Thibodeau 'optimistic' about Rose, Deng playing vs. Heat?


Thibodeau 'optimistic' about Rose, Deng playing vs. Heat?

CHARLOTTEThough Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau spouted his standard game-time decision line about the status of All-Stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng for Thursdays showdown with the Heat in Miami, he also joked that hes taking a positive outlook about the likelihood of the duo suiting up. One of the pair, Deng, is apparently on the same page.

Its getting better. Still a little sore, but its getting better, he said after watching his team blow out the lowly Bobcats. Ive been off it and just getting treatment.

Just mostly trying to get some motion, just moving it around. Trying to get the muscles to loosen up and just ice, and stim. I had trouble with some motion and weve been doing that to try to get my motion back, Deng continued. Were going to re-evaluate in the morning, but most likely, I should be able to go. But well see how it feels tomorrow.

Deng has missed two consecutive games after taking a shot to the ribs from former teammate Ben Gordon in the Bulls overtime win Sunday at Detroit. Hes also dealt with the effects of torn ligaments in his left wrist for the majority of the second half of the season.

Rose, on the other hand, has been dealing with soreness in his right foot the past two contests after missing a game due to spraining his right ankle. Before that, he he was sidelined for 12 consecutive games with a groin injury and that isnt even counting 10 absences because of turf toe and lower back spasms.

Thatll be a game-time decision. As you guys all know, Im an optimist. I think itll be good, quipped Thibodeau. Theyre making good progress. The first guy theyve got to get by is Fred Tedeschi, the Bulls team trainer. Fred has to clear them. They have to show that theyre confident and comfortable on the floor. It hasnt been easy for them, but I think theyre handling everything well and weve just got to make the right decision. The most important thing is the team playing well and being healthy, so weve got to take care of those two things going forward. So, thats what were going to do.

Added teammate Carlos Boozer: Theyre warriors, man. If they can, they will. I think its up to them and see how their body feels tomorrow when we tip, but theyve played through so many different injuries throughout their careers. Just this season alone, its countless injuries theyve played through.

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other


Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen continues to impress.

The 20-year-old rookie had a career-high 26 points in the Bulls' 113-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. He also picked up 13 rebounds.

After the game, in which the Bulls fell to 3-11 on the season, coach Fred Hoiberg had high praise for the Finnish.

"I thought Lauri was phenomenal," Hoiberg said. "But when he is open, we gotta get him the ball. When he's got it rolling like he did tonight, guys were switching and we had him a couple of times with the point guard buried in his back and we didn't get him the ball."

Watch what Hoiberg had to say about the Bulls' tight loss in the video above.