Bulls

Noah, France battle Russia in EuroBasket finals

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Noah, France battle Russia in EuroBasket finals

Friday, Sept. 16, 2011
Posted: 11:43 a.m. Updated: 3:12 p.m.

By AggreySam
CSNChicago.com BullsInsider Follow@CSNBullsInsider
It's not quite dj vu for Joakim Noah, but nobody would blame him for feeling as if he's in a similar situation to the one he and the Bulls were in this past spring. After dispatching Russia, 79-70, Noah's France squad will take on tournament favorite Spain, equipped with star power not dissimilar to the NBA's Miami Heat -- at least as far as international basketball goes -- in the EuroBasket gold-medal game Sunday in Lithuania.

Noah contributed seven points and eight rebounds to France's win, but as astute Bulls fans know, the center's value is often worth more than what the box score says. As usual, France was paced in scoring by Spurs guard Tony Parker, who had 22 points, while Trail Blazers wing Nicolas Batum added 19, to go along with a well-rounded seven boards, four assists and two blocked shots. Russia was led by Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko's 21 points and Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov chipped in with 12 points for a team coached by American David Blatt, the head coach of the famed Israeli franchise Maccabi Tel Aviv and one of the most lauded professional coaches not in the NBA.

Although Spain struggled with lightly-regarded Macedonia -- led by New Orleans native Bo McCalebb, a star point guard in Europe -- throughout much of Friday's first semifinal, their talent was too much to overcome for the upstart squad. Lakers big man Pau Gasol came up with 22 points and 17 rebounds, while his brother Marc, the Grizzlies' center, added a double-double of his own (11 points, 10 rebounds), but they were carried by former NBA guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who scored 35 points.

The embarrassment of riches on Spain's roster is also quantified by the likes of Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (a native of the Congo, but a naturalized Spaniard, due to playing professionally in the country prior to making the jump to the NBA; he contributed 11 points Friday), Raptors point guard Jose Calderon, Mavericks swingman Rudy Fernandez and 2009 Timberwolves draft pick Ricky Rubio, who is expected to make his NBA debut next season, whenever that is. Rubio, in particular, has struggled in the event, marking a downward spiral for the point guard prodigy -- he's been playing professionally since his early teens -- since his impressive performance in the 2008 Olympics, in which he played beyond his years against future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd and All-Stars Chris Paul and Deron Williams in Spain's championship game loss to gold-medalist USA.

Getting back to France, Noah, who scored five points and snatched eight boards -- as well as coming up with a key steal late -- in France's quarterfinal win over Greece Thursday, must be a force on the glass and on defense, but the bulk of the scoring responsibility for France rests upon the shoulders of Parker, the leading scorer still playing in the tournament (Bulls small forward Luol Deng was the leader in that category, but his Great Britain squad exited after the first round) and to a lesser extent, Batum. France also boasts the likes of Bobcats forward Boris Diaw, Wizards big man Kevin Seraphin and former NBA swingman Mikael Gelebale on its roster, but Diaw has been inconsistent, Seraphin is inexperienced and Gelebale has been nursing a recent injury.

It's not the NBA, but unless you''re in Las Vegas for Impact Basketball's Competitive Training Series (in which Bulls backup point guard C.J. Watson is competing; former NBA coach and player John Lucas recently announced plans for a similar event in Houston) or up for a trip to one of the exhibition games later this month in New York, Philadelphia or Indianapolis, this is as close as one will get. International basketball might not have the same on-court excitement fans are used to, but the national pride, passion and importance of the games--trips to the Olympics are on the line--make it fun to watch.

Are you a diehard fan who takes your basketball any way you can get it, especially with a key Bulls player like Noah involved? Or are you preoccupied with the NFL or college football and putting the NBA on hold until the lockout is over?

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.