Bulls

From arenas to bookstores, Derrick Rose still receives MVP chants in Chicago

From arenas to bookstores, Derrick Rose still receives MVP chants in Chicago

It’s been nearly four years since Derrick Rose donned a Bulls uniform. But among basketball fans throughout Chicago, there are few more beloved than the 31-year-old Englewood native. 

That reverence was on full display Thursday. As All-Star festivities begin to ramp up across the city, Rose hosted a book signing (for his 2019 release "I’ll Show You") at Barbara’s Bookstore on State Street. The turnout was immense:

That video is trimmed down to half of the original, for what it’s worth. Upon his arrival, chants and cheers ranging from ‘we love you, Pooh!’ to ‘MVP’ rang through the halls, a hullabaloo Rose cracked a smile through. Rose has been greeted by ‘MVP’ chants in Chicago before — both before and after his Bulls tenure — but never quite like this.

“Kind of surreal, especially in this environment,” Rose said of the reception. “In a bookstore, this is something I never thought about, especially coming from where I come from.”

Then, he went to work greeting the massive amount of fans in attendance — in apparel ranging from Chicago red, to Knicks azure, to Cavaliers maroon, to Minnesota neon green, to Pistons blue — and offering his autograph to each. In spite of protests from security that he was only to sign fans’ books, he even inked a jersey or two.

“I'm a man of the people, man. I get great energy, I won't shy away from being around people that I grew up with or just being around the city, and I think that's why you get this turnout the way it is where they feel something,” Rose said. “It's a vibe, it's something that they feel to come out and support me the way that they do.”

In some circles, people thought Rose might get a chance to participate in the All-Star game in his hometown. In his first season with the Pistons, Rose is shooting a career-high percentage from the field and his per-36 scoring average (24.9 points per game) bests even his 2011 MVP campaign. He finished fourth in the final fan voting returns.

But Rose said he wasn’t disappointed being left off the roster but admitted that making that appearance in Chicago would have been special. He originally planned to participate in the Skills Challenge as consolation but pulled out just over a week ago.

“I'm here just to show love. Even if I'm not playing, I'm still here, so it shows what it's about. I just want to feel the energy of the city,” Rose said. “It's been a while since we had an All-Star game here… So that's something that everybody's been fiending for, it's a buzz that's been going on the entire year. So I love it, I'm a Chicagoan.”

That much is true and will never change. Evidently, neither will the deep-rooted appreciation the city has for him.

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Which Bull owns the highest upside? Ask fans and media, the answer is clear

Which Bull owns the highest upside? Ask fans and media, the answer is clear

On March 10, Coby White turned back time.

“From North Carolina...” boomed throughout the United Center during starting lineup introductions. The rookie’s first NBA start raised memories of happier times, when those words preceded Michael Jordan’s introduction and thunderous applause followed. 

White’s 20 points, five rebounds and five assists brought plenty of applause during the Bulls’ home victory over the Cavaliers. His nine turnovers underscored the development the 20-year-old still needs. But, oh, the potential and promise.

The next night, the NBA shut down. 

Thanks to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, nobody knows when the league, and society, will try to achieve normalcy again. Whenever that begins, the Bulls’ roster will remain filled with players long on potential and promise, and short on impacting winning basketball.

That’s why we polled media members and fans for which Bull owns the highest upside on a roster that hasn’t exited the crawling stages of a full rebuild. Earning 57 percent of the vote in each, White proved the big winner, which seemed fitting since his record as a starter is 1-0.

At 26 percent, Zach LaVine finished second among the nearly 3,000 votes from fans. Lauri Markkanen registered at 10 percent and Wendell Carter Jr. at 7 percent.

Flip Markkanen for LaVine in regard to media voting. Amazingly, White and Carter drew the same percentage from a poll of nearly 30 reporters. But local and national reporters cited Markkanen for second place at 25 percent and LaVine for third place at 11 percent.

 

Here’s what Warriors Insider Monte Poole from NBC Sports Bay Area said when choosing White: “Two attributes. One, hunger. Two, fearlessness. He’s cut from ambitious cloth.” 

And indeed, White’s ability to produce huge scoring flurries — some, even on off nights until then — stood out as his biggest strength until his consistent late-season tear. Consider: White produced eight 20-point games, including three over 30 points, in his final nine games after registering seven in his first 56.

In that nine-game stretch, White averaged 26.1 points, 4.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 48.3 percent, including 43.2 percent from 3-point range (nine attempts per game). 

“His age, potential as a scorer in this league and versatility — he’s 6-foot-4 and plays both guard positions and some small ball — give him a chance to be a really good player,” wrote NBC Sports Boston's Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely.

Steve Popper, who covers the Knicks and the NBA for Newsday, covered the game in Chicago when White became the first rookie (and Bulls player) in league history to sink seven 3-pointers in a quarter. That White did so in the fourth quarter of a victory made it all the more memorable. 

“It was just 11 games into his NBA career when he torched the Knicks for 27 points, hitting seven 3-point field goals. Did I mention that all seven 3-pointers were in the fourth quarter, spurring a 22-0 Bulls run?” Popper wrote. “After that game and when he scored 22 against them later in the season, players and coaches talked about how hard he was to stop — and that he's 19 years old.” 

White turned 20 in February. But his future seems bright. 

Despite an injury-riddled and underwhelming third season, Markkanen finished second in media voting. 

“I’m still a believer,” wrote Fred Katz, who covers the Wizards for The Athletic. “Yes, he was ice cold to start the year and bounced in and out of his comfort zone throughout. But he was still a highly efficient scorer from December on. A 22-year-old with that size who can score in a multitude of ways is going to top my list.” 

That’s the thing: Markkanen remains a 7-foot matchup nightmare at his best. Unfortunately, between injuries and usage, Markkanen didn’t reach his best as often in his third season as he did in his second. 

Getting Markkanen back on track is essential to the Bulls’ rebuild getting off the ground. When the league shut down, Markkanen owned career-low scoring (14.7 points) and rebounding (6.3) averages, and was shooting a career-low 42.5 percent.

“Maybe I'm a sucker for ‘potential,’ which has burdened a lot of young players, and cost plenty of coaches and general managers their jobs. But through his first two seasons, Markkanen seemed to be on his way to a 20-10 player perfect for the modern NBA, based on his skills and being tougher than he looks,” wrote NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner, a longtime league observer. “Often, a player’s third season in the league is when he takes a big step up — or not — to tell us what he is. But in Markkanen’s case, his and the Bulls’ dysfunction conspired against him. I’m cutting him slack on 2019-20 and anticipating his breakthrough in 2020-21 (or whenever next season gets played).”

LaVine fared better among fan voting than media voting, but those who did vote for the Bulls’ leading scorer did so forcefully. 

“There’s no player in the NBA I’d rather see on a winning team,” wrote NBC Sports Bay Area’s Kerith Burke. “Environment is everything.” 

This point actually strikes to the crux of the LaVine debate. Is he miscast as a No. option? Is he an improving player who deserves better and would fit in on any winning team? Or is he an empty-stats stuffer whose advanced metrics don’t impact winning? 

“He was an All-Star in my mind this year,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher, another longtime league observer. “He's an electric inside-outside scorer and he's improving as a defender. He wants the ball with the game on the line. Considering he has played for five coaches in his six seasons, and still has grown as a player and developed into a quiet leader is remarkable.” 

Bucher cited Carter as his runner-up. But ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell placed the young big man first. 

“He can become a force defensively and he still has the ability to grow into a nice offensive player,” Friedell wrote. “He just has to be confident enough to shoot consistently again. The coaching staff — whomever that may be to start next season — has to help instill that confidence inside of him." 

The wide range of responses points to perhaps the biggest issue regarding the rebuild, as Los Angeles Times NBA writer Dan Woike elucidated.

“This is a fascinating question because, to me, it underscores the Bulls’ biggest problem. Of the young players they've amassed, there isn't a clear favorite to break out,” he wrote. “I think what we saw from Coby White in his last nine games puts him to the top of the list for me. He's dynamic, aggressive, and so far, durable. His speed is a difference-making quality, and while I still think Lauri has a chance to be really good, I'm just not sure what he does that makes him different.”

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Bulls questions: What happened to Lauri Markkanen? Can he re-find his form?

Bulls questions: What happened to Lauri Markkanen? Can he re-find his form?

Two times per week, we'll be breaking down a pertinent Bulls question for you all to chew in during the NBA's hiatus.

Past installments: What is Zach LaVine's ceiling? | Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year? | Evaluating last offseason's additions, how they fit long-term

If the NBA never resolves its regular season, that will be just fine with a large swath of the Bulls’ fanbase. With a 22-43 record through 65 games, and just two of those wins coming against teams above-.500, this team’s fate was all but sealed before the COVID-19 pandemic ground the NBA's schedule to a halt.

But there were reasons to invest in the stretch run — among them, the hope of a small reclamation for Lauri Markkanen, whose third season began with unbridled optimism, but was littered with disappointment.

That initial optimism wasn’t misguided. In Markkanen’s second year, he averaged 18.7 points and nine rebounds per game, bumped his workload on steady efficiency from his rookie campaign and amassed a month of February for the ages, posting averages of 26 points and 12 rebounds on rising-star-level volume (36.3 minutes, 18.1 field goal attempts, 26.9% usage). All of that packed into an agile, sharp-shooting, 7-foot frame, and he looked like a budding face of the franchise.

Then, year three happened, and with it, regression across the board. With 50 games under his belt (he appeared in 52 in 2018-19), Markkanen is averaging career lows in points (14.7), rebounds (6.3) and field goal attempts (11.8), as well as shooting career-worst marks from the field (42.5%) and 3-point range (34.4%). As of this writing, he’s averaging just 0.1 minutes more than his rookie season, and 2 ½ less than his sophomore campaign.

The high-point was 35-point, 17-rebound, 17-for-25 shooting performance in Charlotte on opening night, but after that, Markkanen never eclipsed 19 field goal attempts in a game again (he had 10 such games in 2018-19). His best extended stretch of play came in December, when he averaged 17.6 points on 50.8% shooting (41.6% from deep) in 14 games the Bulls finished 7-7. In his other 36 contests, he averaged 13.6 points on 38.9% shooting (31% from deep).

You get the picture. But none of that changes the fact that the Bulls will (eventually) enter this offseason and the 2021 season reliant on Markkanen to re-discover his second-year form and the potential that leapt off the screen in it. Crucial to that happening is understanding why his third season played out the way it did. 

The answer to that question is a complex one, a perfect storm of adversity. 

Injuries undoubtedly played some part. Rumors of a nagging oblique ailment colored Markkanen’s early-season shooting struggles. A badly sprained ankle hampered him throughout January. He missed nearly six weeks from Jan. 22 to March 4 with an early stress reaction in his right pelvis. In four games returned from that injury, Markkanen averaged 11.8 points and 3.8 boards on ever-increasing minutes restrictions before the novel coronavirus cut that spell short.

Coaching was a factor, too. The Bulls’ freshly-minted offensive system yielded the league’s 29th-rated team offense, but Markkanen’s production was its greatest individual casualty. His catch-and-shoot and spot-up diets increased, his drives and possessions as the roll/pop-man in the pick-and-roll decreased and his efficiency tanked across the board. A player at his best on the move spent too many games at a standstill. Further, uneven usage and playing time resulted in Markkanen’s role in the offense waxing and waning drastically game-to-game (he only posted consecutive 20-point outings once), — sometimes half-to-half

What’s more, late-season comments (e.g. when he said proving that he “can be aggressive and get to do multiple things and not be a spot-up shooter” as a goal for the stretch run after his first game back from the pelvis injury) pointed to friction between Markkanen’s desires and the Bulls’ schemes.

But, of course, a share of the blame falls on Markkanen. Bulls coach Jim Boylen likes to talk about controlling the controllables — for Markkanen, he often cited crashing the glass as a means to assuage his offensive woes. But according to Cleaning the Glass’ metrics, Markkanen’s defensive rebounding rate sank from being in the 83rd percentile for his position in his sophomore season, to 41st in this one. His on-ball defense didn’t take a step forward, he struggled to attack mismatches on the offensive end and, while there is a responsibility for coaches and players to get their stars involved in the flow of the game, Markkanen can and should grab the reins more than he did this year.

Again: A perfect storm. A nicked up, third-year player with a deferential, team-first temperament regresses while attempting to adjust to a new offensive system not directly catered to his strengths. In retrospect, it’s not so unbelievable.

Still, the solution must come quickly, for Markkanen’s sake and the Bulls’. Entering the offseason, this rebuild is as fraught as ever, changes are reportedly coming to the team’s front office and Markkanen is extension-eligible come July (though that date could change in the post-coronavirus cap environment we inhabit). Markkanen’s side will want a big-money, long-term commitment from the Bulls in line with the cornerstone distinction bestowed upon him, but he hasn’t played up to that standard on a consistent basis. From an optics perspective, a staring match benefits no one.

Bottom line: Lauri Markkanen is not the player he was this season. He’s not the player he was in Feb. 2019 either. The true Markkanen lies somewhere in the middle, and whenever the Bulls resume operations, finding his place on that spectrum is perhaps the most important issue facing the team.

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