Bulls

Clyde Drexler ‘hates’ Michael Jordan rivalry discourse, hasn’t seen ‘Last Dance’

Clyde Drexler ‘hates’ Michael Jordan rivalry discourse, hasn’t seen ‘Last Dance’

As of yet, Clyde Drexler hasn’t seen “The Last Dance.” He lived it, after all.

But he does hope the documentary pays proper homage to a special age of NBA basketball. He laid out that sentiment in a recent interview on “The A-Team with Wexler & Clanton” on SportsTalk 790 (KBME-AM)

“That’s Michael’s documentary, of course, obviously it’s going to be from his perspective, and it was a golden era and everybody’s entitled to their own opinion,” Drexler said on the show. “In that era, there were nothing but men, real men who played. And a lot of times guys didn’t like each other from other teams.

“But as you get older, you gotta get beyond all of that and show some love and some respect for the people you played with and against, and I hope Michael is able to do that in this documentary.”

Whether Jordan did or didn’t show the proper respect to his compatriots in “The Last Dance” is a matter of opinion. Some former Bulls teammates — most notably, Horace Grant, who was interviewed for the film — have publicly voiced frustrations with their portrayals.

On Drexler, Jordan said in a present-day interview: “Clyde was a threat… But me being compared to him, I took offense to that.”

Drexler saw his mini-rivalry with Jordan, which crested in the 1992 NBA Finals, as about more than individual performance, though.

“This is a team game! It’s not one guy. You could have 50 points and 40 rebounds, but if you lose, are you less of a player than anyone on the other team?” Drexler said in the interview. “I hate when people act like it’s an individual competition. If it was, you could quantify that. But in Portland, we had a team structure… My job was to score and to get other people involved and make them better. And I did that very well by evidence that we were in the Finals.”

The Blazers did fall to the Bulls in six in that series. Drexler’s glory would have to wait until 1995, when he won a chip with the Houston Rockets in a season that coincided with Jordan’s reassimilation back into basketball after briefly retiring to pursue a career in baseball.

But even though those years are long behind Drexler, historical player comparisons will continue to rage for all-time. Drexler took exception to how the GOAT debate, specifically, is framed by most as being a conversation between only Jordan and LeBron James.

“I have a real problem with that. Because out of all the guys that play the game, for you to have a conversation, are these two guys the GOAT, when you got Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, two of the greatest players to ever live. I think you start with those two,” Drexler said. “And then you’ve got guys like Dr. J, Larry Bird, George Gervin, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, all those guys are in the conversation. And so for people to bring this up today, to me, it’s just unbelievable. 

“I love Michael and LeBron. But still, let’s not take something away from those other guys who played.”

With takes as impassioned as these before viewing the doc, it will be interesting to see if Drexler ever sits down to watch “The Last Dance,” and what his eventual take on it ends up being.

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How Bulls' Zach LaVine surged to stardom in breakout 2019-20 season

How Bulls' Zach LaVine surged to stardom in breakout 2019-20 season

Every weekday for the next three weeks, NBC Sports Chicago will be breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster, with each week featuring a different position groups. First up is the guards, and to kick it off, Zach LaVine, who took another seismic step in his sixth season.

2019-20 Stats

25.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.2 APG | 45% FG, 38% 3P, 80.2% FT | 31.2% USG

Contract Breakdown

July 2018: Signed 4-year, $78 million contract (two years, $39 million remaining)

2020-21: $19,500,000 | 2021-22: $19,500,000 | 2022-23: UFA

Strengths

LaVine is a prolific and multi-faceted scorer, and he does it in every way you’d want from a modern offensive star. His career-high 25.5-point-per-game scoring average (12th in the NBA) in 2019-20 came on a steady diet of 3s (38% on 8.1 attempts per game; 36.4% on a high volume of pull-ups) and layups (8.1 restricted area attempts per game, third among guards), many of which were high-difficulty in the Bulls’ cramped offense. He carried a top-10 load, but his production wasn’t all volume and empty calories. Among 13 qualified players with usage rates north of 30%, LaVine currently slots fifth in effective field goal percentage (52.6%), and the Bulls’ offense was 3.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor — an 80th percentile mark, per Cleaning the Glass.

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With his head down, he’s near impossible to stay in front of, he can jump out of the gym and fire from the logo. When all of that works in concert — as it did in his 49-point, 13 3-pointer outing in Charlotte, among other explosive performances — he’s virtually unguardable, and the show marched on with remarkable consistency this season. LaVine started 60 of the Bulls’ 65 games in 2019-20, and scored 20+ points in 45; he logged more 30-point outings (18) than any other Bull had 20-pointers, and his six 40-point nights ranked fifth in the NBA. And talents come with an edge — consider that the Charlotte outburst came one night after being pulled from a game for "three egregious defensive mistakes."

Add strides as a defender, playmaker and locker-room leader to all of the above, and we’re talking about a burgeoning star in the league. At 25, his prime lies ahead, and he's gotten better in each of his two full seasons since tearing his ACL in 2017.

Areas to Improve

We have to start on the defensive end, a favorite of LaVine detractors and generally a mixed bag. The good: In 2019-20, LaVine displayed both willingness to consistently engage on that end of the floor, and the athleticism to hound passing lanes and hang with certain wings on-ball — all of which resulted in him posting career-high steal (2%) and block (1.3%) rates. Undeniable improvements, albeit in an aggressive, turnover-happy system. But the bad: Occasional lapses off-ball and on help rotations persisted, and the Bulls’ defense was 10 points per 100 possessions worse with LaVine on the floor this season. There’s noise in there — the Bulls’ most-used lineup featured LaVine and had a 97.1 defensive rating, he’s not destructive — but ominous nonetheless.

On the offensive end, there are two holes to poke. The big one lies in his playmaking. Of that same 13-player 30-plus-percent usage sample, LaVine ranks 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.23), ahead of only Joel Embiid, and 11th in assist rate (21.8%). Inextricable from those numbers is how battered down and ineffective most of the offensive options around him were all season, which allowed opponents to hurl double-teams at LaVine on a nightly basis. Still, as the centerpiece of the offense, there’s room to grow in the halfcourt consistently executing pick-and-roll reads and not succumbing to one-track mindedness on drives. Despite memorable flashes, LaVine's overall numbers in the clutch (33% FG, four total assists) lagged this season, in part due to the above factors. 

And a knit-pick: his foul-drawing. Given how frequently LaVine gets to the cup, and how much the ball is in his hands, you might want to see him average more than 5.6 free throw attempts per game — not a paltry figure, but just outside the most notorious offensive boons in the league. Some of that relies on getting whistles, but attracting contact on drives is an acquired skill. It’s the easiest way for him to bump his scoring into the high 20s or low 30s per game.

Ceiling Projection

Right now, LaVine’s production makes his contract inordinately team-friendly; he’s the only non-rookie-contract player in the league averaging more than 25 points per game and making less than $25 million, annually. There’s two years remaining on that deal, and LaVine will want big money at the end of it, possibly even a max. Does his ceiling match what that type of commitment connotes? That’s a decision the Bulls will need to make soon. 

Given what he's shown, there's no reason LaVine shouldn’t continue to blossom into a perennial top-5-to-10 scorer, and All-Star, as he moves through his prime. Whether he can drive winning basketball in Chicago probably depends most on the deck-shuffling the Bulls’ new front office regime enacts. At least individually, he appears ready for it.

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Bulls’ Top 10 Point Guards in franchise history

Bulls’ Top 10 Point Guards in franchise history

Every Monday for the next five weeks, NBC Sports Chicago will be counting the best 10 Bulls players at each position in franchise history.

First up, the point guards.

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Here, there are a wide array of specialties. The rugged defense of Ricky Sobers and Norm Van Lier. The sharp shooting of John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong. The unmatched athleticism of Derrick Rose. And so much more.

All of which is to say, none of these rankings are sure to be easy — especially for a franchise as storied as the Bulls. But here goes nothing.

Bulls’ Top 10 Point Guards in franchise history

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