Bulls

Asik-Noah battle shows EuroBasket's value to NBA

534600.jpg

Asik-Noah battle shows EuroBasket's value to NBA

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011Posted: 4:44 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Follow @CSNBullsInsider
Instead of vying for minutes in Tom Thibodeau's rotation, it was national pride that was at stake when Joakim Noah and Omer Asik faced off Wednesday. France outlasted Turkey, 68-64, in the quarterfinal round of EuroBasket competition, giving Noah bragging rights whenever the NBA lockout concludes and the two Bulls centers return to the Berto Center.

Asik, however, won the individual battle, finishing with a double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds, against the man he backs up in Chicago. Coming off a fractured fibula suffered in the Eastern Conference Finals, the defensive-minded Asik has improved throughout the event and while he can't be considered an offensive force just yet, this international experience is affording him opportunities for low-post touches -- although Turkey's offense primarily revolves around NBA forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova, as well as a veteran cadre of guards -- and a chance to regain his conditioning from the injury.

Noah, whose role for France is similar -- Tony Parker is the team's unquestioned go-to player, while fellow pros Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw also have prominent roles -- struggled offensively and with foul trouble in the early going, compared to Asik, who notched six points and five rebounds in the first quarter alone. But the ever-active big man bounced back and made key plays on both ends down the stretch to help France survive a late Turkey run.

For Noah, who has cemented himself as one of the upper-echelon players at his position in the NBA, playing in EuroBasket is a positive based on his participation alone, as it can only help his conditioning after an injury-plagued campaign. On the other hand, Asik can use the tournament as a way to continue his development, similar to how Derrick Rose and other players on last summer's USA Basketball triumphant team at the FIBA World Championships did prior to this past NBA season.

Aside from Asik -- and Luol Deng, who led the event in scoring in the first round and led his Great Britain squad to a pair of wins, despite not advancing to the next round -- here are a handful of other NBA players who might use EuroBasket as a springboard to success next season (whenever that comes), based on their performance thus far:

Nicolas Batum, France: The Portland small forward has long been highly regarded as one of the bright, up-and-coming talents in the league, but has failed to consistently produce at the level some observers expect of him. Playing second option to Parker, Batum's assertiveness has been evident, as he doesn't seem content with taking on a passive role offensively. Defensively, his versatility and athleticism have always been there, but if he can become a reliable nightly scoring threat, it can make a transitioning Blazers team -- still somewhat in limbo with the health issues of former All-Star Brandon Roy, let alone perennially injured center Greg Oden -- that much more dangerous.

Marc Gasol, Spain: No longer just "Pau's little brother," the Grizzlies center is fresh off helping to lead Memphis on a surprising playoff run. An upcoming free agent, Gasol is a veteran of international play and it's showed in his effectiveness. Quickly becoming one of the best players at his position, his size, strength, touch, rebounding, feel for the game and relative youth make him a force on any continent.

Chris Kaman, Germany: A former All-Star, Kaman struggled with injuries last season and reportedly has been on the trading block, as the Clippers supposedly value the services of fellow seven-foot center and free agent DeAndre Jordan over him. While Jordan's potential, youth and athleticism may ultimately lead to Kaman eventually relocating, his stock should be back on the rise after EuroBasket. Teamed up with Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, simply proving he hasn't lost a step and relishing in doing the dirty work down low will make him even more coveted in a league deprived of true centers.

Enes Kanter, Turkey: The Jazz first-round draft pick needed the tournament perhaps more than any other player in the event. After a season playing against sub-par competition at a California prep school, Kanter was forced to sit out his freshman year at Kentucky due to NCAA regulations before being picked by Utah and walking right into a lockout, which took away the benefit of playing summer league. Playing behind Asik and Ilyasova, Kanter has shown flashes of brilliance with a nice mid-range touch and a physical nature that should serve him well upon arrival into the NBA.
Tony Parker, France: Just a few seasons ago, Parker was regarded as one of the league's elite point guards, but a highly-publicized divorce, injuries and an aging Spurs team all factored into falling out of the limelight. But if there was any doubt that he's still a game-changing talent, that's been erased with his play in Lithuania. Parker has been at his penetrating, finishing and playmaking best, leading a team with a reputation for underachieving to an undefeated mark so far and likely putting a smile (or at least wiping off the grimace) on the face of San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's 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, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

lonzolauri.png
USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen continues to impress.

The 20-year-old rookie had a career-high 26 points in the Bulls' 113-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. He also picked up 13 rebounds.

After the game, in which the Bulls fell to 3-11 on the season, coach Fred Hoiberg had high praise for the Finnish.

"I thought Lauri was phenomenal," Hoiberg said. "But when he is open, we gotta get him the ball. When he's got it rolling like he did tonight, guys were switching and we had him a couple of times with the point guard buried in his back and we didn't get him the ball."

Watch what Hoiberg had to say about the Bulls' tight loss in the video above.