Six Things We've Learned About the Bulls


Six Things We've Learned About the Bulls

Thursday, October 15th

by Mark Schanowski

So, what have you observed about the Bulls' play so far in the preseason?

The regular season opener against San Antonio is two weeks from tonight, and it's pretty obvious, the Bulls need to get Derrick Rose back on the court as soon as possible to work on offensive execution for those early season games against the Spurs, Celtics, Heat and Cavs. It's also become apparent the Bulls' desire to have a better defensive team on the floor this season is very much a work in progress. The injuries to Rose and Tyrus Thomas, coupled with Brad Miller missing games because of the flu, has forced the coaches to give minutes to the rookies and free agents in camp. And while the play of James Johnson, Taj Gibson, Chris Richard and Derrick Byars has been encouraging, we won't get an idea of what kind of team the Bulls will have this season until they can settle into their regular rotation, which means Joakim Noah, Tyrus, Luol Deng, Rose and John Salmons starting, with Miller, Kirk Hinrich, GibsonJohnson and Jannero Pargo as the guys off the bench.

So, in the spirit of the Bulls' 6 championships, here are 6 things I've observed through 3 weeks of training camp.
As I wrote in an earlier column, Noah told me before camp he worked very hard in the summer with coaches at the I.M.G. Basketball Academy in Florida to improve his low-post offensive game, and get some consistency on his jump shot. The early returns are encouraging. Did you see the 2 lefty finishes in last night's game at Minnesota? Noah rarely looked to attack in the low post during his first 2 NBA seasons, but now that his confidence is up, he's looking for opportunities to score. Improving his left hand finishes at the rim, including a nice jump hook, will make him a more versatile offensive player. No one's predicting he'll be an All-Star, but he certainly could be a guy who averages 12 points and 8 rebounds a game.

With Rose forced to watch these pre-season games from the bench, we're getting a reminder why the Bulls gave Kirk Hinrich that 5-year, 45 million dollar contract extension a while back. He's looked sharp running the team from the point guard spot and he's showing an improved shooting touch from 3-point range. Hinrich's ability to play both guard postions will be invaluable this season, and there's no reason to think he can't give the Bulls 30 quality minutes. Last season was wrecked by the thumb injury that sidelined him for two months, but he showed in the playoff series against Boston he can be a real asset on both ends of the floor.

I know I was one of the few media guys who campaigned for the Bulls to select Taj Gibson with the 26th pick in the first round, and so far, he's been even better than I expected. Gibson is 24 years old, and that maturity is apparent in so many ways on the court. He has a well-rounded offensive game, with the ability to make a perimeter jumper and drive to the basket. But he's even better on the defensive end, with an understanding of rotations and good judgment on when to go for the blocked shot, and when to get good position for a defensive rebound. Johnson is more of a work in progress. He lost the weight that was slowing him down in summer league, and looks very active on both ends. He has the ability to handle the ball from the small forward positon, but he has to be careful not to force his offense with other good scorers on the floor. Down the road, Johnson has more potential, but I think Gibson will get more minutes initially because of his defensive mindset and high basketball I.Q.
Because of the potential shown by the Bulls' rookies so far, John Paxson and Gar Forman probably aren't as concerned about finding a low post scorer in free agency. Wade is one of the top 5 players in the league, and a difference maker on both ends of the floor. He's also from the Chicago area and spends most of his summers here. Paxson wanted to draft Wade back in 2003, but Pat Riley surprised a lot of NBA observers and beat him to the punch. Knowing Pax, I'm sure he'd like to rectify that situation and do everything in his power to bring one of the league's most popular players back home.

The coaches have talked about getting better on the defensive end since the Boston series ended last spring. They will have more size this season with Salmons at the shooting guard spot and 6-9 Luol Deng at small forward, but TALKING about getting better on defense and actually doing it are two different things. Having Rose sidelined because of injury also hurts because he was the weakest individual defender on the team last season, and certainly needs the extra work.

Vinny Del Negro appears to be a lot more relaxed and confident in his 2nd season as an NBA head coach, and he should have better chemistry with his assistants now that veteran Del Harris has retired. Both Harris and Bernie Bickerstaff are former NBA head coaches, and I'm sure they butted heads with Vinny at times last season. Pete Myers now takes on an expanded role, and Pete is very populuar with the current players. Plus, the Bulls have added Randy Brown and Sidney Green to work with players on individual skills, Green with the big men and Brown with the perimeter guys. Having that extra attention should pay off for everyone involved.

The regular season schedule is brutal, with the Bulls facing a number of playoff teams early on, and then making the dreaded "circus" road trip in mid-November. If they can be close to .500 going into December, they should be able to make a run at the 4th seed in the East. But if they get off to a bad start, making the playoffs in an improved Eastern Conference could be a struggle.

What do you think? As always, your comments and e-mails are welcome...enjoy the hoops...we've got the last 3 preseason games for you on Comcast SportsNet.

Steve Kerr thinks he could have shut down Steph Curry in his prime

Steve Kerr thinks he could have shut down Steph Curry in his prime

If Steve Kerr owned a time machine, he knows exactly who he would have taken down if the Jordan-era Bulls had the chance to play the present-day Golden State Warriors.

“I would probably shut down Curry pretty well because I would have been matched up with him. I know his game so well as a coach now that it would have been easy for me to just lock him up,” the former Bulls guard told reporters with a wink.

But what Kerr is saying may have some merit. 

We ran simultion NBA Finals on What If Sports and if the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls and the 2016-2017 Golden State Warriors faced off, things got interesting.  The series went seven games, but the Warriors come out superior. Curry averaged 17 points per game with a 42.9 percent shooting. 

But Kerr is still confident in his defensive history.

“Me? I can stay in front of anybody, that kind of speed and lightning quickness.”

A reporter reaffirmed these skills, calling out how noticeable they were in action.

“Thank you. Somebody recognizes it,” Kerr said.

The Bulls will always be linked to the Warriors — symbolically, practically and through history

The Bulls will always be linked to the Warriors — symbolically, practically and through history

Whenever the Bulls and Warriors meet for the foreseeable future, it’ll be a reminder of how the two franchises are inextricably linked symbolically and practically — even if no one would consider the two franchises mirror images in any way that truly counts.

Starting on the sidelines, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr will forever be etched in Bulls lore with a championship-sealing jumper in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals off a pass from Michael Jordan, the second title of their second three-peat.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was rumored to be in the running for the Warriors job after the Warriors fired Mark Jackson in 2014, when Hoiberg was still at Iowa State and Kerr was in the broadcast booth.

Reportedly, Hoiberg was a backup plan if Kerr wound up taking the New York Knicks job being offered to him by…former Bulls coach Phil Jackson.

Kerr has spoken highly of Hoiberg before games, even going as far as saying he’s stolen some of Hoiberg’s offensive plays — and it’s easy to see the similarities in philosophy, with both placing an extreme emphasis on ball movement and 3-point shooting.

With the Bulls crushing their own 3-point records — hitting fewer than 10-pointers six times in the last 21 games, they’re doing their best to copy the blueprint the Warriors have unleashed on the basketball world.

“I don’t know if we’ve revolutionized the game,” Kerr said at morning shootaround. “We just picked up on where the game was been heading over the last ten years with the added spacing and turning small forwards into power forwards and power forwards into centers. Really spacing the floor. It was happening before we did it. We have the personnel to shoot a ton of 3’s. It’s effective for us. Teams have to find whatever’s most efficient for them. We just try to play according to our talent.”

There’s the simple fact the Warriors erased the 1996 Bulls from the record book as far as regular season wins with a 73-9 mark in 2016, although they couldn’t finish the job in the Finals by blowing a 3-1 lead to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Warriors have joined the Bulls of that vintage, the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers and James’ Miami Heat as the road shows of modern-day basketball, drawing massive crowds, sparking historical conversations and taking opposing teams’ best shots on the road 41 times a year.

Stephen Curry has earned a new respect for what Jordan’s Bulls had to go through during that eight-year period in which the Bulls dominated to win six NBA titles.

“Until you win a championship you don’t know how hard it is,” Curry said. “Only highlight that even more, all that goes into it, year after year after year, being that team everybody is chasing. I have an appreciation before but going through a couple championship runs, you have an appreciation for the dynasty that they were. It’s always nice to be in the city they did it in.”

Then there’s the petty, as Jordan Bell will get the start in place of Draymond Green, a man who looked like a mummy at shootaround with a sore shoulder but had his elbows and knees wrapped in ice.

Bell, of course, remains a point of contention for Bulls fans as he was traded for $3.5 million on draft night to the Warriors and let everyone know what he thought of it when the two met in late November, making a money reference with his hands when coming out for his first start of the season.

Although his playing time has been spotty, he blocked six shots against the Bulls and grabbed six rebounds as an uber-athletic big man in a 49-point humbling loss in Oakland on Nov. 24.

Whether Bulls fans are in love with Bell and what he represents or merely the notion of trading a second-round pick when starting a rebuild, seeing him is a sore spot.

Kerr, though, hopes Bell has moved past the pettiness with the Bulls, as one would certainly like to think he’s happy where he is as opposed to vying for minutes with the glut of bigs the Bulls already have.

“I would hope that’s a thing of the past,” Kerr said. “Jordan’s been in the league for more than half a season. He had his fun the first time we played the Bulls with his comments and whatever he was doing on the floor. I liked it. I thought he was getting himself motivated. That doesn’t last long, in this league you gotta be motivated every single night. He’s past that now.”

Bell, assuming he develops into more than just a spot starter, represents where the Warriors are currently and where the Bulls are trying to get to: selecting physically unique players whose skill sets essentially make them unicorns on the floor.

The Warriors have that in Kevin Durant and to a lesser degree, Green, because of Green’s versatility on defense and with his playmaking, allows the Warriors to be special.

The Bulls have someone in the mold of a matchup nightmare in rookie Lauri Markkanen, who just broke the rookie record by being the fastest in NBA history to hitting 100 triples.

Markkanen did it in 41 games, breaking the mark held by Portland’s Damian Lillard. Curry, widely regarded as the best shooter in NBA history, accomplished the feat in 58 games in the 2009-10 season.

Curry’s taken note while joking Markkanen should “slow down and stop breaking all those 3-point records for rookies. I’m pretty proud of being in those groups.”

“He’s an amazing talent,” Curry said. “Got an extremely unique skill set at his height and size, being able to put it on the floor, being able to shoot the way he does, scoring a lot of different ways… He’s only gonna continue to get better. Other than that, he’s gonna be a force to reckon with as he goes through his career.”

Kerr is among Markkanen’s fans, although he won’t be one at the United Center when he tries to stop Markkanen from adding to the impressive resume.

“These things are so hard to predict but you knew at minimum he was gonna be a great 3-point shooting big man which is important to have these days,” Kerr said. “I think the question was defensively could he hold his own and could he do more than shoot and I think he’s proving all of that. He’s been good defensively.

“He’s not a one-trick pony on offense. He’s not just standing out shooting. He can put it on the floor, he can post up and he’s so young, all that stuff is gonna get better. I know our coaching staff, preparing for this game, have a ton of respect for what the Bulls are doing and Markkanen in particular in terms of his potential. We think he’s gonna be an All-Star.”