Bulls

Second round matchup with Hawks favors Bulls

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Second round matchup with Hawks favors Bulls

Friday, April 29, 2011
Posted: 9:30 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With Thursday night's series-ending win over Orlando, Atlanta moved on to the second round, where they will take on the top-seeded Bulls. After falling to their division rival in a historic sweep a year ago, the Hawks avenged the embarrassing defeat and shocked observers by utilizing a one-on-one defense strategy against Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard to win the first-round matchup in just four games.

Former Bulls guards Jamal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich were key to Atlanta's success, as Crawford's prolific scoring off the bench certainly tilted the scales in the series, while Hinrich's defense on point-guard counterpart Jameer Nelson was crucial. Unfortunately for both Hinrich and Atlanta, the veteran guard suffered a right-hamstring injury just after making a clutch layup late in Thursday's win.

READ: NBA releases Bulls vs. Hawks schedule

While Hinrich, who will reportedly have an MRI Friday, wasn't expected to shut down Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, he's the only player on the Hawks roster with any semblance of hope of defending him. Against Orlando, Atlanta sent out a legion of big men--Jason Collins, Hilton Armstrong, Josh Powell and classic playoff irritant Zaza Pachulia--to guard Howard, but surely first-year Hawks head coach Larry Drew understands simply sending Rose to the line isn't the answer (as the Pacers quickly found out in the first round) and regardless, there isn't a similar army of backup point guards available to wear him down, as Crawford and seldom-used second-year reserve Jeff Teague are the team's only alternatives behind Hinrich.

Rose isn't the only mismatch the Bulls pose against Atlanta. Of the three regular-season matchups between the two teams, all in March, Chicago easily won the final two contests, after blowing a huge halftime lead at Philips Arena to narrowly lose in the first game.

The Bulls dominated the backboards--as they did against most opponents--for the most part and with the Hawks playing an isolation-heavy offense based around the one-on-one abilities of Crawford and All-Star swingman Joe Johnson, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau's help-ready scheme is perfectly suited to defending them. Atlanta's other All-Star, undersized center Al Horford, lit up the Bulls as the protagonist in Atlanta's comeback win, but wasn't a major factor in the other two affairs.

Not only are the Bulls a tough matchup, but in the chess match that is the postseason, the Hawks must now switch gears after focusing on Howard and Orlando's cadre of long-range specialists. Additionally, Atlanta doesn't enjoy a consistent home-court advantage at "The Highlight Factory"--a famously late-arriving crowd--puzzlingly either getting blown out or losing to inferior guests on occasion, while other times rising to the challenge against elite competition, such as the come-from-behind win over Chicago.

WATCH: One-on-one with Bulls VP John Paxson

From the Bulls' perspective, one thing the series will provide is a chance for much-maligned power forward Carlos Boozer to get back on track. Throughout the first-round series against Indiana, criticism of his performance only increased, despite Chicago putting away the Pacers in five games.

Boozer's right-toe injury, regardless of skepticism of its timing, should have adequate time to heal, especially with the team taking two days off from practice after advancing to the second round (the likes of Rose, Luol Deng and Keith Bogans are others who were in need of a break to rest nagging injuries), but more important is him regaining his confidence, as well as that of his teammates and coaches, who are saying all the right things publicly, but have to be alternately concerned and disappointed at his playoff production thus far. Matched up with an Atlanta frontline ill-equipped to defend him--opposing power forward Josh Smith is one of the league's most athletic players, but lacks Boozer's strength, while Horford will likely be matched up with a lesser offensive threat to keep him out of foul trouble; the same Hawks centers who sacrificed their bodies to guard Howard won't be able to use the same tactics to successfully defend a well functioning Boozer's blend of finesse and power--this series is ideal for the free-agent acquisition to recover his swagger, while not having to guard an offensive focal point.

If Boozer doesn't regain his past form, backup Taj Gibson will likely be up to the challenge. Gibson matches up well with the athletic Hawks and his confidence is soaring after playing productive minutes in Boozer's stead, despite Thibodeau limiting his minutes as the Pacers series first got underway.

Outside of Crawford--who likely becomes a starter if Hinrich is out--Chicago possesses a major advantage in depth and while Thibodeau has mostly observed the postseason custom of playing his starters more minutes, Atlanta is a team the Bulls can wear down with their manpower, perhaps giving "The Bench Mob" one more opportunity to show its value. Besides defensive question marks at point guard and in the post, the Hawks are also susceptible on the wing, presenting Deng with a chance to build on his solid first-round efforts, not to mention sharpshooter Kyle Korver, whose movement without the ball is different than the spot-up philosophy undertaken by Orlando.

Overall, this series, which begins Monday night at the United Center, is a better matchup--at least on paper--for the Bulls than were the scrappy, underrated Pacers. Given Atlanta's inconsistent nature and the possibility of Hinrich being out or at the least, limited, expect Chicago to close things out in five games on the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they will take on the winner of the highly-anticipated Celtics-Heat series.

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.

NBA Draft Tracker: Texas A&M PF-C Robert Williams

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft Tracker: Texas A&M PF-C Robert Williams

For all the times coaches, executives and media members lament college prospects leaving too early to start their NBA careers, there are also instances where returning for another collegiate season winds up costing a player some money.

Take the case of Texas A&M big man Robert Williams. He was projected to be a top 10 pick after averaging a modest 11.9 points and 8.2 rebounds as a freshman in 2016-17. Scouts liked his explosive leaping ability at 6'10", 240 pounds, and figured his offensive skills would continue to expand with more drill work and better coaching at the NBA level.

Instead, Williams decided to return to College Station for his sophomore season and looked even more unpolished on the offensive end when he was asked to move out of the post to make room for fellow big man Tyler Davis. Williams put up comparable numbers this past season, averaging 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds, and he did improve his shooting percentage from .558 to .632.

Problem is, most of those shot attempts were alley-oop dunks and putbacks. Williams failed to develop any consistent low post moves last summer, and seemed to be lost playing in the shadow of the more offensively talented Davis.

Still, Williams showed off enough raw athletic ability that he has a decent shot at being selected late in the lottery this June.

The Clippers hold back to back picks at 12 and 13, and there's a chance the Clips could lose veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency (although Jordan will have a difficult time topping his 24.1 million dollar player option for next season). Doc Rivers' team might not be known as "Lob City" any more with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul no longer around as headliners, but adding an explosive athlete like Williams could make sense at that point in the draft.

Is Williams a possible fit for the Bulls? Not likely, unless he somehow falls to the pick they acquired from the Pelicans, which is No. 22 overall. The Bulls could consider drafting a developmental big at that point since both Robin Lopez and Omer Asik are entering the last year of their contracts (Asik has a $3 million buyout for 2019-20), leaving Cristiano Felicio as the only true center on the roster.

Don't be surprised if the Bulls look at a possible international draft and stash prospect (Dzanan Musa or Rodions Kurucs, both small forwards) at No. 22 with so many young players already on the roster.

With the NBA again talking about eliminating the one-and-done rule (perhaps as early as the 2020 draft), players like Williams and Michigan State's Miles Bridges might find themselves getting over-drafted right out of high school based on potential alone. But that's a discussion for another day.

The 2018 draft will provide another lesson that it's dangerous to assume players will automatically get better by spending an extra season or two competing on the college level.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Do Bulls have a realistic chance of landing Paul George?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Do Bulls have a realistic chance of landing Paul George?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson discuss the chances of the Bulls signing Paul George in free agency this summer.

Plus, would Jimmy Butler really want to finish his career in Chicago? Also, a look around the NBA playoffs including the surprise performance of Derrick Rose, and you don’t want to miss the offer that Kendall makes Vincent Goodwill – it may be too tough for Vinnie to pass up.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here: