Dennis Smith

20 crazy (or are they...?) predictions for the NBA season

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USA TODAY

20 crazy (or are they...?) predictions for the NBA season

1. The Golden State Warriors will be better than ever this season and will repeat as NBA champions...but will have big time bumps on the road in the Western Conference.

2. Kevin Durant will be better and win his second Most Valuable Player award, even though Steph Curry is still the arbiter for Golden State’s culture.

3. LeBron James will add to his resume as being one of the top five players ever, if not higher, but won’t catch Michael Jordan for total MVPs (five)...

4. ...and Cleveland had better enjoy him this year, because come July, he’s headed out of Ohio.

5. Speaking of headed out of town, a coach will be fired after a year of leaguewide stability, for an underachieving team in the underachieving Eastern Conference...

6. ...In other words, Fred Hoiberg is safe!

7. The Eastern Conference tank-a-thon will be both ugly and necessary for a couple teams in desperate need of lottery luck, including the Bulls.

8. One of the tank-a-thon teams won’t have the stomach for the losing and will make a panic move, especially when incoming college stars Michael Porter Jr or Marvin Bagley show the slightest signs of struggling.

9. Lonzo Ball will look like a point guard in the mold of Jason Kidd, a guy everyone will flock to play with...and not even LaVar Ball can screw that up.

10. But he’ll try because he won’t shut up...and we’ll never stop listening.

10. Dennis Smith Jr. will be the best incoming rookie, but Ben Simmons will win Rookie of the Year in Philadelphia.

11. Kyrie Irving will formally enter the conversation as one of the league’s best point guards, in part because Brad Stevens will help him become a better facilitator...

12. Irving is (bear with me Chicago’s own Isiah Thomas) the greatest scorer in terms of skill set from the point guard spot in the history of the league

13. For different reasons, Russell Westbrook and James Harden will struggle with their new “helpful” teammates…But will be hell on earth in a seven-game series.

14. Remember this name: Caris Levert from the Brooklyn Nets.

15. Giannis Antetokounmpo was on my top-five MVP ballot last season…he’ll be higher this time around.

16. Jabari Parker will be traded from the Bucks this year, perhaps before he returns from injury…

17. Big names will be on the trading block from the center spot: DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Andre Drummond.

18. Drummond, though, will have a bounceback year in Detroit and improve from the free-throw line.

19. This year will prove the Bulls didn’t get enough in trading Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves (or TimberBulls/TimberTibs)...

20. But Zach LaVine will show he’s more than deserving of a max contract when he returns from injury.

Five takeaways from Bulls' blowout preseason loss to Mavericks

Five takeaways from Bulls' blowout preseason loss to Mavericks

The Bulls suffered an ugly loss on Wednesday night, struggling mightily on both ends of the floor. For a team widely regarded as one of the NBA's worst, this may be one of many this season. 

Here are five takeaways from the blowout: 

1. Point guard woes. It was a rough night for Kris Dunn, to put it mildly. The second-year guard, who has been largely hyped by Gar Forman and John Paxson since the Jimmy Butler blockbuster, labored offensively against the Mavericks. There's no reason to panic yet, but shooting 1-for-9 isn't exactly a promising sign given how much he floundered on that end of the floor in his rookie campaign. In the course of his 21 minutes, Dunn had only one brief stretch that inspired any hope: 

Jerian Grant didn't fare much better, scoring two points on 1-for-4 shooting. Despite what you may see from high-scoring point guards around the league, running the offense isn't all about buckets. So Dunn and Grant combining for 10 assists is at least somewhat encouraging. 

Dunn's play will be under a microscope all season long, so the Bulls are hoping it was just plainly an off night, rather than a growing lack of confidence. 

2. The Energizer Bobby. Portis' 3-point shot is still a huge question mark, but one can never doubt his energy and passion. His floor game was solid in the Bulls' loss, which is vital to a team built around shooters and youngsters. Portis racked up five boards, two blocks, one steal and one assist in his 19 minutes. His role in Fred Hoiberg's system is still undefined, but with the life he brings to the court, it's not hard to envision him logging solid minutes. Also, this is sick: 

3. Woulda, shoulda, coulda? Dennis Smith Jr. can play. If you're in the Bulls Should've Drafted Dennis Smith Jr. Camp, then Wednesday night's game probably stung. The Bulls passed on the point guard from North Carolina State in favor of Arizona's Lauri Markkanen. And while it's not at all fair to leap to judgment without seeing Markkanen get some run, Smith continued his stretch of turning heads. He finished with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting. 

"I love the kid," Hoiberg said of Smith before the game tipped off. "He's got unbelievable athleticism. He's got great pace to his game. He's a great finisher in the paint. Really was intrigued by him in college. The way that he plays the game, he's just such a forceful, downhill player."

Time will tell whether the Bulls whiffed on their possible point guard of the future. 

4. Bombs away! The Bulls are going to shoot a lot of 3-pointers, that we're fairly certain of. In attempting to adapt to the "new NBA," Hoiberg is basing his offense on pace and space. It worked on Tuesday as the Bulls went 16-for-35 from deep. Wednesday, however, they shot just 7-for-29. The roster is filled with plenty of guys who want to launch, but not a lot who have proved that they can actually make them at a clip to keep the team competitive. The Bulls were picked to be one of, if not, the worst teams in the NBA. That loss was a clear reminder of that. 

5. The defense is going to struggle PT. II. Mercifully, the Bulls didn't surrender 46 points in the first quarter again. But they did struggle on D for the second consecutive night. The Mavs shot 50 percent from the field and 45 percent from deep, putting the game out of reach very early into the second half. Per usual, Justin Holiday was a bright spot on that end of the floor. The others struggled to close on shooters, which showed up in the box score via the Mavs' 18 triples. 

Why you should pay attention to Bulls preseason

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USA TODAY

Why you should pay attention to Bulls preseason

1. Who’s on point? The battle for the starting point guard position is a two-man race between Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant. And, let’s be honest, the odds are heavily stacked in Dunn’s favor. After all, the Bulls tried to acquire a high lottery pick to draft him in 2016, then made the draft night deal with Minnesota to acquire him in June. Dunn is working hard to fix his shot after a lost season under Tom Thibodeau in Minneapolis, and the Bulls are intrigued by his length, athleticism and defensive skills. If Dunn can do a good job of directing the offense and making impact plays on the defensive end, he’ll be the starter on opening night. Grant showed flashes of being a reliable 3-point shooter last season, and probably brings the most value as a scoring guard with the second unit.

2. Three candidates for the 4 spot. With rookie Lauri Markkanen sidelined for the first two preseason games because of back spasms, it will be interesting to watch Bobby Portis and Niko Mirotic try to get a leg up in the competition for the starting power forward spot. Coaches have raved about Portis’ tremendous work ethic this summer, and the third-year pro out of Arkansas is starting to emerge as a leader on this young team. Portis improved his shooting range a year ago, and has become even more consistent from the 3-point line this summer. Meanwhile, Mirotic will get yet another chance to prove he can be the player everyone expected when he came over from Europe three years ago. The Bulls are paying him starter’s money (two years, $27 million), now it’s up to Niko to prove he’s worth it. Both returning players will have to give up minutes to Markkanen when he’s ready to role because the Bulls are committed to making the 7-foot rookie one of the foundation pieces of the rebuild, along with the other two players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade: Dunn and Zach LaVine. 

3. Who’s going to score? Speaking of LaVine, he’s expected to be out until December as the team takes a cautious approach to his rehab from ACL surgery. And, with Dwyane Wade now in Cleveland, someone is going to have to score. Early candidates include Justin Holiday, who figures to start at shooting guard or small forward, Portis, Mirotic, Markkanen and second-year swingman Denzel Valentine, who figures to get a chance to show off his offensive game after an uneven rookie season. Don’t be surprised to see Robin Lopez launch a few preseason 3-pointers as he adjusts to Fred Hoiberg’s free-flowing offense.

4. Pelicans' bold experiment. While most teams in the NBA are trying to copy Golden State’s small-ball, 3-point heavy attack, New Orleans is trying to get back to the playoffs behind a pair of All-Star big men in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. And, they have a lot invested in making it work, since Cousins will be a free agent next summer. The Pelicans are also experimenting with starting two point guards in Jrue Holiday (Justin’s brother) and former Bull Rajon Rondo. Rondo led the league in assists during the one season he played with Cousins in Sacramento, and Holiday is a good enough shooter to play off the ball. Still, if either experiment fails, Alvin Gentry could be out of a job, and New Orleans could be in for another rebuild.

5. Who’s the better rookie? When the Bulls visit Dallas on Wednesday, they’ll get their first look at Mavericks’ rookie point guard Dennis Smith, the ninth pick in June's draft. Smith was the talk of the Las Vegas Summer League with his dynamic scoring ability and athleticism, with a number of scouts and coaches predicting he could wind up being Rookie of the Year. Rebuilding teams try to find future All-Stars with Top 10 picks, and the Bulls are hoping they made the right decision to pass on Smith for an elite shooting big man like Markkanen. Only time will tell if they made the right choice, and Bulls fans should be patient since it normally takes a little longer for big men to develop.

Don’t forget you can watch all of the Bulls preseason games on NBC Sports Chicago!