Bulls

Belinelli atones for mistakes with game-winner

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Belinelli atones for mistakes with game-winner

BOSTONMarco Belinelli didnt seem like hed be lucky Friday night.

After struggling Wednesday in Toronto, where he used to play for the Raptors, the Bulls backup shooting guard was experiencing another rough outing against the Celtics. From questionable shot selection to turnoversafter being trapped in the corner, he threw up a wild three-point heave that hit the top of the backboard on the Bulls second-to-last possession of the gamethe Italian sharpshooter simply didnt have it going.

But when it counted, Belinelli hit the go-ahead, game-winning shot, an improbable fallaway jumper with 3.1 seconds remaining in the extra session, to give the Bulls a 100-99 overtime win over Boston.

It was just natural. I know thats a crazy shot. The ball went in, but I didnt play well. When I took the shot from the corner, that was a bad position for us. Anyway, forgot that, I scored the ball in the last seconds, we played good defense and weve got another one tomorrow, so keep going, he recounted afterwards. The play was give the ball to Jo, try to hand off and play something quick. Okay, I passed the ball to Jo, they denied me. They pressed the ball very well in the last couple seconds, so Jo passed the ball to Booz. I was denied and I just played backdoor, and Booz made a great pass to me, and I tried to score. That was a good shot, but first of all, its important that we won the game.

The final play didnt occur as planned. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didnt draw it up the way it developed on the court, but a day after his 55th birthday, hell take the win against his former employer.

Well, there were a lot of plays in that game, but were just obviously happy that we found a way to win the game, the coach said. And often times, thats what happens. Its the scramble play. Theyre very good defensively. They take options away from you and youve got to go to counters, and youve got to be able to read, and you cant freeze, and you cant hold the ball. So, he bailed us out. Big shot. A big play was Jimmy and Joakim tying up Pierce at the end, just to give ourselves a chance, so sometimes you need that. I thought the defense was good most of the good, the rebounding was good. The Celtics are playing well. You have to earn the win. I thought thats what we did.

Rip Hamilton, the Bulls high scorer on the evening, chimed in: He was due for it, man. I thought it was a great shot. They tried to trap him the one time, going into the corner, and we almost turned the ball over. I thought the next one, he came out, he was aggressive, just focused on trying to make it and he made it.

For Belinelli, the final shot had a redemptive quality, as he was mobbed by his teammates at midcourt following the final buzzerafter Bostons Courtney Lee missed a last-gasp attemptand all of his mistakes were atoned for.

I feel really good. In my mind right now. Its great to feel like that. First of all, I think we played a good game after a difficult game like Toronto, after another overtime. We played good and we have a great team. When I scored the last shot, I saw all my teammates at halfcourt, happy for me, so it just really feels good for me, said Belinelli, who couldnt recall prior game-winning shots in his career afterwards. I cant wait to see the picture. Thats a great moment for me.

Just amazing, he continued. I know that was a crazy shot on the previous possession. I took a tough shot from the corner, but you never know in the NBA. Sometimes, the ball goes in. That was a terrible shot for us, so its good. Its good to come back. That was a good pass from Boozer. That was a good team win.

This is what youre living for. These are the great moments of your life. I love basketball, I love this team, I love Bulls fans, the organization, so just keep going.

Potential top pick in 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr. will likely miss entire freshman season

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USA TODAY

Potential top pick in 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr. will likely miss entire freshman season

The Bulls will be keeping a close eye on the best young talent the loaded 2018 NBA Draft will have to offer. But they likely won't be seeing much of Missouri's Michael Porter Jr.

The school announced Tuesday that their freshman forward, the top recruit in the country, will miss the remainder of his freshman season.

Porter played all of 100 minutes for the Tigers, amassing 2 pioints and 2 rebounds in the Tigers' win over Iowa State.

The injury isn't to say Porter won't declare for the 2018 NBA Draft, or that it will affect his stock at all. He's still considered a legitimate franchise player and certainly someone all teams drafting in the top 5 will have their eye on.

But there will be competition. Players like Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, DeAndre Ayton and Mo Bamba make up what could be one of the best draft classes in recent memory.

For now the Bulls will have to wait until the spring or summer to see Porter Jr. work out, while doing due diligence on the rest of the class.

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

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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.