I’ve watched a fair amount of the Chicago Bulls this NBA preseason.
In particular, new coach Tom Thibodeau has his team running plays in which center Joakim Noah gets the ball at either the left or right elbow, and looks for cutters off the wing going to the basket.
Sometimes, this cutter is point guard Derrick Rose.
Wait, isn’t a point guard supposed to be assisting a center on looks at the basket?
Well, traditionally, yes.
But Noah is one of the best passing big men in the game, and Rose is a terrific finisher around the basket. For all his speed and athleticism, Rose isn’t quite a crafty, all-seeing floor general.
Thibodeau is simply playing to his players’ strength, whether it’s what the position traditionally calls for or not.
And it got me thinking about Jeremiah Rivers.
Rivers had some high expectations placed on him last season. Many believed he’d him to control the floor with moxie. On a team full of new, young players, Rivers was supposed to possess the veteran leadership at point guard the team would need during a transitional season.
But this wasn’t quite the case.
Rivers was often an erratic ballhandler and poor decision maker. By the end of the season, it appeared as if Tom Crean lost his patience, and so he inserted freshman Jordan Hulls into the starting lineup at point guard instead. He wasn’t a dynamic presence, but he appeared to come with less risk.
But just because Rivers may not have worked out as the starting point guard doesn’t mean he’s unable to provide anything to the team.
In fact, he’s got enough strengths to see contributor’s playing time this season.
First and foremost, Rivers is arguably IU’s best perimeter defender. His 1.3 steals per game led the team — if we take out Maurice Creek from the equation — as did his 0.6 blocks per game.
Rivers possesses a large wingspan and is probably also the team’s most athletic player, though Victor Oladipo could challenge for that title this season. He’s also a decent rebounder out of the guard position.
As such, he might be best served coming off the bench as a defensive stopper.
Rivers’ jumper is nothing to write home about. But when he was able to break down a defender and drive to the hoop, he showed a range of exciting finishing moves.
Maybe Crean can take a page out of Thibodeau’s playbook, and get Rivers off-the-ball looks around the hoop on cuts off the wing and baseline.
It’s easier said than done. I don’t know if the personnel is quite there to pull it off. I don’t know if Rivers will accept a more limited role in stride. And it doesn’t seem like Crean is very high on him going into this season, which could hinder his playing time.
Bottom line: Rivers may have frustrated at times last season, but don’t write him off this year just yet. If used properly, he possesses enough talent and athleticism to be an effective contributor on both sides of the ball this season. The more looks around the basket he gets, the more effective he’ll be on offense.
Quotable: “This is going to be a situation where I don’t see him at the point. I see him as a guy that’s gotta get defensive rebounds. I see him as a guy that’s got to move the basketball. We don’t have anybody faster with the ball. The best way that that’s going to happen is if he gets a defensive rebounds. He’s got to be an outstanding defender for us, which is something that I think he got away from a little bit. I know what he’s capable of defensively, and I always hold that in my mind. That’s what I expect him to be. Again, I expect him to come in and hold his own. He’s going to have to earn his way into minutes on this team.” — Tom Crean on Rivers