabba, and Rob Sanders this season) attempt to give away their home opener in the same fashion. Again, the Friars would go multiple offensive possessions without letting Gomes touch the ball unless he got an offensive rebound. Gomes took sixteen shots, got to the line six times, and had a 5:3 assist to turnover ratio but should have had the opportunity to do more.
Niagara, obviously, focused their defense on Gomes but they weren't actively denying him the ball. Providence guards McGrath, Brown, and Brewington must do a better job of getting the ball to Gomes. They showed an ability to make the open jump shot when the defense collapsed, but often lacked the patience to let a possession develop, rushing shots and passes thus triggering the Niagara fast break. If Niagara had done anything right in the last minute-and-a-half they would have won the game. Unless Providence plays to their only real strength they'll struggle to finish ahead of Rutgers and West Virginia in the Big East.
3) Chicago at Sacramento
Seventeen Green called me at halftime of this game to rant and rave about the porous Kings defense. I'm glad I don't bet on sports anymore and can enjoy (most) games stress-free. Not a moral distinction, mind you, just something I've learned about myself.
But, seriously, how can you give up 106 points to the Bulls. Sacramento has defensive problems. Right now, I can't envision them making the playoffs.
Across the court, it's tough to watch the Bulls and figure out how they'll score consistently enough against the rest of the league to win more than 20 games. Chicago's a jump shooting team with only one player who can even semi-consistently draw a double-team in the post and Eddy Curry cannot pass out of a double-team to save his life (career assist-to-turnover ratio: 1:3). Every time I watch him play I'm surprised again by the gulf between his combination of size and agility and his ability to play basketball.
There's no greater Kirk Hinrich fan than me (oh, wait, there is, and she writes here too), but creating his own shot in the half-court is not among his chief attributes. Nor, apparently, is he handling his defensive responsibilities very well this year. He can keep his man in front of him most of the day (whether guarding the 1 or the 2), but he seems to bear the load (or believes himself to) of covering up for his teammates lapses as well. He's fouled out of three of the five games this year and committed five fouls in another. Most of those fouls occur after an opponent beats a teammate. Hinrich is easily Chicago's best defender. He can't continue to sacrifice himself in this manner.
The Bulls will likely lose a lot more games like this one. Wildly fluctuating leads and deficits are endemic to jump-shooting teams. Plus, a graph of Chicago's talent would be fairly flat. Their starters struggle to match up five-on-five against other teams' first units, but Skiles can put together interesting combinations with his second unit (Duhon paired with the as yet enigmatic Gordon or a less foul-prone Hinrich in a small back court and Deng playing any of three positions alongside a combination of Othella Harrington, Antonio Davis, and Adrian Griffin) that match up well with benches around the league.
Unfortunately for Bulls fans, this collection of talent, though they play hard, will only be good enough to tease. Wins still appear to be years away.