Bulls

Bulls practice observations, from two former NBA players

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USA TODAY

Bulls practice observations, from two former NBA players

Editor's note: On Wednesday, the Bulls invited their broadcast partners to watch the entire practice. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue, who have a combined 28 years of NBA experience, were on hand and shared their observations.

Will Perdue

As many sports fans around Chicago worry about whether Mitch Trubisky is the quarterback of the Bears' future, I think about bigger and better things for the basketball landscape of Chicago. I was able to catch the Bulls practice this past Wednesday and came away with a few thoughts as the team heads toward their first preseason game on Sunday.

Zach Lavine just glides around the court. Very few players in the NBA have his athleticism, but as I asked on Media Day: "Is this the year he shows us the talents that change the perception of him as a great athlete who plays basketball, to a basketball player with superior athleticism?” Is he truly a candidate for this season's All-Star Game?

Robin Lopez reminded me he’s still a very skilled big man. He may be a plodder, but he’s developed a soft touch on his jumper and makes smart decisions with the ball in his hands. As much as I like what Wendell Carter brings to the table - exceptional lateral quickness and great timing to block shots - he still needs some seasoning as he’s very hesitant on the offensive end of the floor.

Bobby Portis might be the Bulls' best 3-point shooter and he doesn’t hesitate to let it fly. I think it’s in the best interest for Portis and the Bulls to come to some kind of agreement and sign an extension. Portis needs to remember that he’ll have another contract after this one. Give him props, he’s worked hard on his game and it shows.

I know there’s plenty more individuals on this roster, but the ones mentioned above were the players that really jumped out at me for this ONE practice that I watched. The biggest question that needs to be addressed is: Will the Bulls defense make a significant improvement? Practice on this day started with a discussion on how to play screens on crosses in the paint and screens on the wing.

I was asked to clarify something for Coach Jim Boylan. The Bulls plan on using switches on the perimeter as an option within their defense, but it is not their first option. They worked on it in Summer League and have been working on it in practice to see if they have the personnel for it to work effectively. Time will tell. Defense is about the pride, willingness and effort to make it work. That’s on the players. Is there a player/leader that will not only lead by example, but be the voice that holds himself and others accountable?

My initial thoughts that I had throughout the summer haven’t changed after watching practice. This team has talent and depth. This team will be fun to watch. This teams has the necessary parts to be a playoff team, but can the coaches and players figure it out quick enough to make the playoffs a reality? The Eastern Conference is going to be tougher than people think and the Bulls will play some of the tougher Western Conference teams early. I’m currently optimistic that they’ll find a way, but there’s  plenty of work that needs to be done prior to the Bulls opener on October 18 in Philadelphia. 

Kendall Gill

The morning session on the second day of training camp looked good. Sloppy team play at first but then the team got it together and finished strong. I felt all of the players were sharp. Not one of them looked rusty.

I was particularly impressed with the way Bobby Portis shot the ball from deep, knocking down six 3-pointers in a row before missing. Jabari Parker can really score the ball, especially from mid-range and taking it to the basket. Zach Lavine looks as if the ACL injury is behind him. He played hard and aggressive, coming through with a couple of spectacular dunks.

Wendell Carter physically is there.  I'm impressed with a couple of nice blocks on the defensive end,  but he still needs time before being a starter. He's not quite ready yet.

Denzel Valentine also shot the ball really well and practiced like a legit veteran.

Now, here's the thing that stood out most to me: Fred Hoiberg will have to run plays to get Lauri Markkanen involved in the offense because you have three players that like having the ball in their hands to make a play: Dunn, Lavine and Parker. Hoiberg has his work cut out for him to balance everything between the four players. I believe that this team can make the playoffs if they stay healthy. Its a long season, so we will see.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Injuries continue to plague the Bulls, should the team pursue a trade for John Wall?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Injuries continue to plague the Bulls, should the team pursue a trade for John Wall?

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, the Athletic’s Bulls beat writer, Darnell Mayberry joins Mark Schanowski to discuss Denzel Valentine’s season-ending ankle injury (2:25) and what to watch for with Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis all scheduled to return to the line-up in the coming weeks.

Should the Bulls pursue a trade for John Wall? (16:00) And, is Charlotte high-scoring point guard Kemba Walker a realistic target in free agency next summer? (13:30)

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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Suns draft history offers cautionary tale for the Bulls

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Suns draft history offers cautionary tale for the Bulls

For those of you advocating the Bulls play another season for draft lottery position, let's take a closer look at Wednesday night's opponent, the Phoenix Suns.

Since the run of playoff teams led by Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire came to an end, the Suns have tried to rebuild through the draft with little success. The organization is hoping winning the 2018 lottery to land 7'1" center Deandre Ayton, then swinging a trade to add Villanova swingman Mikal Bridges will finally be the moves that get the Suns back to being a consistent playoff team in a couple years.

But there are no guarantees.

Here's a look at the players the Suns have selected in the first round since 2011, most of them in the lottery....

2011: Markieff Morris (No.13 overall, later traded to Washington)

2012: Kendall Marshall  (No. 13 overall, out of the league)

2013: Alex Len  (No. 5 overall, never developed, now with Atlanta)

2013: Nemanja Nedovic (No. 30 overall, out of the league)

2014: T.J. Warren  (No. 14 overall, still with Suns as a productive rotation player)

2014: Tyler Ennis  (No. 18 overall, traded to Milwaukee, now out of the league)

2014: Bogdan Bogdanovic (No. 27 overall, traded to Sacramento where he's now a productive rotation player)

2015: Devin Booker (No. 13 overall, this is the Suns' big hit, one of the best young guards in the NBA)

2016: Dragan Bender (No. 4 overall, still with the Suns, but a total bust)

2016: Georgios Papagiannis (No. 13 overall) & Skal Labissiere(No. 28 overall), both traded to Sacramento in a draft day deal for Marquese Chriss (No. 8 overall), who's now with Houston.

2017: Josh Jackson (No. 4 overall, Suns passed on D'Aaron Fox and Lauri Markkanen to take Jackson, who's coming off the bench as a non-shooting athlete)

2018: Deandre Ayton (No. 1 overall, Suns are hoping Ayton and Booker can develop into Shaq-Kobe, Part 2. Not likely.)

2018: Zhaire Smith (No. 16 overall, traded to Philadelphia for Bridges who joins a crowded wing group that includes Warren and free agent addition Trevor Ariza.

Booker is an outstanding shooter and Ayton has all the physical traits to be a dominant NBA center over the next decade, but it could take several years before the Suns become a serious playoff contender in the West. And, it's already been 8 years since Stoudemire left for New York in 2010 free agency.

Most teams that spend the better part of a decade drafting in the lottery do so because they never added quality veterans to the roster or found the right coaches to develop all the young talent on hand.

Sure, the Bulls would be happy to add a Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett in next year's draft, but they already have enough young players on their roster and would be better served to look for veteran help through trades or free agency. Next summer figures to be a crossroads in the future of the franchise.

But as for Wednesday's game, here's what the Bulls need to do to keep Phoenix from earning its first road win of the season.

1. CONTAIN BOOKER.  The 2018 3 point shooting champ already has a 70 point game on his resume, and he poured in 38 in the Suns' loss at Philadelphia on Monday. Booker has one of the quickest releases in the game, and he's also taken on more ball-handling responsibilities because of the team's shaky point guard situation. The Bulls' big men have to be prepared to offer aggressive help when Booker comes off screens.

2. CONTROL THE BOARDS.  The Bulls had been among the league's best rebounding teams over the last half dozen years, but that's been become an issue this season with so many smaller line-ups on the court. Ayton is still learning the ins and outs of the NBA game, but he could wreak havoc on the offensive boards if the Bulls don't make a focused effort to box him out.

3. ZACH ATTACK.  Let's hope sitting out last Saturday's game against Toronto and a few days of rest will cure what was ailing Zach LaVine. The Bulls' leading scorer said he probably shouldn't have playing last Friday in Milwaukee because of the way he was feeling, and whatever illness he experienced was probably compounded by his heavy work load carrying the Bulls' offense. Hopefully, a re-energized Zach will be ready to attack the paint, and get back to the double digit free throw attempts that marked his early season scoring spree.

Don't forget, you can watch Wednesday's Bulls-Suns game on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Stacey King join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Then after the final buzzer, stay tuned for Fred Hoiberg's media session and player reaction from the locker room on Bulls Postgame Live.