Beyond the Arc: Quest for top seed starts now


Beyond the Arc: Quest for top seed starts now

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
6:23 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski

So, raise your hand if you thought the Bulls would be battling Boston for the top seed in the East over the final six weeks of the regular season.

Its been an amazing ride watching Derrick Rose lead the Bulls into the ranks of the NBAs elite teams. Right now, a lot of national writers with M.V.P. votes are proclaiming Derrick is their choice to win the award. So, I guess Derrick knew what he was talking about when he responded to my question about personal goals back on Media Day in September with Why cant I be the M.V.P., why cant I be the best player in the league?

Led by Rose and the ultra-thorough approach of first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls have taken the league by storm. They rank 1st in the NBA in opponents field goal percentage and 1st in points allowed, and when a team is that good on the defensive end, theyre going to have a chance to win every game.

Since the return of Joakim Noah, the Bulls have been even better on the defensive end, holding opponents under 90 points almost every time out. Noahs ability to block shots and rebound in traffic gives the Bulls a last line of defense they didnt have when Kurt Thomas was starting at center.

And, the improvement of rookie center Omer Asik has given the second unit that same ability to change games with defensive play. Ronnie Brewer has been more aggressive playing the passing lanes, knowing he has Asik and Taj Gibson behind him to erase any mistakes.

The question is, can the Bulls catch Boston for the number one seed in the East?

There are obvious advantages to finishing first, starting with earning home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs. And, the chance to play a team with a losing record in the first round like Indiana or Charlotte, instead of the star-studded Knicks or Doug Collins dangerous 76ers. And, the likelihood of avoiding Miami in the conference semifinals.

But will the Bulls go all out to finish 1st?

A lot depends on what the standings look like on April 1. If theyre still within two or three games of the lead, look for Thibodeau to go for the top spot. The Bulls have a head-to-head matchup with the Celtics at the United Center on April 7, which could go a long way to deciding which team claims first place. Looking at the Bulls final 20 games, 10 are at home and 10 are on the road. Nine of the teams have winning records, while 11 are under .500.

Getting the top seed would be a huge accomplishment for the Bulls, but realistically, the Bulls will be keeping a close eye on Miami in their rear-view mirror. A potential second round series against the Heat would be an NBA instant classic, and the Bulls want to make sure any Game Seven would be played at the United Center instead of South Beach.

Is Rose wearing down?

One potential concern down the stretch is the demands being placed on Derrick Rose to direct the offense and take over as the crunch-time scorer. Roses shooting percentage from 3-point range has been falling like a rock over the last five weeks. He connected on just 25 percent of his tries from beyond the arc in February, and missed his first 16 tries in March.

I had a chance to talk with my studio partner, Kendall Gill, about Derricks mini-shooting slump. He recommends Rose go back to his driving game and try to scale back on the long-range jumpers.

NBA players routinely wear down over the course of a long regular season, and the best way to get your rhythm back is attack the basket and try to get more free throw attempts. Thibodeau says hes not concerned about Roses recent struggles from long distance. Thibs says Rose continues to put in extra work at practice, and as long as he does that, he has the green light to shoot them in games.

The larger concern for me is how heavily the team relies on Rose to break down the defense late in close games. Granted, Derrick is the best offensive player and gives the Bulls the best chance to get a basket or a trip to the free throw line. But I would like to see the Bulls run more post-ups for Carlos Boozer to give defenses something else to think about. When the Bulls get the ball to Boozer in the post, opponents have to decide whether to send a quick double team, or allow Carlos to back his defender into the paint. And, when the double team comes, Boozer is a willing passer who will get the ball to the open man.

Kyle Korver struggled with his outside shot in the fourth quarter against New Orleans, but he shot an NBA record 53 percent from 3-point range last season, and teams have to honor him as a threat to score on any possession. Thibodeau likes to use Korver down the stretch of close games for just that reason. As we head into the stretch run towards the playoffs, its all about figuring out how to tighten rotations for games that matter the most. Look for Korver to be on the court when the Bulls need a big basket late.

Right now, the Bulls are playing 10 guys every night, and its possible that will continue into the playoffs. But Thibodeau stuck with Rose at the beginning of the fourth quarter against New Orleans instead of going to his usual substitution pattern of bringing in C.J. Watson. That means five or six extra minutes for your best player, and the Bulls have to be careful not to wear Rose down before the grueling playoff chase even begins.

As always, we love to get your feedback. Please post your comments on the race for the top seed and the scoring burden placed on Rose in the section below. And, most of all, enjoy the way the Bulls are playing right now. The fun is only beginning!

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 Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history


Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history

We're trying to figure out the best season in Bulls franchise history, and we want your help in deciding.

Because the Bulls tout the greatest player in basketball history, who could have made up this list by himself, we're giving Michael Jordan his own side of the bracket. But the other side of the bracket is also filled with some pretty memorable and remarkable campaigns.

So read up on each matchup and then have your voice heard by voting on our Twitter page here. Check out the entire bracket in the graphic above.

The Jordan Region

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96) vs. No. 8 Michael Jordan (1990-91)

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96): Jordan was on a mission in his first full season back from retirement. He led the Bulls to a then-record 72 wins with a regular-season MVP award, All-Star MVP and romp through the NBA playoffs, where the Bulls went 15-3 en route to their fourth NBA title. Jordan won his eighth straight scoring title at 30.4 points a game, with nine games where he put up 40 or more. He saved his best for Detroit, scoring 53 with 11 rebounds and six steals in early March. To prove Jordan was getting better as he aged, he shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range at age 33.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91): 1990-91: Jordan's second MVP came with his first NBA title, as he was at the peak of his powers physically combined with the ultimate team success, with the Bulls finally getting past Detroit before defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He shot a career-high 54 percent from the field while averaging 31.5 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists as he began to fully embrace the triangle offense in Phil Jackson's second season. Jordan had 57 games where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and was among the league leaders in steals at 2.7 per game while earning his fourth straight All-Defensive First Team honor.

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11) vs. No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94)

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11): Where to begin? The youngest MVP in league history took the league by storm, averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. Rose had been named an All-Star the previous season but took his game to new heights in Year 3, appearing in 81 games, making 128 3-pointers (after making a combined 32 his first two seasons) while helping the Bulls rank first in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose and the Bulls lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, with Rose shooting a paltry 35 percent on 24 attempts per game. But his historic season will always go down as one of the franchise’s best, and the only non-Jordan MVP.

No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94): Yeah, well what would Scottie be without MJ? We found out that answer in 1993-94, when Pippen took the reins of the franchise as Jordan rode the Birmingham bus as a minor-league baseball player. Pippen responded with a sensational season, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He averaged 2.9 steals, shot 49 percent from the field and became a 3-point threat for the first time in his career. He was named First Team All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team, and finished third to Hakeem and The Admiral in MVP voting. He averaged 22.8/8.3/4.6 in the postseason but ultimately proved it was easier to win in the spring with MJ by his side. Still, this individual season was one of the franchise’s best, if not the best. Hardware isn’t everything.

NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander


NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

For most of the college basketball season, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats ranked among the nation’s biggest underachievers. Calipari had perfected the one-and-done route in Lexington, recruiting classes full of McDonald’s All-Americans every year, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and then sending those talented freshmen off to the NBA. Matter of fact, Coach Cal’s ability to get players ready to play professionally is the foundation of his recruiting success.

However, this season the tried and true formula ran into a bit of a speed bump. Injuries and inconsistency led to double digit losses for the Wildcats during the regular season, and an uncertain tournament outlook. That’s when freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged as the leader of this young team, and sparked Kentucky to a Southeastern Conference tournament championship.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been even better in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 19 points with 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the Wildcats’ opening round win over Davidson, then coming back with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a victory over Buffalo.

At 6-6, Gilgeous-Alexander has the ability to shoot and pass over smaller defenders, while also possessing the quickness that is so crucial at the point guard position. Yes, he is very thin at 180 pounds, but has the frame to put on weight once he’s introduced to an NBA strength training program.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been Kentucky’s most efficient player throughout the season, shooting 49% from the field and nearly 42% from the 3 point line. He has the quickness and ball-handling ability to break down defenses and get in the paint for easy scores or assists. As the season progressed, Gilgeous-Alexander took on the role of go-to scorer late in games, sparking Kentucky’s runs in the S.E.C. AND NCAA tournaments.

So, by now I’m sure you’re asking, where does he fit with the Bulls? 3 weeks ago I was hoping Gilgeous-Alexander might be available in the 16-22 range where the Bulls might be able to get him with the Pelicans’ 1st round pick acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade. Unfortunately, his outstanding post-season play has him rocketing into the late lottery in the most recent mock drafts, and he could move up even higher if Kentucky advances to the Final 4.

The Bulls are happy with Kris Dunn as their starting point guard, and both Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne are under contract for next season. But if somehow the Pelicans fall out of the playoff field in the West (which seems very unlikely right now), adding an athletic combo guard like Gilgeous-Alexander would be an outstanding pick at 13 or 14.

So, when you’re watching Kentucky play in the NCAA Tournament, keep an eye on the tall, skinny guard wearing #22 and try to project just how good he might be on the professional level.