Bulls

D'Antoni, Rockets give Bulls a blueprint for offensive success

D'Antoni, Rockets give Bulls a blueprint for offensive success

Free agent Fred Hoiberg had his eyes set on joining the Phoenix Suns in 2006. The 33-year-old shooting guard had led the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage in 2004 with the Timberwolves before undergoing open-heart surgery in 2005. Phoenix was a natural fit, as two-time reigning MVP Steve Nash and the Suns were in the process of revolutionizing the NBA with their Seven Seconds or Less offense. The previous season the Suns became the first team in league history to average double-digit 3-pointers per game.

Hoiberg came to terms with the Suns but team doctors couldn't guarantee his health post-surgery. Ultimately Hoiberg announced his retirement and join the Timberwolves front office. But he never forgot those Phoenix teams that changed the NBA, and as he began his own coaching career he looked to the man who invented those offenses for inspiration: Mike D'Antoni.

"I did try to model a lot of my system after the way he plays," Hoiberg said Monday night. "Shoot rim twos and obviously a lot of threes, a lot of those in transition. He’s as good as there is, as creative an offensive mind as there’s ever been in this game. I do think he changed the way the game is played with the amount of 3-pointers that are shot."

D'Antoni never stopped the revolution. As teams began mimicking what Phoenix was doing and advanced analytics took center stage, D'Antoni continued pushing the limits. And it's now led him to Houston, where he's once again rewriting NBA history books. Monday night that was on full display, as the Rockets poured in 20 3-pointers on an eye-popping 54 attempts in their 116-107 victory over the Bulls.

There were hot streaks – they made seven of their first eight from deep – and serious lulls that allowed their opponent to erase a 21-point deficit. Their commitment to the style paid dividends, however, and it allowed them to extend their NBA record of 35 straight games with double-digit made 3-pointers.

It's been a two-year stretch of records for the Rockets, who have been built to play this way. They shattered every 3-point measurement last season and are rewriting all their own records this year, thanks in large part to the addition of Chris Paul, who had 24 points and nine assists on Monday (including three of those 20 triples). With Eric Gordon (four 3-pointers) and Trevor Ariza (six 3-pointers) on the wings, combined with stretch forward in Ryan Anderson (one 3-pointer), there's always at least four shooters on the floor.

When center Clint Capela, who leads the league in field goal percentage because of his uncanny pick-and-roll ability isn't in, the Rockets can go defense-first with P.J. Tucker or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, or insert the recently signed Gerald Green for an offensive spark. Green went 8-for-15 and hit four triples, giving him 29 triples in seven games with Houston. He'll hold down the fort until, oh, MVP frontrunner James Harden returns from a hamstring injury and makes Houston all the more lethal.

"That's the way we play. We get up and down. A guy got an open shot we take it," Paul said. "I get to get on guys about not taking shots, and I'm the guy that passes all the time."

Added Ariza: "Any time we play our style of basketball that gives us the best chance to win, because that's what we do and what we've been doing. Just have to stay true to it."

The Bulls have transformed in similar ways under Hoiberg. Their own 28 3-point attempts hardly compares to Houston's shots, but the Bulls are still flirting with top-10 status in 3-point attempts per game. Their 29.9 attempts per game are nearly seven more than a year ago, when Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade initiated much of the offense from inside the arc. Successful? Yes. What Hoiberg wanted to do? No.

In just the last 12 months the roster has transformed. Lauri Markkanen continues to set NBA rookie records for 3-pointers. Denzel Valentine, for all his shortcomings, matched a career-high five 3-pointers on Monday. Kris Dunn has struggled with his 3-point shot since taking the point guard reins, but he's also up to nearly eight assists per game since Nov. 28. Though Mirotic could be dealt as early as January 15, he's shooting 47 percent from deep.

Zach LaVine, who could return as early as Wednesday, was showing promise as an outside shooter before tearing his ACL nearly 12 months ago. If nothing else LaVine will space the floor better for the other four Bulls on the floor. That can only mean more attempts, and more open attempts.

It'll take time, and the Bulls won't be erasing these Rockets from the record books anytime soon. But the man Hoiberg is trying to imitate in his style of offense is currently doing so at a better and more efficient rate than any coach in NBA history. That means something for the Bulls, and as the rebuild continues will pay dividends eventually as the 3-pointers go in and the wins pile up.

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Hub Arkush (670 The Score/Pro Football Weekly), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Lauren Comitor (The Athletic) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Manny Machado Mania continues in Chicago. Do the Cubs even need to trade for him to win the World Series this year?

Ricky Renteria has to bench another player for not hustling. Is this becoming a problem on the South Side?

Plus, Lauri Markkanen is named to the All-Rookie team. Could he be the centerpiece of a trade if the Bulls want to acquire a superstar or move up in the draft? 

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