Bulls

In Rose's absence, Deng steps up assist game

666206.png

In Rose's absence, Deng steps up assist game

No disrespect to C.J. Watson, but when replacing a player like Derrick Rose, it takes a village. In the Bulls Tuesday night win over Sacramento, a surprising source, All-Star small forward Luol Deng -- not fill-in Watson, usual third-stringer John Lucas, who had a strong outing off the bench in a backup role, or newly re-acquired veteran Mike James, point guards all -- led the Bulls in assists, handing out a career-high 11.

As versatile as Deng is on the floor, one knock on him throughout his career has been although hes an effective slasher, he isnt the most proficient ballhandler for his position. Dengs offensive game is primarily based on getting to the basket or setting up pull-up jumpers off one or two dribbles, as well as moving without the ball, finishing in transition, spot-up shots from long range and when he has a mismatch, posting up smaller defenders.

In the offseason, Deng starred for Great Britains national team in the FIBA EuroBasket tournament and while the squad struggled, he got valuable experience as a primary ballhandler, being the teams focal point. Additionally, prior to the lockout, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau encouraged him to further develop that aspect of his game.

Its something we spoke about. The first thing Thibs said to improve after taking the Bulls head-coaching job was my three-point shooting, extending my range a little bit. Then, last year, it was I wanted to handle the ball more and the two things last year was the ballhandling and the post. I know I havent been in the post as much, but if its needed, Ive been working on that, still work on that with Griff and I work on my ballhandling a lot with Griff, but I got a chance to handle it a lot with the national team, Deng explained after the Bulls Wednesday-afternoon practice. Its definitely helped us a lot, especially when I rebound and I push it. Were a lot faster coming down the floor and trying to get easy baskets.

Added Thibodeau about the first-time All-Star, who hell join, along with Rose, in Orlando on Feb. 26 as the Eastern Conferences head coach: He was terrific, played an all-around game, played very good defense, scored, he play-maked and he was leading, and thats what we count on him every game. Whatever the team needs, he provides.

We like some of the stuff that hes been doing lately and we wanted to go to it more, and its an option that we have. Hes a very unselfish player, so if theres two players on him, we always want him to hit the open man, he continued. Jo was playmaking, too. We like the versatility of both Jo and Luol to make plays.

As for the Bulls starting point guard, Rose wasnt at the Berto Center with his teammates, who had a light practice, reviewing film and shooting, according to Thibodeau. Instead, he was seeing a back specialist about his recurring lower back spasms.

Still day-to-day. Hes still not quite ready, so well see where he is and each day hes gotten better. Were encouraged by that, said Thibodeau. Hes off-site getting treatment right now. Hes doing well."

The coach, however, wouldnt speculate about his superstars return.

Hes just doing his rehab right now, so well see.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

11-24_gsw_matchup_nba_chi_blank.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

Is there any better way to break in your new Black Friday television than Bulls-Warriors tonight? We think not. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Not the score. Let's be honest: the Bulls probably won't sneak out a win at the Oracle. In fact, ESPN's matchup predictor only gives Fred Hoiberg's young squad a 2.9 percent chance to come up victorious. UIC has three times better odds against juggernaut Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday, in case you needed some context.  

With the talent gap in mind, though, it will be important for the Bulls to come out with high energy. The Warriors will likely take the contest lightly in the first half, so starting off strong reflects well on the coaching staff and starters. Stay within 10 points by the half, and that's considered a massive triumph. 

2. Lauri Markkanen vs. Draymond Green? Assuming the Dubs start out with Green on Markkanen, this will be rookie's biggest test of the season. Green is an elite defender, capable of wrecking gameplans from the tip. He's physical, quick and athletic. 

Markkanen is coming off two duds on the West Coast trip, but his aggressiveness hasn't wavered. It'll be important for him to continue to attack even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hounding him. 

3. Steph, KD and Klay doin' work. The Bulls offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty through the first 16 games. Their offensive rating is a brutal 94.4, ranked last in the NBA. Golden State, on the other hand, sits at the top with a rating of 113.1. 

Take some time to admire the skills of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson because when it comes to working cohesively on offense, they've set the gold standard. 

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.