Bulls

Ask Aggrey: Watson a pleasant surprise

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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.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”