Justin Holiday

Observations from the Bulls' preseason finale loss to the Raptors

Observations from the Bulls' preseason finale loss to the Raptors

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Justin Holiday shines again

It's pretty evident who the leader of the Bulls is through the preseason. Whether he wanted it or not - and it seems like he did - Justin Holiday is the go-to man in Chicago. He finished his impressive presason with a 17-point outing against the Raptors, including 6-for-12 shooting, four 3-pointers, a steal and a block in 28 minutes. He even added four assists, showing some playmaking to go along with his scoring. He finishes the preseason averaging 17.2 points on 44 percent shooting, 57 percent (!!) from deep and 1.6 steals. He and LaVine will be fun to watch together on the wing.

Lauri Markkanen's jumper stays confident

Lauri Markkanen's NBA career got off to a rough start. But he's more than righted the ship. Gone is the 1-for-9 performance in his first outing, and in is the 11-for-21 he shot in his final two games. That included 7-for-12 from deep, and he even added seven rebounds on Friday against Toronto. Markkanen has plenty of weight to put on before he can hang inside - Toronto's tough interior pushed him around quite a bit in his 29 minutes - but this was another step in the right direction for Markkanen, whose back issues seemed non-existent.

Jerian Grant flirts with a triple-double

Jerian Grant was likely to earn the starting point guard job out of training camp even if Kris Dunn didn't get injured, and tonight would have solidified it. Grant had 10 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 27 efficient minutes. Though Kyle Lowry had his way (17 points in 26 minutes) that was more or less to be expected. But Grant was confident stepping into his shot, played aggressive on defense (two steals, two fouls) and found plenty of open shooters. The Bulls may struggle this season, but Fred Hoiberg has to be happy starting a backcourt of Grant and Holiday.

Bobby Portis: Some good, some really bad

Bobby Portis has had a not-so-great preseason, so it was nice to see him score 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting and grab four rebounds in his preseason finale. Then again, he played 18 minutes and somehow committed eight turnovers. Between losing balls in traffic, errant passes and some head-scratching decisions, it was tough to call Portis' night a success. He should find time on the second unit, but he needs to show improvement in all areas, not just scoring.

Antonio Blakeney gives it one (nine) last shot(s)

It'd be nice to see a great story like Antonio Blakeney stick on the Bulls' roster, and he made sure he was remembered in his final preseason game. In 20 minutes he took nine shots, hitting three for nine points. He didn't record any other stat but three fouls in his time on the floor, and was a -21 as the Raptors rode away with the win in the fourth quarter. But we're putting him here because there's a chance he can make the Bulls' roster, especially with LaVine out and Zipser potentially needing to miss time.

Someone has to score for the Bulls, so why not Justin Holiday?

Someone has to score for the Bulls, so why not Justin Holiday?

Justin Holiday probably isn’t at the top of Las Vegas’ list for odds on being the Bulls’ high scorer, but if the preseason is any indication he’ll establish himself as a decent one.

The Bulls will struggle, especially until Zach LaVine returns, but shots will have to come from somewhere and Holiday’s aptitude for Fred Hoiberg’s system combined with his aggressiveness makes him a candidate to lead the Bulls in that category.

“This offense allows myself and guys on this team to flourish,” Holiday said. “A lot of movement, which I do well. Cutting and obviously shooting the ball. This offense is made for the team we have and made for me. We’re showing it thus far.”

Nikola Mirotic is more gifted and has a longer resume, but consistency isn’t at the top of his docket; He’s prone to go missing in action for weeks at a time.

Holiday’s ceiling doesn’t go as high but his floor isn’t as low. He takes shots in the flow of the offense. Because he moves around the perimeter so well, floating to the corner for skip passes and swing passes, he’ll have more than his share of open looks.

“I think the biggest thing Justin has done is his cuts, getting out on the break,” said Hoiberg. “We’re stressing simple plays. He takes what the defense gives him. He’s one of the guys who can stop on a dime, rise up with great balance and shoot the ball. Continue to make simple plays. It’s really an equal opportunity offense to where you cut hard and make the right reads you’ll get open shots.”

Seeing him average close to 15 points a game isn’t far-fetched for a guy who never averaged more than seven shots per game in his first four NBA seasons.

“I can’t say I thought it would be like that on a night-to-night basis. I mean I knew I would have more responsibility, more to do offensively,” Holiday said. “When I was here last time, with the guys who were able to score, that’s what I’m able to do, play with guys who can get buckets and still be effective. So I have the same mentality as I did.”

Holiday originally played for the Bulls in 2015-16, acquired in a trade involving Kirk Hinrich and then put in the package that sent Derrick Rose to New York right before the 2016 draft.

He was steady in his limited time that season, when the Bulls were in a different place and Holiday was certainly more of a complementary piece than a potential primary scorer.

As he’s worked on being a more consistent scorer, he’s noticed a change in Hoiberg, who was in his first season when Holiday arrived.

“I think he’s a little more assertive,” Holiday said. “He seems a little more comfortable, after the years and experiences he’s had. Ups and downs make you better for it, I think he’s better than he was the first time.”

Now he’s one of the few Bulls with a decent amount of NBA experience, although he’s still looking to establish himself individually. It puts him in a unique position of being looked to as a leader while also making sure his feet are firmly planted on the ground.

“I enjoy it. I feel like I’m trying to establish myself like they are,” Holiday said. “So I know I am considered a vet but I don’t think I’m an old dude. I think we’re all trying to get somewhere, we’re all trying to make it. That’s how it is for me.”

So when he was asked about potential statistical achievements this season, he shifted the conversation.

“My goals changed and me being a leader. The main thing I’m focused on was how I can lead to make this team successful,” Holiday said. “Some people might think leading is easy. Some people might not. To put your team in front of you before yourself, especially when you’re able to be on the floor a lot is something I’ve been focused on, not myself.”

Observations from Bulls-Cavs: Lauri Markkanen shows he belongs

Observations from Bulls-Cavs: Lauri Markkanen shows he belongs

The game was pretty simple for Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen.

Catch.

Shoot.

Rinse, repeat.

After struggling a bit in his preseason opener Sunday night, Markkanen showed he belonged, at least to this point, in a smooth performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Guarding LeBron James is a herculean task for just about anybody, so being overwhelmed wasn’t news. But his well-talked about ability to shoot was finally on display and not just urban legend from Fred Hoiberg.

He got to the open spots in the offense and unleashed four triples on his way to 18 points, and even ran the floor to finish a fast break with a one-handed dunk in the second half as the Bulls pulled away.

Markkanen’s shooting is why the Bulls drafted him seventh, as they believe he’ll be a matchup problem for years to come in Hoiberg’s movement-based system. His jumper was fluid, confident, smooth and most importantly, high—as in his release point.

There were times he had a matchup advantage against a smaller guard and the Bulls didn’t track him to take advantage, which can be as much of a function of what he can’t yet do as much as his teammates not giving him the ball.

But as his game evolves and the Bulls will wait on him through the years, being a deadeye shooter will keep him on the floor in the meantime.

Justin Holiday: Holiday continues to impress, solidifying a place in the rotation even when Zach LaVine returns and nailing down the shooting guard spot in the meantime.

With a nose for the ball on both ends, Holiday brings an element of movement that is necessary for this offense to work. On defense, he’s aggressive and handsy without getting himself into too much trouble with fouls or being out of position.

You’ll take the six turnovers as long as he can have nights where he’ll score 28, matching Markkanen’s four-for-seven mark from 3-point range. He added 11 rebounds and played with a gear of speed consistently through the night.

Taking nearly half of the Bulls’ 17 free-throws, Holiday had one against the Eastern Conference champs, looking far more confident than the player the Bulls acquired at the trade deadline in 2016.

He can thank a more consistent jumper for that.

Derrick Rose: Who knows where things stood with the Bulls and Derrick Rose concerning his so-called reluctance to recruit free agents LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010.

But he cleared the air with reporters in the morning shootaround, claiming he did make a video to the top free agents at the time and that the Bulls made sure it got to James, Wade and Bosh.

“Like people always said I didn’t recruit. I tried to recruit. I put out a video but it wasn’t for me to say that,” Rose said. “I felt like the organization was supposed to say that and they didn’t. I put out a video for him [Wade], Chris Bosh and LeBron.”

“(The Bulls organization) they didn’t say anything about it. They sent it. I don’t know if they really actually looked at it or played the video, but I made a video. At the time it wasn’t for me to say that.”

One could say the belief Rose wouldn’t welcome James, Wade or Bosh, or some combination of the trio was a factor in some of the negative perceptions about Rose, even though he won MVP in 2011.

But the fact it took this long should give folks pause about how easy it is to take a negative viewpoint of Rose, who said he never spoke up for himself in the talk about him recruiting or not recruiting, “to see who had my back”.

Pause, indeed.

Wash this one away: Although the Cavaliers were as close to full strength as they’ll be until Isaiah Thomas gets back from his hip injury, take nothing from the 14-point spread as far as the Bulls being better than you think, or that they’ll be better than a bottom-feeder in the Eastern Conference.

Why?

Because they don’t wanna be. We’re one preseason game away from an 82-game march to the Porter-Bagler-Doncic sweepstakes.