Bulls

Could Bulls' Butler make an All-Star weekend appearance?

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Could Bulls' Butler make an All-Star weekend appearance?

TORONTOJimmy Butlers averages of 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game arent spectacular, but could the second-year swingmans consistency, effort and above all, the fact that hes a solid rotation player on a winning team lead to a trip to his home state of Texas during All-Star weekend?

It might sound far-fetched, but when you think about it, Butlers 2011 NBA Draft class isnt exactly full of current stars, making his chances at being named a participant in the annual Rookie-Sophomore Challenge a remote possibility.

I really dont think about any of that, Butler, who has tentative plans to visit former teammate Ronnie Brewer in his home state of Arkansas, said before the Bulls morning shootaround Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre.

Predictably, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau also isnt thinking about accolades for Butler.

I dont worry about that stuff. I just want him to do his job: Continue to improve, each day, come in ready, alert, dont be satisfied, stay hungry, keep putting the work in. All that stuff will take care of itself, he said. Hes got to continue to do it. The thing is, you dont get there in one day. I think that the commitment thats necessary is to do it day in, day out, and to do it over a long period of time and so, thats what he has to do.

But teammate Luol Deng believes Butler has a shot.

Man, I hope so. Jimmys getting better. Hes showing how much better he got from last year and I thought so far, hes had a great season, so I hope he gets the opportunity, he said. When I came in, I came into a team that didnt make the playoffs, a team that was struggling. Jimmys on a team that for the last two years, had the best NBA record, so its tough for a coach to change things when he has guys that have been winning like that. But Jimmys shown that hes gotten so much better and when we need stops, hes definitely in the lineup. It just shows that when youre in the NBA, youve got to find something you do that the coach has no choice but to put you in and hes starting to understand that, and hes becoming very consistent with it.

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Upon examination of the leagues second-year standouts, the likes of Clevelands Kyrie Irving, Golden States Klay Thompson, Houstons Chandler Parsons, San Antonios Kawhi Leonard, Detroits Brandon Knight, Charlottes Kemba Walker and Denvers Kenneth Faried seem like virtual locks to make the game, while Orlandos Nikola Vucevic and Sacramentos Isaiah Thomas also should be in Houston. Butler is likely in a group of players that include Philadelphias Lavoy Allen and Rockets backup big man Greg Smith for the final spots on the Sophomore team.

Its part of my growth, Butler said, referring to his defensive-stopper role. Its part of a lot of young players growth, knowing your role and sticking to it, not getting outside of it, so I feel like every day I come in here, I know what its going to be, I know how to play it and I know what to do.

Among the NBAs rookie class, No. 1 overall pick and Chicago native Anthony Davis, Portlands Damian Lillard, Washingtons Bradley Beal, Charlottes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Detroits Andre Drummond, Clevelands Dion Waiters and Golden States Harrison Barnes can be penciled in, with Torontos Terrence Ross, Orlandos Andrew Nicholson, Bostons Jared Sullinger, Charlottes Jeff Taylor and Milwaukees John Henson on the fringe. Bulls rookie point guard Marquis Teague has had his moments, but doesnt play enough to receive real consideration.

Regardless of whether or not Butlers defensive ability has garnered notice around the league, hes shown that hes good for an occasional game-changing highlight, utilizing his athleticism for crowd-pleasing above-the-rim finishes. Butler claims hes never been in a dunk contest in his entire basketball careerincluding high school, junior college and at Marquettebut hed be open to participating in the NBAs dunk contest, if invited.

Definitely. Me and Lu would have to pull some tricks out of the bag, but I guess, yeah, if I was invited, Id have to take it, he said. I dont really have a favorite dunk, to tell you the truth. I dont even know what I can do until I get out there and actually try, so I guess it would take a lot of practice.

I dont know. I feel like thats not my thing, he continued. I think Im athletic enough to compete in one.

Deng was encouraging of his reluctant understudy, relaying tales of Butlers practice-floor exploits.

Ive been telling him to. I dont know who hes got to talk to, but Ive seen some of the stuff that he does in practice and I really think that he should be in it. I dont know who hes got to talk to, but he needs to make that move, Deng said. Man, he just does everything so simple and its just to warm up. All these dunks between his legs, two hands, reverse between his legs. Theyre just real simple to him and hes a two-feet jumper. When hes in the air, he has time to do all this stuff, so I think he would be fun to watch in the slam-dunk contest.

I think if he gets more opportunity, more playing time when hes out there, hell get more chances to show his dunks. But I think that will come.

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.