Bulls

Surging Bulls continue road trip against Hawks

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Surging Bulls continue road trip against Hawks

Wednesday, Mar. 2, 2011
1:07 p.m.

Associated Press

(AP) -- While many expected the teams currently ahead of Chicago to be fighting for the Eastern Conference's top seed, few predicted the Bulls would also be in the thick of the race.

Looking to surpass their win total from last season, the surging Bulls continue their road trip Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks, who return home seeking an eighth win in nine games in the series.

After beating Milwaukee 83-75 on Saturday, the Bulls (41-17) easily defeated Washington 105-77 on Monday night on the second stop of their five-game trek to move one game behind Miami and remain two behind East-leading Boston.

Chicago's trip is about to get more difficult, though, with matchups against Orlando and the Heat following their visit to Atlanta.

The Bulls, who face the Hawks three times in the next three weeks, have lost five straight at Atlanta by an average of 16.2 points and seven of eight overall in the series. MVP candidate Derrick Rose scored 32 points on Dec. 19, 2009, leading his team to its only victory over that span, 101-98 in overtime.

Chicago has won seven of eight overall and has limited opponents to 80.3 points on 38.0 percent shooting during a three-game winning streak - defense that could make things difficult on Atlanta.

The Hawks (36-24) are averaging just 89.4 points - 6.8 fewer than their season mark - over their last nine games and return to Philips Arena after losing four of seven on their recent trip.

"It's acceptable," coach Larry Drew said of the trip. "It could have been a lot worse. That's what I told the guys. We're still in a position where we can control our own destiny."

The fifth-place Hawks had won 14 of 16 at home prior to back-to-back losses before the trip, and will probably need to slow down two of Chicago's best players if they hope to avoid matching their longest home skid of the season.

Rose had 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds against the Wizards while Joakim Noah recorded 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 11 boards for his first double-double in four games since missing 30 with a torn ligament in his right thumb.

"He's back, almost to the point he was at before the injury," coach Tom Thibodeau told NBA.com. "His activity is off the charts. His defense is terrific, his rebounding is very good, and you can see he's starting to get a lot more comfortable offensively."

While Chicago is getting used to having one of its stars back, the Hawks could be without one of theirs after Josh Smith suffered a knee injury in a 100-90 loss at Denver on Monday night.

Smith was averaging 22.0 points in his previous three games prior to scoring 10 before leaving in the second quarter. He was unable to return and his status for Wednesday remains in question.

Joe Johnson scored 22 for the second consecutive night after averaging 11.4 points on 39.8 percent shooting in his previous seven games. Johnson is averaging 23.5 points in his last six meetings with Chicago, including two 40-point efforts.

The Hawks acquired guard Kirk Hinrich, who spent his first seven years in the league with the Bulls, from Washington prior to Thursday's trade deadline, but he was held out Monday with a sore right calf and could miss this game.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Joakim Noah has a new look and it's, uh, interesting

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USA TODAY

Joakim Noah has a new look and it's, uh, interesting

Joakim Noah played in only seven games for the New York Knicks this season, having last appeared in action on Jan. 23. A few weeks later, Noah was granted an indefinite leave of absence by the team.

So what's the former Bull up to now?

Well, apparently he's attempting to audition for one of the latest wild life survival shows.

In honor of Earth Day, Noah showed off his new look on Instagram:

Jah bless the earth

A post shared by Joakim Noah (@stickity13) on

"God bless the Earth and the trees and the sun," he says in the video.

No. God bless you, Joakim.

Why the Bulls should draft Deandre Ayton if they win the Lottery

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USA TODAY

Why the Bulls should draft Deandre Ayton if they win the Lottery

Something special occurred on the campus of Oregon University in late February. The Arizona Wildcats were in town, 24 hours removed from an ESPN report that claimed head coach Sean Miller had discussed paying $100,000 to land blue-chip prospect Deandre Ayton. The report shook the college basketball world, Miller took a leave of absence from the team and the Wildcats, ranked 14th in the country, became the lead story on sports talk shows for all the wrong reasons.

And the 19-year-old Ayton found himself at the center of the turmoil. Heading into Eugene, a place the Ducks were 31-3 at over the last two seasons, the Oregon student section mercilessly heckled Ayton all night, chanting “wi-re tap” and “hun-dred thou-sand” at the freshman star. The 7-foot-1 Bahamian could have crumbled in the moment. No one would have blamed him if he had.

Instead, Ayton dominated. He took over the game for 44 minutes, resting for 66 seconds in the first half before playing the final 26:37 of the overtime thriller. His final line – 28 points, 18 rebounds, 4 blocks – somehow didn’t do the performance justice. He made 11 of 15 shots, including 17-foot jumpers, offensive rebound put-backs, low-post moves and transition dunks. In a season of extraordinary for the Pac-12’s eventual Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year, that Saturday night may have been his most impressive, all things considered.

And it’s one of many reasons why, if that 5.3 percent chance becomes reality, the Bulls can’t pass on Deandre Ayton with the first pick in June’s NBA Draft.

Let’s begin with the raw stats. Ayton joined Duke’s Marvin Bagley as the only freshmen since 1993 to average 20 points, 11 rebounds and shoot 60 percent from the field. What’s more, only 10 others – regardless of year – had accomplished the feat, last done by Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin in 2009. Four of those 10 were drafted first overall (Michael Olowokandi, Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut and Griffin). So, spoiler alert, there’s precedent for a dominant big man being selected first overall. Ayton certainly could join that list, which we’ll note has a respectable success rate.

Those offensive numbers were compiled in impressive fashion. Ayton has been blessed with a remarkable skill set for a 19-year-old. Per Synergy, his 1.16 points per possession (PPP) ranked in the 98th percentile, and he did while playing out of position most of the season; Miller insisted on playing Ayton alongside 7-footer Dusan Ristic, which clogged up the offense at times. He’ll have more freedom in the NBA.

There’s no denying the 260-pound Ayton was a force around the rim, using his NBA-ready frame to overpower opposing frontcourts; he shot 76 percent from inside 5 feet (200 of 263) and ranked in the 90th percentile in post-up situations (1.05 PPP). But his game, like his frame, is NBA-ready, too. Ayton displayed an above-average jump shot, shooting 38 percent on 104 possessions; Kentucky’s Anthony Davis shot 34 percent on just 67 possessions in 2012. Ayton also spent more time as a pick-and-roll roller (14.6% of his possessions) than Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns or Joel Embiid in their respective college years.

He also expanded his game out to the 3-point line, attempting 35 triples in 35 games. That may not seem like much in “today’s game,” but consider: Joel Embiid (1-for-5), Karl-Anthony Towns (2-for-8) and Anthony Davis (3-for-20) combined for fewer made and attempted 3s than did Ayton in one year; Towns shot 42 percent from deep this past NBA season, Embiid made 66 triples with the Sixers and Davis has increased his made 3s each of his first six NBA seasons. Shooting can be taught, and Ayton is already ahead of schedule, even if he’s going to earn his money 15 feet and in. Ayton will jell in an NBA offense from Day 1. His game was made for the NBA.

That physically imposing frame made him a terror around the rim. Ayton stands 7-foot-1 and weighs 260 pounds; only six NBA players were listed at that size or taller/heavier. Ayton is as physically ready a rookie as we’ve seen in a handful of years.

It also makes some of his defensive metrics perplexing. Ayton’s block percentage, per KenPom.com, was 6.1%; Towns, Davis and Embiid all had double-digit block percentages. Ayton was also a liability defending the post, ranking in just the 34th percentile (allowing .919 PPP). And though some of these ugly numbers can be attributed to playing out of position, his motor has come into question and he looked out lost at times on that end of the floor. It’s certainly an area he’ll need to improve upon; it’s not enough to say he’ll roll out of bed and score 20 points. He’s got the easy part down, standing 7-foot-1 with a 40+-inch vertical. A strong defensive-minded coach will do Ayton wonders early in his career.

So why the Bulls? Well, as you’ll read a lot in this series, the team needs an injection of talent. Team need isn’t going to come into play much after Cristiano Felicio averaged 17.8 minutes per game. The Bulls need talent, and Ayton defines that. It also fits that Ayton would make for a near-perfect 1-2 punch with Lauri Markkanen, a fellow Wildcat. Ayton saw significant time as the “hi” man of Arizona’s hi-low sets with Ristic. With Markkanen maneuvering the perimeter, Ayton would be free to work 15 feet and in where he’s at his best. Having Robin Lopez as a mentor for a year would only improve Ayton’s game, and his pick-and-roll numbers would improve with Kris Dunn, who made even Felicio look serviceable.

Ayton is the best prospect in the class. There isn’t much else to say. As the series progresses we’ll need to make stronger arguments for prospects, but not with Ayton. He’s the best center prospect since Karl-Anthony Towns, and his offensive game is ahead of any frontcourt prospect with two eyebrows the last decade. Prospects like Ayton come along once every few years (Towns, Embiid, Davis) and he’s as close to a sure thing as there is in this draft. If, 10 years after the Lottery gods smiled down on the Bulls, lightning strikes twice, Deandre Ayton is the man to lead the Bulls back to contention in the Eastern Conference.