Bulls

As Bulls figure out lineups, Lauri Markkanen will miss first two preseason games

As Bulls figure out lineups, Lauri Markkanen will miss first two preseason games

Going small has been the recent trend in the NBA, with the Cleveland Cavaliers being the latest to make the trek by starting Kevin Love at center.

The Bulls are a little different in that current space, with five big men who could probably qualify for the position—although they’ll be down to four in their preseason opener as Lauri Markkanen will be out for the first two games with back spasms.

Bulls fans will have to wait to check out their new building block, but it’ll give Fred Hoiberg a chance to mess around with rotations in the meantime with games against New Orleans and Dallas on back-to-back nights starting Tuesday.

Quincy Pondexter will also miss both games with a left hamstring injury, which is about as far as Hoiberg would divulge when asked about a starting lineup, guarding his thoughts with CIA-like privacy.

As for the trend, if Hoiberg was given truth serum he might say having a center who can shoot from long range is a dream of his, but he may have to settle for streaky-shooting Nikola Mirotic at the center spot at times.

“I like the way the league is going. It's why I gained 10 pounds because I might play five. It's a joke,” the dry-witted Mirotic said. “I might play five (center) you never know, we'll see.”

Even with Mirotic at 260 pounds, he’s probably better playing against smaller lineups so he won’t be pushed around as much, and he’s a decent rebounder despite his deficiencies. Putting Mirotic and Markkanen together will be a sight seen often this year, one would think.

“I like the way they're playing it right now because last year we played some together, Bobby (Portis) and me. I think here at some point they'll play Lauri and me. It's a new game right now.”

The new game will have a bit of an old feel against the Pelicans, considering they employ arguably the two best big men in the league in DeMarcus Cousins and Chicago-native Anthony Davis, versatile bigs who can play inside-out.

[MORE: Competition in full force during Bulls training camp

“This preseason will be good for us because we’ll see a lot of different lineups,” Hoiberg said. “Starting tomorrow and playing New Orleans twice in the preseason with two 7-footers on their front line and two of the better, more versatile players in our league at the 4-5 spots.

“And then facing a guy like Love, which will be a tough lineup having to defend with their small players. Hopefully, have some things in your offensive package to counter that on the other end.”

Make no mistake, Hoiberg will throw some funky lineups out there now and when the games count, especially to show off an offensive system he’s been desperate to display in his first two years.

Considering the Bulls are where they are in terms of talent, players like Mirotic will likely be in myriad positions to make plays, whether Mirotic keeps the weight on or not.

It’s why Mirotic’s aim is to “play simple basketball”, something he hasn’t always been successful at during his first three seasons.

“I know that it's gonna be tough matchups tomorrow, having to guard (Cousins). But play good defense, play solid on offense and try to execute,” Mirotic said. “We've been working very hard the last week of camp. For me, offensively if I'm open take my shot. Run the floor, play defense and rebound the ball.”

Bulls continue stockpiling young point guards

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USA TODAY

Bulls continue stockpiling young point guards

Point Guard of the Future Part VIII? 

The Bulls added another guard to their already-claustrophobic backcourt on Monday, claiming Kay Felder off free agency waivers, according to The Vertical's Shams Charania. 

Felder, 22, was dealt alongside Richard Jefferson from the Cavaliers to the Hawks on Saturday before being immediately waived.

The Bulls then decided to take a flyer on the Oakland University product because why the heck not? Barring some type of NBA miracle, the Bulls are on a season-long march to the lottery, so adding another young player can't hurt. Even if Felder is now the fifth point guard, joining Cameron Payne, Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono and Jerian Grant, on the squad. 

In 42 games with the Cavs last season, Felder averaged four points and 1.4 assists in just over nine minutes. He was drafted with the hope that he could further his NCAA reputation as a scorer. However, he connected on just 39 percent from the field during his rookie season. He's also undersized -- like Nate Robinson-Isaiah Thomas Undersized -- lowering his ceiling as a defender. 

Whether he can find a niche as a second-unit heat check guy remains to be seen, but with Kris Dunn expected to miss a few weeks, it gives Fred Hoiberg another option at the very least. He's also former NBA All-Star Steve Smith's cousin, should you believe in the power of basketball families. 

In a corresponding move, the Bulls waived Diamond Stone and preseason hero, Jarell Eddie. 

Observations from the Bulls' preseason finale loss to the Raptors

Observations from the Bulls' preseason finale loss to the Raptors

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Justin Holiday shines again

It's pretty evident who the leader of the Bulls is through the preseason. Whether he wanted it or not - and it seems like he did - Justin Holiday is the go-to man in Chicago. He finished his impressive presason with a 17-point outing against the Raptors, including 6-for-12 shooting, four 3-pointers, a steal and a block in 28 minutes. He even added four assists, showing some playmaking to go along with his scoring. He finishes the preseason averaging 17.2 points on 44 percent shooting, 57 percent (!!) from deep and 1.6 steals. He and LaVine will be fun to watch together on the wing.

Lauri Markkanen's jumper stays confident

Lauri Markkanen's NBA career got off to a rough start. But he's more than righted the ship. Gone is the 1-for-9 performance in his first outing, and in is the 11-for-21 he shot in his final two games. That included 7-for-12 from deep, and he even added seven rebounds on Friday against Toronto. Markkanen has plenty of weight to put on before he can hang inside - Toronto's tough interior pushed him around quite a bit in his 29 minutes - but this was another step in the right direction for Markkanen, whose back issues seemed non-existent.

Jerian Grant flirts with a triple-double

Jerian Grant was likely to earn the starting point guard job out of training camp even if Kris Dunn didn't get injured, and tonight would have solidified it. Grant had 10 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 27 efficient minutes. Though Kyle Lowry had his way (17 points in 26 minutes) that was more or less to be expected. But Grant was confident stepping into his shot, played aggressive on defense (two steals, two fouls) and found plenty of open shooters. The Bulls may struggle this season, but Fred Hoiberg has to be happy starting a backcourt of Grant and Holiday.

Bobby Portis: Some good, some really bad

Bobby Portis has had a not-so-great preseason, so it was nice to see him score 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting and grab four rebounds in his preseason finale. Then again, he played 18 minutes and somehow committed eight turnovers. Between losing balls in traffic, errant passes and some head-scratching decisions, it was tough to call Portis' night a success. He should find time on the second unit, but he needs to show improvement in all areas, not just scoring.

Antonio Blakeney gives it one (nine) last shot(s)

It'd be nice to see a great story like Antonio Blakeney stick on the Bulls' roster, and he made sure he was remembered in his final preseason game. In 20 minutes he took nine shots, hitting three for nine points. He didn't record any other stat but three fouls in his time on the floor, and was a -21 as the Raptors rode away with the win in the fourth quarter. But we're putting him here because there's a chance he can make the Bulls' roster, especially with LaVine out and Zipser potentially needing to miss time.