Chicago Bulls

('88 Record: 50-32)

Someone suggested that Michael Jordan was shooting too much in '87. Jordan was hurting the team, it was said. It was a foolish thought and very few fools were around to think it. The balanced offense, with each position scoring about the same amount, is treasured by many as the perfect offense. That's idealistic and somewhat off-line, but it may be right. But, when one player is so far ahead of the rest of his teammates, it is certainly best to get him the ball every chance possible. That one player is Michael Jordan. In any offense. On any team. Jordan and my high school team could beat the Soviets. They could probably beat the Clippers. Just give it to Jordan. Jump on his back and let him fly.

How much does he make now? He signed for $3.1 million per season just the other day. He's got advertising deals bringing in at least that much more. Not enough. Give him Fort Knox. And give him some real estate. Give him Illinois. He's already got a country named after him in Europe; a state is just more room for basketball courts. They should name a holiday after him. I could use another day off to go play basketball. Have to put him on a postage stamp, too. The Walk of Fame in Hollywood. The Jordan Monument right next to the Lincoln Memorial.

I don't think so. Jordan is too level-headed for all that. He just wants to be left alone so that he can play some golf. He likes the fluidity of the perfect golf stroke. Just like floating through the air for crashing dunk, Jordan likes smoothly bringing the club back, then letting loose and clobbering the ball. Jordan wants to play basketball professionally for twelve years, then take a stab at the pro golfing circuit. Don't you just get the impression that Jordan doesn't feel any job stress?

But, that's enough. Jordan is probably embarrassed by praise. He credits his teammates with his team's success and he's right to do that. No matter how you look at it, a basketball team's success is dependent upon all its players. The team surrounding Jordan isn't as bad as the Clippers or the Nets. Not even close. Offensively and, especially, defensively, the Bulls' supporting cast outdoes many of the real poor teams in the league. Replace Jordan on the Bulls with Alvin Robertson, another first round draft pick of 1984 (the Bulls really wanted a center, but Sam Bowie and Akeem Olajuwon were taken, so they 'settled' for Jordan), and the Bulls would probably have won 36 games last year, fewer than the 50 they did win, but a whole lot better than the Clippers, Nets, Warriors, Kings, and Suns. That means that the Bulls essentially won 36 games on their own, without Jordan, last year. The difference between 50 wins and 36 is great, but this shows that Jordan was getting a lot of help towards those 50.

The next step for Jordan is a Championship. He's done everything else. Can the Bulls win a title with their current personnel? Possibly. Sam Vincent is a reasonable point guard who will only get better with extra playing time. Vincent probably needs to improve a little in order to be a strong part of the Bulls' lineup and to give the team some leeway at other positions. John Paxson is a very capable backup with a 4.7-1 assist to turnover ratio. At the other guard spot is Jordan. No problems there. The front line is where the most uncertainty is. This coming year, Bill Cartwright takes a spot at either center or power forward. Charles Oakley is gone. Dave Corzine, Will Perdue, Horace Grant, Brad Sellers, and Scottie Pippen (when healthy) will fight for the other two spots. Corzine and Cartwright are temporary fixtures on the team, though they may be around long enough for the Bulls' first Finals appearance. Perdue is an unknown, though most scouts don't expect anything great from him. Grant will take the starting power forward or small forward spot, within two years. Sellers started most of last year at small forward and will probably begin the year there, but may not last very long unless he improves. Pippen will have a hard time coming back from his back surgery. Pippen also didn't have a very good rookie season, shooting poorly, committing too many turnovers, and generally looking like a lost rookie. He did have some decent defensive numbers, but hasn't established much of a defensive reputation.

Lots of ifs to say for sure whether the Bulls can win a title. Jordan and Grant are very good bets for the #2 guard and a forward position, respectively. With a little improvement, either Paxson or Vincent will be fine at point. Cartwright is a very good scorer at either the center position or power forward. Assuming all four of the above positions score well, the final forward or center position is not very crucial in getting a title. Sellers and Pippen don't appear ready to take that final position, though. If either one takes the job, they probably shouldn't handle the ball much. Give it to Jordan. If Perdue develops, then the Bulls have a real good chance.

The loss of Oakley shouldn't be viewed as a big loss. The defense will suffer a little because Oakley's defensive rebounding was an important part. If the Bulls have serious trouble making up for the loss of those defensive boards, then the loss of Oakley is a problem, but defensive rebounds are almost always easily replaceable. Cartwright, Grant, and company should be able to get enough defensive boards to have little problem. Oakley never blocked shots, but Cartwright and Grant will do a fair job helping Jordan out. Oakley's offense was pretty bad. He forced a lot of shots and didn't have great touch from down low. Cartwright is a good offensive player, one of the best in the league at center, if that's where he plays. He will take a lot of pressure to score off Jordan and could make the team quite good offensively.

In terms of next season, the Bulls are one of the most difficult teams to get a handle on. There are plenty of positive indicators now, but there are also plenty of negative indicators. On the positive side, the Bulls' floor %'s last year were good enough to represent a team that went 58-24, rather than 50-32. The Bulls also shot surprisingly well, improving from 47.3% to 49.0% in one year. The defense was also good. The offense will improve with the addition of Cartwright. The team is also fairly young, implying that it can still develop. On the negative side, the Bulls made a very drastic improvement last year, which, by the plexiglass principle, implies that they will relapse. Their ten game improvement was fourth best in the league. The improvement in their FG% was very large, the third largest in the league, and it came without drastic changes in the personnel. The defense, which usually doesn't change a lot from year to year, made great strides last year, going from a rating of 105.7 to 103.7 mainly because their opponents shot 1.3% worse. Usually, teams don't improve in one year as much as the Bulls did last year, suggesting that they won't get any better next year.

The Bulls will probably improve next year, though, maybe even win their division. Cartwright should compliment Jordan's style very well and become a second legitimate scorer on the team. Opponents won't be able to key on Jordan as much. Jordan and Cartwright both draw a lot of fouls and will go to the line for a lot of points. Though Oakley's rebounding is going to be missed, the rebounding strength of the team is still there. I've also found that the most successful offenses tend to rebound as a team, rather than having one main rebounder. As long as the defense doesn't fall apart, though it is possible that it will, the Bulls should win a few more games next year.


Point-Six

Good old pickup games. Every player in the NBA probably learned the game on the playground. Rims bent, gravel on the court, dips in the pavement. One team looked into the sun; the other had the sun at its back. Or maybe it was only half court. Winners outs or losers outs. Have to take the ball out past the free throw line. Call your own fouls and no free throws. Going to 21 by ones.

Everyone keeps score in pickup games. After each basket, someone usually mutters the score, at least the score of their team. At the end of a run of a few non-scoring possessions, someone will usually ask what the score is and at least two different scores will be announced.

"It's 8-5 us."

"No, we got six."

"It was 7-5 just a minute ago, then Brian scored one."

"It was 7-6! I got two. How many you got, Dave?"

"I only got the one breakaway."

"I got two."

"That's five. You got one, didn't you, Chris?"

"Yea."

"We got six. It's 8-6. Let's go."

That's usually all it takes to resolve a score conflict, but sometimes, the players will argue forever on other things.

"It's 8-5 us."

"You don't have eight! You just had five!"

"Oh, come on, Sam! We had five a long time ago. We had five when you fouled Mike."

"I didn't foul him. You had only four then."

"We had five. You did foul Mike."

"Sam didn't foul me. It was Chris. We had five, though."

"I never fouled you."

"Remember, you tripped me."

"Oh. You guys only had four."

"We had five. Now we got eight. I got three. Mo has two. You got two...Right, G?

"I got two."

"That's seven. One more. Reggie had one."

"OK. It's 8-5. Let's go. Game's to 13, right?"

"Yea."

"Watch out. We're gonna get you. Ball's in."

It took a little more time, but players can always agree on the score. Disagreements on fouls usually cause a lot more trouble than score disagreements, especially because there is no such thing as an offensive foul in pickup games.

"Watch the forearm when you drive."

Glare.

Dribble. Shot. Miss. "Foul."

"Foul?"

"You fouled me. You got my arm."

"No way! You missed the shot, then called foul."

"You fouled me!"

"Just go."

Pass left. Pass down low. Shot. Miss. Offensive rebound. Outside. Fake the shot. Dribble left to top of the key. Shot. Swish.

"Doesn't count, Mike. Somebody called a foul before."

"When?"

"Over the back, I think."

"I had the ball! We were playing. No one stopped."

"Hey! I didn't call it."

"I made the shot. That's game." Walk to other end of the court.

"Someone called something. I stopped."

"Someone called foul."

"I don't think so. I didn't hear it."

"Did someone call something?"

Silence.

"What? There was no foul? The shot counts then. Our game."

"No way. I stopped because I thought I heard foul."

"That's game."

"No."

"OK. We'll replay it."

"Hey! Mike! Let's go!"

Glare. "That was game."

"Come on! Let's just finish. It's point-7. Just one point."

Walk back. "Point-seven."

"Ball's in."

Pass left. Pass back to the top. Shot. Miss. "Dammit."

Offensive rebound. Shot. Good.

"That's game."

That's pickup basketball with players who have to win to stay on the court. The game is played seriously. The players are real good. It doesn't matter that there are no big time salaries riding on the game. It doesn't matter that no official stats are being kept. It doesn't matter that no one's career is riding on his performance in the game. It matters only to win. Even if the game is forgotten by the next day.

When Michael Jordan stormed out of practice because of an argument with his coach about the score of an intrasquad game, it was because winning is what matters to him, not money or stats. That makes him a great player.


Basketball Hoopla, 1988, L. Dean Oliver