Bulls

Bulls: Joakim Noah struggling, unsure of where he fits offensively

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Bulls: Joakim Noah struggling, unsure of where he fits offensively

One more.

That’s all the Bulls truly needed to challenge the Golden State Warriors on their home court, with the dual opportunity to end the champs’ unbeaten streak and become the first team to win at Oracle Arena since they did it nearly a year ago.

It wasn’t one more shot, but another shot creator was needed besides Jimmy Butler considering Derrick Rose was out with his ankle injury.

And although Joakim Noah doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional shot creator, if he were the confident, swaggering Noah who could make plays with everybody around him, it could’ve made things truly interesting.

But as Noah sat in his locker after Friday’s loss, after 17 frustrating minutes that saw him turn the ball over four times along with going scoreless for the second straight game and fifth time overall this season, he looked to be confused—not necessarily at his play but he wonders how he’s supposed to play.

[MORE: Derrick Rose aiming to play Tuesday vs. Trail Blazers]

“I guess be more aggressive. It’s frustrating right now, not being able to help the team win tonight,” Noah said. “Disappointing, but just come back next game and do better.”

When Noah was an offensive hub back in the 2013-14 season, Rose was out with injury after the first 10 games and Butler hadn’t yet emerged as a true No. 1 option. So Noah exemplified making lemonade out of lemons.

No sugar, no sweetener and no ice.

It wasn’t always pretty but it was effective, as he averaged 5.4 assists and had an offensive rating of 111 points per 100 possessions.

Now that Fred Hoiberg has taken the helm and there are a plethora of options offensively, either he hasn’t found a way to best utilize Noah or Noah isn’t comfortable with how he fits in this new scheme—as Noah is averaging 3.5 assists but his offensive rating has dropped to 84 points per 100 possessions.

His down-on-himself demeanor hasn’t gone unnoticed by teammates who believe he’ll get out of this funk soon enough.

“I feed him a little bit,” Rose said after the team's practice at Golden State's facility in Oakland. “When he’s in the game with me, they kinda forget he’s out there when I have the ball. There’s been some plays in the past where I’ve fed him and he’s had a chance to dunk the ball or whatever. Whenever he’s in the play and rolling to the rim, if he’s open I’m definitely gonna give him the ball.”

[RELATED: Bulls hang with Warriors but can't finish them off]

To be fair, Pau Gasol, an offensively wizard for his size if there ever was one, wants the ball to go more inside as opposed to being so perimeter oriented.

So there’s plenty of kinks to be worked out, still, although Noah’s issues seem more front and center because of the sway he holds in the locker room, his contractual status as a free-agent-to-be, and all he’s accomplished in a Bulls uniform.

“The big thing is if you cut and move and screen and do the unselfish things, that stuff takes care of itself,” said Hoiberg, not speaking of anyone in particular. “With Pau, you give him the ball at the elbow and he can make plays. He’s a very good passer. But we can’t stand. That’s where we need to get better. We’ve made improvements from where we were at the beginning of the season. But it needs to continue to get better.”

In training camp, Hoiberg said Noah would flash to the ball almost too quickly from the baseline, something that could muck up the desired spacing on the perimeter considering Noah isn’t a threat to shoot.

What’s happened since is Noah has become far more tentative and unsure of when to exercise his instincts, perhaps in fear of disrupting a rhythm-based offense.

“He made a couple good backdoor passes. Those are the type of plays that Jo can make from out on the top of the floor,” Hoiberg said. “But you have to have movement. If he gets the ball up top, you can’t be stationary. You can’t stand still. That’s with all players but especially with our big guys. You can’t stand and allow them to load on the guy in the middle of the floor.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The bigs often screen, then re-screen from a different angle near the perimeter. Rolling to the basket isn’t as prevalent in Hoiberg’s offense, and considering he’s big on the team playing with pace there’s a fine line between being methodical and rushing.

Hoiberg said he doesn’t have to make severe modifications to the offense to fit any one player, but seemed to admit they haven’t put Noah in supreme positions to be successful.

Noah, who struggled through last season after knee surgery following the 2014 playoffs, certainly looks to be in more discomfort mentally than physically.

“I got to be more aggressive offensively and look for my opportunities,” he said before repeating himself. “Right now I’m not really sure where I can get them but when they come I have to be ready.”

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.