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Asik-Noah battle shows EuroBasket's value to NBA

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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.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.