D'Antoni, Rockets give Bulls a blueprint for offensive success

D'Antoni, Rockets give Bulls a blueprint for offensive success

Free agent Fred Hoiberg had his eyes set on joining the Phoenix Suns in 2006. The 33-year-old shooting guard had led the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage in 2004 with the Timberwolves before undergoing open-heart surgery in 2005. Phoenix was a natural fit, as two-time reigning MVP Steve Nash and the Suns were in the process of revolutionizing the NBA with their Seven Seconds or Less offense. The previous season the Suns became the first team in league history to average double-digit 3-pointers per game.

Hoiberg came to terms with the Suns but team doctors couldn't guarantee his health post-surgery. Ultimately Hoiberg announced his retirement and join the Timberwolves front office. But he never forgot those Phoenix teams that changed the NBA, and as he began his own coaching career he looked to the man who invented those offenses for inspiration: Mike D'Antoni.

"I did try to model a lot of my system after the way he plays," Hoiberg said Monday night. "Shoot rim twos and obviously a lot of threes, a lot of those in transition. He’s as good as there is, as creative an offensive mind as there’s ever been in this game. I do think he changed the way the game is played with the amount of 3-pointers that are shot."

D'Antoni never stopped the revolution. As teams began mimicking what Phoenix was doing and advanced analytics took center stage, D'Antoni continued pushing the limits. And it's now led him to Houston, where he's once again rewriting NBA history books. Monday night that was on full display, as the Rockets poured in 20 3-pointers on an eye-popping 54 attempts in their 116-107 victory over the Bulls.

There were hot streaks – they made seven of their first eight from deep – and serious lulls that allowed their opponent to erase a 21-point deficit. Their commitment to the style paid dividends, however, and it allowed them to extend their NBA record of 35 straight games with double-digit made 3-pointers.

It's been a two-year stretch of records for the Rockets, who have been built to play this way. They shattered every 3-point measurement last season and are rewriting all their own records this year, thanks in large part to the addition of Chris Paul, who had 24 points and nine assists on Monday (including three of those 20 triples). With Eric Gordon (four 3-pointers) and Trevor Ariza (six 3-pointers) on the wings, combined with stretch forward in Ryan Anderson (one 3-pointer), there's always at least four shooters on the floor.

When center Clint Capela, who leads the league in field goal percentage because of his uncanny pick-and-roll ability isn't in, the Rockets can go defense-first with P.J. Tucker or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, or insert the recently signed Gerald Green for an offensive spark. Green went 8-for-15 and hit four triples, giving him 29 triples in seven games with Houston. He'll hold down the fort until, oh, MVP frontrunner James Harden returns from a hamstring injury and makes Houston all the more lethal.

"That's the way we play. We get up and down. A guy got an open shot we take it," Paul said. "I get to get on guys about not taking shots, and I'm the guy that passes all the time."

Added Ariza: "Any time we play our style of basketball that gives us the best chance to win, because that's what we do and what we've been doing. Just have to stay true to it."

The Bulls have transformed in similar ways under Hoiberg. Their own 28 3-point attempts hardly compares to Houston's shots, but the Bulls are still flirting with top-10 status in 3-point attempts per game. Their 29.9 attempts per game are nearly seven more than a year ago, when Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade initiated much of the offense from inside the arc. Successful? Yes. What Hoiberg wanted to do? No.

In just the last 12 months the roster has transformed. Lauri Markkanen continues to set NBA rookie records for 3-pointers. Denzel Valentine, for all his shortcomings, matched a career-high five 3-pointers on Monday. Kris Dunn has struggled with his 3-point shot since taking the point guard reins, but he's also up to nearly eight assists per game since Nov. 28. Though Mirotic could be dealt as early as January 15, he's shooting 47 percent from deep.

Zach LaVine, who could return as early as Wednesday, was showing promise as an outside shooter before tearing his ACL nearly 12 months ago. If nothing else LaVine will space the floor better for the other four Bulls on the floor. That can only mean more attempts, and more open attempts.

It'll take time, and the Bulls won't be erasing these Rockets from the record books anytime soon. But the man Hoiberg is trying to imitate in his style of offense is currently doing so at a better and more efficient rate than any coach in NBA history. That means something for the Bulls, and as the rebuild continues will pay dividends eventually as the 3-pointers go in and the wins pile up.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”