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Could Markelle Fultz rediscover his college success with the Bulls?

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USA TODAY

Could Markelle Fultz rediscover his college success with the Bulls?

On the latest episode of the Bill Simmons Podcast, the media personality suggested what many had up to this point, second-year player Markelle Fultz would benefit from a fresh start with a new franchise. Simmons’ suggested trade assumed it will be hard to extract first round value for the young guard and his proposed deal was Antonio Blakeney and a second round pick for Fultz.

Rather than guess what players would be included in a hypothetical deal, a better question is: could the Bulls—and Fred Hoiberg—pull the best out of Fultz?

Obviously, any conversation about Fultz bouncing back starts with the idea that he will at some point be 100 percent healthy and ready to play. Looking at strictly his basketball fit, it is clear that Chicago would certainly give him the best opportunity outside of Orlando and Phoenix in terms of a path to lots of playing time.

In college Fultz was a dynamic lead guard with a very high 31 percent usage rate. His team (Washington) went 2-16 in conference play despite his stellar play.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2DHVAnrNlk

His rookie year in the NBA came on a Sixers team that won 52 games. The pressure of joining one of the rising teams in the league combined with his injury woes made for a terrible amount of pressure to start his career. His struggles shooting are well-documented and will likely continue in the short-term. But the fact that the Bulls sit well below .500 means that Fultz would be stepping into a low-pressure situation where he could work his way back into form slowly.

The combination of Kris Dunn and Fultz in the rotation would help improve the Bulls perimeter defense. For all of Ryan Arcidiacono’s shooting and playmaking ability, he doesn’t possess the physical tools that allow Fultz to make plays like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtkZbPTLqo8

Fultz’s defensive rating is a solid 108 over his small 33-game, 680 minute-sized career sample. His 6-foot-10 wingspan is the main asset that still gives him a chance to develop into a solid guard. The fact that he won’t shoot 3-pointers would more concerning if his jump shot form was consistent. But as long as he is rebuilding his jump shot form, sticking to his other strengths is fine for the time being. Per Basketball-Reference, Fultz made 65 percent of his shots at the rim over the last two seasons. He has the makings of a player who can become a great finisher. Fultz has a better chance of becoming an elite inside scorer if paired with quality, floor-spacing big men, of which Chicago has at least two.

Fred Hoiberg likes to get his guards going “downhill” with handoffs and pick-and-rolls. In 2018-19, LaVine and Blakeney are both averaging well over a point per possession as pick-and-roll ball handlers. Under the tutelage of Hoiberg, it is very unlikely but not impossible to imagine Fultz making a leap as a mid range shooter. He would be able to build up his confidence in countless pick-and-rolls. After a historically bad shooting year in his rookie season, Dunn turned into a 46 percent shooter from long 2-point range with the Bulls.

The addition of Fultz would also take a number of possessions out of LaVine’s hands, allowing him more catch-and-shoot opportunities. His 3-point shooting is all the way down to 30 percent, but he is still shooting a solid 38 percent on catch-and-shot 3-pointers. Fultz’s playmaking -- 5.9 assists per 36 minutes for his career-- means a less strenuous workload for LaVine. It also provides Hoiberg with another player capable of getting the ball to Markkanen and Carter.

Chicago has the 29th ranked offense in the league and the addition of Fultz wouldn’t change that. But with the return of Markkanen, Dunn and Bobby Portis eminent, the Bulls have enough offensive firepower on the way. The defensive side is where Fultz would help more and the Bulls are playing better on that end as of late, up to 22nd in terms of defensive rating.

A big part of that is the month of November, where the Bulls have ranked 12th in the league in defensive efficiency. Fultz would add a wrinkle that could allow the defense to reach league average marks. As a switch defender able to contend with small forwards in certain matchups, he could be the bridge between Hoiberg's big and small lineups. If his shooting improves, he becomes more valuable on offense as well. If Fultz’s jump shot doesn’t improve, he would still be a solid backup point guard capable of doing damage when surrounded by shooters.

Philadelphia expected Fultz to be a polished inside-out scorer, one of the final pieces of a championship-caliber core. But in Chicago he would be expected to be an effective slashing guard, who gives an incredibly high effort on defense and on the glass.

The Bulls hit the “reset button” on June 22, 2017 in hopes of collecting young talent.

Adding Fultz to the group of Markkanen, LaVine, Dunn, Carter and Parker would give the Bulls six former lottery picks who still have plenty of time to develop.

The uncertainty surrounding him is going to make for a very volatile trade market, one in which Chicago would be wise to stay far away from if first round picks are involved. But in the event that Philadelphia is willing to let go of Fultz at a reasonable price, the Bulls would be wise to at least reach out.

NBA free agency is unpredictable and besides, the Bulls need free agents who line up with the career arcs of their players, meaning 2019 isn’t the offseason to go all-in on a signing, barring the unlikely event of Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard showing interest. There should be no worry of his contract cutting into the Bulls cap space considering the amount of teams gearing up for big spending offseasons.

Fultz would hit restricted free agency in the 2022 offseason but has a team-option in his contract for the 2021 offseason, the same offseason that Chicago-native Anthony Davis could headline what is shaping up to be a spectacular free agent class. Theoretically, the Bulls could give Fultz an opportunity to flourish and make their young core more attractive for free agents now. Then in 2021 they could decline Fultz’s team-option, get a big-name free agent and re-sign Fultz to a back-loaded contract that keeps him in the long-term plans.

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Steve Kerr stays positive, keeps perspective with new Warriors' challenge

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Steve Kerr stays positive, keeps perspective with new Warriors' challenge

Kevin Durant chose to leave for the Nets in free agency. Klay Thompson faced rehabilitation after tearing his left ACL during Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Yes, Steve Kerr knew this Warriors season would be different.

But nobody knew that Steph Curry would break his left hand and be sidelined until likely after the All-Star break at the earliest. Nobody knew D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors’ prized offseason acquisition, would miss nine games with a sprained right thumb.

But just as he kept perspective and an even keel throughout the Warriors’ dynasty, which produced three championships and five straight trips to the NBA Finals, the ever-grounded Kerr is doing the same with a team that lugs a league-worst 4-19 mark into Friday’s meeting with the Bulls.

“I’m enjoying coaching the young guys and going through the details of what they need to learn and helping them develop,” Kerr said in an interview following Thursday’s practice at University of Illinois Chicago. “I basically survived my whole career. I was never really in a position where I felt like, ‘OK, I’ve made it.’ From year to year, it was just survival. So I can relate to a lot of these young guys and I can relate a lot of experiences to them. That’s a satisfying process when you see them do well.”

That said, Kerr is a competitor. There’s a broken clipboard and some bloody towels from last Wednesday’s home victory over the Bulls to prove it.

So the teaching element may be rewarding. The losing?

“It sucks. It sucks,” Kerr said, repeating himself for emphasis. “We’re 1-8 in close games. That’s part of having a young team, learning how to close games. That part of it is a struggle.

“You want your players to feel rewarded when they play well. We had a stretch of two weeks where we played well every night and we had one win to show for it. And that was Chicago. It’s frustrating to walk in the locker room and see guys with their heads down because you know how hard they’re working and how much they want it.”

Kerr experienced a dynasty as a player with the Bulls and as a coach with the Warriors. Invariably throughout last season, he’d remind anyone willing to listen to savor how special those times are.

Does he think people listened?

“No,” he said, laughing. “It’s human nature to think we’re going to win it again and we’re going to keep going forever. Life changes quickly.

“I talked not only to the media and our fans but to our team. Last year there were several times when I said, ‘This is going to be our best chance to win a championship.’ We’ve got an incredible opportunity that may never come up again. That’s something that’s important for everybody to realize---fans, management, players. It is lightning in a bottle. You can do everything perfectly and you still may not get to where you think you might be.”

The Warriors’ dynasty may be over. But with Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green still under contract, an attractive young piece in Russell and a huge trade exception from the Andre Iguodala deal, the Warriors are solidly positioned for the future.

And if this season produces a lottery pick, well, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Until then, Kerr keeps coaching and teaching. Thursday’s film session and practice stretched to the 2 1/2-hour mark.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys. Draymond has been fantastic, basically helping coach the team and talking guys through different situations. They’ve been thrown in the fire every day. It’s not easy. But they’re doing a good job,” Kerr said. “We have to figure it out as a staff: How much do you throw at them? Too much information sometimes can be a bad thing. And so we have to find the balance. We also can’t not give them the information that they need. It’s just maybe doing it sequentially and maybe finding the right order and plugging holes as you go.

“The NBA game is so different. These days, players come in at such a young age. There’s just an awful lot of fundamental stuff you have to break down on a daily basis as a young team. That’s the biggest difference for us as a staff between having a young team and having vets. It’s a different daily routine for sure.”

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With attendance waning, Bulls focused on 'making their own energy'

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With attendance waning, Bulls focused on 'making their own energy'

Last night, the Bulls announced 15,017 fans in attendance for the team's 106-99 victory over the Grizzlies. That figure is more than 4,000 people below their season-average of — after last night — 19,099 fans per contest.

That scarcity was eminent and didn't go unnoticed, especially by players on the court.

"I was telling us in pregame, we're gonna have to bring our own energy today," Zach LaVine said after Thursday afternoon practice. "We got out on that 10-0 run, I was really excited about that, but it was uh, it was a scarce crowd, it was a little quiet in there. But we made our own energy but sometimes that's just what you have to do."

After 11 home games, the Bulls are fourth in the NBA in total attendance (210,090) and sixth in average attendance — both fine marks by the standards of most, but underwhelming for a major-market franchise with their illustrious history. The real kicker: The team is tied for 22nd in the league in percent capacity (91.3) with the Indiana Pacers. Just ahead of that No. 22 slot are the 5-17 Atlanta Hawks, just behind the Phoenix Suns.

Per ESPN's NBA Attendance Report, the Bulls have not finished a regular season outside the top three in total attendance or average attendance since the 2002-03 season. Before last year, they ranked first in both nine seasons in a row. They were also top two in percent capacity for eight straight years before finishing 17th last season. As mentioned, their ranking in that category has dipped even further this year. 

The 2019-20 Bulls currently own a 4-7 home record. Last night was only the Bulls' tenth home victory of the Jim Boylen era, which spans back to Dec. 3, 2018. No one is naiive to the impact those types of results can have. 

"We haven't been a winning basketball team the last couple years, so you know, it makes sense," LaVine said. "Once you start winning that the crowd gets back into it and gets more lively. I understand that, I understand professional sports. So we don't take it personally."

From shootaround to gametime in advance of the Grizzlies game, Boylen stressed the importance of the Bulls getting on a roll on their home floor. According to Boylen, momentum in that respect has to come by way of fast starts, and that came to fruition last night. The Bulls jumped out to a 13-2 lead early in the game and led by as many as 22 in the first half, holding the Grizzlies to 0-for-15 3-point shooting while hitting 8-for-18, themselves. Those numbers stabilizied as the game wore on, but in the locker room afterwards, LaVine was adamant that the team's energy wasn't the issue.

In fact, Boylen and his players seem to have taken ownership of sparking themselves. 

"I want our guys to play hard and compete, and we have to bring our own energy, and we have to play with physicality and effort and all those types of things," Boylen said. He added: "We have the best fans in the league."

They'll have another chance to begin re-establishing a homecourt advantage Friday night agaisnt the lowly Warriors. For the time being, the team's focus is on controlling the things they can control: Results. The rest will come later.

"Obviously you wanna win. We're not going out there to win for, you know, to get more attention, we're going out to win to try to make the playoffs," LaVine said. "So, you know, I think the crowd will come, and they'll get behind you."

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