Bulls

As Dunn, Markkanen break out of respective slumps, consistency becomes next factor

As Dunn, Markkanen break out of respective slumps, consistency becomes next factor

Whether the Bulls earn wins against other bottom feeders or rack up losses to improve their positioning in the Zion Williamson sweepstakes, continued progression from their core will be important over the final three weeks of the regular season.

With Otto Porter nursing a shoulder injury for the second consecutive game and Zach LaVine a late scratch with a thigh bruise, all eyes were on Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn as both attempted to break out of slumps against a porous Wizards defense.

Both players made good on their opportunity, shining in high-usage roles that helped the Bulls knock off the Wizards in overtime, 126-120. Markkanen broke out of a long shooting slump and made two critical plays in the final minute of regulation, while Dunn scored eight points in an overtime period and provided some stifling defense on All-Star Bradley Beal to secure the victory.

Not all slumps are created equal, but it was nice to see both Markkanen and Dunn play well with the Wizards defense honed entirely in on them. They attempted 45 of the Bulls’ 106 shot attempts and combined for 58 points, 19 rebounds, 18 assists and just three turnovers in 78 combined minutes.

For Markkanen, his slump from beyond the arc had been a puzzling one. Dating as far back as Jan. 6, Markkanen was making less than 34 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Even in February, when he was an Eastern Conference Player of the Month finalist, he made just just 35 percent of his triples in 10 games. In March, that percentage had dipped to a lowly 28 percent.

But he was a different player on Wednesday night. He buried his first triple in the opening minutes and didn’t slow down after that, connecting on 5 of 8 from beyond the arc; it was the most triples he had made in a game since Feb. 6 and his best percentage on seven attempts or more all season.

“When you go 5 for 8 from the 3 that helps his game,” Jim Boylen said. “Moving him around, get him coming off the baseline, we get him going downhill, turning a corner. But I think when that 3 ball starts going down for him it all kind of comes together for him. I think for him, when he rebounds the ball he plays well.”

Past the outside shooting, Markkanen had broke a nine-game stretch without scoring 20 points after doing so 10 straight times in February. He scored 32 points, his most since Feb. 23 against the Celtics, and grabbed 13 rebounds, his most since March 5 against the Pacers.

Markkanen said he continues to watch film to improve his shooting – he noticed he was fading away on some 3-pointers that caused him to come up short – and is looking for new ways to attack defenses differently to remain consistent.

“Last year I was able to shoot the ball and surprise some teams,” he said. “Not surprising anybody this year so I kind of have to figure it out how to get around different coverages and stuff like that. You play a lot of games in this league so it’s tough to be consistent but you’ve got to be mentally tough.”

Even during Markkanen’s “slump” he was averaging 15.9 points and 8.4 rebounds in March. But he’s aware of what’s being asked of him as the 21-year-old face of the Bulls rebuild and knows that a consistent effort that produces results will take him to the next level.

“My confidence is up there and I obviously have a long way to go but I was playing better in February and I was kind of thinking that I can play like that in the future consistently,” he said. “I’ve got ways to go but my confidence is definitely up there.”

In Dunn’s case, baby steps still count as progress. His 26-point, 13-assist night was his best performance in months, and it continued a trend of him playing well with LaVine out of the lineup. With the Bulls’ shooting guard in the lineup Dunn is averaging 10.3 points on 40 percent shooting with 5.9 assists. In the nine games LaVine has missed that Dunn has been active, Dunn is averaging 17.1 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.1 assists.

He’s shown consistency as the lead ball handler when LaVine is out of the lineup, but of course that won’t be very often heading into the future.

Instead, Dunn’s consistency needs to come on learning to play with the ball-dominant LaVine and excel in other areas when he isn’t constantly the initiator on offense. Shooting 3 of 7 from beyond the arc was a good start, and although his 10 of 24 from the field was ugly, he was aggressive, played downhill and opened up plenty for the Bulls offense, which shot 47 percent from the field and made 12 triples. he also played excellent defense late on Bradley Beal. The combination of Dunn and Shaq Harrison forced Beal to go 4 of 13 with 12 points after halftime.

“It’s a learning thing as we go,” Boylen said of Dunn learning to play with LaVine, Markkanen and Porter. “I don’t really have the answer for that. I think it’s a feel, playing together and obviously in those moments when they’re in the game you have to be really efficient with your shots and what you’re doing because there’s other guys out there.

“But if anything tonight was a confidence booster to hang in there and stay the course, man. Keep grinding. Believe in yourself and it’ll turn for you.” 

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

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USA TODAY

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

According to a story by Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney, the Bulls may be looking for help in the form of one of the NBA’s better two-way players.

In the post, Deveney goes over the most salient points made by brand new New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin. This included the fact that Griffin stated that Pels head coach Alvin Gentry will be back and that Jrue Holiday is considered “a franchise building block”.

This could be a bit of gamesmanship from Griffin, hoping to drive up the asking price for an All-Star caliber player such as Holiday.

But Deveney suggests that New Orleans may indeed be serious about their efforts to keep building with Holiday on the roster. Deveney stated, “if the Pelicans don't trade Holiday, it will set up the team for an attempt at a fast turnaround rather than a long, slogging rebuild......It will also frustrate teams looking for a versatile point guard in his prime, hoping that Holiday would be on the block.”

Phoenix was mentioned as the “top contender” for Holiday’s services should he be made available, as the Suns are one of the few teams with an obvious hole at PG. Along with the Suns, Chicago and Orlando were the other teams listed as having interest in Holiday. The Magic completed a low-risk trade during the 2018-19 season that landed them 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, so they may not be inclined to give up solid assets in a deal.

As far as the Bulls are concerned, any serious inquires on Holiday are likely to come after the May 14 NBA Draft lottery.

Depending on where the Bulls lottery pick ends up, the Pelicans could be much more inclined to make a deal with the Chicago front office. The Pelicans ended the season tied with Memphis and Dallas for the 7th spot in the draft lottery odds, and their specific organizational goals could make moving up in the draft order worth losing a valuable player like Jrue Holiday. And for the Bulls, nabbing a player like Holiday helps build onto the positive team culture that Jim Boylen wants to establish and gives the Bulls a perfect guard to pair in the backcourt with Zach LaVine.

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense.