The Ballad of Ricky-Bobby: V-V-V-Vinny And The Taj
Vinny Del Negro isn't the best coach in the NBA by any means, but given the Bulls' modest success last season and recent pseudo-surge, is he -- gulp. -- an acceptable coach? Also included: what to make of Taj Gibson...
BOBBY: There are some things about Vinny Del Negro that are basically unarguable: a) Not playing Rose in crunch time last year was awful, b) Mismanaging timeouts last year was awful, c) Calling Kirk Hinrich "Kurt" is hilarious, d) This mug does not make people feel good when games head into crunch time.
Those are facts. But man, I don't know. The Bulls are playing a lot better lately, and I'm wondering if we need to get off his back a little bit. Their double-digit road victory over the Celtics last night might have me too optimistic, though. Still. Consider...
- Year 1: Last season, his first coaching at any level (ever!), he took a team which missed the playoffs and got them to the brink of the second round. That's pretty solid, and I don't know if enough is made of that. He'd literally never been there before. Though maybe that says more about the Bulls front office for hiring him than his actual accomplishments.
- Setbacks: Can he really take the blame for Brad Miller and John Salmons being so corpse-y this year? Are we really going to pin that on VDN? I hope not. Because those guys helped in a big way last year, and their regression has obviously hurt the Bulls this season. It seems foolish to call that bad coaching.
- Who Else?: Easily the weakest of all my arguments, but seriously: how many great coaches are their in the NBA? Ten? Five? Most of them have jobs right now.
- He's not the front office: Bulls fans were frustrated to see Ben Gordon go, and his departure did hurt the team, but we really can't pin that all on Vinny. Mark Stein nailed this whole thing on TrueHoop a few days ago:
Whatever shortcomings you wish to cite, Del Negro certainly deserved better after Chicago's second-half surge last season and its epic seven-game series with Boston. That's especially true when you hear sources close to the situation saying that Del Negro had assurances going into the season that Bulls front-office chiefs John Paxson and Gar Forman concurred with Del Negro's assessment that the team would take a dip this season after letting Ben Gordon go in free agency.
Yes, there are tons of negatives: the collapse against the Kings, the lack of accountability for obvious faults, the overall record of 17-20. But as it stands, the Bulls are in second place in their division and currently sitting with an 8-seed in the East. That's right, playoffs. I know how B.S. of an argument that can be, but really, what more can we expect? There are some sickly good teams in the league this year. The Bulls are not on that level. But since the Circus Trip ended, they've competed decently. And that's enough to keep me not-furious. Dare I even say "content"?
Is VDN capable of leading the Bulls to an NBA title? I have no fuckin' idea. But Art Shell, he's not...right?
RICKY: I was on the "VDN sucks but doesn't suck that much" bandwagon last year - did I start that bandwagon? - but quickly jumped ship this season after a few bad losses, mostly because I'm gutless. Looking back at the first half of the season now though, the Bulls' abysmal level of play almost seems like it was inevitable. I mean, we know this team is thin in the first place, so taking away Kirk and Tyrus - or, two of your "seven good players" - was basically a death sentence. Now they're back and the Bulls are more or less rolling: last night's win over the Celtics makes it seven of 10, and we're at the point now that it would seem like more of an upset if they didn't make the playoffs.
The lesson in this is simple: we overreact when things are going bad, we overreact when things are going good. The Bulls lose a couple, and I write a 'tank for Wall' post. Now that they've won a couple, I immediately consider them a shoe-in for the playoffs. The fact is that this season has been a rollercoaster ride from the start - they beat the Spurs on opening night, remember? - and it's probably going to be that way all season. The Bulls may not be good, but at least they're interesting.
But back to VDN: no, I don't think he's a good coach. I guess there's a slim chance he could be 'acceptable,' but that probably depends on how much you think coaching matters in the NBA. If you take the Simmons approach of "coaching ain't shit," then you probably think most of these guys are interchangeable. If you've been reading Depressed Fan at all this season, you know Brian feels differently: he pins nearly all of the blame for the Sixers poor start on new coach Eddie Jordan. I'm not taking sides, but it's an interesting argument to have.
For me, the real indictment on Del Negro is how awful the Bulls' offense is this season. The Bulls rank 28th in Hollinger's offensive efficiency rankings, ahead of only the T-Wolves (ouch) and the Nets (puke). You don't need a formula as complicated as PER to figure out the Bulls don't know what they're doing offensively: what percentage of their possessions end it someone (usually Deng) taking a contested 19-footer? Too many. Yes, that's about as advanced as we get here.
And just in case you want more evidence than my meaningless anecdotal observations, remember, we're less than a month removed from an NBA scout saying this:
One NBA scout courtside insisted that, "Vinny ran three [different] plays the whole half and barely made any [play] calls. We don't even know what to write down. They had a lot more variety last year, a lot more ball movement. It was almost like Vinny said, 'Screw it, you guys figure it out.' "Last year, the Bulls were bailed out by Gordon constantly. Without that luxury this year, they actually need to figure how to score. I'm not sure if Vinny knows how to get them to do that.
BOBBY: It's really easy to say the Bulls' offense sucks (because it does), but what about the defense? They're in the Top 10 for defensive efficiency. That has to count for something, right?
And I know it's easy to say they have a lot of bad offensive possessions (because they do), but I really thought I saw more fluidity in the Celtics game. Certainly more than they had earlier this season. They did jack up some stupid shots against the Celtics -- Salmons, I'm looking at you -- but it really seems like Rose watches Rondo drive and finish and thinks "holy shit, I should be doing this exact same stuff!" ... and then he does, minus the amazingly sweet ball fakes, of course. Speaking of taking the ball to the hole, Noah took Perkins off the dribble several times last night, which was great. He did get bullied a little bit in the post when the Celtics had the ball, but he also held his own defensively more than a few times. It also seems like his left-handed hook shot is something that's going to be easier and easier to rely on in the future. It's certainly more polished than it was last season. And my god, the rebounding. All good things.
Where do you stand on the Taj/Tyrus stuff? I know Matt from B-a-B really has a distaste for Taj, but I'm not sure why. He's often lauded for being cerebral, and I think that's an incredibly accurate description -- it seems like he never makes the wrong play. Beyond that, it's hard to single out gaping weaknesses in his game. I watched last night's game with a Bulls fan who hasn't seen a ton of games this season, and he asked me what Taj's game was like. It's kind of hard to explain. His jumper clicks more often than not, he can certainly D up (as epically shown in last night's game as well as the hardware he won last year). So what does Matt hate so much? Passing? Rebounding (6.2 a game)? Athleticism? Shot creation? Or it is just the fact he's playing instead of Tyrus?
As much as I've enjoyed Taj's polish, it's staggering that Tyrus isn't in the starting lineup yet. Like, I-don't-know-what-to-even-say staggering. This better be temporary..
RICKY: Matt's such a hater. I really do like Blog-a-Bull, but he has such a narrow-minded big picture view that it's almost like he refuses to let anyone take an ounce of joy in this team until they get their shit together. That's for sure one of the media's top jobs - watchdogs, son - but, I don't know, it occasionally annoys me as a fan.
I love Taj. How can you not? I feel like BaB is starting to come around on him, too. He's not amazing, and I really doubt he'll ever get much better than he is right now, but so what. He looks like a legit backup power forward. When you factor in that he's been able to play pretty well since day one, I tentatively give that selection by Foreman/Paxson an A-. All things considered, Taj ain't so bad for a late first rounder in a weak draft.
I really hope much of the Taj hate (if there even is any) doesn't stem from the Bulls taking him over DeJuan Blair. I wanted Blair, everyone wanted Blair, but the fact of the matter is that pretty much every team passed on him. It's hard for me to fault the Bulls not pulling the trigger when no one pulled the trigger.
BobbyStompy is the assistant editor of Tremendous Upside Potential. He can be reached at stompaberdeen [at] aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobbystompy.