Bulls

Rose shares Thibodeau's old-school mentalities

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Rose shares Thibodeau's old-school mentalities

Coming out of the mouth of a basketball purist, it was surprising.

I love it, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, when asked about the zone defense the Toronto Raptors played against his team a tactic other teams have employed, presumably to force players other than Derrick Rose to be scorers for a portion of Saturday nights win.

Thibodeau then elaborated about why he adores a strategy long believed to be the bane of most NBA coaches, though the Dallas Mavericks last years champions and the team for which new Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was an assistant success in utilizing it may well put it in vogue in a copycat league.

I love it because I think we have all the things to attack a zone. We can change. We can put more shooting on the floor, we have guys who can penetrate and we have great offensive rebounding, so whenever we see it, we like it and then we have some great cutters. We have Lu Luol Deng, who can cut from behind the zone. We have some guys that are very good attacking the zone from behind, so thats all part of it, he explained.

Thats all well and good, but defensively, would the guru of that end of the court ever consider it?

Well, we have zone principles. We really do. Were not a passing-lane steal team, were a hard ball-pressure type team, but then we protect the paint behind the ball and basically, thats a zone principle and we may play zone. I like it. I like the concept of it, said Thibodeau.

Going back to Saturdays victory, Thibodeaus postgame analysis showed that one of the aspect of his teams performance that he was dissatisfied with was the Bulls failure to play up-tempo basketball on a consistent basis.

I dont think we played with the type of pace we would have liked to tonight, from start to finish. The pace was OK in the first quarter and then we slowed down. Weve got to do a better job of continuing with the fast pace, particularly if were defending well and rebounding well, weve got to get out and weve got to throw ahead and weve got to run through, and weve got to run to the rim. Everyone says they want to be a running team, but to have the discipline on every possession, it takes a lot of work, he observed, even in the face of a shortened schedule with little time to rest. Well, its the challenge you face and if you want to be a quality team, a championship-caliber team, thats what you have to do.

So, to recap: Thibodeau continues to surprise people. Not only is he not adverse to zone defense though it remains to be seen if hed actually institute it but the perceived control freak wants his players to run more, something hes said since last season, but apparently isnt just paying lip service to.

The second-year head coach is considered to be so disciplined that the Bulls often ugly style of play is seen as a result of his lack of creativity on offense. However, hes actually an astute play-caller on the fly (not to mention possessing a textbook-thick offensive playbook) and encourages the Bulls to run as long as they tend to their defensive responsibilities.

Youre going to hear it every single day, every single practice, revealed Derrick Rose. He might text it to you, but youre going to hear it, no matter what.

Rose was joking, but the point guard has been drinking so much of the Thibodeau Kool-Aid that his postgame comments admittedly sometimes sound like his coachs.

Were still slacking. We can always get better. We can always get better. I know I sound like Thibs, but we can always get better, he said after Saturdays win, when asked how the Bulls can improve defensively. The Bulls can contest shots harder. Contesting harder and staying consistent towards the end of the games. I think we tend to let teams get open shots towards the end of the games, knowing that weve got the lead by so much and thats something that we cant do.

Rose has no illusions, however, that regardless of how stifling their defense can be, the Bulls dont play the most aesthetically-pleasing style of basketball.

We feel the same way you all feel. It was ugly, but were winning, Rose acknowledged. We dont have anything to complain about. Were just trying to get as many wins as possible.

Given Thibodeaus influence and his roots as a New York Knicks assistant coach, it shouldnt be a shocker to students of the game that the Bulls have an old-school sensibility to them, even with the departure of Kurt Thomas, who played for those late-90s Knicks squads.

Were definitely old school. Thats our whole mentality. Weve still got that old-school mentality, where we play hard. We dont care about our stats or anything. As long as we win, were good, said Rose. "Were physical, we play with a lot of emotion, a lot of confidence and thats what we need on this team. Thibodeau is always talking about his teams, how certain players, when they came to the locker room, how they concentrated on certain things to get their team involved and get their team ready, prepared for the game. He talks about Knicks center Patrick Ewing and all the other great players that he had, and it kind of rubs off on you.

But Rose, ever conscious of skipping steps, as Thibodeau would say, qualified his statement.

Were not near those teams. Those teams made great runs. Were just up-and-coming.

Meanwhile, Rose is ready for his return to Memphis - where he played his lone season of college basketball and remains a fan favorite - Monday for the Bulls afternoon-matinee game against the Grizzlies on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

It means a lot. Returning back to my old town, Memphis. Its a great city. I know that its going to be something special, said Rose, who visited the civil-rights museum in Memphis commemorating Dr. Kings assassination in the city, at the former Lorraine Motel. Its very nice. We went when we were college students. I think Coach Cal took us. Its super historic. It kind of makes you think about certain things when you go there. It was great, just seeing what went down, of course that tragedy, but just being there was something special.

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

MINNEAPOLIS — The misses have come wide, long and short for Lauri Markkanen in the last couple games, perhaps a sign he’s hit the popular but unseen “Rookie Wall.”

Since coming back from the All-Star break, Markkanen has hit the same amount of jump shots as a dead man, only scoring with two dunks and missing all seven 3-point attempts.

He’s hit the point of the season where the legs turn to spaghetti as the grind of the season catches up. Last year at Arizona, he played 37 games and then went through Summer League following the draft before playing for the Finland national team. The Bulls have been careful with his minutes, particularly early on in the season when they didn’t have the depth at power forward, but Markkanen is still adjusting to the rigors of the NBA.

After seemingly peaking in January, averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and 43 from three-point range, he’s averaged just 10.8 points on 37 percent shooting and hitting just four of 27 from deep.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg tried to pump Markkanen up recently, comparing his shooting to a golfer who’s lost his stroke. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to Markkanen, who looked at his coach as if he grew a third eye.

By the time Hoiberg compared it to curling, he wound up confusing the press corps last week.

And yet, Markkanen hasn’t broken out of his slump. It’s been quite a while since Markkanen’s devastating performance on Broadway where he nailed eight 3-pointers against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10 for a career-high 33 points.

“It’s been a long season, I’m not denying that,” Markkanen said Saturday night following the Bulls’ loss to the Timberwolves. “I just gotta work through it. At times I feel it. I felt good today. As the game went on, a little tired.”

Consistency has been a hallmark of Markkanen’s season to date. He scored in double figures 21 straight games before the last two, where he scored three points in the last two Bulls losses.

As a whole, he’s only scored fewer than 10 points six times. To compare, rookie of the year frontrunners Donovan Mitchell (nine) and Ben Simmons (six) are right around the same number.

Hoiberg boldly predicts Markkanen will burst out in a big way soon, but the rookie wall takes no prisoners, especially in the dog days of the season.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

His looks have been relatively clean, although one can’t discount the difference between playing alongside Cristiano Felicio compared to Robin Lopez. Lopez assisted on 39 field goals, tied with Jerian Grant for second-highest feeds behind Kris Dunn.

Both Lopez and Grant are out of the rotation, while Dunn is still getting his legs back after missing nearly a month in concussion protocol. Lopez was used in a lot of dribble handoff offense with Markkanen, while also setting solid screens to free him.

Felicio doesn’t have that level of experience in this offense, and the Bulls are also running more through Zach LaVine as a primary ballhandler.

“He’s had a lot of really good games. It’s never gonna be an 100 percent season,” LaVine said. “It’s so many games you’ll eventually run into some slumps so I just think he needs to get into a rhythm. We’ve gotta help him with that too. Help him find easier shots on the floor. He’s cool, he’s good. We tell him to shoot the ball every time.”

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”