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Around the NBA:Chicago Bulls vs Miami Heat (10/31)

Around the NBA:Chicago Bulls vs Miami Heat (10/31)
Nov 01, 2006, 02:35 am
Box Score

The game itself was surprisingly uncompetitive, as the Bulls shockingly won the game by 42 points. Regardless, two young rookies were seeing some consistent burn prior to garbage time, and both looked like they’ll be doing so for awhile longer.

The way the rotations are shaping up so far, Miami and Chicago each look to have a rookie seeing regular minutes early in the season, and those rookies couldn’t be any more different. On one hand, you have Tyrus Thomas, the #4 pick in the draft and one of the most athletically gifted players the NBA has seen in the past few years. On the other, you have Miami’s current backup point guard Chris Quinn, a solid but unspectacular undrafted rookie who’s only in the rotation due to Jason Williams being injured.

Miami Heat

Quinn’s game tonight was pretty non-descript, but you have to take into consideration the context of the situation. He was thrusted into the game before the first quarter even ended. This is an undrafted rookie playing significant minutes at point guard on opening night for the NBA champions. How often do you see a situation like that?

Unsurprisingly, the Bulls threw Chris Duhon at him with a full-court press as soon as he took the floor, but Quinn handled it very well, dribbling through it calmly and confidently without ever getting in trouble or calling for help from his teammates. Once Quinn got into the halfcourt sets, though, he didn’t quite look like himself. Used to seeing a point guard with a penchant for instinctively running his offense, I saw one with a hint of indecisiveness that wasn’t able to really get involved in the game. I wouldn’t say Quinn looked rattled, or even that he was ineffective, but in situations where I’m used to seeing him make a confident pass to the open man, I noticed him hesitating before making the pass. Maybe this was more patience than indecisiveness, but regardless, Quinn looked like he was having trouble getting himself involved early in the game.

As the game wore on, and once garbage time began about 5 minutes into the third quarter, Quinn seemed more at ease, and started distributing and running the offense more akin to what long-time observers of him would recognize. Considering the circumstances of the situation, Quinn didn’t have a bad opening game by any means. He did nothing to hinder the games of those on his team, and there’s no doubt he should be deferring to the likes of Dwayne Wade, Antoine Walker, and Shaquille O’Neal when he’s on the floor with them. He did an adequate job backing up Gary Payton at point guard, and should be able to do even better once he eases into the situation. Eventually, he should be able to contribute some consistent outside shooting while being a poised floor general that will keep the offense running and get everyone involved. Tonight, all he really did was not make any mistakes.

Chicago Bulls

On the other side of the court, the real story was Tyrus Thomas, as he fearlessly jumped right into the NBA, leaving his mark on this game in more ways than one. The final statline may not be too impressive, and he definitely wasn’t one of the most important contributors for Chicago in the game, but the things Tyrus Thomas did contribute were very encouraging for a player many considered to be more of a project than anything else at this point.

Thomas saw his first action in the first quarter, where in his first few plays, he was called for a charge on a strong cut he made from the wing. Scott Skiles immediately pulled him from the game, but it wouldn’t be the last we see of him. Thomas was inserted back into the game into the second quarter, and unphased from his early mistake, he quickly and fearlessly put an emphatic weakside block on a Shaquille O’Neal hook shot in the lane. A few plays later, Dwayne Wade drove down the lane and saw Thomas at the end of his path. Originally looking as if Wade was going to take it to the basket, he changed his mind and threw a high and inaccurate alley-oop pass over Thomas that wasn’t caught, resulting in a turnover. Later in the game, Shaq caught the ball in the lane about 6-8 feet from the basket. Seeing Thomas in between himself and the basket, Shaq noticeably altered the trajectory of his shot, overshooting the basket and hitting the back of the rim.

Thomas spent most of his time on the floor playing alongside Ben Wallace in the frontcourt, and judging from the descriptions listed above, one can imagine how opposition guards are going to react to these two athletic shot-blockers patrolling the lane. Thomas’ most NBA-ready skill entering the draft was undoubtedly his ability to disrupt on the defensive end, and he’s already showing how he can do just that. Along with the accounts listed above, Thomas also had a man-to-man shot block on Udonis Haslem and a very impressive steal he made by anticipating an entry pass to his man. Thomas was also strong with his activity on the boards, pulling down five rebounds in 16 minutes while getting his hands on a few others. On one extremely impressive play, Thomas boxed out Antoine Walker on the offensive end, and then proceeded to jump over Shaq for a powerful putback that very few players in this league have the athletic ability to do.

Many wondered whether Thomas would evolve more into a SF or a PF in the NBA, and that’s not a question we’re immediately going to get the answer to. Quite frankly, the answer to that question doesn’t matter at this point. The current situation in Chicago is one that is very beneficial to Thomas, as there are multiple players capable of playing either forward position, allowing him to easily fit in alongside them. Thomas saw most of his time tonight playing alongside Victor Khryapa and Andres Nocioni, both combo-forwards, and there didn’t seem to be any sort of distinction between which was the SF and which was the PF. Thomas was assigned to James Posey, Antoine Walker, and Udonis Haslem for stretches on the defensive end, and he wasn’t exploited by any of them. Offensively, he played a bit on the inside and a bit on the outside, crashing the boards, making cuts, and shooting outside jumpers (he missed two spot-up J’s from mid-range). He had one nice back-to-the-basket possession on the baseline where he spun off his man and faked him into the air to draw the foul, but his play tonight was limited on the low block.

Thomas' toughness was another thing that was on full display tonight, as he was relentless in his efforts around the glass, and he took a few falls to the ground because of it. On one attempt where he went for an offensive rebound, he took a hard elbow to the nose by Miami's James Posey, and it was later revealed that Thomas actually suffered a broken nose on the play. How's that for a "Welcome to the NBA" moment? Luckily, Tyrus will likely only have to wear a mask for awhile, and shouldn't miss more than a few games.

For his rookie debut, this was an impressive game for Tyrus Thomas. It’s clear he’s already found himself a niche on Chicago, and he definitely has something notable to contribute to the team already. His transition to the NBA should go well, as he has good complements to himself playing at the other forward spot alongside him. Thomas has played more on the perimeter in the preseason than he was accustomed to doing at LSU, and it’s something to look for him to continue doing as the season goes on. As he becomes more and more comfortable, he will become more consistent, and that will lead to him adding another dimension to his already effective game.

The Bulls’ other lottery pick, Swiss PG/SG/SF Thabo Sefolosha, didn’t see any burn until garbage time. Thabo didn’t have as significant an impact on the game as Thomas, but his play was encouraging regardless. The commentators in the game stated that Scott Skiles compares Sefolosha to Doug Christie, another versatile backcourt player who can play many positions, and that’s certainly a direction Sefolosha’s game can head in. At this stage, though, Sefolosha has so much potential that his game can head in a lot of different directions.

Sefolosha first entered the game playing off the ball, and later was left to run the offense by himself as the point guard. Sefolosha looked much better playing off the ball, definitely not seeming to yet have the mentality to run the team’s offense himself. Sefolosha wasn’t able to generate any assists when he was running the offense from the top of the key, and plays generally seemed stagnant in development when he was initiating.

When he was playing off the ball, though, things looked a lot different for the young rookie. Thabo didn’t take long to show his prowess on the offensive boards, getting a putback soon after he was first put in the game. He later was able to get a few tips on a loose board on another possession. Sefolosha also hit a spot-up two-pointer off a curl, though the trajectory of the shot looked pretty low. The very next possession, he pulled up for a two-pointer off the dribble, and the trajectory was a perfect arc. An inconsistent outside shot was a criticism many had of Sefolosha coming into the league, and it’s obviously still a concern. He hit both of his shots in this game, but shot only 34% from the field in preseason, and it’s obvious he has some inconsistent shooting mechanics. Regardless, he did maintain a decent level of effectiveness overseas, and I wouldn’t say he’s someone you want to leave wide open here in the pros either.

Defensively Thabo looked impressive in my opinion, mainly because I noticed a very key adjustment he’s already made to his game in his transition to the NBA. In my observations of Thabo playing overseas last season, I noticed a lot of hand usage on the perimeter, something that isn’t illegal overseas, and I had questions about how his defensive prowess would translate to the league. To my great surprise, in his rookie debut, Sefolosha was playing blanket defense for pretty much every second he was on the floor while never once committing a hand check. Before we get ahead of ourselves, his defensive assignments were Chris Quinn and Robert Hite, but it’s still a very encouraging early adjustment to see from the young rookie. On one very impressive play, Sefolosha was actually giving Robert Hite a two-three foot cushion about 30 feet away from the basket, but he effortlessly reached in with his long arms and good hands to make a clean pick on the ball and drive it the other way for a transition and-1 dunk.

Early results on the Bulls draft are looking promising, and there’s a very good chance both of their rookies are playing a role for the team by the time the season ends.

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