Observations from Bulls-Thunder: Angry Fred, Markkanen disappearance, point guard spot is open

Observations from Bulls-Thunder: Angry Fred, Markkanen disappearance, point guard spot is open

Grand opening, grand closing: This one was over quick in the Bulls' 101-69 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night at the United Center. It was what you’d expect when a team’s four best starters are the four best players on the floor. The Thunder have the pick of the litter as to who can be their lead dog on a given night. Paul George was the guy who initiated things Saturday, hitting four of five triples and toying with Paul Zipser for 20 points in 28 minutes.

Carmelo Anthony hit five triples of his own to score 21, but it was clear before halftime the Bulls were not going to make this a competitive loss.

An eight-point second quarter did them in, trailing by double digits from the nine-minute mark on, catching the ire of Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg after the Bulls shot 28 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Calling the game a “huge step back” after their win against Atlanta two nights ago, it was the first time the Bulls’ effort came into question this season.

“We didn’t compete. We didn’t stay together, we didn’t fight through adversity as a team. We were careless, we were stagnant,” Hoiberg said. “They got the loose balls. That can’t happen. That cannot happen with this group. It’s very disappointing coming off this encouraging win against Atlanta by doing all the little things. Our body language sucked. Things weren’t going well, we dropped our heads and gave in.”

The Bulls made a slight run in the third, cutting the lead to 50-36 in the opening minute. But it was a 27-point spread six minutes later as the Bulls were both bothered by the long, rangy Thunder defense as well as being their own worst enemy, committing many of their 20 turnovers.

Whether it was overdribbling or not trusting the offense, it got pretty slow pretty frequently.

“It was all on us. Anyone here will tell you, we didn’t compete right from the very beginning,” Bulls center Robin Lopez said. “That’s something we can’t afford in short lapses, let alone an entire 48 minute game.”

Point guard play, M.I.A.: If there’s a true point guard of the future on the roster, it would behoove the Bulls to show himself. Jerian Grant struggled all night, missing all six of his 3-point attempts—many of them wide open.

Kris Dunn’s opportunity is there for the taking, but he didn’t make a contribution until the game was well out of hand. He didn’t look too tentative with his hand injury, attempting to be active defensively, but he wasn’t effective—although one can attribute that to rust.

He finished with eight points and three assists in 22 minutes, and on a late turnover he slipped and hit his finger. Afterward it was wrapped in ice.

“Jammed it a little bit but it’s okay,” Dunn said. “I re-aggravated it. It’s okay. I knew I was gonna be a little rusty but I think what’ll help me is playing hard.”

It led Hoiberg to say the position is open in the next few days of practice before Wednesday’s game against Miami.

“I love to compete. I’m not trying to go for the starting spot but it’s definitely a dream of mine to start for an organization,” Dunn said. “At the same time, I’m trying to get better and help the team.”

But perhaps the most telling or damning of the point guard play was the lack of shots for Lauri Markkanen. With the Bulls offense looking as bad as its looked in the first five games, Markkanen made his first two shots, triples, in the first quarter.

He went almost a full quarter before getting a good look at the basket again and had three shots at the half.

“We didn’t compete at the same level we’ve been competing at the other games,” Markkanen said. “It’s not just about the blowout win for them, it’s how we lost. We didn’t compete.”

On one hand, that’s a lack of recognition from Grant and Dunn, who should want to make Markkanen their best friend on the floor considering how critical he is to the future.

"We missed him on several occasions, he was standing out there by himself. We tried to take extra dribbles," Hoiberg said.

Markkanen finished with 15 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes.

“I’m doing what’s best for our team. If I’m open, I’ll shoot it. I’ll try to make the right play every time,” Markkanen said.

Russell Westbrook watch: If someone didn’t tell Westbrook the Bulls were the one team he hadn’t recorded a triple-double against, no one would believe it.

It might’ve been his easiest feat in the last two years, with the reigning Most Valuable Player achieving it in 25 minutes before finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists.

He only had to play 28 minutes overall, in the second night of a back to back.

You couldn’t tell by way of fatigue because he was the most active player on the floor, blowing by everyone and creating mismatches downhill for Steven Adams, Anthony and George.

“He has that old school mentality when he plays. He just brings it,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He plays hard when he’s tired or sore and it’s not just to get a triple-double. He just plays with that mentality.”

Unbrotherly love: Come on, Jerami Grant, did you have to do that to your brother on a night where he didn’t see the ball go in the rim one time?

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Fred Hoiberg the coach of the future?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Fred Hoiberg the coach of the future?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Hub Arkush (670 The Score/Pro Football Weekly) and Nick Friedell (ESPN.com) join Kap on the panel.  The Bears coordinators meet the media.  So how much will a new coaching staff improve the team?

Fred Hoiberg has the young Bulls playing hard.  So is he the coach of the future?

The Blackhawks are struggling to get their messaging right regarding Corey Crawford’s injury, John McDonough stands by Coach Q and Stan Bowman and Nick gives an impassioned defense of Sammy Sosa after Tom Ricketts says he needs to put everything on the table to be welcomed back to the Cubs.

11 Bulls - including Cameron Payne - received a player vote to start in the All-Star Game


11 Bulls - including Cameron Payne - received a player vote to start in the All-Star Game

Maybe the rest of the NBA has really taken notice of the Bulls' recent play. After all, they're 13-8 since a putrid 3-20 start and are within shouting distance (if you yell really loudly) of the No. 8 spot in the East.

So maybe that's why 11 different Bulls - including the infamous Cameron Payne - received at least one vote to start in the NBA All-Star Game in February. That, or the players could not care less about the voting process and made a mockery of it for a second straight year.

This could become a get-off-my-lawn story, and we could go on for hours about why the NBA should really reconsider giving players 25 percent of the vote on starters. Then again, as a whole they seemed to get it right in the East, with Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan in the backcourt, and LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid in the frontcourt. 

But instead of complaining, let's just get to the hilarious results and show you how the Bulls fared in both the player and fan voting (no Bulls received any media votes, because they shouldn't have).

Fun fact: The Bulls combined received 170,669 fan votes. That's about 5,000 less than Rockets center Clint Capela received. Their 31 combined player votes were two more than Carmelo Anthony received, so yeah.