Bulls

LeBron or not, Thibodeau won't overlook Cavs

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LeBron or not, Thibodeau won't overlook Cavs

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted: 12:05 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

CLEVELAND -- Tom Thibodeau isn't one to dwell on the past. While he empathizes with Cleveland fans in the aftermath of losing homegrown superstar LeBron James to free agency, in the mind of meticulously-prepared rookie NBA head coach, he sees a competitive Cavaliers team. He might be alone in possessing that line of thinking.

That might be a little extreme, but since last Thursday's return of James to Cleveland -- and subsequent Heat rout, which may have set the necessary fire under the much-ballyhooed squad to perform up to their potential -- the Cavs have been awful by all accounts. The team's current five-game losing streak, includes blowout losses to similarly moribund Minnesota (by a whopping 34 points) and Tuesday night, Philadelphia.

Still, Thibodeau maintained Cleveland is at least a threat to be reckoned with.

"I'm concerned because I don't worry about guys who aren't here. I just worry about the guys who are here and when I look at their team, I see a lot of guys who are very explosive, that could have big nights. So, we have to be ready for the start of the game. We can't allow these guys to get going early. They've got guys who can shoot the ball extremely well, they're good off the dribble, they've got high-energy guys up front, so we've got to be ready," said Thibodeau prior to the Bulls' shootaround Wednesday morning at Quicken Loans Arena. "They have a new team, so they're adjusting. Some night they look great and when you look at the strengths of their team and you see the capabilities, they have some guys who can shoot the three extremely well.

"Mo Williams, you can't give him space. Anthony Parker, can't give him space. Daniel Gibson's shooting the ball extremely well. You can't allow those guys to shoot open threes and when you're coming in off the bench with guys like Antawn Jamison and Ramon Sessions, those are two other guys that are capable of having big nights," he continued. "When you look at J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao up front, those are high-energy guys. You've got to match their intensity. Joey Graham's doing a really good job at the small forward, so they have some weapons. They could put points up on the board against you."

Thibodeau's positivity in evaluating opponents is equal parts respect and paranoia, but one thing is for certain: James isn't on his mind.

"The guy is from Cleveland and he had a great run here and so I'm sure there's disappointment, but that's part of pro sports. The way it is today with free agency, players leave. They don't stay with one team. It's unusual when a player stays with one team throughout his entire career. Sure, you feel for them," he said. "We have to approach it the same way we approach every game. Have a great shootaround, be focused, be ready for the start of the game and understand that in this league, everybody's capable of having a big night. You've got to be ready."

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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

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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.

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen continues to impress.

The 20-year-old rookie had a career-high 26 points in the Bulls' 113-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. He also picked up 13 rebounds.

After the game, in which the Bulls fell to 3-11 on the season, coach Fred Hoiberg had high praise for the Finnish.

"I thought Lauri was phenomenal," Hoiberg said. "But when he is open, we gotta get him the ball. When he's got it rolling like he did tonight, guys were switching and we had him a couple of times with the point guard buried in his back and we didn't get him the ball."

Watch what Hoiberg had to say about the Bulls' tight loss in the video above.