Bulls

Ask Aggrey: Is Deng being overplayed?

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Ask Aggrey: Is Deng being overplayed?

Being a transplant to the Windy City, it always surprises me how spoiled fans in Chicago can be. Maybe it's the Cubs' lack of success -- hey, I live on the South Side -- or more than likely, the six titles the Bulls won a couple of decades ago, but between three losses to start the month of April, Derrick's injury saga and Thibs' contract, it feels like there's some overcompensating for the lack of drama all season.

The Bulls still have the best record in the NBA, Rose is back on the court and if you think Thibodeau or the organization is distracted by contract-extension talks (or lack thereof), no disrespect to C.J. Watson, John Lucas III or Mike James, you're probably in the crowd that wanted to trade the reigning MVP after they beat the Heat without him. Life is good right now, people, so be thankful Dwight Howard isn't in Chicago and enjoy this week's mailbag.

Has Thibs overplayed Deng this season? I have a bad feeling that when the playoffs are in full swing, Deng's legs will give out, and his shot won't fall as it has during the regular season. -- Michael C.

Michael, if you were talking about any other player, I'd agree with you. Lu, however, has truly thrived under Thibs and although it's a running joke that he plays too many minutes, he responds on a nightly basis, even when he doesn't have gaudy statistics. Lu has talked to me about when Thibs was first hired, how he visited Lu in the offseason to see his new player's summer conditioning program, got excited about the work ethic he was seeing and told Lu to get prepared to play major minutes last season, as well as being utilized differently than he ever had been before.

The results speak for themselves and the way he's adjusted his game since his left-wrist injury to remain effective has been remarkable. This is a guy who basically plays year-round, with the Bulls making deep playoff runs and his commitment to the British national team, so while his jumper could come and go at times, I don't see his effort waning and with his versatility, he'll still find ways to contribute. Trust me, if it hasn't been a problem so far, then conditioning won't be an issue for Lu in the postseason.
Which team would provide the best first round matchup for the Bulls? And what about the worst? -- Phillip P.

Phillip, I don't know how realistic it is, even with all of their recent turmoil, but I'd say Orlando would be the best opening-round opponent for the Bulls. The Magic's obvious lack of cohesiveness right now makes them easy prey and unless their shooters are having one of those ridiculous games from three-point range -- which happens semi-regularly, but isn't likely to occur enough against the Bulls' defense to win a series -- they are ill-equipped to beat the Bulls in a seven-game series, even if everything was peaches and cream in the Magic Kingdom these days.

However, both Orlando and Atlanta -- another team I don't think the Bulls would mind facing in the first round -- have enough separation from the seventh and eighth seeds to likely avoid either the Bulls or the Heat in the first round. Even before Sunday's loss to New York, I was wary of the new-look Knicks -- with or without Jeremy Lin, who probably won't be back in time -- and while Philadelphia has been experiencing their own freefall lately, the Sixers' style of play has given the Bulls problems in the past. Philly's weakness, a go-to scorer, is now no longer an issue for another candidate, Milwaukee, now that they have Monta Ellis, but of those three likely opponents, I believe the Knicks are the most dangerous potential foe.

I'm hearing some things about Tom Thibodeau's contract, do you think he will get an extension from the Bulls soon? -- Nick E.

Nick, if by "soon," you mean after the playoffs, my answer is...maybe? The Bulls have done things a certain way with coaches for some time now, going back to Phil Jackson. Scott Skiles was a bit of an anomaly and the decision to extend him for big money, in the view of the organization, backfired. With the likes of Michael Jordan and Rose leading the Bulls to success during team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's tenure, it's no shock that star players are viewed more highly than star coaches.

On the other hand, Thibs is clearly a major factor in the Bulls' ascent the past two seasons. With a Coach of the Year award under his belt -- not that the honor means much moving forward, if you check the track record of several recent winners -- and more importantly, the respect of a lot of people around the league, even a guy who had to wait 20 years for his first NBA head-coaching opportunity appreciates the fact that he can get another job elsewhere. At the same time, Thibs is a student of the game, understands what a great market Chicago is and knows how lucky he is to be coaching not only Rose, but a team that's a contender now and will be in the future.

That said, the Bulls could always decide to play hard ball and pick up his option for next season without offering a new deal -- a situation that's not uncommon among NBA coaches, as the likes of the Thunder's Scott Brooks and the Mavericks' Rick Carlisle are in the same boat -- but at the end of the day, Thibs wants to win and knows Chicago is as good as a place to do it as anywhere else, while the Bulls have the same goal and with the man on the sidelines being at or near the top of his profession, they know there's not really an upgrade available.

How good do you think Anthony Davis will be in the NBA? -- Barry W.

Barry, I think Anthony will be a very good pro in time, but I'll hold off from the Hall of Fame predictions for now. However, right off the bat, he'll have an immediate impact as a shot-blocking specialist, and I expect him to be one of the league's elite defensive talents early in his career. Offensively, I think he's better than a lot of observers believe. Forget the whole transformation from a 6-foot-2 guard to a 6-foot-10 athletic freak in a year thing for a second: Anthony's ability to run the floor, catch and finish will immediately pay dividends in the wide-open NBA.

He'll clearly have to get stronger, but he's shown the ability to knock down open mid-range jumpers and as one NBA assistant coach told me, "he'll be able to play the pick-and-pop game from Day 1," not to mention the fact that if he plays with guards or wings who can command double teams off screen-and-roll situations, they can simply throw the ball up to the rim and watch him go get it in certain situations.

That said, while I believe he has more perimeter skills, particularly off the dribble, than he was able to display with a perimeter-heavy offense loaded with talent at Kentucky, he certainly has a ways to go in terms of developing his back-to-the-basket game. Because of his college coach and style of play in his brief career, he's drawn comparisons to Marcus Camby -- I think he'll become a better scorer than Camby, but if he has a similar NBA career, he'll have nothing to be disappointed about, though the expectations that come with being the likely No. 1 overall pick will surely bring a share of detractors if that occurs -- but his upside might be more like that of Kevin Garnett's. Anthony has a long way to go before that happens, but his agility, defensive acumen and natural guard skills do remind me of a young KG.
Derrick Rose is such a fierce competitor...what is his mental state like during his current injury issues? -- Rick F.

Rick, before Derrick's return Sunday, it was evident that he was extremely frustrated by his injury situation. We're talking about a player who goes at full tilt all the time and has never been sidelined for long stretches of time. Thus, this entire injury-riddled season, let alone 12 consecutive games during the stretch run of the campaign, was very difficult for him to deal with. His annoyance with the media's constant questions and outside speculation was obvious, but to his credit, he handled the situation as well as he could and as soon as it was possible, it appeared that he jumped into each subsequent stage of the rehab process with the same abandon with which he attacks the basket.

Both Thibs and Derrick talked about the silver lining to him having to miss games -- he'll be well-rested for the postseason and he got a chance to study tendencies of teammates and opponents alike -- but it was clear Sunday that he's relieved to be back on the court. Sunday's game wasn't particularly smooth for him, but as the game progressed, more flashes of the player we've come to know began to appear and I believe that he'll be back to his previous form sooner than later.

Observations from Bulls' blowout loss to Warriors: Curry, Bell, records and a road-weary Markkanen

Observations from Bulls' blowout loss to Warriors: Curry, Bell, records and a road-weary Markkanen

Don’t tug on Curry’s cape: There’s an old saying in the NBA: “Send a limo for (insert player here) to the game tonight. I want to make sure he arrives safely.”

Translation: I’m gonna light him up tonight.

That’s what two-time MVP Stephen Curry did to Kris Dunn in the second quarter Friday, when a slim lead turned into a huge, expected deficit for the Bulls. Curry scored 26 of his game-high 33 points in the quarter, complete with heat checks and celebratory struts that have become commonplace with Curry’s performances.

Whether it was backdoor layups or 30-footers, Curry made Oracle Arena his playground—and Dunn his victim in what could best be described as an old-school baptism Dunn isn’t sure to forget.

Dunn likely set off Curry’s ire with Curry drawing two quick fouls in the first quarter and some aggressive physical defense that is traditionally the book on Curry, if there is such a book.

But when Curry returned in the second quarter, he took advantage of the ultimate green light as All-Star teammates Kevin Durant and Draymond Green were out. He performed his theatrics with relative ease, hitting four of 11 triples and shooting 10 of 18 overall in just 27 minutes of work.

It wasn’t just Curry, as Klay Thompson was even more efficient, scoring 29 on 12 of 17 shootng and hitting five of his nine triples. Nick Young was seven of 12 in 19 minutes for 17 points as the Warriors shot 58 percent and committed just 11 turnovers.

Curry, who can give them away at times, only had two turnovers and it helped lead to an easy win.

“You try to make it a little more difficult,” Dunn said. “He’s a phenomenal shooter, everybody knows that. Once he gets on a roll like that it’s hard but you’ve just got to make it difficult for him.”

Had it been necessary, Curry could’ve gone for a 60-point performance, having 31 at the half. Dunn, enduring a night he won’t sure forget, scored six points with four assists on two of 11 shooting in 25 minutes.

“The turnovers, the lack of awareness,” Hoiberg said. “It is hopefully something he’ll grow from and learn from and find a way to fight through when he’s not playing well. Absolutely. You learn form the good things, learn from the bad things. There’s plenty of bad we can learn from tonight.”

The great ones go through baptisms, especially the point guards considering they’re on an island in this talent-rich stretch of the NBA. Dunn has a chance to be special on defense as he progresses through the years, but if Friday was any lesson, being able to give it back is probably the best remedy—because just taking his medicine can’t feel good.

The Bell rung

Whether it was a bored championship team finding an easy way to motivate itself or wanting to troll the Bulls for sport, the Warriors found an easy storyline to exploit in the insertion of rookie Jordan Bell.

It’s easy to remember the Bulls drafted Bell in the second round for the Warriors in exchange for $3.5 million to go into the Bulls coffers the night they decided to go with a full-scale rebuild.

Bell was rewarded with a start after inconsistent playing time in the absence of Green and made his presence felt from the moment his name was called in the introductions, with a “money sign” as a way to remind the team that drafted him of what it was missing.

"I just wanted to see how cash considerations was playing over there,” he said after the game.

He then proceeded to give the Bulls nightmares all over the floor with his athleticism and shot-blocking, swatting away six shots—including a chasedown block of Denzel Valentine everyone in Oracle Arena could see coming from the moment Valentine started his ground-bound trot downcourt.

It was likely something he’d been envisioning since Warriors coach Steve Kerr told Bell he would be starting two days ago.

“At first I was thinking of things to troll the other team but as I got closer to the game, I was like let me focus on the game,” Bell said. “Then when I saw we won the game, I started trolling a little bit.”

Before the trolling, there was the teasing in the form of production. The eye-popping alley-oop from Zaza Pachulia and even the wild play of fouling Justin Holiday on a corner jumper that almost looked violent.

He was clearly pumped for the opportunity to play against a team that didn’t give him a second thought and his veteran teammates took every opportunity to press his buttons.

“I remember Klay said something, like they don’t want you JB,” he said. “Everybody kept reminding me of it today.”

And it will be a topic of conversation for the immediate future, especially as the Bulls are in the search for young, athletic talent they can build around.

One for the books

The 49-point drubbing was third-worst in franchise history and the Bulls are now the owners of the NBA’s worst record at 3-14, along with having the worst point differential at -12.9 points per game.

The second and third quarters were embarrassing, as the Warriors outscored the Bulls 81-34 in easy fashion. Usually in those occurrences, Hoiberg will make an opening statement to the media about the effort lacking before taking questions.

Friday was no different.

“From Day 1, going back into September, the biggest thing we talked about as a team was fighting through the tough times, handling adversity. Well…we went out and had a great start. Actually had a lead after the first quarter. They go on a run and we’ve seen this before, we put our heads down, we don’t’ fight through it, we start separating and lose trust in each other. That can’t continue to happen. We gotta find a way to battle through the tough times. Quit putting our heads down, find a way to toughen up and stay in the game.”

Hoiberg was asked what kind of effect this can have on a team if these type of beatdowns continue and he didn’t mince words—a shift of sorts from his usual straight-faced demeanor.

“Tonight, they got it going, we didn’t handle it well,” he said. “We stopped getting back. They were getting whatever they wanted. You’ve got to find a way to fight through that. If we don’t learn that soon, we’re going to keep getting our asses kicked.”

Robin Lopez said it’s a collective issue and one that needs to be fixed. Perhaps in a clear moment of self-awareness, Dunn said he can see when the Bulls stop competing.

“You can definitely see it. I think it’s the youth,” Dunn said. “We’re not used to that. In the NBA, people can put up points very quickly. It comes with the territory.”

He’s still a rookie, folks

Lauri Markkanen showed some signs of the west-coast swing getting to him in the fatigue department, struggling in his third straight game Friday.

The Bulls have made it a priority to get Markkanen better shots and cleaner opportunities but they were in short order as he was four of 16 from the field in 27 minutes.

There wasn’t much quality to go around anyways as the Bulls shot 35 percent and fell behind by as many as 49. After scoring 26 with 13 rebounds against Phoenix last Sunday, he’s averaged 10 points on nine of 42 shooting (21 percent).

“Today they didn’t fall in the second half—actually, in the first half either,” Markkanen said. “I’ve just got to work more. I’ve had a couple nights now where I don’t make shots. But I did have good looks, though, they just didn’t fall tonight.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back against Panthers

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back against Panthers

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Florida Panthers Saturday on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

(Reminder: Use #AskEdzo on social media and your questions may be answered by Eddie Olczyk, who will be in studio along with Adam Burish, Brian Campbell and Pat Boyle).

1. Another fast start coming?

The Blackhawks had one of their best starts of the season Wednesday in Tampa Bay, and the numbers favor Chicago to dictate the pace of play early again.

The Panthers are tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the fewest goals scored in the first period (13), and have taken a lead into the second period only four times (3-1-0) in 21 games. They are 2-7-1 in the 10 games they've trailed after the opening frame.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are tied for fourth when it comes to first-period goals (22) — albeit, five of them came on Opening Night against Pittsburgh — but they are just 4-2-2 in eight games when leading after one period. In fact, they took a 2-0 lead into the second in their most recent game against the Lightning and lost in overtime 3-2.

So while a fast start could certainly be in the cards, the finish must also be there.

2. Take advantage on special teams.

The Panthers are one of two teams ranked among the bottom six in both power play percentage (26th at 16.0) and penalty kill percentage (30th at 73.2).

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are coming in hot in both areas. They're 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) on the man advantage in their last four games, and own the fourth-best penalty kill unit (84.8 percent).

This is the area to exploit for the Blackhawks going into the matchup, and it could decide the game.

3. Feed Lance Bouma!

In his seventh season, Bouma has faced every NHL team at least five times in his career, with the exception of Vegas (pointless in one game this season).

Bouma is not known for his offensive prowess (72 points in 325 career games), but it's a different story when he plays Florida.

In six career games against the Panthers, Bouma has one goal, six assists and a career-high plus-8 rating. That one goal also happens to be one of his six career game winners.

Florida is the only team Bouma is averaging at least a point-per-game against for his career, so you know what that means: Feed No. 17!