Bulls

Ask Aggrey: Watson a pleasant surprise

649528.png

Ask Aggrey: Watson a pleasant surprise

Another Monday, another edition of the mailbag. As I get ready to head back to Chicago from Boston after more than two weeks on the road, I feel compelled to answer your most pressing questions. But before I get into that, Ill share some of the good and the bad of the nine-game trip.

First, lets get the bad out of the way: living out of a suitcase, airport security and having to harass Derrick Rose about whether or not hes playing on a nightly basis. Now, for the good: Miamis weather, po-boy sandwiches in pre-Mardi Gras New Orleans, cheesesteaks in Philly, lobster rolls and clam chowder in Boston, hitting three of the cities where I used to live (New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington) and the dancers for the Heat, Wizards and Bobcats, in particular. On to your questions:

I hear Nikola Mirotic is tearing it up in Europe. I know he's a few years away from coming to the NBA, but what kind of player might he be once he finally puts on a Bulls uniform? -- Ben G.

Ben, great question. Indeed, Mirotic is playing at a very high level in the Spanish ACB league, regarded by most as the top league outside of the NBA. While he wont be crossing the waters for at least another couple of years, the Bulls front office is very pleased with the rapid progress that hes made and are even higher on him than they were on Omer Asik, who surprised many with his readiness to contribute upon arrival in the NBA. Mirotic is seen as a face-up power forward, with the ability to stretch the defense with his long-range shooting, but he brings more than just that skill to the table. While he needs to get stronger, Mirotic is viewed as highly skilled, possessing the ability to put the ball on the floor and with enough toughness to bang inside and snatch some rebounds. Even at his young age, hes a strong candidate to play for Spains loaded national team he has dual citizenship, as one parent is Spanish and the other is from Montegnegro in the Olympics this summer, though with the likes of the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, he might not see a lot of minutes on the front line. However, while he was seen as a steal in last years NBA Draft (other teams passed on him because of his buyout), if he was candidate in this years draft, regarded as one of the most talented in several years, Mirotic may well be a lottery pick.

Do the Bulls have a "Dunk Policy?" Seems they go for the lay up when other teams usually dunk. -- @jjpetrusa

JJ, thats pretty funny. When the Bulls are in transition, Ive also noticed that theyll often play it safe and go for a layup the majority of the time. Even Derrick, when slashing to the basket against a set defense, hasnt been throwing it down much this season, though some of that can be attributed to his injury woes. But when you think about it, besides Derrick, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer who fails to convert on enough of his dunks that laying it up more often could be a good idea for him how many big-time leapers do the Bulls really have? For all of his talents, Luol Deng would much rather take the sure two points and conserve his energy (especially with all the minutes Tom Thibodeau plays him) than dunk most of the time. As far as big men, while Taj and Omer Asik have their fair share of flushes, but Carlos Boozer doesnt have a lot of lift these days, though now Joakim Noah seems to be in rhythm, hes been throwing it down more. It might not be an actual policy, but somewhat of an unwritten rule, as even rookie Jimmy Butler seems to take the cautious route when hes had opportunities.
What do you make of the 'Lin-sanity' that is sweeping the nation? -- Rachel

Rachel, Im a big fan of Linsanity. I actually wrote a short magazine piece on Lin when he was a star at Harvard and then saw him play in the NBAs summer league in Las Vegas where he had a strong head-to-head matchup with No. 1 pick John Wall prior to his rookie season. While many people saw him as a novelty as a Warriors rookie, assuming Golden State picked the Northern California native up to cater to the areas Asian community, I knew he was a legitimate NBA-level talent. That said, I certainly didnt anticipate his incredible rise to stardom. People often compare Linsanity to the NFLs Tim Tebow phenomenon, but Tebow was a first-round draft pick, former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion at a major football power. Lin was in the absolute right place at the right time, as the Knicks simply dont have a healthy point guard on their roster veteran Baron Davis is on the shelf, while Toney Douglas and rookie Iman Shumpert just arent natural floor generals and in Mike DAntonis system, having a high basketball I.Q., being able to flourish in a pick-and-roll offense and having good court vision are huge advantages. Additionally, the Knicks are winning games, so when Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire (the latter should be fine, as he played under DAntoni in Phoenix with Nash and looked like an early MVP candidate with Raymond Felton at the beginning of last season) return to the lineup, it will be interesting to watch if Lin is still allowed so much free reign with superstar scorers to pass to.
Are you at all worried about D-Rose's rash of injuries of late? -- Wyatt H.

Wyatt, if you asked me that before Sunday, I would have said no. Derrick is an individual capable of playing through pain and while I didnt doubt how much his back was bothering him prior to the Celtics game while most people reference him getting stretched out on the sidelines in the middle of the Bulls nine-game road trip at Milwaukee, I witnessed him being stretched out on by the training staff on the sidelines against Washington, the second game of the trip I figured skipping the Charlotte game Friday was a way to get extra rest before Boston. However, with him admitting before the game how much pain he was in throughout the entire trip and missing a showdown that he badly wanted to play in, I have to say that Im a bit concerned. Well see how his visit with a specialist goes Monday, but at 23, having these back issues isnt a good sign. Just know that if he can play through it, he will for better or worse and with the history of a star player holding grudges against management for sitting him due to injury, theres no need for people to act like Thibs put a gun to his head and forced him to play.
What has surprised you the most with this current Bulls team? -- Johnny Y.

Johnny, with Ronnies recent shooting struggles he started out the season shooting from the perimeter like he stole Kyle Korvers identity Id say C.J. Watson. I know he hasnt shot the ball well in his last few games, but from coming back early from injuries to stepping up with huge performances when Derricks been out of the lineup, C.J. has really taken his game to another level this year. From my perspective, hes one of the leagues upper-echelon backup point guards and there are a number of teams for instance, the pre-Linsanity Knicks that he could start for. Working out in his hometown of Las Vegas, C.J. had a great offseason, really took to heart the things the coaching staff asked him to work on and embraced his role after struggling with it early last season, following his stint in Golden States run-and-gun style, in which he also played more minutes. His defense, ball security, shot selection and passing have also been much improved, making him a major reason the Bulls have one of the leagues best benches.

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.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.