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Bucks or Bulls? 2010-11 Central Division prediction

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Bucks or Bulls? 2010-11 Central Division prediction

Friday, Sept. 24, 2010
11:10 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com
A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.

17. How will the Central Division race play out?

Over the past few months, a lot has changed in the Central Division. Obviously the departure of LeBron James from Cleveland shook things up a bit, but offseason moves by the Bulls, Milwaukee and, to lesser degrees, even Indiana and Detroit, have also had some influence.

By acquiring Carlos Boozer and bringing in six other new additions, Chicago completely re-shaped its roster, while keeping the core of forwards Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, center Joakim Noah and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose intact. Add to that an expected emphasis on defense from new head coach Tom Thibodeau and it's easy to see why many observers expect the Bulls to be an upper-echelon Eastern Conference team.

But their neighbor to the north, the Bucks, also had a busy summer. After a surprising regular season that resulted in a playoff berth in which they took favored Atlanta to seven games in the first round, things were already looking up for Milwaukee. Australian center Andrew Bogut had a breakout season--albeit abbreviated, as a horrific season-ending injury sidelined him for the team's stretch run and postseason--and point guard Brandon Jennings was one of the league's top rookies, first gaining attention for a remarkable early-season 55-point outing, then gaining accolades, as he showed his game had some substance to go along with the flash.

Of course, the Bulls had something to do with Milwaukee's success. Not only was former Bulls head coach Scott Skiles responsible for the team's grittier mentality, but a trade-deadline deal that shipped former Bulls swingman John Salmons to the Bucks was a big reason for their success, as Salmons flourished in his role as a go-to scorer.

Milwaukee made Salmons an offseason priority, re-signing him in free agency, then making shrewd deals to acquire scoring swingman Corey Maggette, banger Jon Brockman and promising young wing Chris Douglas-Roberts from Golden State, Sacramento and New Jersey, respectively. Another wing player, Carlos Delfino, also re-signed with the team, well-traveled power forward Drew Gooden and veteran backup point guard Keyon Dooling were picked up in free agency, and high-upside power forward Larry Sanders--who subsequently justified his status as a potential rookie sleeper with his summer-league play in Las Vegas--was then selected in the draft (with a pick acquired from Chicago in the Salmons trade). With low-profile yet valuable role players like versatile forward Ersan Ilyasova and defensive stopper Luc Richard Mbah a Moute still in the fold, there's no reason the Bucks can't surpass what they achieved a season ago.

The Pacers, who seemingly still have yet to recover from the notorious "Malice in the Palace"--despite having no players on the roster who were active participants (longtime Pacer Jeff Foster took a peace-making approach) in the infamous brawl--were also active this summer.

A late-offseason four-team trade that netted Indiana young point guard Darren Collison and veteran small forward James Posey, with starting power forward Troy Murphy sent to New Jersey, was the source of optimism for fans in the Hoosier State. Collison, who had an outstanding rookie campaign in New Orleans with Chris Paul injured for much of the season, is regarded as the team's point guard of the future, a position at which Indiana has had much turnover in recent seasons. The team also drafted two promising youngsters in unheralded athletic swingman Paul George and scoring guard Lance Stephenson.

The loss of Murphy hurts--the organization hopes Tyler Hansborough, who showed signs of potential as a rookie, is fully recovered from a debilitating bout with vertigo last season--but along with center Roy Hibbert has improved every season he's been in the league. Although star forward Danny Granger appeared to regress last year, it's hoped that a humbling USA Basketball experience will result in a motivated, productive and better all-around season.

It's a been a steep decline in Detroit, as the former perennial-contending Pistons have been reduced to a shell of their former selves. Yes, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace are still on the team, but the latter two look to be on the downside of brilliant careers, while Prince has struggled with health issues.

The Pistons were mostly quiet in the offseason--with the exception of acquiring former All-Star Tracy McGrady in free agency. Regardless of whether "T-Mac" can recapture his past form, he joins a crowded wing rotation with the aforementioned Prince and Hamilton, along with former Bull Ben Gordon and the super-slender Austin Daye, who showed flashes of promise as a rookie.

Forward Charlie Villanueva, like Gordon, was regarded as a disappointment in his first year in Motown, after coming over as a free agent the previous summer. Villaneuva will share frontcourt minutes with Wallace, holdover Jason Maxiell, first-round pick Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko, who was one of the team's bright spots as a rookie. In the backcourt, Rodney Stuckey, Chicago native Will Bynum and sleeper second-round pick Terrico White provide some youth.

As for the reeling Cavaliers, James wasn't the only player to leave Cleveland, as veteran centers Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas also left in free agency. That could turn into a bright spot, as minutes in the post are freed up for defensive specialist Anderson Varejao and highly-regarded youngster J.J. Hickson.

Perhaps the team's biggest offseason move was the acquisition of guard Ramon Sessions, which says it all about the state of affairs for the Cavs. Veteran scorers Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams are back, but this will clearly be a rebuilding season, with new head coach Byron Scott patrolling the sidelines and a new front office in place.

Central Division predicted finish:

1. Milwaukee: The Bucks' combination of experience, chemistry built over last season and savvy offseason moves make them the front-runner.
2. Chicago: It will take time to build chemistry and adapt to a new system, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if Thibodeau's Bulls jell by the playoffs.

3. Indiana: If Granger is focused, Hibbert continues to make progress and Collison is truly the answer at point guard, things will be looking up.

4. Detroit: Figuring out a set rotation and solidifying post and point-guard play could be issues.
5. Cleveland: Little reason for optimism.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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.