Bulls

Bulls: Fred Hoiberg reflects on Jimmy Butler's 'special' performance

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Bulls: Fred Hoiberg reflects on Jimmy Butler's 'special' performance

With a day to let the adrenaline of a historic 24 minutes wear off, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg went to look back at the film of Jimmy Butler’s 40-point second half that carried the Bulls to victory against the Toronto Raptors.

Usually, one finds unique performances like that to be more special upon reflection, and this was no different.

“You know what, it was a really special performance,” Hoiberg said. “The left-handed runner off the glass, the threes that he hit including that last one that put us up by one, the crazy step-backs, getting himself to the free-throw line, drawing contact, he did a little bit of everything.”

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That applies even for the league office. On Butler’s hotly-contested corner 3-pointer that gave the Bulls a 112-111 lead, the NBA determined in its two-minute report that Butler was fouled by Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll, which would’ve given Butler an opportunity for a four-point play and a chance to distance himself from Michael Jordan’s previous scoring record for a half by one more point.

Nevertheless, Hoiberg found himself in a position to abandon whatever his game plan was in the second half once he saw Butler catch fire. Butler was annoyed about an elbow he caught in the mouth in the second quarter from Carroll on a layup that drew blood, and used the extra motivation to get himself going.

“After he got hit in the lip that hit his switch, that hit a nerve with him,” said guard E’Twaun Moore, who played big minutes against Raptors guard Kyle Lowry down the stretch and had a tip-in to tie the game at 109 with 58 seconds left. “He was like, ‘C’mon man, let’s go out and we’ve gotta go out here and fight.’ That’s all he kept saying, and then he came out in the second half and showed it.’’

It left Hoiberg in a spot where he had to feature Butler offensively, and Butler scored on the first three possessions, even the last one where the team “screwed it up”.

“After that, we just made the decision to put the ball in his hands and run ball screens for him in the middle of the floor,” Hoiberg said. “And he made the right play. He made a nice little pass to Pau (Gasol) and got him an easy little shot in the line. It was just about putting the ball in his hands and having the two best players on the floor.”

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Hoiberg should be credited for finding the delicate balance of riding the hot hand—a player who got more and more demonstrative as the game went on—but also keeping the other players involved.

Butler scored 40, but the rest of the Bulls combined for 27 as the Bulls came back from a 15-point deficit.

“I think the unique thing about this team is we've got a lot of guys that can heat up. Some nights it's going to be Pau. Some nights it's going to be Derrick and it has been Derrick, especially down the stretch,” Hoiberg said. “I think we've had some growth in that area with this team. I think that's why our offensive numbers have been a lot better.”

Sometimes, the game is very simple.

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

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AP

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

The Bulls made headlines on Tuesday when VP John Paxson announced that David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne would be entering the rotation, thus continuing the youth movement in Chicago.

On the surface the moves make sense. The 24-year-old Nwaba, the 25-year-old Felicio and the 23-year-old Cameron Payne will be replacing 28-year-old Justin Holiday, 29-year-old Robin Lopez and 25-year-old Jerian Grant. The Bulls want to see what they have in these younger players who haven't played much; they already know what they have in Lopez and Holiday, and Grant (like the other two) is under contract through next year.

OK, got that? Here's why they're making the move: they're sitting 8th in the NBA Lottery standings and really want to move into the top-5 to give themselves a chance at what should be a loaded front-end of the draft class. It's pretty obvious, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either named Gar Forman, John Paxson or Fred Hoiberg.

And here's why: On Wednesday Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined a whopping $600,000 by the NBA for comments he made on a podcast regarding tanking. The Mavericks are currently 18-40, the third worst record in the NBA. This comes a season after they finished 33-49, netting them the No. 9 pick that turned into talented point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

So when Cuban was asked about the best interests of his Dallas team, which touts young talent but clearly isn't headed for the postseason in 2018, he said this on the House Call with Dr. J Podcast:

"I'm probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren't competing for the playoffs. I was like, 'Look, losing is our best option. [Commissioner] Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we're not going to tank again. This was, like, a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that's the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability."

Cuban isn't wrong, and the Mavericks sure as hell aren't the only team tanking. But to come right now and admit that losing is the team's best option wasn't, as Cuban predicted, going to sit well with the league office.

Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo with the fine that said Cuban's comments "which concerned his perspective on the team's competitive success this season" were "detrimental to the NBA."

So while the Bulls are going about their business in trying to lose as many games down the stretch as possible, don't expect anyone to admit it's the reason behind their personnel moves. There are 600,000 reasons why.

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Miles Bridges

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Miles Bridges

NBA general managers were fully expecting to see Miles Bridges declare for the 2017 draft after a solid, but unspectacular freshman season at Michigan State. Bridges arrived in East Lansing as one of the nation’s top prospects, and his impressive leaping ability led to a number of highlight reel plays for Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

Problem is, Bridges didn’t show much versatility to his offensive game because of an inconsistent outside shot and inability to create shots off the dribble. Bridges probably would have been a late lottery pick last year on athletic talent alone, but to his credit, he decided to go back to Michigan State for his sophomore season and work on some of his weaknesses.

Unfortunately for Bridges, he really hasn’t shown much improvement year to year. Yes, he’s leading the Big Ten in free throw shooting at 89%, but his other numbers are basically flat from season to season. Bridges averaged 16.9 points a year ago, 17.1 this season. He shot .486 from the field in 2016-17, .477 this year. Even with all the work he put in on his 3 point shooting, his percentage has dropped slightly this season, from .389 to .376. Rebounding is also down slightly, from 8.3 to 6.8. 

Bottom line, Bridges is once again projected as a late lottery pick.

How does he fit for the Bulls? It’s no secret small forward and center are the two positions of need heading into the 2018 draft, and the 6-7 Bridges would give the Bulls another athletic frontcourt player who fits the pace and space game Fred Hoiberg prefers. Bridges could be a real weapon running the floor with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine for alley-oop dunks, and he should continue to improve as a 3 point shooter.

The Bulls are hoping to land a top 5 pick to add one of the elite players in this draft, and unless the Pelicans drop into the late lottery, Bridges will probably be gone by the time that selection comes up. He’s probably a bit of a reach in the 6 to 10 range, but if positional need and athletic potential are the most important factors for the Bulls, Miles Bridges could be the choice if they don’t improve their position in the current lottery watch standings.

Personally, I would prefer either Kentucky’s Kevin Knox or Villanova’s Mikal Bridges (no relation) over Miles Bridges as a small forward prospect, but all 3 players offer different skill sets that could be helpful to a young, developing team like the Bulls.

The dream scenario would be drafting a young center like Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mo Bamba with a top 5 pick, then coming back to add one of those 3 small forward prospects with the 1st rounder they acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade with New Orleans. We’ll all have to wait until the lottery is held on May 15th to see if the Bulls are in position to add two more foundation pieces to their rebuilding project.