Bulls

20 in 20: And the NBA awards nominees are...

20 in 20: And the NBA awards nominees are...

Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010
5:58 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.

14. Who will be in contention to win the NBA's postseason awards and lead the league in major statistical categories?

Most Valuable Player

Front-runner: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder; Durant isn't the league's best player yet, but with the two best players in the NBA playing in more balanced situations, the Thunder are on their way up and Durant's outstanding FIBA World Championships performance considerably raising his profile, the 21-year-old scoring machine has a great chance to take home top honors.

Runner-up: LeBron James, Miami Heat; expect James' scoring numbers to take at least a slight dip, but with his playmaking abilities, Oscar Robertson-type, triple-double averages aren't out of the question, although sharing the South Beach stage with another legitimate MVP candidate could siphon away some votes.

Dark horse: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic; the NBA's dominant defender and rebounder doesn't have the most aesthetically-appealing game from the perspective of fans, but if Howard improves his offensive repertoire and the Magic can keep up with their Sunshine State rivals, Howard will deserve the credit.

Rookie of the Year

Front-runner: John Wall, Washington Wizards; as long as the No. 1 overall pick has the ball in his hands from the beginning of the season--and there's no reason why he shouldn't--Wall will not only help fans of the nation capital's team put a memorable (in a bad way) season in their rear-view windows, but his dynamic playmaking and athleticism could actually help make the Wizards a borderline playoff contender.
Runner-up: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers; after losing last season to injury, Griffin will be brought along slowly, but even on a balanced Clippers squad, his powerful physique and explosiveness should allow the former Oklahoma star to excel as a rebounder and low-post scorer.
Dark horse: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings; regardless of his perception as a person--his reputation for surliness shouldn't matter if it doesn't inhibit him on or off the court--Cousins is an extremely talented and versatile true post player with perhaps as much long-term potential as his former Kentucky teammate Wall.

Defensive Player of the Year

Front-runner: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic; until an elite one-on-one shutdown perimeter defender truly distinguishes himself or another big man impacts the game in a similar fashion, this award will remain Howard's to lose.
Runner-up: Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics; Rondo's unique blend of length, quickness and athleticism is the engine that makes Boston's stout defense work, as his tenacious pressure against opposing ballhandlers and ability to play the passing lanes are complemented by strong team interior defense.

Dark horse: LeBron James, Miami Heat; not that Cleveland didn't emphasize defense, but in his new digs, James will be truly counted upon to lock down the league's premier wings and while others--such as Atlanta's Josh Smith and Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, most notably--use their size, strength and versatility to make game-changing defensive plays, expect James to take his play on that side of the ball to another level.
Coach of the Year
Front-runner: Scott Skiles, Milwaukee Bucks; the former Bulls head coach probably didn't get enough kudos for his team's turnaround last season, but with Milwaukee projected to be even better after significant offseason moves, the former hard-nosed longtime NBA point guard should get more attention this season.

Runner-up: Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat; although some observers predict Spoelstra will be in over his head with his band of stars, he certainly is in a position to succeed and if he keeps it simple and emphasizes defense (in the mold of his mentor, Pat Riley), it's only logical that he'll be celebrated for his team's accomplishments.

Dark horse: Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers; Jackson's quest for yet another three-peat will be the focus, but his ability to incorporate newcomers Matt Barnes and Steve Blake into the rotation (another NBA head coach with Chicago ties, Utah's Jerry Sloan, has a more intensive semi-rebuilding process of his own to oversee; turning the Jazz into a true contender in the ultra-competitive West, out of principle, should get him this award), manage the various personalities and egos on the squad and shoo away any signs of complacency through his famed methods is an underrated challenge for the "Zen Master."

Most Improved Player

Front-runner: J.J. Hickson, Cleveland Cavaliers; Cleveland reportedly refused to include Hickson in a potential trade-deadline deal for Amar'e Stoudemire (a move that could have drastically changed the Cavs' fortunes; if Cleveland made a deeper playoff run and Stoudemire agreed to an extension, would that have been enough to keep their franchise player?), and now, with a bare-cupboard scenario, he'll have plenty of opportunities to build on the promise he showed as a productive starter before being buried on the bench down the stretch and in the postseason.

Runner-up: Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers; with a vote of confidence from the Sixers' new regime (head coach Doug Collins and top exec Rod Thorn) and a solid end to his rookie campaign, Holiday has a chance to deliver on the high expectations he had as a top prep prospect--although a crowded Philly perimeter (FIBA gold-medalist Iguodala, scorer Lou Williams and top draft choice Evan Turner also prefer to play with the ball in their hands) could make that a challenge.
Dark horse: Anthony Randolph, New York Knicks; long regarded as a premier young talent who hasn't figured it out yet, Randolph's change of scenery--his former team Golden State was similarly up-tempo, but Randolph didn't mesh with Warriors head coach Don Nelson--should benefit him and while there are some other youngsters who may seem like surer bets as sleeper candidates (swingmen Terrence Williams of New Jersey, Toronto's Sonny Weems and current Warrior Reggie Williams, to name of few), Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni's ingenuity should allow the slender, skilled and versatile forward to blossom.

Scoring

Front-runner: Durant; clearly having taken over the mantle of the league's top scorer (with apologies to Carmelo Anthony, who can't be considered unless his eventual destination and supporting cast is known), the youngster's summer exploits--the difficulty in racking up big numbers in international play shouldn't be disregarded, especially with such superb teammates--there's no reason the Oklahoma City star won't repeat as scoring champion.

Runner-up: Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat; sharing the ball with James (a natural playmaker) won't hurt Wade's numbers and could perhaps enhance them, as the Chicago native will be freed up to score (Chris Bosh's presence won't hurt), without facing the same focused defensive scrutiny he's received in recent campaigns.

Dark horse: Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks; playing without longtime teammate Steve Nash certainly won't make things easy for Stoudemire in the Big Apple, but paired up with his former coach and playing in defensive-less, offensive-minded, fast-paced system, the Knicks have few options besides pumping the ball inside to the ex-Suns star, one of the more prolific scoring post players in the league.

Rebounding

Front-runner: Howard; the Magic's center combination of power, athleticism and agility--as well as the fact that Orlando has no other committed rebounders who receive significant playing time--make Howard a lock for this title every year.

Runner-up: Chris Bosh, Miami Heat; although often regarded as a "soft," perimeter-oriented big man, his numbers prove he excelled at crashing the boards in Toronto, and with a more-limited offensive role, an increased focus on doing the work in the trenches and a need to sacrifice in order to reach the eventual goal all likely in Miami, Bosh will surprise many observers with his abilities on the glass.

Dark horse: David Lee, Golden State Warriors; Lee isn't known for his defense after emerging as an All-Star in New York last season, but his hustle, willingness to bang in the paint, underrated athleticism and constant motor allow him to put gaudy stats on the boards, something likely to be repeated for a smallish Golden State squad, where he may reprise his role as an undersized center that outworks bigger foes with his quickness.

Assists

Front-runner: Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets; disgruntled or not, Paul is arguably the league's best point guard and although the Hornets don't have a wealth of weapons for him to dish off to, his competitive nature, unbelievable creativity and expected motivation after being sidelined for much of last season will be manifested in setting up his teammates with a plethora of easy baskets.
Runner-up: Rondo; it seems that Rondo thrives off snubs--whether real or perceived--and after falling to the Lakers in the Finals and getting cut from the national team, he'll likely come into the season with a chip on his shoulder, but as a non-shooter, his teammates will reap the rewards of his frustration.

Dark horse: James; it may seem like sacrilege to not mention last season's top two dime-droppers, Phoenix's Steve Nash and Utah's Deron Williams, but not only will that pair have to place a higher premium on scoring with the departure of some key teammates in the offseason, but James' natural unselfishness, top-notch playmaking abilities and Miami's lack of an elite true point guard will put James in a spot where he functions more like Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan, which he may be more comfortable doing.

Blocks

Front-runner: Howard; this is a belabored point by now, but Howard, the type of defensive force reminiscent of the days of the Hakeem Olajuwon-Patrick Ewing-David Robinson-Dikembe Mutombo heyday of dominant centers, is one of a kind in today's NBA, as his mobility, size, length, timing and instincts are the base of his team's solid defense.

Runner-up: Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks; Smith's underrated campaign last season drew accolades because of his improved shot selection, focus and passing on offense, but his defense--spurred by his versatility, elite athleticism and long wingspan--has been excellent for a few years now, as he's an elite shot-blocker both on his own man and in help-side situations.

Dark horse: Greg Oden, Portland Trailblazers; obviously Oden's inclusion comes with the caveat that he's healthy this season (the same could be said for Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut, one of the better defensive center's in the league), but in his shortened 2009-10 campaign, he was an outstanding protector of the rim for an already defensively-solid Portland team.

Steals
Front-runner: Rondo; the ability to harass opposing point guards, play the passing lanes, stealthily help from the weak side, gamble because of his team's rock-solid scheme and corral errant passes with his incredible wingspan and huge hands all point to Rondo leading the league in this category for a second straight season.

Runner-up: Wade; this spot could easily go to James, but look for Wade to be more opportunistic off the ball, leaving his co-star with the tougher individual assignments, thus providing an opportunity to cheat off his man and benefit with easy transition baskets.

Dark horse: Ronnie Brewer, Chicago Bulls; one of the league's most underrated defenders, the long and athletic Brewer should thrive under the tutelage of new head coach Tom Thibodeau and hey, at least one Bull has to make this list, right?

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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

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USA TODAY

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.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.