Bulls

Beyond the Arc: Noah returning just in time

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Beyond the Arc: Noah returning just in time

Monday, Feb. 21, 2011
8:58 a.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Don't be misled by the fact the Bulls put together a 22-8 record without injured center Joakim Noah in the lineup. The truth is, the team isn't nearly as good without the 4th year pro from Florida protecting the paint, grabbing rebounds and finishing on the fastbreak.

Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik have done a good job filling in, but Thomas is 38 and Asik is an untested rookie still trying to adjust to a new country and the speed of the NBA game. Noah has developed into one of the league's most versatile big men. Sure, his jumper looks funny and he's not going to command a double team when he catches the ball in the low post, but Noah makes the Bulls a much more dangerous team on both ends of the floor.

You all know Joakim is one of the NBA's leading rebounders, but his uncanny ability to grab loose balls and offensive rebounds gives the Bulls a handful of extra possessions every game. And, since the Bulls are not a good shooting team, those extra possessions are crucial, especially in close games against quality opponents.

Noah's presence also upgrades the Bulls' overall defense. Right now, Tom Thibodeau's squad ranks 2nd in the NBA in both points allowed and opponents' field goal percentage. And they're doing it without a legitimate shot blocker in the starting line-up. Noah's return will give them an elite low post defender who can cover up for some of Carlos Boozer's weaknesses on that end of the floor.

If you've been watching the games closely, you'll see that Boozer has trouble staying with quicker power forwards, and doesn't do a great job of sliding over to help against penetration. With Noah back, that weakness won't be as big of an issue. Thibodeau often turned to Taj Gibson to help out against high-scoring power forwards over the last few weeks, sending Boozer to the bench. Now, Noah will be there to help Boozer, who's low post scoring ability is so important to give the Bulls some balance on the offensive end.

BULLS MIGHT SIT OUT TRADE DEADLINE FRENZY

Speaking of offensive balance, Gar Forman and John Paxson would love to add another perimeter shooter before the February 24th trade deadline, but it doesn't look like they have the ammunition to make a significant deal.

You've already heard the names. Houston's Courtney Lee, Portland's Rudy Fernandez and Memphis' O.J. Mayo are probably the three guys who best fit what the Bulls are looking for in terms of affordability and potential impact. But Houston wants a big man in any deal for Lee, and the Bulls don't want to give up on the potential of Asik, who turned in some strong games off the bench before the All-Star break.

Fernandez might not be available either because of Brandon Roy's knee problems, and Memphis may have to reconsider their plan to trade Mayo because of an injury to Rudy Gay, which could move Mayo back into the Grizzlies' starting line-up.

There are shooting guards available like Cleveland's Anthony Parker, Denvers J.R. Smith, Detroit's Richard Hamilton and Charlotte's Stephen Jackson. But Smith, Hamilton and Jackson are too expensive, and as far as Parker is concerned, is he really that much of an upgrade over Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer?

In case you haven't noticed, Bogans has really turned around his game since the calendar flipped to 2011. He's shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc since January 1st, and has done a solid job defensively against some of the league's most athletic players.

Brewer has been exactly what the Bulls hoped for when they signed him to that free agent contract back in July. He's a rangy, active defender who knows how to get into passing lanes and create fastbreak opportunities. He's also done a nice job of working the baseline for momentum changing dunks, and knows his limitations on the offensive end.

Bottom line, unless the Bulls can get Lee from Houston for James Johnson and a draft pick, or work out a package for Mayo that doesn't destroy their frontcourt depth, they're probably better off standing pat at the deadline.

Ask anyone who's close to the team, and they'll tell you the Bulls' chemistry is as good as they've seen around the league in recent years. There's no sense disrupting that chemistry to add another player who isn't likely to make a significant impact this season. If the Bulls acquire another shooting guard, that could mean Bogans goes from starter to the inactive list, and how will that be received in the locker room?

The Bulls' front office is well aware they could use more scoring, and they're probably still one impact player away from contending for championships. But with a new collective bargaining agreement coming, and the possibility of a hard salary cap, the Bulls don't want to make a bad short term move that might impact their ability to sign Rose to a long-term, maximum contract extension.

You can bet Forman and Paxson will be on the phone this week, but don't expect a big money veteran to join the Bulls for the stretch run. So, what do you think? Should the Bulls make a trade before the deadline, or are you content with the team they have in place now that Noah is healthy again? Can the Bulls contend for the Eastern Conference Championship right now?

Please post your comments in the section below, and we'll see you Wednesday, when the Bulls start the 2nd half of the season against the Toronto Raptors. It's a 6 p.m. tip-off on Comcast SportsNet.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.