Bulls

Bulls opener includes quick blitz, miscues and an impressive Markkanen debut

Bulls opener includes quick blitz, miscues and an impressive Markkanen debut

Observations from the Bulls’ season opener, a 117-101 loss to the Toronto Raptors Thursday at Air Canada Centre.

It happens quickly: An encouraging first quarter and all its good vibes went away in a matter of 90 seconds to start the second, when a two-point deficit turned into 10 as the Bulls’ second unit failed to continue some positive habits established in the first quarter.

The slim margin for error is actually less than that, considering the Bulls don’t have enough firepower to compete or a player who’ll create his own shots for long stretches.

It was early but the Raptors’ 20-2 run ended the game even though there was more than 34 minutes left. The score was 45-25 and everybody in Air Canada Centre knew it was just about over.

“That was the key stretch of the game. They got downhill, they picked us up (defensively). We didn’t respond well to that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They got in the paint, spread us out and hit shots.”

Clearly their roster was already depleted in the wake of the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident, so Hoiberg had to dig even deeper into his bench than he’d like.

“Obviously we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare and figure out what we were gonna do with lineups because we haven’t played those lineups the entire preseason,” Hoiberg said.

First look: You can tell Lauri Markkanen will struggle a bit with his strength, as he’s just 20 years old in his first NBA action. On a couple occasions, he drove the ball hard to the basket right into the mammoth Jonas Valanciunas, and put up quality attempts.

“I have a lot to improve but if I had any nerves for the first game, those are out now,” Markkanen said. “I let the game come to me. I’m not forcing anything.”

The stat line looked good for someone in his position, scoring 17 with eight rebounds in 33 minutes but the spirit of how he played was the most encouraging thing.

“That’s what we like about him, he has no fear,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he was really good, to go out and put up 17 and 8 in his first game, he had a couple shots he normally is gonna make. So yeah, he was real good.”

He also gets aggressive on defense to block shots on the weak side, leading to harder rim runs and a 3-point play in the third quarter where his long stride got him from the top of the key for a layup without a dribble.

It was a stretch where he scored a quick eight in the third, and he reiterated he’s a confident player and his first game did nothing to dim that belief.

“He was great, I loved how aggressive he was,” Robin Lopez said. “He put himself into good spots out there on defense and offense.”

Playing hard/hard lessons: Even though they were down 20 multiple times, the Bulls didn’t completely fold. Part of it was DeMar DeRozan going just 11 on two of nine shooting, but the Bulls consistently played hard—one of the few things Hoiberg can hang his hat on as a coach.

“Obviously something we talked about a lot is playing through adversity, playing through the tough times,” said Hoiberg, noting the Bulls had a few chances to cut the Raptors lead to 12 in the second half.

Denzel Valentine was four of seven from 3 but was also a minus-19 in his 25 minutes of run, a feat matched only by Cristiano Felicio, who played 16 minutes.

“I was proud of the guys in the second half,” Hoiberg said. “I thought (Kay) Felder gave us a big lift off the bench with his pace, with his speed.”

Felder wasn’t shy in his 15 minutes, getting up nine shots and hitting two, but had six assists as he was the only Bull to get in the lane with any regularity. Considering one of the things the Bulls lack of shot creation, finding ways to compromise the defense will be critical if they are to stay close for long stretches.

But with that comes the risk of turnovers—which is something the Bulls will likely struggle with anyways. Coughing it up 19 times for 27 points is an example of “thin margin for error”.

“You turn the ball over 19 times, you give up eight offensive rebounds to one guy, it’s gonna be a long night,” Hoiberg said, referring to Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, who had 23 points and 15 boards.

The long line: The 3-point line was supposed to be the great equalizer on some nights for the Bulls, considering they want to get up shots early and often in this offense.

But C.J. Miles took the Bulls playbook and used it against them, scoring 22 points in 20 minutes, hitting six of nine from 3-point range. Overall the Raptors, a team that was middle of the pack at best in that department last season, come into this year with an added emphasis.

It showed, as they hit 13 of 29 compared to the Bulls making 11 of 33. Justin Holiday was off, hitting just four of 12 and was five of 16 overall.

“You put a big key on Miles, making him bounce the ball. He hit some tough shots,” Hoiberg said. “That’s who he is, that’s what he does. They hit shots, they got it in the paint and spread it out.”

Making of a Chicago legend: A look back at Jabari Parker's decorated Simeon career

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AP

Making of a Chicago legend: A look back at Jabari Parker's decorated Simeon career

From the moment Jabari Parker started his local basketball career, he's been a special talent who has produced at every level. Parker's signing with the Chicago Bulls this offseason brings back a lot of memories of his decorated four-year high school career at Simeon.

For Bulls fans who didn't follow Parker before Duke or the NBA, here's some of the notable moments from four years in the Public League.

As a freshman with the Wolverines, Parker was seen as one of three big incoming freshman in the area for the Class of 2013, along with forward Alex Foster and center Tommy Hamilton. Although all three players had the size and skill level to be varsity contributors, it was Parker who was special from his debut game.

Coming off the bench for a top-5 Simeon team against a top-10 Thornton team at Chicago State, Parker had 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting with two 3-pointers as the Wolverines went on to win in his first game in high school. Eventually becoming the first Wolverine freshman to start on varsity, Parker piled up high-major scholarship offers and national acclaim, as he was the team's second-leading scorer behind Brandon Spearman.

But Parker was hurt on the eve of the IHSA Class 4A state championship weekend and was on the bench injured as Simeon went on to surprisingly win the state title after some late-season slip-ups. Parker contributed heavily to Simeon winning the state title during his first season, however, as he was leading scorer in six games during that season.

During his sophomore season, Parker blossomed from a prospect into a full-blown star as Simeon once again captured a state title. By this point in his career, Parker was a consensus top-5 national high school prospect in his class as he regularly led a loaded Simeon team in scoring. Parker eventually averaged 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as he won ESPN High School 2011 Sophomore of the Year national honors, while also Simeon won a title at the prestigious Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

The summer of 2011 saw Parker become a contender for No. 1 in his class -- and regardless of class at the high school level -- as he dominated the summer circuit against his peers and older players.

Making the 2011 USA Basketball U16 team, Parker won MVP honors at the FIBA Americas U16 Tournament as the USA team captured a gold medal. Parker also had big performances at the Kevin Durant and LeBron James Skill Academies before winning the MVP at the Nike Global Challenge in August against mostly older players.

Before entering his junior season at Simeon, some national scouts believed Parker was the best prospect in either the junior or senior national classes. With Parker garnering so many accomplishments as an underclassman, he had a huge reputation already as Simeon was an established national powerhouse.

Parker helped the Wolverines capture a third straight state title, a city title and another title at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, as they went 33-1. Simeon didn't lose to an Illinois opponent Parker's junior year (they only lost to nationally ranked Findlay Prep) with Parker setting a school record of 40 points in only 21 minutes against Perspectives on Dec. 19. For his junior season, Parker put up 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds per game as he became the first non-senior to win Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors.

Gatorade also declared Parker the national boys basketball Player of the Year for that high school season as he became only the fourth non-senior to win that award. Sports Illustrated put Parker on its cover and proclaimed him as the best high school basketball player since LeBron James.

Facing an enormous amount of pressure during his senior year, Simeon played a national schedule and went 30-3, winning a fourth consecutive IHSA state title with Parker as he put up 18.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

Becoming the only player besides Sergio McClain to start on four straight IHSA state title teams, Parker secured back-to-back Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors while also making the McDonald's All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoop Summit. Parker played all over the country during his senior season, with nationally-televised games and packed crowds filled with fans.

Reclassifications and the emergence of other contenders, coupled with Parker's foot injury before his senior season, dropped Parker below the No. 1 ranking to end his high school career. But he still finished as a consensus top-5 prospect in the class who eventually rose to the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft in 2014.

Now that Parker has signed with the Bulls, he has a chance to resurrect his career in Chicago, the place where he had his most basketball success.

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

According to Bleacher Report, Wendell Carter Jr. would be taken fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies if the NBA were to redraft this year’s class based off of Summer League performances.

It may sound like a crazy concept (and it is), but Carter Jr. averaged the second most points, 14.6, through five July games in Las Vegas. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field while averaging 28.8 minutes in his glamorous first-stint with Chicago. Those numbers are even more striking if you consider Carter Jr.’s 42.9 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

Carter Jr., the real seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft, looked like the all-around player the Bulls were hoping to get this offseason. He made his blocking abilities as a center known from the moment he stepped on the court in Summer League.

In their re-draft, Bleacher Report had Chicago using the No. 7 pick on the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, who was actually taken 36th overall in last month’s Draft.

Robinson, a center, averaged 13 points and 24.8 minutes per game over five Summer League contests. He was the best rebounder on his team with an average of 10.2 in the five games that the Knicks played.

The 20-year-old took the second most shots on the Knicks and had the highest field goal percentage at 67 percent, but Robinson did not have any three-point attempts.  What made his recent production seem even more surprising was the fact that the 7'1'' big man did not play a single minute of college basketball.

But would Robinson fit in the Bulls’ system?

Chicago has taken on an offense-first mentality, so Robinson would not be as great of a fit in the Bulls lineup as Carter Jr., but he would still be an impact player. He can be compared to the Bulls’ current center Robin Lopez, who averaged a similar amount of points per game (11.8 points in 26.4 minutes) last season as Robinson’s Summer League average (13 points in 24.8 minutes). And like Lopez, Robinson will likely be most effective around the basket and in the pick-and-roll.

Robinson would also have to learn the defensive concepts that a veteran like Lopez has mastered over his 10-year career.

Next season, the Bulls will have an exciting scoring trio of Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. And the fact that Carter Jr. is getting so much love in the national spotlight is yet another reason for Bulls fans to be excited about this upcoming season.