Bulls

Ask Aggrey: Are the Heat or Thunder a bigger threat?

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Ask Aggrey: Are the Heat or Thunder a bigger threat?

The minds of Bulls fans might still be on Sunday's humbling loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City, the basketball world as a whole is focused on Monday night's NCAA Championship game between Kansas and Kentucky. For NBA purists who aren't fans of the college game, this could be the year to watch, given that Kansas has one of the top individual talents in the nation in junior All-American power forward Thomas Robinson, while Kentucky has a whole host of future pros, led by Chicago native Anthony Davis, a freshman, odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and the national Player of the Year. I'm not necessarily the biggest advocate of Kansas coach Bill Self, but he did a masterful job in what was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding season, leading a team featuring no McDonald's All-Americans and arguably only the third-most talent in its own conference (behind Baylor and Missouri) to the title game.

However, the Jayhawks' run will probably end Monday, as the sheer talent and athleticism of the Wildcats should get Kentucky coach John Calipari his first national championship. In addition to Davis, Kentucky features an overwhelming supporting cast, including fellow freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (a high-motor wing who could be the No. 2 pick in the draft) and Marquis Teague (the younger brother of Atlanta Hawk Jeff Teague is a likely first-round pick in a weak draft for point guards), sophomores Terrence Jones (a versatile forward, the team's leading scorer and a projected lottery pick) and Doron Lamb (the guard is one of the best shooters in the country and another probable first-rounder) and senior swingman Darius Miller, who's the squad's sixth man and also should play in the NBA next season. I won't be able to see the game because of the coinciding Bulls-Rockets game, but I'm going with Kentucky by a dozen. With that, on to this week's edition of the mailbag.
Who should the Bulls be more afraid of - the Heat in Eastern Conference Finals or the Thunder in the NBA Finals? -- Mark H.
Mark, "afraid" isn't the word I'd use, but certainly after Sunday's outing, the Bulls are probably more wary of the Thunder. Keep in mind, they played without their starting backcourt, but the Bulls' lack of fight was somewhat disturbing, as that just doesn't occur under Thibs. That said, it's just one game and a regular-season one at that. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook really had it going and as good as they are, they won't have games like that every night against the Bulls' defense and even if they did, the Bulls' offense endured one of its worst performances of the season. But the Bulls aren't a team to, in Thibs' words, "skip steps," so with two more regular-season matchups against the Heat looming, they're certainly more concerned about Miami at this point. That's the team that ousted them from the playoffs last season and all signs point to an Eastern Conference Finals rematch this spring, so even if the Thunder advance to the NBA Finals -- which isn't a guarantee, no matter how dominant they looked Sunday -- the Bulls won't put the cart before the horse.
Would last year's Bulls team would have had as much success WITHOUT Derrick Rose than the team this year is having? -- Pablo T.

Pablo, no way. Last season's team was still getting used to Thibs' system and if you recall, Derrick bailed them out of several games individually. Even in games when they got a solid collective effort, it took MVP heroics to win. This season, even with Derrick in the lineup, they've been much more balanced. Another major reason the Bulls have been able to weather the storm without Derrick is that the frontcourt has been relatively healthy. It was the opposite last season, with Joakim and Carlos being out for long stretches, while the starting perimeter trio of Derrick, Luol and the departed Keith Bogans missed one game combined. But now, with the system ingrained and the bulk of the players back from a year ago, the Bulls are equipped to still play at a high level without Derrick, at least until the playoffs hit. That was unthinkable last season.

Yo Aggrey! What's the best and worst part of being a beat-writer for the Bulls? -- Greg S.

Greg, the best part of my job, by far, is getting to know the players and coaches on the team. I can't speak for every team in the league, but the Bulls have genuinely good people around and they're all unique, have a variety of interests and opinions, both on and off the court, and make coming to work every day an enjoyable task. The worst part is probably the travel. It sounds exciting and it can be fun, but believe me, two-week road trips and getting out of arenas after midnight, then having to wake up a few hours later to catch an early-morning flight can be exhausting. Overall though, the good definitely outweighs the bad.Do you have any insight on where Jabari Parker will be going to college? I'm a DePaul student and would LOVE to have him here! -- Jasmine Q.

Jasmine, I won't pretend to know which school Jabari will pick, since things change in the course of high-profile recruitment sagas all the time, but if I had to guess, I'd put my money on Duke, though many of the other national powers involved, such as Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisville, Michigan State, and even the likes of Washington and Stanford -- Jabari's father, Sonny, played professionally with Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, while Jabari has family on the West Coast and Stanford's academics likely appeal to him -- also have a chance. I've gotten to know Jabari a bit and he's an excellent student, but he's probably going to be a one-and-done player. Thus, Duke fits him from both an academic standpoint and after winning three high school state championships -- and likely a fourth next season -- as well as providing him with an opportunity to develop under a coach with a track record of having won national championships and coaching pros, something that's been enhanced by Coach K's work with USA Basketball.

However, I wouldn't completely rule out DePaul just yet, simply because Jabari has a lot of civic pride, is close to his family and is good friends with AAU teammate Billy Garrett Jr., a junior point guard at Morgan Park, one of Simeon's rivals. Billy, who's also an excellent player, has already committed to DePaul, his father is on the coaching staff and I'd imagine he's constantly in Jabari's ear about joining him and putting the program back on the map.

Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.

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.