20 in 20: It's surprising, my dear Watson


20 in 20: It's surprising, my dear Watson

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010
6:33 PM

By Aggrey Sam

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.

15. Which Bulls player will be the biggest surprise to fans this season?

This is widely pegged as a season in which Derrick Rose takes his game to a new level and Joakim Noah becomes an All-Star center. There are hopes for more consistency out of Luol Deng and continued development from Taj Gibson. Carlos Boozer is obviously the most noteworthy newcomer to the Bulls and expectations are optimistic for the his former Utah teammates, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer.

But a player who could provide an unexpected lift this season is a less-ballyhooed acquisition, backup point guard C.J. Watson. In his third year in the league--after first plying his trade overseas and in the D-League--the University of Tennessee product's per-game averages included 10.3 points, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals per contest, all career highs, with Golden State. In addition, he shot 31 percent from beyond the three-point stripe, a decrease from his 35.1 percent career mark.

Granted, Watson played more minutes--27.5--than he will behind a healthy Derrick Rose, and he will have to play within more structure than with the free-wheeling, defense-optional Warriors. Still, he gives the Bulls a true backup point guard, something that didn't really exist last season, although starting shooting guard Kirk Hinrich served as Rose's defacto understudy.

Unlike last season, however, the Bulls will usually have a bigger backcourt, as Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Keith Bogans--all at least 6-foot-5--gives them more size paired with Rose, as opposed to Hinrich, and after John Salmons was traded, Flip Murray. Of course, Watson, a scoring point guard, is also capable of playing alongside Rose.

For those unfamiliar with further specifics about his game, Watson, while not necessarily a knockdown shooter, will likely be one of Chicago's better outside threats, as he can hit jumpers both from a standstill position and off the dribble. Although he wouldn't be considered a premier distributor, he is at least capable of running an offense. While he'll need to make an adjustment to defend up to new Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau's stringent standards, he was one of Golden State's better defenders, although that backhanded compliment isn't saying much.

Those aspects of the Las Vegas native's game should all serve him well in Chicago, but perhaps his most important attribute is serving as an insurance and rest behind Rose (as of right now, Watson is the only player under contract that could effectively run the point, although the leading scorer for the Bulls summer-league entry, point guard John Lucas III, has been invited to next week's training camp), equipping the Bulls with both a more-than-adequate backup and a serviceable starter in case of injury. In addition, if the Bulls plan to employ a more up-tempo style of play, Watson has experience at pushing at the pace from his time with the Warriors.

Averaging even low double-figure scoring numbers for back-to-back seasons is probably out of the question, but Watson is capable of going off on an individual spurt in limited minutes and gives the Bulls their best backup at the position since Chris Duhon. Assuming he makes the adjustment to a more disciplined style of play--and stays away from boxer Floyd Mayweather--it's imaginable that Watson has a handful of games in which he not only offers a positive change of pace off the bench, but steals the show with his energy and scoring prowess.

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.

LeBron James' brilliance overpowers Denzel Valentine's career night for Bulls


LeBron James' brilliance overpowers Denzel Valentine's career night for Bulls

It look a little longer than perhaps LeBron James expected—or maybe not, given the recent woes from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But it happens in a flash—no matter if it is a fadeaway jumper, darting pass through multiple defenders or a swat into the third row for an unsuspecting Cameron Payne, who acted like he hadn’t seen James’ movies.

It took an almost Herculean effort from the game’s best player to put away a pesky Bulls team, 114-109 Saturday at the United Center. James was without several regulars, including Rodney Hood, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver—and his coach, Tyronn Lue, didn’t join the bench in the second half after getting ill.

The no-look passes, the easy drives to the basket, it’s hard to realize he’s playing in his 15th season but he’s at a level few can match, even if his team struggles to keep up.

Whatever he’s lost in athleticism, he’s gained in mastering the game and making sure it’s played at his pace.

Of course, we can quibble with his indifference to defense at times and make note of how that permeates to the rest of the team, as they let the Bulls back in way too many times.

But when you say that, it’s just as easy to see his passing makes his teams unselfish. The Cavs routinely swing the ball from a good shot to a great shot, even if it’s facilitated by James himself, as they had 25 assists on 44 field goals.

“Right now the game is effortless,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “LeBron wants to be a passer first and that’s where he was hurting us early. And then he got loose and got to the rim.”

James led them with 12 in addition to his 33 points and 13 rebounds in 39 minutes, and the Cavaliers needed every bit of his production as the Bulls emptied the reservoir with four of their five regular starters out.

“I just want to get healthy,” James said. “It’s unfamiliar territory for a lot of guys, going in and out the lineup and having six guys out…I think it was a good (road) trip for us.”

The Bulls were missing Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez for various reasons.

Denzel Valentine filled in admirably for a career night and luckily, didn’t throw a cringing behind-the-back pass to the expensive seats. Buoyed by a lax defense from the opposition, he led the Bulls with 34 points, seven rebounds and six assists, hitting eight of 11 from long range in 34 minutes.

If it wasn’t for a late foul on Jordan Clarkson when the Bulls improbably tied the game at 105 with 1:41 left, the Bulls would’ve made things very interesting. But he made contact with Clarkson in the corner and the Cavaliers took a four-point lead.

James got a steal on the next possession and hit a fadeaway to complete his night, his 15th triple-double of the season.

“As soon as I went in a little bit he threw it out there,” Valentine said of James. “And I went to close out and boom. It’s just a learning moment.”

Valentine has earned praise from Hoiberg for filling a leadership void while Lopez and Justin Holiday have taken a backseat due to the organization’s wishes to evaluate young players for the rest of the season.

In the meantime, Valentine hopes he’s proving to be a starter at this level, not just a plug-and-play role player.

“I believe I’m a starter in this league,” Valentine said. “I believe I can be an important piece of an NBA team. But whatever my role on the team is that they want me to do, the organization wants me to do, I’ll do. But personally, I believe I’m a starter and I can contribute in major ways. I just got to keep working and keep getting better.”

Whether he’s a fringe starter or valuable piece off the bench, Valentine has at least shown to develop a consistent jump shot—which in today’s game puts him as a fit on any team. Shooting 39 percent on the season means if the Bulls make him available this offseason, they will have callers.

“It just shows what I’m capable of,” Valentine said. “I believe in myself even when I’m out there playing bad. But I put the work in no matter what happens, if I’m playing well [or], if I’m playing bad.”

His fearlessness, along with Bobby Portis and Cameron Payne, pulled the Bulls back from the brink after the Cavaliers took a 17-point lead before halftime.

Sixteen of his points came in the third, sending the United Center into a frenzy despite the fact a loss would be more beneficial for the franchise considering the New York Knicks destroyed the Charlotte Hornets, paving the way for the Bulls to slide back into eighth in the lottery standings.

Payne did his best to undermine the tank, with a career-high 10 assists go to with 13 points on five of 11 shooting. Portis was solid with 15 points and 15 rebounds, but had a late dunk blocked by Jeff Green.

And combined with Antonio Blakeney getting his shots up anytime he touched the ball, including on fast breaks when the Bulls had multiple-man advantages, just enough was done to give the Cavs the necessary room to end their 13-day road trip on a high note.

“We’ve got a lot of guys in positions they haven’t been in all year,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Cam was unbelievable pushing the pace, especially early in the game.”

Green added 21 and Clarkson came off the bench to score 19. All can thank James for their night—along with a fan he threw his armband to afterward, who was left in tears.

And had the Bulls actually won this game, both James and the Bulls fans would’ve been in tears.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?


Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Vincent Goodwill, and Kendall Gill discuss the concern over Zach Lavine’s inconsistent play, plus is it smart for the Bulls to offer him a max contract? Kendall also explains why the Bulls need to be careful not to lowball Lavine, like the Hornets did with him early in his career. Plus the trio discuss the early exit for Oklahoma and Trae Young. He’s likely to be there when the Bulls make their first pick, should they take him? And Vincent shares who the consensus top 5 picks are after talking with several NBA talent evaluators.