Bulls

Five observations from Bulls-Hawks: The tale of two rebuilds

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USA TODAY

Five observations from Bulls-Hawks: The tale of two rebuilds

The Bulls and Hawks lost 50+ games last year, but the squads are at two different points in their rebuilds. Atlanta is in the first year of their rebuild, with new head coach Lloyd Pierce—so far—building a successful offense around polarizing rookie Trae Young and a mixture of effective young and veteran shooters. Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls have been together for three seasons so far, but this year represents year two of the Bulls rebuild, as the current core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn was expected to get considerable playing time together this season. After yet another huge rash of injuries, the Bulls could be in position to add another young talent come June. But on Saturday night, Chicago showed that their rebuild is definitely ahead of Atlanta on the talent of LaVine alone.

Here are five observations from the Bulls' win over the Hawks on Saturday night.

1. Zach LaVine will compete for a scoring title this season

This game featured horrendous shooting all-around, including several (no-doubt for fans of either team) rage-inducing missed layups. But LaVine continued his high-scoring ways in what has become the norm for the Bulls. He went for 11 points in the third quarter alone and has yet to score less than 20 points in a game this season.

LaVine had more turnovers than assists, showing that he may not be suited for a primary ball handling role despite his ability. But he is still in the top-five in scoring in the league, and will continue to be as long as the Bulls await the return of Bobby Portis, Markkanen and Denzel Valentine. LaVine’s raw scoring numbers will be good no matter what, but the efficiency is what will give him a shot to contend for Most Improved Player. He was 5-for-6 from the free throw line against the Hawks and was averaging a career-high 8.4 FTA a night coming into the matchup. If LaVine can continue to get the line at this rate, he will end the year scoring well over 25 points per game even with a regression to the mean in terms of efficiency.

2. Ryan Arcidiacono deserves the backup point guard role until Kris Dunn returns

Arcidiacono had a career-high 13 points on 50 percent shooting to go along with 7 assists and 2 steals. His scoring was nice because it including him going 3-for-6 from the 3-point line and solid shooting from the perimeter will be needed during Arcidiacono’s minutes considering how seldom he gets to the FT line. His defense and willingness to keep the ball moving on offense make him a real asset to the roster (as currently constructed). Arcidiacono has had a nice pace to every pass he has thrown this season, which is great considering that the Bulls have had an issue with making 3-pointers harder by launching sloppy passes.

He finished the game with just one turnover, which helped him finish +15 from the floor (plus/minus rating). And when it comes to the aforementioned defense, Arcidiacono played a central role in Trae Young shooting 3-for-12 and racking up 5 turnovers. He fights hard through screens and brings energy on both ends of the floor that is contagious to this Bulls squad. And speaking of defense.....

3. Active hands=happy Hoiberg

Chicago came into this game ranked 26th in the NBA in steals and 19th in blocks Their lack of ability to create turnovers is—unsurprisingly—a major factor in their defensive rating being second-to-last in the league. But against an extremely reckless Hawks team, the Bulls racked up 14 steals and 6 blocks. Both would easily be top 10 marks in the league. Obviously the Hawks are a bad team and the Bulls won’t have a ton of nights like this defensively, but weak side defenders were getting their hands into passing lanes early and often, which helped throw off the rhythm (12-for-40 from 3-point range) of Atlanta’s many shooters.

The next 10 games could feature the Bulls defense getting shredded by a bevy of high-powered offenses with Golden State and Denver coming up next. But if they make an effort to closeout, recover and help-the-helper the way they did in Atlanta, the Bulls will give themselves a chance to be competitive in these matchups.

4. First career double-double for Wendell Carter Jr.

Wendell Carter has had a rough start to the season (40 percent shooting from the field) but he got things going against the Hawks. In just 22 minutes, he amassed 10 points and 10 rebounds to go along with 2 blocks. He still shot below 50 percent from the field, but this was more of a result of Carter attempting to help stretch the floor—he shot 0-for-2 from the 3-point line—than an indicator of poor shot selection or general struggles.

Many casual basketball fans will look at Carter’s productivity and suggest that perhaps he isn’t the player the Bulls selected him to be, but they would be missing the mark. Carter is averaging 1.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and is the only Bulls player with a positive defensive box plus/minus. He has one of the lower usage rates of anyone on the team right now, and don’t expect his usage to increase with Markkanen, Portis and Dunn all scheduled to return around the same time. But as long as Carter continues to do the little things that don’t show up--in the traditional--box score, Hoiberg and co. will be happy with his efforts, and you should too.

5. Remember this one in June.....

If the season was to end today, the Bulls and Hawks would have the 10th and 12th picks in the draft respectively, with the Hawks receiving an additional draft pick via the Dallas Mavericks. Both franchises have a ways to go before they return to their winning ways, and the 2019 NBA Draft will be a boon for them. Part of the reason the Bulls didn’t end up with a higher draft pick in 2018 is because they won so many of the “tank vs tank” matchups that featured two losing teams going against each other, especially post All-Star break games.

This season seems like more of the same, as this Bulls team is definitely good enough to beat the bad teams, and bad enough on defense to not have a chance against the elite squads around the league. But with the motto this year being “development over wins”, the front office likely won’t mind drafting No. 7 again, considering that their last two No. 7 picks have been great, and historically the team has done a great job drafting lower vs higher. If both teams near the season finale hovering near the low 30s in wins, this game will be looked back on a missed opportunity. But any improvement on defense, no matter how small, is more valuable to this team than early season losses.

 

Thad Young addresses media in wake of reports of being dissatisfied with role

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USA Today

Thad Young addresses media in wake of reports of being dissatisfied with role

Earlier this week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Thad Young is dissatisfied with his role with the Bulls. Young addressed the report and other questions regarding his role to assorted media after Friday morning shootaround.

Questions are paraphrased for length and clarity. Our Tony Gill also has the full video of Young's comments.

On Young's thoughts on the report:

I mean, you know, y'all see my quote in the same article, so, the quote was, 'I'm gonna go out there and play as hard as I can, when I can and do what I do to help the team win games. We're just coming off a really good win for us, we're looking forward to the next game and that's all it is. No matter if I'm playing 20 minutes or I'm playing 30 minutes. You guys have seen all year long I'm just gonna continue to go out there and play as hard as I can to help my teammates. And that's what it's all about, me going out there for my teammates and just staying calm, staying patient and waiting for my time.

On if he's frustrated with the amount of playing time he's receiving:

I mean, everybody wants to play 30-40 minutes a game. Everybody wants to play, especially when they feel they can help the team. But like I said, at the end of the day, whatever coach sees fit to do, I'm falling in line, I'm rolling with it. I've said that in all previous interviews, you can see that from all my quotes they've all been the same. Nothing has changed, and I played 30+ minutes last game, but if I come out and play 18-20 minutes this game, I'm still gonna go out there and play as hard as I can, no matter what. Like I said, it's about me always being there for my teammates and my teammates knowing I'm gonna be there for them regardless in any type of situation.

On if he's talked with Jim Boylen about his playing time:

I mean, we've talked. But at the end of the day, like I said, it's all about what coach wants to do and I have to fall in line with what our coaches are putting out, and believing in the game plan. I do believe in our gameplan, I believe we can win each and every game, you know, we've lost some very, very close ones. But I do feel like I can help the team a little bit more, but at the end of the day, like I said, it's all about me going out there with the time I do get and taking care of business. 

On how he feels he can help the team:

In ways, specifically, impactful times in the game, when teams are making runs or we need some type of defensive energy and some defensive spurts in end-of-game situations. But like I said, we're in a stage where we're trying to win games and we're trying to develop players and we're trying to make sure everybody's on one accord. And like I said, with the times that I do get, I go out there and try to be as productive as I can, the same as each and every guy on this team.

On if the conversations he had with Bulls in the offseason match up with the way things are now:

I mean, like I said, the conversations in the offseason were the conversations in the offseason. But going into the season things change and things come out a little differently. But, for me, like I said, it's not really about what was said in the offseason and all of that. It's about me going out there day-to-day, doing the work, and making sure that I go out there and help my team win games, so that's been my focus, that's my only focus and coming here, my only focus is to win basketball games and I want to do that at all costs.

On if the timing of these reports surfacing soon after playing his highest minutes total of the season (33 minutes against the Hawks on Wednesday):

Like I said, you've seen my quotes in the article. So, my quotes have always kinda been the same. Just to be ready at all costs, go out there and do my job when it's needed and go out there and whatever minutes I get, play as hard as I can in those minutes. So, I don't think about the timing or anything like that, I leave that timing thought process for y'all. But for me, like I said, it's all about coming to work and putting my hard-hat on each and every night.

On if he is disillusioned with the amount of playing time he's receiving:

Like I said, everybody wants to play more minutes. That's every guy on this team. Every guy wants to go out there and be able to play 30 minutes a night. It just so happens I came from a team — or my last seven, eight years — I've been playing 30 minutes a night and being very impactful within those 30 minutes. It's definitely a change, but like I said, whatever time that you do get, you go out there and you play as hard as you can, you continue to be professional, you continue to believe in what you're trying to build and you continue to believe in your teammates each and every night.

On if he should be rewarded for positive play with more playing time down the stretch of games:

I mean, yeah, I mean, it should be. But at the end of the day, like I said, we have different things that we're trying to do. Like I said, we're trying to develop guys and we're trying to win at the same time. But at the end of the day, the minutes. Yes, I would like to play more minutes, but if I'm playing 20 minutes a game, within those 20 minutes, I'm gonna try to give somebody hell during those 20 minutes. So, it is what it is.

On if he regrets joining the Bulls:

No, I mean, I love my teammates to death. Obviously the circumstances are not the best-case scenario. But at the end of the day, I love my teammates, I go to war with them each and every day, I love being able to help some of the guys get better. I love going out there and having fun with these guys, playing games. And I love getting into the film room with the coaching staff and going over different things that we can do better as a team. I just love everything about the game, I love everything that it brings, and like I said, the situation is not best case scenario, simply because I am only playing 20 minutes a game. But if coach sees fit to play me 20, sees fit to play me 25, sees fit to play me 30, I'm with whatever he decides. He's the man in charge, he's our chief, and we have to go out there and be able to follow behind our chief each and every night.

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Thad Young 'gets on' Wendell Carter Jr. for his struggles with foul trouble

Thad Young 'gets on' Wendell Carter Jr. for his struggles with foul trouble

In the midst of a season defined by slews of injuries and inconsistent play, Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford have been undeniable bright spots for the Bulls.

"Sh*t, they've been doing great!" Thad Young said after Friday morning shootaround, on their progression. "Wendell has been amazing all season long, you know, he's a capable double-double guy each and every night.

"Daniel. He's been huge for us with the time he does get. He comes out and brings a huge spurt of energy with blocking shots and rebounds. But also, on the offensive end, he's better than people think. You know, he can score the basketball around the basket, he has a great feel for the game, he has great touch."

That's high praise coming from Young, one of the preeminent veteran locker room presences in the league. He did have one critique, though, specifically for Carter.

"The only thing we gotta work on is his f*cking hands," Young said, with a chuckle. "Fouling people. He's always fouling people, he's always, you know, I tell him all the time, keep your hands out of there. When guards see that, they want to attack your hands and get to the free throw line. So, if we can keep his hands away from guys and keep 'em going straight up and getting him to alter shots as opposed to just trying to block 'em all the time. And getting guys to maneuver around him, then it puts him in a better position for him to stay in games and help us win games."

Carter's struggles with foul trouble are well-documented. He currently leads the league in personal fouls with 106 (that's 4.1 per game, second only to Jaren Jackson Jr.) and has fouled out of five games already this season. Young isn't going to let him off the hook.

"Yes, all the time," Young said, when asked he if 'gets on' Carter when he starts racking up fouls. "I got on him [in the Raptors game] when he fouled out. I said, 'What I tell you about your hands, man?' I said soon as you stuck your hand in there, they was ready to call a foul."

Still, it's hard to be too critical of the Bulls' second-year big. Carter also has 13 double-doubles this season, is tied for third in the league in offensive rebounds per game and anchors a Bulls defense rated second in the NBA over the past two weeks and change. Young acknowledged that, as well.

"He's been great all season long. He's a physical force for us, one of our better defensive players," Young said. "He does a hell of a job going out there and executing each and every night."

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