Bulls

3 observations: Bulls-Nets

3 observations: Bulls-Nets

The Bulls fell to the Brooklyn Nets 117-111 at the United Center on Saturday night. Here are three observations from the tough loss:

The Bulls finally play a bit of "big boy basketball"

Bulls color commentator Stacey King loves to refer to physical plays on the court as "big boy basketball", and the Bulls definitely played big boy basketball on Saturday night despite the final score. The Bulls outrebounded the Nets 56-40, and this included an impressive +12 margin on the offensive glass. But that wasn't where the Bulls' physicality stopped in this one. 

With the perimeter shots not falling, the Bulls finally committed to driving hard to the basket, racking up a whopping 41 free throws, including 12 from Zach LaVine alone.

Despite all the offensive boards, the Bulls ended up getting destroyed in the points in the paint category, and this why we added the caveat "a bit" of big boy basketball. The Bulls were outscored by 20 in points in the paint and a big part of it was this system, which appears to have the Bulls big men kicking the ball out to the perimeter, regardless of how many defenders are actually in front of them in the paint. 

The Bulls' newfound love of the 3-point shot is great, though a few years late to the party, it definitely makes sense for the Bulls to play this very modern and aggressive style. But when that "modern and aggressive style" forces your bigs to become tentative on offense, bad things can happen.

And being outscored by 20 in paint points while having a +12 advantage in offensive boards definitely qualifies as a bad thing.

Wendell Carter continues to show growth

This one might as well be a permanent observation, as Carter impresses every time he steps on the court or speaks to the struggles of this team. Carter collected another double-double, notching 18 points ad 14 rebounds. And the most encouraging thing from Carter's scoring output was that 8 of his 18 points were from a season-high 8 trips to the free throw line.

It would be great if we could see Carter empowered a little bit more from the elbows and in the post, as his passing prowess isn't shown off often, but tonight's two assists were a small window into what he can do as a passer. 

Carter shooting 3-pointers — which was very much a reality during his time at Duke — seems like a decades-old memory, and whether by choice or the coaches' system, he is not taking them. But his offense has taken a big step forward this season because so far, he is converting over 60% of his baskets after shooting 48.5% from the field last year. 

If the Bulls start to empower Carter a bit more, giving him offensive possessions to use — and maybe even a spot on the "Leadership Committee" — then we could see things turn around for this team sooner than later. 

Zach LaVine puts up a big-time scoring effort

The Bulls accomplished a few great things offensively and pretty much all of those great things were a result of Zach LaVine going supernova.

LaVine scored 23 of his 36 points in the second half, including going 9-for-10 from the charity stripe down the stretch. LaVine shot 45.8% from the field and despite having 1 assist and 3 turnovers, his decision making was solid throughout.

He did not collect a steal for the first time in six games and his 3-point shooting left a bit to be desired (3-for-10) but overall it was a great performance from LaVine, who finally put together the type of explosive scoring performance that Bulls Nation was expecting from him at the start of the 2019-20 season.

Bulls defense shows a collapse of epic proportions

The Bulls defense was OK in spurts but if we are going to be absolutely honest, the wheels fell off hard in this one.

In certain possessions, especially late in the game against Spencer Dinwiddie, the Bulls went to switching the pick-and-roll rather than their normal semi-trapping system. This did not work extremely well, as Dinwiddie — who has never been known as a high-volume free throw guy — ended up getting 15 free throw attempts knocking down 14 of them. 

And on top of Dinwiddie, the Bulls allowed six different Nets players to score in double figures, and this was on a night where Kyrie Irving's absence was supposed to make it very possible to shut Brooklyn down.

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Kobe Bryant idolized Michael Jordan, and thus always respected the Bulls

Kobe Bryant idolized Michael Jordan, and thus always respected the Bulls

Kobe Bryant had two dalliances with the Bulls.

In July 2004, a Lakers’ three-peat ran its course with back-to-back playoff exits, including a 2004 Finals loss. Phil Jackson left as coach. The Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal relationship no longer functioned on or off the court.

One year after succeeding Jerry Krause as the Bulls’ top basketball executive, John Paxson flew to Newport Beach, Calif., with Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to pitch Bryant in free agency. Bryant liked what he heard.

In the pre-social media age, Bryant liked even more that the Bulls kept their pursuit quiet. A full week passed before any media outlet reported the meeting.

“We were looking at houses, we were looking at schools,” Bryant told the Chicago Tribune in December 2004. “We already were talking about a sign-and-trade.”

Even if O’Neal hadn’t requested a trade that landed him with the Heat, there’s no guarantee the Bulls would’ve acquired Bryant. The Clippers pursued him as well.

As it was, Bryant re-signed with the Lakers and eventually won two more championships. But those came after Bryant made noise about wanting a trade during the 2007 offseason and again expressed interest in the Bulls’ nucleus.

Reports of the Bulls refusing to part with Luol Deng were greatly exaggerated. For starters, Bryant wanted to end up with the Bulls only if Deng played for them. Furthermore, the Lakers engaged in non-serious trade talks mainly to appease Bryant, who eventually calmed.

Both those scenarios came to mind with Sunday’s heartbreaking news that Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter accident near Los Angeles. One of his four daughters was killed as well.

“The Chicago Bulls organization is terribly saddened about the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the other passengers in today’s horrific helicopter crash in California,” Paxson said in a statement. “While he leaves us far too soon, his legacy and persona will forever be remembered. One of the best to have ever played the game of basketball, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Bryant family and the other families affected.”

The Bulls never acquired Bryant, but the mutual respect between them always stood out. Beyond Bryant’s appreciation for Paxson and Reinsdorf’s 2004 pitch, this was guaranteed because the Bulls once employed Michael Jordan.

Bryant never hid his desire to 'Be Like Mike.' He walked like him, talked like him, won one fewer championship than him and relished having his cutthroat competitiveness compared to his idol’s.

That’s why, on his final visit to the United Center, Bryant spoke so eloquently about the influence Jordan had on him. And why, if he had ever become a Bull, the honor would have been his.

“No words can really do it justice,” Bryant said on Feb. 21, 2016. “As a kid growing up in Italy, all I had was video. And so I studied everything. I studied every player. And then once I came back to the States and I realized I wasn’t going to be 6-9, I started studying Michael exclusively. And then when I came into the league and matched up against him, I found that he was extremely open to having a relationship, a mentoring relationship. He gave me a great amount of advice in an amazing amount of detail — strategies, workout regimens, things like that.

“Seriously, I don’t think people really understand the amount of impact he has had on me as a player and as a leader. So if I was fortunate to come here, if that trade had happened, it’s not a pressure situation to live up to what he has done. It’s more can I carry on the man’s legacy? Can I do it justice? Can I represent Chicago the way it should be represented in his honor?”

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Michael Jordan makes statement on passing of Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan makes statement on passing of Kobe Bryant

The world is mourning the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, who perished in a helicopter accident Sunday that also took the lives of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people.

Bulls legend Michael Jordan made a statement on the news. From Estee Portnoy, Jordan's manager/spokeswoman:

I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe's and Gianna's passing. Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply — and took great pride in his daughter's love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.

Bryant is survived by his wife, Vanessa, with whom he had four daughters. He was 41 years old. 

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