Bulls

The Bulls make one aspect of rebuild clear: They’re constructing the roster around the face of the franchise in Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls make one aspect of rebuild clear: They’re constructing the roster around the face of the franchise in Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls had a decision to make Thursday night at No. 7.

Staring them in the face was Michael Porter Jr., undoubtedly the biggest risk in the draft but also one of the most talented, and a fan favorite to boot. Both Villanova’s Mikal Bridges and Kentucky’s Kevin Knox presented options who would fill needs on the wing for a Bulls team desperate for a perimeter threat. The team was also reportedly interested in Alabama point guard Collin Sexton during the pre-draft process, and the potential to trade up for a Luka Doncic or Mo Bamba at 3 or 4 was on the table.

Instead the Bulls opted against going high upside, high risk. They passed on filling one of their glaring needs. They didn’t mortgage future assets to move up in a draft they felt was already deep enough. What the Bulls did on Thursday night in selecting Duke center Wendell Carter was make clear one aspect of their rebuild: Lauri Markkanen is the face of the franchise and the man they’re constructing this roster around.

Everything that makes the 19-year-old Carter a great prospect is what detractors felt might hold Markkanen back at the next level. Carter was built to thrive in the paint, an energetic center who posted a better offensive rebounding rate (the percentage of rebounds a player grabs while on the floor) than Texas’ Mo Bamba and his 7-foot-10 wingspan. Carter was one of the best players in the country at scoring off those offensive rebounds, and he did all this while playing alongside Marvin Bagley, the No. 2 pick to Sacramento and the ACC’s leading rebounder.

But Carter is more than just a young Tristan Thompson. Though he rarely had to use it on a Duke team littered with perimeter threats, Carter showed a solid touch in making 41 percent of his 46 3-point attempts. He looks comfortable at 15 to 17 feet, and he passed well from those areas, too. That shooting will come as an added bonus; Carter was the anchor a Duke defense that transformed to zone midway through the season, and the Blue Devils defense was nearly 6 points per 100 possessions better with Carter on the floor.

It's not surprising that the Bulls were reportedly interested in moving up with centers Jaren Jackson and Bamba on the table, more defensive-minded complements to Markkanen, and not Doncic or Porter. It felt as though the Bulls were drafting at 7 not only to grab the best player available, but to maximize Markkanen's potential.

What Carter will be asked to do, at least in the early going with this roster’s makeup – is much of what he was asked to do at Duke. He played second fiddle in the frontcourt to Bagley, who led the Blue Devils in all major offensive categories and won ACC Player of the Year. Carter posted modest 13.5-point and 9.0-rebound averages while doing the dirty work on defense. His 7.6 percent block rate (percentage of shot attempts he blocked while on the court) was impressive considering how often Duke played zone.

“The young man sacrificed a lot in order to be a good teammate. A lot of it speaks to who he is,” Gar Forman said. “We think in really studying his game is, if you look long-term, is a guy that can fit with Lauri and obviously Lauri is a huge part of what we’re trying to build here."

The Bulls are rolling the dice that Markkanen can be the face of franchise. A year ago LaVine was far and away the core piece of the Jimmy Butler trade, and that was while he was rehabbing from ACL surgery. Markkanen was a question mark and a project, and Kris Dunn was a 23-year-old rookie who posted awful numbers in Minnesota. Questions about LaVine's future in Chicago with restricted free agency this summer now linger, and Dunn is going on 24 years old with 50 career starts.

It's Markkanen's spotlight, and the Bulls know it. He showed he was for real as a rookie; he was not, however, Donovan Mitchell or Ben Simmons, a can't-miss, sure-fire star. Yes, he joined LeBron James and Dario Saric as the only members of the 1,000-point, 500-rebound, 140-3-pointer club last year. He put up shooting numbers for a 7-footer matched only by Hall of Fame center Dirk Nowitzki. Questions persist on whether he can make a leap to stardom, but adding pieces like Carter to complement him and cover some weaknesses are a step in that direction.

"You hope you draft players that become stars," Paxson said. "We believe that last year, in drafting Lauri, he has that potential. He has a long way to go, but we believe he has that potential."

That could be part of the reason the Bulls opted against moving up in the draft, like Dallas did in dealing No. 5 and a future first-round pick to grab Luka Doncic at No. 3. Paxson and Forman both hinted at the Bulls being in a state of the rebuild where giving up future assets to attain something greater didn't provide a positive net worth. They're happy and comfortable with where they stand at this stage in the rebuild, with Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and an enormous amount of cap space.

Now they can add Carter and No. 22 pick Chandler Hutchison to that list. The 6-foot-7 Boise State forward was yet another complementary piece to the roster. Like Carter, Hutchison projects as a high floor, low(er) ceiling player. Hutchinson is a four-year senior compared to Carter being a year removed from high school, but the two are similar. Hutchison will provide a physical presence on the wing the Bulls have lacked, and he can cover defensive weaknesses of players like Denzel Valentine, LaVine and even Markkanen.

"We feel these two players complement the team and the roster that we have very well," Paxson said. "One year later we feel like we’ve added five really good young core pieces to build and that's important to us. We’re excited about the future, the direction we’re headed."

The Bulls didn’t need to roll the dice with their 7th pick on Thursday night. They rolled the dice with the same selection one year ago and hit on it. Taking Carter midway through the Lottery is a complement and a compliment to what the Bulls believe Markkanen is and what he will be for a franchise looking to get back in contention.

It's a lot to ask for a 21-year-old Finnish stretch forward. But superstars win in the NBA and the Bulls believe they have one budding at the power forward position. Thursday's decision to play it safe and draft a complementary piece in Carter, one who played a role in college he'll be asked to play in Chicago, only cements that belief.

Another big loss wears on Bulls’ Zach LaVine: 'It doesn’t make a lot of sense'

Another big loss wears on Bulls’ Zach LaVine: 'It doesn’t make a lot of sense'

The Bulls were obviously fighting an uphill battle from the start in Saturday night’s game against the Miami Heat, being without center Wendell Carter Jr. and having lost 9-straight games coming into the matchup. But things went from bad to worse as the Bulls had yet another second half collapse that led to a double-digit loss, and some reasonable frustration from guard Zach LaVine.

After heading into the half up by 2 points, Chicago completely fell apart at the start of the third quarter, in which they were outscored 28-19. The Bulls got to the free throw line seven times in the third--a rare occurrence for them--but could not close the gap due to an absolutely dreadful 29.4 percent shooting from the field.

In the second half, the Heat went 10/17 from the 3-point line, raining down triples on the scrambling Bulls defense.

Some of the Heat’s 3-point makes throughout the game were extremely difficult. Like the play where Lauri Markkanen played great defense, only to be thwarted by better shot-making from Dwyane Wade.


Others were completely inexcusable, where the Bulls got sucked into the paint too deep on Miami drives, leading to wide-open shots with poor closeout efforts.

And while the Bulls defense initially had some renewed energy under Boylen, it now ranks 26th in the league in efficiency since he took over on December 4th. The offensive woes are well-documented, but if the Bulls aren’t putting up a fight on D, there isn’t much to keep them in games.

And that is why Zach LaVine’s statements from Saturday hold so much weight.

“Something is obviously wrong. We weren’t losing by double digits earlier in the season.”

It is not the fact that his quote could be looked at as coaching criticism that makes it interesting. It is the fact the numbers back up his claim completely.

The Bulls have not been meaningfully better in any way since having their full complement of players back, and that is concerning.

While Boylen is a defense-first coach, he obviously has some input on the offense.

The Bulls have taken 23.6 3-point shots per game under Boylen. In 24 games under Fred Hoiberg, Chicago was shooting 29.3 3-point shots per game. That precipitous drop in 3-point attempts is simply nothing short of bewildering when you consider that Boylen has had Markkanen under his tutelage during his entire stint.

The Bulls may be tougher in terms of collecting paint points on most nights, but they have actually shot 3.3 less free throws per game under Boylen as well.

And on night’s like Saturday where the Bulls actually held an advantage at the free throw line--21/26 for the Bulls compared to 14/23 for the Heat--unimaginative offense made it impossible to hold on to what was once a 9-point Bulls lead.

Lauri Markkanen ended the first quarter shooting 4/7 from the field but finished the game 7/19 from the field. Kris Dunn finished 3/14 from the field, but more important is the fact the he only took one 3-pointer. He is shooting a career-high in terms of 3-point percentage but has regressed in terms of how much opposing defenses respect his perimeter shot.

Dunn is not a great threat on the perimeter, but ignoring that part of his game completely is unlikely to help Dunn or the Bulls offense in the long-term.

And Jabari Parker--who finished with his fourth-straight game of double-digit scoring on 50 percent or better shooting--still received less than 20 minutes of playing time. Interestingly enough, Parker received less than two minutes of playing time in the third quarter, where the Bulls offense fizzled out completely, going 5/17 from the field.

Obviously, not all of the Bulls issues are directly attributable to Boylen. But many are. And in a season of development and many changes, evaluating Boylen is just as important as evaluating the roster.

Since Boylen took over, the Bulls are 5-17 and one of two teams averaging less than 100 PPG in that span.    

Coming into this season, Bulls fans were prepared for losses but also prepared to gush over the meshing of the talents of LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen.

But so far, the three core players received in the Jimmy Butler trade have been underwhelming as a group, without much as of late to indicate that they are getting more comfortable on the floor together.

So LaVine is correct when he says something is obviously wrong, even if he can’t quite pinpoint the root of the issues.

“I don’t know. We’re a better team now and we’re getting blown out. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Something has to change for the Bulls. Because as the season wears on, it becomes more and more clear that plopping a top 5 draft selection in this lineup is unlikely to be some all-healing salve. Stability within an NBA organization is built through a great relationship between the front office and head coach, and a clear and effective playing style that maximizes the talents of your roster. The Bulls seem to have the former but it will be tough to stay in games against any level of competition until they get a better grasp on the latter.

All stats used via NBA.com

Dwyane Wade’s Chicago basketball dreams come full-circle in Saturday farewell

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USA TODAY

Dwyane Wade’s Chicago basketball dreams come full-circle in Saturday farewell

It’s impossible to tell Dwyane Wade’s basketball story without including Chicago.

Though the 12-time All-Star, three-time NBA champion created a legacy in Miami, his hometown and the first organization he ever cheered for has been intertwined in that story from Day 1. From his early beginnings as child growing up in Chicago to Saturday’s farewell tour stopping at the United Center, Wade’s hometown has played an integral role in his journey from cheering on Michael Jordan to joining His Airness as one of the NBA’s all-time great shooting guards.

He's no longer Flash, the lightning quick, spry shooting guard with unmatched pound-for-pound strength. But the 37-year-old Wade saved some of his best for last in Saturday's win over the Bulls. He finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in 27 minutes. It felt like vintage Wade at times, as the Oak Lawn native scored on a few stepbacks, floaters and cuts to the basket similar to the ones that made him one of the game's best for more than a decade.

Wade's final United Center memory comes 16 seasons after his first one. A 22-year-old Wade was nursing a right wrist and had planned to sit out his first visit to the United Center in December 2003.

That changed when he saw his childhood hero Michael Jordan the night before the game.

“(Jordan’s) like, ‘I can’t wait to see you play tomorrow.’ And I was like, ‘Welp, guess I’m playing,’” Wade said prior to Saturday's game. “And then I end up being in a cast for like two months after that.”

Wade scored just 10 points in 36 minutes that night, but playing was never in doubt. Wade grew up idolizing Jordan, one of the millions of kids who grew up in Chicago watching the 90s Bulls hang banner after banner. He joined fellow Chicagoans like Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette, and a young Derrick Rose, as inner city kids who looked up to Jordan as inspiration to get out of the city and make something of themselves.

"Growing up in the inner city, to make it out to be a vision of hope for the next generation, we take a lot of pride in that," Wade said. "And to come back and give back and hopefully give others opportunity to be successful,l but also just for people in the city of Chicago to see that it can be done, you can get out. A lot of us had a ball and a dream and that ball has taken us so many places."

After a successful career at Richards High School and a three-year stint at Marquette that included a Final Four run, Chicago basketball took Wade to Miami. Beginning with that first game at the United Center in 2003, the hometown kid became a thorn in the Bulls' side for the next 13 seasons. He knocked the Bulls out of the postseason three different times, including twice on the way to championships in 2006 and 2013, and the famous Eastern Conference Finals in 2011.

That stretch also included Wade spurning the Bulls in the infamous summer of 2011 when it appeared he and close friend LeBron James were close to signing in Chicago. Instead Wade opted to remain in Miami and bring James and Chris Bosh with him. The consolation prize for the Bulls was $76 million Carlos Boozer and a front row seat to Miami's four-year reign in the Eastern Conference that included four Finals appearances and two championships.

Wade signed on the dotted line four years later, inking a two-year deal with the Bulls that was as much financially motivated as it was a chance to play for the hometown team. Wade's fit in Chicago was always an interesting one for both sides that never really worked, and it ultimately ended in his buyout in the months after the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler and entered a rebuild.

But Wade's impact on his hometown team was evident.

In the 70-second video tribute the Bulls ran for Wade during the first quarter of Saturday's game, there was as much footage of Wade doing work in the community with the Dwyane Wade Foundation and Spotlight On as there was highlights of his time on the floor. Though Wade couldn't help push the Bulls to greater heights in his lone year in Chicago, his 18.3 points at age 35 largely go overlooked because of the chaos that went on in the locker room that season.

Wade latched on with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers after his buyout in 2017, and he returned to Chicago in unceremonious fashion, scoring 24 points in a December blowout victory.

That was nothing compared to what Wade experienced on Saturday, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of 20,926 following the video tribute, and a chorus of cheers each time he entered the game. If not for cheering on a Chicago legend, the fans recognized one of the all-time greats that, for better and worse, has a chapter in the history of Chicago basketball.

Wade has made a dozen farewell tours this season, but none quite like what happened in his hometown. It was the fitting end to a career - a lifetime, really - that has featured numerous Chicago memories.

"I have more of a connection here than anywhere else," he said after the game. "It's my birth city. It's the place where my vision to become an NBA player started, watching my favorite team and watching my favorite players growing up. It definitely felt different than any other city but it was a good different. It was a joyous time for me to be here."

Wade has become the Michael Jordan of Miami. No one will ever wear No. 3 in a Heat uniform again, Wade will have a statue somewhere outside American Airlines arena and he’ll join the all-time greats in Springfield, Mass., as a Hall of Famer in 2024.

He’s created a legacy in Miami, but for so many reasons Chicago will always be part of his basketball story.

“This city, this Chicago Bulls name, it means a lot to me," he said. "It will always mean a lot to me.”