Bulls

Bulls know there is no replacing Deng

650814.png

Bulls know there is no replacing Deng

Walking down a United Center hallway in a sharply-tailored suit, Luol Deng was in high spirits, though he declined on-the-record interview requests from the media. Why wouldnt he?

Arguably the Bulls most indispensable player C.J. Watson and even John Lucas III can approximate Derrick Roses production, if not his talent, but who on the Bulls brings to the table Dengs versatilit?

But Dengs injured left wrist, which was in a soft cast, is now the most-discussed topic surrounding the team with the NBAs best record. However, even with Deng, who appears to be in line for his debut All-Star Game appearance, out of the lineup, the Bulls still cruised to an easy win over the lowly Nets.

Obviously were disappointed for Luol because of all the work that hes put in and what he means to our team, but that being said, we also feel very strongly about the people who are filling in and Ronnie Brewer has shown that he can handle starting and play very well, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. He did that when Rip Hamilton was out, hes doing it now. We have a lot of confidence in his ability. Kyles Korver a proven player, hes hit a lot of big shots for us. I thought Brian Scalabrine was terrific. We still have Jimmy Butler, so we feel that we have more than enough. We didnt know how much Jo would be able to play and he did a pretty job for us.

While Brewer filled Dengs role as the starting small forward and well, contributing 11 points and five rebounds, though he did most of his damage as a scorer in the opening period veteran shooting guard Rip Hamilton perhaps came closest to matching Dengs nightly duties. In addition to playing a game and season-high 42 minutes, the 33-year-old, on the same night he scored his 15,000th career point, was a jack of all trades, pouring in an efficient 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting, dishing out 10 assists and playing with an otherwise all-reserve second unit lineup, as Deng often does in Thibodeaus rotation.

Guys had to step up tonight without him, said Hamilton, who joked that he complained, youre killing me, about his high usage. Its a huge loss for us, so we just knew that we had to come together and I thought that Ronnie did a great job starting the game out.

Still, as much as Hamiltons all-around game helped matters Monday, his teammates know theres no replacing Dengs presence.

Its tough. Lus really a glue guy, somebody who really does everything for us, said Joakim Noah. Hes going to be missed, but weve got to look at the big picture, but hes got to be healthy when it matters.

Added Rose: It was kind of weird, knowing that usually I could throw the ball over to him. Hell make a play, get fouled, go to the hole or shoot a jump shot, but we really didnt miss a beat.

The guys that came in Ronnie played great, knocking down shots, playing defense we jumped on them pretty quickly, continued Rose, who like Noah, was in his first game back from injury himself. I try not to think about it. We try to stay positive. We have to keep our spirits high. The guys that are injured are doing everything possible to get back on the court. Thats all we can wait for.

Hamilton put the Bulls wave of injuries in perspective.

Well, its tough. The schedules been crazy. You can see all the injuries around the NBA. But the thing about us, guys are really stepping up, he explained. Guys are very in tune to what Coach Thibs wants us to do, so when one guys goes down, the next guy steps up and were all happy for that. When youve got players really caring for each other and when guys get their name called, theyre ready to play.

Concurred Thibodeau: Its a testament to our guys. I think we have the right guys and they showed that last year, and theyre showing it this year, that whenever theyre called upon, theyre ready to go. Theyve all put a lot of work in. Were all confident in their ability. Theyre not here by accident. We feel theyre very talented and they all can play, so when they get the opportunity, they all do well and we expect them to do well.

Potential top pick in 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr. will likely miss entire freshman season

michaelporter.png
USA TODAY

Potential top pick in 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr. will likely miss entire freshman season

The Bulls will be keeping a close eye on the best young talent the loaded 2018 NBA Draft will have to offer. But they likely won't be seeing much of Missouri's Michael Porter Jr.

The school announced Tuesday that their freshman forward, the top recruit in the country, will miss the remainder of his freshman season.

Porter played all of 100 minutes for the Tigers, amassing 2 pioints and 2 rebounds in the Tigers' win over Iowa State.

The injury isn't to say Porter won't declare for the 2018 NBA Draft, or that it will affect his stock at all. He's still considered a legitimate franchise player and certainly someone all teams drafting in the top 5 will have their eye on.

But there will be competition. Players like Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, DeAndre Ayton and Mo Bamba make up what could be one of the best draft classes in recent memory.

For now the Bulls will have to wait until the spring or summer to see Porter Jr. work out, while doing due diligence on the rest of the class.

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

lonzolauri.png
USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.