Bulls hit midseason with underwhelming record; Jim Boylen points to progress

Bulls hit midseason with underwhelming record; Jim Boylen points to progress

BOSTON — Despite an underwhelming record, coach Jim Boylen pointed to progress as the Bulls officially hit the midway mark Monday night against the Celtics.

"I think some of the pillars of our system have been installed," Boylen said. "We have a style of play at both ends. We have refined our end-of-game, fourth-quarter plays and package. We have established practice habits and playing hard habits that have carried through September and October through the season. With Wendell [Carter Jr.] and Otto [Porter Jr.] out, we have had an opportunity to build depth. We’ve had to play different lineups and different people than maybe we envisioned when the season started. It’s difficult on the team. But it’s a positive for a young group.

"I’m concerned about our defensive rebounding and defending without fouling. Those have to get better. They’re important pieces for us. We’ve improved in both of them but it needs to be even better. The rebounding issue without Wendell is a concern. Our consistency at the offensive end, though it’s been better, can improve. And I think it will the more we play together. Most of that inconsistency has been with the second group, which has changed and makes it hard. I’m not discouraged. I’m kind of excited that we have established some things. Our shot profile is top-five in the league. Our defense on any given day is between 5 and 9, top-10 in the league. That’s what we’re building. And we’ll continue to work."

The Bulls entered Monday's game at 14-26 and now face life without Wendell Carter Jr. for four to six weeks as the second-year big man deals with a badly sprained right ankle. This will test a defense that surprisingly has hovered in the top-10 this season. This month, the Bulls' defensive rating ranks 24th.

"There’s a learning curve to the center position in our defense. Wendell has had, since September, probably 2,000 reps at our pick-and-roll coverages. Gaff [Daniel Gafford] is 20 and hasn’t had the reps in the defense. We expect him to improve," Boylen said. "Luke [Kornet] improved from Friday’s game to Saturday. Wendell is an elite defender with elite feet and understanding of how we want to play, especially for a 20-year-old guy. To say we’re going to replace him and be the same is unfair to the two young guys. It’s also a compliment to him and how good he really is."

Nevertheless, Boylen said it would take drastic failure for him to change the team's defensive system, pointing to establishing a style of play as a positive.

"I’m not going to make adjustments until I see max effort and max execution, and maybe it doesn’t work," he said. "We know how we want to play. That’s exciting for the franchise and the coaching staff. Our style of defense and ability to shrink gaps and bring two to the ball and shift to close I think has really improved. And it’s something I think we’re very good at. It’s a little different style than other teams but it fits our personnel and how we want to play. Offensively, our shot profile is excellent. We’d like to have less mid-clock, midrange 2s. We’d like to play at the rim and space it and shoot 3s, hopefully open 3s, from good decisions."

Boylen remains undaunted by the outside noise stemming from disappointment in the won-lost record.

"I coach by faith," he said. "We’re going to work on the things I think can help build this team and this franchise. Of course we want to win. We’re going to try to win every night. I’m not going to get caught up in the negativity of that. I’m not. I’m going to keep teaching and coaching."

At the morning shootaround, Boylen was even more emphatic.

"Do we play competitive basketball? We do. Do we play hard? We do. Do we practice hard? We do. Are we starting to make plays in our system that I think we can make? We [are]. Are we building depth? Injuries are very difficult on a team but they help you build depth," he said. "Luke Kornet is getting a great opportunity. Daniel Gafford is getting a great opportunity. That’s going to pay off for this team and for this franchise. I’m positive because the spirit of our group is really good."

Thad Young said the team needs to get better at finishing games.

"We know teams are going to make a run, but its being able to sustain or being able to cut those runs in half to where they’re not putting us on our heels for the rest of the game," the 13-year veteran said. "Obviously we came into the season with bigger and higher expectations and haven’t lived up to it so far. But there’s still time to try to make up some games and try to get some wins."

Young insisted the mood in the locker room is good.

"I think we’re still coming to work each and everyday. We still believe in what we’re doing," he said. "The mood, it’s not good when you’re losing. But we try to make the best out of situations and we try to keep coming each and every day and perfecting our craft and make sure we’re taking baby steps to get ourselves into position where we can do something.

"We’re still culture building. When you come into a franchise that hasn’t won very many games, the biggest thing is always development of younger guys to groom into winners and culture, building something that people want to come to. Building something that people believe in. I think we’re still in those stages. Those are the things that we have to continue to work on and continue to get better at."

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Bucks owner Marc Lasry received some sound advice from Michael Jordan


Bucks owner Marc Lasry received some sound advice from Michael Jordan

The Milwaukee Bucks, led by reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, are on quite a tear this year. Per NBA.com, the Bucks are No. 2 in the league offensive rating, No. 1 in defensive rating—and by the way, they are a full 2.7 points ahead of the second-best defense—and No. 1 by a very wide margin (5.1 points) in net rating. Any way you slice it, the 2019-20 Bucks have been one of the most dominant regular season teams in NBA history. So with all of that being said, it is no shock that Bucks owner Marc Lasry has lofty goals for his team, including matching the incredible 72-win season of the 1996 Bulls. 

According to a report from Eric Woodyard of ESPN, Lasry spoke with the leader of the '96 Bulls (guess who?) at Friday's Bucks-Charlotte Hornets matchup at AccorHotels Arena in France. Michael Jordan offered up some sound advice for Nasry, who told MJ that he wanted his 2019-20 Bucks to try to be like the '96 Bulls in becoming a part of the illustrious group of teams in NBA history to have won 70+ regular season games. All-time only two teams have won 70+ regular season NBA games, the MJ-Scottie Pippen led '96 Bulls and of course, the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, who went on to break the Bulls' record by winning 73 games. 

That memorable '16 Warriors season ultimately ended in heartbreak for the Dubs as they lost the NBA Finals in seven games to the LeBron James-Kyrie Irving-Kevin Love-led Cleveland Cavaliers. A prevailing thought was that the amount of energy the Warriors expended in going for the regular season record came back to haunt them in the playoffs, a similar sentiment shared by Jordan in his advice to Nasry. 

Look, my advice to you is don't focus on beating our record, focus on winning a championship.

-Michael Jordan's advice to Bucks owner Marc Lasry on how to handle this season

Nasry maintained that he wants the Bucks to "do everything," including winning 70+ games and collecting the second NBA title in franchise history. Milwaukee has 35 games left in the regular season and they don't look they have any intention of taking their foot off the gas anytime soon. Entering Wednesday morning, the Bucks are on a nine-game winning streak. Their latest win (on Tuesday night) came without Antetokounmpo playing, but guard Khris Middleton poured in a career-high 51 points in a game in which Milwaukee won by 20 and scored a whopping 151 points.

Head coach Mike Budenholzer has managed the Bucks minutes well enough to go all out and even try to break the Warriors' 73-win mark but as Jordan advised, NBA Championships should always be the primary focus. But Nasry is also aware of the place in NBA lore the 2019-20 Bucks would hold when we look back on it IF they can accomplish all of his lofty goals. As Nasry himself stated, "we're going to focus on beating your [the 1996 Bulls] record and winning a championship.' I think we should do everything, but that's me."

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Thaddeus Young takes on expanded role in Bulls’ offense

Thaddeus Young takes on expanded role in Bulls’ offense

With the NBA trade deadline coming up on February 6, there has been speculation around the league that Bulls forward Thaddeus Young could be headed to a title-contending team. Mostly because his first year in Chicago hasn’t gone the way anyone anticipated.

Young agreed to a three-year contract with the Bulls in the opening hours of free agency last summer and was expected to add veteran experience and dependable two-way production to one of the league’s youngest teams. But with Jim Boylen and his staff installing new offensive and defensive systems during training camp, Young found himself not fitting in as well as he envisioned during his discussions with the Bulls in the free agent process.

The 31-year-old forward is averaging the fewest minutes and points per game since his rookie year with Philadelphia in the 2007-08 season. There were reports last month that Young was unhappy with his role and might even seek out a trade if the situation didn’t change.

Young’s minutes have gradually increased since that time, and he’s now moved into the starting lineup because of injuries to Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford. He’s still not being used in post-ups as much as he was with the Pacers and Nets, but Young’s offensive role has grown in recent games. Young has played at least 29 minutes over the last three games, and he’s averaging 10.2 points per game over his last 10.

At times Young seems like an odd fit as a weak side spot-up 3-point shooter, but that’s often what is called for in the Bulls’ current offensive system.

The 13-year NBA veteran is at his best attacking the rim, shooting jump hooks off post-ups, or crashing the offensive boards for second shot opportunities. As seen in the video above, the Bulls even ran a post-up play for Young on their first possession against the Spurs on Monday night.

With Markkanen sidelined, and the Bulls currently only two games out of the final playoff spot in the East, it seems unlikely Young will be traded before next Thursday’s deadline. He’s finally getting a chance to provide some of the on-court production everyone expected when he signed with the Bulls last July.

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