Bulls

Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler: Rising together, debunking myths

derrick-rose-jimmy-butler-0108.png

Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler: Rising together, debunking myths

You can see it, a tide rising in Chicago that grows with every game as the one thing many felt was improbable now feels more and more likely.

Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler.

Or Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, however you choose to describe it.

But no matter how you put it, the Bulls’ backcourt is not only playing well together but efficiently, and the most important thing shouldn’t go unnoticed: They’re complementing each other.

Well, they’ve always complimented each other in public, especially after games, in respectful terms. But now there appears to be more of an appreciation and synergy with one another.

Perhaps it’s mere coincidence the most valuable Bull and most important Bull are playing their most efficient basketball in this successful stretch where many are in agreement about the Bulls being ready to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for Eastern Conference supremacy.

Perhaps it’s mere coincidence Butler’s two best passing games of his career have taken place since Rose has returned from a three-game absence with a hamstring injury.

Or maybe, just maybe, Rose’s newfound aggressiveness many believed no longer existed in his body or psyche caused Butler to play more of a facilitator — or even vice-versa.

[MORE BULLS: Why isn't Derrick Rose getting foul calls?]

“He’s explosive. And he’s staying aggressive and attacking the rim,” Butler said of Rose. “When he’s playing like that, he’s making it easy on everybody. When you gotta guard everybody, it makes it easy. Yeah, he made some great shots and great moves.”

While Rose attacks the basket with a careful version of reckless abandon, Butler has been the one finding Doug McDermott for triples or kicking it out to Pau Gasol for open jumpers.

“We’re good, but we can always get better,” Rose said. “I told him to keep shooting, to keep being aggressive because him being aggressive opens it up for everybody else. He continued to do that.”

In other words, they’re performing like a total backcourt, becoming more keenly aware of the team needs in the construct of recognizing who has to do what when the other is in a rhythm.

“Derrick has got his rhythm back,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after Thursday’s win over the Celtics. “It’s good to see Derrick sharing the ball with Butler, and they play off each other and it makes us much better.”

Former Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars was a member of perhaps the best backcourt in modern NBA history, with himself and Isiah Thomas leading the Pistons to titles in 1989 and 1990, each winning Finals MVP (the only time backcourt mates have won the award in consecutive years).

When Dumars put together a title-winning backcourt as an executive with Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, he wasn’t looking at “point guard” and “shooting guard.”

He looked at skill sets.

“I looked at what each guy could do individually and figured they could play well off each other together,” he once said.

[MORE BULLS: Opera legend Placido Domingo supports fellow Spaniard Pau Gasol at Bulls game]

Simple as it sounds, Dumars was drafted in 1985 with the thought of being a perfect complement to Thomas.

The game’s best backcourt these days, Golden State's Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, was put together with a similar thought in mind, as Thompson was drafted in 2011 as an early first-round pick to pair with Curry, who had been in the league for two years.

Ditto for Bradley Beal being drafted as a dead-eye shooter to sit next to John Wall’s window-to-Wall speed and penetration in Washington, D.C.

Any top backcourt this league has to offer was put together on purpose — except for this one.

The Bulls didn’t have the foresight to see what Butler could become when drafting him in 2011 — it just happened that way. And even if John Paxson and Gar Forman could envision this fantasy coming to reality, it was done under the guise that Rose would be a consistent MVP candidate.

So both are working under circumstances nobody could predict, and even the best well-placed situations take time.

It makes for good copy, as the public sentiment appears to be a “Rose vs. Butler” stance. Whether by rumor, grain of truth or flat-out media creation, things look firmly split in two factions: Team Jimmy or Team Derrick, with no room for nuance, common sense or patience.

The urgency of everything surrounding last season made Rose and Butler central figures in a drama-filled 2014-15 season, but either few paid attention to or noticed the uneven nature with everything surrounding the duo.

Once Butler began to emerge as a legit All Star in the first two months, people began wondering or even demanding the two figure it out together, in the midst of all the internal and external issues surrounding the franchise last year.

Rose, having taken basically two full years away from the game, was trying to find his own game with his new reality of dealing with a fragile body. Negotiating his own basketball existence took priority over “figuring it out” with anybody, let alone a burgeoning teammate.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

Butler, the overlooked, under-recruited, overworked workaholic, was dealing with being a far better player than he was the year before, a true focal point for the first time in his basketball career. We’ve long seen and bemoaned as a basketball public how players who’ve had rose petals thrown at their feet their entire careers dealt with professional success, both on and off the court.

And for Butler, it was his first time experiencing all of those emotions at once — with clearly no room for patience from the public and no room for mistakes with so much riding on last spring’s playoff run.

A playoff run, it should be said, that was the only time both Rose and Butler played together for an extended period, with the highest circumstances, the most pressure and biggest microscope.

Of course things aren’t going to flow in the same direction at all times.

But now, things are beginning to mature at their own pace, and the two most talented Bulls are at the center of it.

It’s happened in part because they’ve embraced the new offense implemented by Hoiberg. And much was made about their so-called lack of belief in the offense, but players who don’t need systems to be effective are usually the last on board in embracing radical change.

Now that they are, not only is a mutual respect and admiration growing, but it also seems to be an understanding between the two.

“I think we’re starting to figure out where each other is going to be on the floor,” Butler said. “You kinda don’t even gotta look, you just know where he’s gonna be. A lot of that is on Fred. Putting us in positions where you know you gotta get 'here' when another guy is 'there.'”

And though there are many more tests to be passed, they’ve passed an early critical one with flying colors.

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

2-16_markkanen_dunn_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

LOS ANGELES—Kris Dunn wanted to have some fun in the Rising Stars game while Lauri Markkanen wanted to get a win.

Both accomplished their goals, being on opposite sides for the first time as the best first and second year players were divided into U.S. and International teams, with the World Team winning 155-124 Friday night at Staples Center.

It wasn’t set up for either Dunn or Markkanen to truly stand out considering the presence of Lakers and Celtics players who were more notable and flashy, along with the spectacular exploits of rookies Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Dennis Smith Jr (Denver).

Those two certainly wowed the crowd at times with half-court alley-oop passes, giving a preview of what Saturday night will look like, considering both will be in the dunk contest.

Dunn scored nine points in 18 minutes while Markkanen scored 15 in 22 minutes. Both came off the bench, ceding to the likes of Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (29 points) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who turned the game into his own 3-point showcase with 30-foot bombs, hitting seven triples for 26 points off the bench.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 35 points and 10 rebounds, playing for the U.S. team, showing his entire bag of tricks with spectacular dunks and dribble moves for jumpers.

Markkanen had his moments in the “game within a game” category. When prompted by World coach Rex Kalamian that the first player to get a block would get $100, Markkanen tipped the next shot at the rim and pointed to the scorer’s table, but wasn’t credited with the block.

However, he felt like he got his pound of flesh with Dunn on a tip-dunk. The two didn’t have their moment

“I almost jumped over his head. That counts,” he joked.

Dunn made sure that although he and Markkanen were on opposite sides that he remained Markkanen’s biggest fan.

When asked who was his pick for rookie of the year, he repeatedly said “Lauri Markkanen”, over the likes of Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers, another standout rookie.

His reasoning was simple.

“Why? He hit eight threes in Madison Square Garden,” Dunn said, half-jokingly.

Half-jokingly.

“For Lauri to be a rookie and have so much confidence in himself and to play in big time games, especially at Madison Square Garden. I’m gonna keep bringing that game up. Because He had eight three’s. You don’t see that too mnay times. Lauri is a big player for us,” Dunn said.

Markkanen probably won’t win the award but to see Dunn so steadfastly support his teammate in this way is a good sign for a budding relationship, despite the light moments of competitiveness where Dunn said he wanted to take advantage of Markkanen on the perimeter.

Markkanen’s game has been aided by Dunn on the floor and one could see how the quality of looks Markkanen had in the past few weeks suffered with Dunn out due to a concussion.

Dunn’s turnaround directly led to the Bulls turning around their season in December, and he remembers what he was doing this time last year at the All-Star break when he wasn’t selected to be part of the rookie challenge.

“Thibs had me in the gym,” Dunn said.

It seemed unlikely but he’s rebounded nicely, being a shoo-in for 15 points, eight assists and two steals on a nightly basis. Turning the corner has been a bright spot in the season.

“I wouldn’t say a specific game but each and every game I started to get more comfortable, not with myself but with my team,” Dunn said. “Being a point guard, you gotta build that chemistry with your teammates and try to figure out where everybody needs the ball. How you can be aggressive and lead at the same time.”