Preps Talk

Early returns for former member of Bulls' "Bench Mob"

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Early returns for former member of Bulls' "Bench Mob"

PHOENIXTheres two schools of thought when it comes to the Bench Mob, the Bulls beloved bench from the past two seasons.
One is that the organization should have done whatever it takes to keep them, while the other camp understands that the realities of the new CBA, coupled with the fact that with Derrick Roses uncertain status for this season, didnt make sense to keep the group intact if contending for a title wasnt a sure thing.
Regardless, whats done is done and, except for holdover Taj Gibson, who was recently rewarded with a new long-term contract extension and is averaging 7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per night in 21 minutes, the group dispersed to various locales over the summer: Kyle Korver was traded to Atlanta, Ronnie Brewer waived and eventually signed by New York, C.J. Watson suffering the same fate but going to the borough of Brooklyn instead of Manhattan, John Lucas inking a free-agent deal with Toronto and Omer Asik famously signing a three-year deal worth nearly 25 million in Houston, as the Rockets poison pill in the final season put the Bulls in a tough position.
Its only two weeks into the NBA season, but now that the old favorites are settled into their new homes, its worth checking on how theyre faring.
Asik, Gibsons former tag-team partner, was quietly yearning for not only more playing time, but a starting role, something that the presence of Joakim Noah prevented in Chicago. Now in Houston, Asik playing north of 32 minutes an outing and has shown remarkable offensive developmentthough not entirely unprecedented, judging from his play in international competition while representing his home country of Turkeyas well as being a defensive anchor for the Rockets and one of the leagues top rebounders.
Used as a screener on high pick-and-rolls for the much-ballyhooed backcourt of James Harden and Jeremy Lin, Asik has fared wellsomething Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau could have predicted, given his praise of Asiks ability to set picksbut more surprisingly, hes displayed better hands and touch than witnessed in Chicago, resulting in 9.9 points per game, to go along with his monster 13 rebounds a contest. While field-goal percentage is extremely low for a center at 42.1 percent from the field, whats shocking is the 72.4 percentage from the foul line from a previously dismal free-throw shooter.
Some of his more impressive game statistics include a career-high 19 points, including 11-for-14 from the charity stripe, to go with 14 rebounds in the Rockets loss to the Heat on Monday, as well as a 19-rebound effortalthough he was scoreless, shooting 0-for-7 from the floorin a Nov. 2 game against Korvers Hawks.
Houston is currently 3-4, as opposing defenses have stymied Harden after his brilliant start, but Asik continues to be effective.
While Asik had less fanfare coming to Houston than Lin and later, Harden, he wasnt nearly as close to being an afterthought as Brewer when he was acquired by the Knicks. But with instant-offense scorer J.R. Smith more productive in a sixth-man role, Chicago native Iman Shumpert sidelined with an arduous rehabilitation process, he was slated to be New Yorks starting shooting guard at the outset of the season.
Just like when he came to Chicago, Brewer endured a injury that affected him through training camp, but the versatile swingman recovered and after Amare Stoudemire got hurt, New York head coach Mike Woodson opted to start him at small forward, using veteran Jason Kidd in the backcourt with fellow point guard Raymond Felton, shifting All-Star Carmelo Anthony to power forward, the position at which he was perhaps his best last season.
The oldest team in modern league history has thrived in the early going, racing out of the gates with a 5-0 record and while Brewer is one of the least high-profile players on the squad, hes been a big part of the Knicks success.
Averaging nine points and 6.2 rebounds in 26.8 minutes an evening, Brewer adds a dose of athleticism to a mostly ground-bound roster, as well as a strong defensive presence and somebody who can flourish in transition. It remains to be seen whether Brewer will continue to start when the Knicks have their full complement of players, but as Chicagoans know well, nights like his 13-point, 10-rebound performance against Philadelphia on Nov. 5 can occur for the Arkansas native no matter his role, just as long as he plays.
Korver, one of the leagues preeminent sharpshooters, is sorely missed in Chicago, where the Bulls werent necessarily the most proficient outside-shooting team when he was on the roster, but are clearly in the dregs of the NBA now, even as replacement Marco Belinelli begins to find his stroke. Its unlikely that hell admit it publicly, but Thibodeau feels the loss as strongly as anybody, twice having made reflexive references to Korvers clutch shooting when asked about which players would close out games in Roses absence, by this writers count.
Korver has earned a starting role in Atlanta, which traded All-Star Joe Johnson over the summer, and although many believed the Hawks would take a big step back and enter a major rebuilding phase, at least at this point, theres no reason to think theyre no longer a playoff contender.
Now anchored around the talents of athletic big men Josh Smith and Al Horford, as well as a young, quick guard cadre that includes Jeff Teague, the older brother of Bulls rookie Marquis Teague, along with the likes of offseason acquisitions Lou Williams, Deshawn Stevenson, Devin Harris and Anthony Morrow, Korver has already been identified as a go-to guy down the stretch of games for Atlanta, as evidenced by his 16-point outing, which included 4-for-6 shooting from long range in a win over Portland on Monday. Shooting 37.1 percent from deep and averaging 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 stealsthe latter number a testament to his improvement as a team, if not individual defender, during his tenure in Chicagoin 26 minutes a night, the Hawks are 3-3 thus far.
Watson appears to be finding his niche in the league as a high-level backup point guard to some of the games elite floor generals, as hes now the understudy to All-Star Deron Williams after playing behind Rose for two seasons. All the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Nets move to Brooklyn wouldnt seem to fit his quiet personality, but Watson has been delivering on the court early this season.
Nagged by injuries in the preseason, hes playing almost 25 minutes a night in the Big Apple, averaging 8.3 points a game on 44 percent shooting from the floor, as well as contributing 1.3 steals per contest for the 4-2 club. His season-high is a modest 15 points, notched in a Nov. 3 win over Lucas Raptors, but if Williams goes down with an injury at any point this season, its a fact that hes capable of more prolific numbers.
Speaking of Lucas, just knowing that the journeyman finally achieved some security on the professional level by signing a multi-year deal with Toronto is a testament to his perseverance, as well as Thibodeaus belief in him, which at least partially stemmed from both their shared time in Houston and the coachs long-time relationship with Lucas father, his former boss in Philadelphia, back when the younger Lucas was a child.
After a strong preseason, howeverhe recorded separate highs of 16 points and eight assistshes been caught in a point-guard logjam, as Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has opted to go with marquee offseason acquisition Kyle Lowry as the starter and veteran holdover Jose Calderon, who got his first career triple-double Tuesday night, as the backup, with Calderon taking over the starting job in Lowrys injury-related absence.
Lucas best regular-season game came Monday, when he had seven points and two assists against Utah, but on the campaign, hes averaging just 2.1 points and 1.1 assists a night on a lowly 17.6 percent from the field in under 11 minutes a game for the 2-6 team. Still, many expect Calderon to be dealt at some point this season, which would open up minutes and a more definitive role for Lucas.
In between mourning the loss of the collective group and the various strengths of the individuals (Brewers athleticism, Korvers marksmanship, Watsons scoring ability, Asiks defensive presence and Lucas knack for rising to the occasion) and fans similarly passionate ire when things didnt go right (Brewers lack of outside shooting, Korvers defensive issues, Lucas shoot-first tendencies and most famously, Watsons decision to pass the ball to Asik, who missed a pair of free throws in Game 6 of the Bulls first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia, which eliminated the team), it has to be accepted that the Bench Mob era is finally over, with the old guard better off for the experience and the teams new second unit still finding its way.
The first reunion, with Asik in Houston, during the Bulls ongoing Circus Trip, is soon to come and while its unlikely to be a tearful experience, it should certainly bring back some fond memories.

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

CLASS 1A

Revealing the Class 1A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 1A Bracket

CLASS 2A

Revealing the Class 2A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 2A Bracket

CLASS 3A

Revealing the Class 3A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 3A Bracket

CLASS 4A

Revealing the Class 4A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 4A Bracket

Predicting Class 1A-4A

CLASS 5A

Revealing the Class 5A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 5A Bracket

CLASS 6A

Revealing the Class 6A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 6A Bracket

CLASS 7A

Revealing the Class 7A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 7A Bracket

CLASS 8A

Revealing the Class 8A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 8A Bracket

Class 7A and Class 8A Predictions

 

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”