3 things to look for: Bulls-Nets

3 things to look for: Bulls-Nets

Saturday's Bulls-Nets matchup is a game between two teams looking to get out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference. After a big offseason of change for both squads, neither expected to be coming into tonight with sub-.500 records. There is plenty of intrigue in this matchup, as this will mark the first time Bulls assistant coach Chris Fleming gets to faceoff against his former team. Here are three things to look for in tonight's Bulls-Nets matchup:

Can the Bulls take advantage of the Kyrie-less Nets?

The Bulls have had some solid luck in terms of matchups early in the season, avoiding several stars but still being unable to take advantage.

The Nets will be without superstar point guard Kyrie Irving on Saturday night, opening the door for the Bulls to pick up a much-needed win. Brooklyn's offensive rating is a whopping 10.4 points per possession worse when Irving is off the floor.

This team is still explosive on offense and capable of putting up points in a hurry because just like the Bulls, they "coach to the math."

Even without Irving, the Bulls will need to keep the Nets guards at bay, primarily Spencer Dinwiddie, who is averaging 17.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. And in the case of Dinwiddie specifically, he may have a little extra motivation on Saturday night...

Spencer Dinwiddie "Revenge Game"?

When you think of "revenge game" possibilities against the Bulls, Spencer Dinwiddie is probably not the first name that comes to mind, but indeed, Dinwiddie played for the Bulls G League affiliate (Windy City Bulls) in the 2016-17 season.

Dinwiddie averaged 19.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 8.1 assists per game over 9 games with Windy City, the Brooklyn Nets called him up to the NBA (as he was not a two-way contract player with the Bulls) and the rest is history. What is intriguing about the whole situation is that the Bulls were quite point guard-needy at the time, deciding to go with Jerian Grant, Cam Payne, and Isaiah Canaan as their backups to then starter Rajon Rondo. He may not think about it often but Dinwiddie definitely remembers that while having the closest possible look at him with their G League team, the Bulls went on and let another team pick him up.

The Nets' belief in Dinwiddie has paid off tremendously. He is not the most explosive finisher by any means but he has the craft and guile to pull off a variety of impressive scoop shots, and he understands how and when to change speeds in order to put pressure on the defense.

At this point in the season, he is still mired in a shooting slump, hitting a paltry 29.3% of his 3-point shots. If the Bulls don't want to be the team that helps Dinwiddie break out his shooting slump, then they will need to be diligent in their perimeter closeouts.

The ultimate matchup of defense-first vs. offense-first philosophies 

The Bulls brought in assistant coaches Roy Rogers and Chris Fleming to help Jim Boylen run a more effective system in 2019-20 and so far the results have been encouraging, if not wholly successful, depending on who you talk to. The Bulls are indeed getting up more 3-point shots, taking dramatically fewer midrange shots, and avoiding post-ups, but they are still 28th in the league in offensive rating. Make no mistake though, Jim Boylen is and always will be a defense-first coach and thusly is pleased with the Bulls 14th-ranked defense (106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Chicago's defense has been elite at forcing the opposition into mistakes. They lead the league in opponent's turnovers, forcing the opposition into a whopping 19.6 turnovers per game.

Their aggressive style of play has gotten them into trouble sometimes, like when Wendell Carter Jr. fouled out in 20 minutes in Thursday's loss to the Bucks. The fact that the Bulls managed to keep things tight down the stretch without Carter in Milwaukee was impressive but not something they want to make a habit of.

Daniel Gafford doesn't appear to be any closer to getting real rotation minutes, so Carter's defense, as the lone Bulls big man capable of proving solid rim protection and switch defense, holding up against the Nets attack will have a lot to do with his ability to stay on the floor.

The Bulls defensive rotations on the perimeter will be just as, if not more important against a Nets team that comes into Saturday night shooting 39.5% on 20.3 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game. Brooklyn is scoring 108.5 points per 100 possessions, good for the 10th best offensive rating in the league.

Boylen will need Carter to effectively quarterback the Bulls' trap-heavy system that, in the absence of Kyrie Irving—who had 17 points, 9 assists, and no turnovers against the Nuggets on Thursday—will look to get the ball out of the hands of Spencer Dinwiddie early and often. If the Bulls play defense like they have all season, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to comfortably take down a Nets team that is  25th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 111.0 points per 100 possessions.

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How former Bull C.J. Watson is working to inspire children through books

How former Bull C.J. Watson is working to inspire children through books

C.J. Watson carved out a 10-year NBA career with not just talent but also an ability to overcome odds and tune out doubters.

So whenever the former Bulls guard encountered skepticism for his latest dream, he’d answer every "Why” with a "Why not?”

That dream? To create children's books. Watson, 36, has now published two titles: "CJ’s Big Dream" and "CJ’s Big Project." The first came out last November, the second in March.

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“It was just a random idea I had to challenge myself and try to push myself,” Watson said in a phone conversation. “I want to try to continue to be an inspiration. Playing in the NBA is an inspiration to kids. But I wanted to continue to offer kids knowledge and tell my story through books.

“Kids are the next generation of leaders. They’re the next entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers. Some kid will grow up to be President. I just wanted to try to share some gems and drops of knowledge. I want to try to propel little boys and girls and let them know it’s OK to shoot for their dreams and to dream big.”

The books were written by author Tamika Newhouse and illustrated by Cameron Wilson based on stories shared by Watson. Watson spent hours on the phone over a six-month period with Newhouse, sharing his stories and his vision for the project, which is scheduled to include at least one more title.

They are based on Watson’s upbringing in Las Vegas, where he first experienced doubts for his NBA dream.

“These are true stories,” Watson said. “I made it to the NBA after growing up in the inner city and not having the same resources or same chances as some. Growing up, seeing graffiti, abandoned houses, drugs, gangs, it can be discouraging. But I had a great support system that kept me focused on my goal.”

The second book focuses on the time Watson received an F on a science project in school. But the teacher offered him a chance to re-do it, which taught him a valuable lesson.

“The second book talks about working hard and the importance of getting good grades to be able to play sports,” he said. “That was the important thing in my household. If we didn’t have good grades, my brother and I couldn’t play sports.”

Watson is the father of two children with one on the way. His parents, Cathy and Charles, stressed education and reading as they raised him and his brother. He majored in psychology at Tennessee, which is in his parents’ hometown of Nashville, Tenn.

“My parents came from an area more poverty-stricken than I did,” Watson said. “You always want better for your kid, right? We might not have lived in the best area, but they always put my brother and me in the best schools to give us the best chance to succeed.

“They also were big on me and my brother doing community service. We’d go feed the homeless. We’d go visit nursing homes to care for the elderly. When I was younger, I always said if I made it that I wanted to give back.”

Watson and his family established his Quiet Storm Foundation in 2009. That foundation established an active presence in Chicago during his two seasons with the Bulls.

Watson is eight years removed from that stint, where he played an important role for a reserve unit so potent that it achieved its own nickname. “The Bench Mob” proved a significant reason the Bulls led the NBA in regular-season victories in consecutive seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

“It was definitely fun. It goes by fast. Chicago was probably some of the best years I had in the NBA,” Watson said. “We could’ve achieved more. We weren’t picked to do much that first year and surprised everybody. Then that second year, D-Rose got hurt.

“I felt like they should’ve kept the team together maybe a couple more years to try to see what could’ve happened. But it’s a business at the end of the day.”

Watson isn’t surprised Rose, who he backed up, is thriving again after a series of knee injuries, surgeries and rehabilitations.

“Definitely a great teammate, probably one of my favorites,” Watson said. “Injuries take a toll on you. He was held up to the MVP standard and some people judged him unfairly. But he has worked so hard. I’m definitely rooting for him and I’m always watching.”

Watson played for Charles Oakley’s team in the Big3 last summer, a 3-on-3 pro league that was canceled this summer because of COVID-19. He isn’t sure if he’ll play again if the league resumes next summer.

“It was fun. But it’s a different league. It’s pretty brutal. They don’t call any fouls. It’s kind of an old man’s game,” Watson said. “My body may have had enough.”

No matter his decision, Watson’s mind remains sharp.

“These books definitely are not a money maker. It’s a passion project,” Watson said. “Unless you’re a big-time children’s author, you probably won’t make a living at this. But I just did it to inspire kids and challenge myself. It’s kind of like the NBA. I never thought I’d make the NBA.  But lo and behold, I worked hard enough and got there.”


Windy City Bulls standout PJ Dozier secures multi-year deal with Nuggets

Windy City Bulls standout PJ Dozier secures multi-year deal with Nuggets

Since going unselected in the 2017 NBA Draft, PJ Dozier has had his fair share of stops, from brief stints signed to the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, to successive one-year pacts with the Oklahoma City Thunder (2017-18) and Boston Celtics (2018-19). He spent most of the latter two tenures in the G League.

Dozier began the 2019-20 season signed to the Denver Nuggets on a two-way deal, but assigned to the Windy City Bulls, the Bulls' G League affiliate, along with 2019 second-round draftee of the Nuggets Bol Bol. 

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On Tuesday, the Nuggets officially announced they are converting Dozier's two-way deal into a multi-year contract with the team.

It's great news for Dozier, who enjoyed a dominating campaign for Windy City. In 18 games with the team, he averaged 21.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.7 steals on 43.8-32.6-74.1 shooting splits. A 6-foot-6 playmaking wing, Dozier flashed plus ball-handling, scoring and facilitating ability at a position of supreme value in the modern game.

He parlayed all of the above into a midseason All-NBA G League selection, but was recently left off the end-of-season all-league teams, presumably due to a limited sample size. He was called up to the Nuggets in mid-January and made an immediate impact, scoring 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting (2-for-4 from 3) in his debut, a win over the Charlotte Hornets. He reset his NBA career high one week later with a 15-point outing against the Houston Rockets.

In the run-up to the NBA pausing its season, Dozier appeared in 21 of 26 games for the Nuggets, averaging 4.1 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. He'd appeared in just eight career NBA games before that stretch. 

How much of an imprint will he make on the Nuggets' rotation when the NBA season restarts? It's too soon to say. But it seems the longtime G League standout's breakthrough at the next level could be coming.