Bulls

Jim Boylen tries to paint positive picture despite 7-game skid, injuries

Jim Boylen tries to paint positive picture despite 7-game skid, injuries

Following Friday’s practice at the Advocate Center, coach Jim Boylen couldn’t say how many available players he would have for Saturday’s home game against the Suns.

Luke Kornet, who is only starting because Wendell Carter Jr. is injured, sprained his left ankle in Friday’s practice and is listed as doubtful.

Carter, Otto Porter Jr., and Denzel Valentine played 3-on-3 with contact, but Porter and Valentine are listed as out while Carter is listed as doubtful. And of course, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn remain out.

Boylen didn’t even commit to two-way player Adam Mokoka suiting up, though he said “there’s a good chance.”

Such is the way of life these days for the banged-up Bulls, losers of seven straight. They had nine available players for Thursday’s home loss to the Hornets.

Still, Boylen spouted positivity.

“What I try to do is look at some of the facts. I want to look at what progress we have made. We have definitely made progress defensively with our system and in what we do this season. That has been hijacked a little bit by injuries, but we're still a good, hard-playing defensive team,” Boylen said. “We've improved our running game. I think in the month of February so far, we're first in fast-break points. Even though we're on a losing streak, we're still playing hard, aggressive basketball.

“I think we're sixth in February in points in the paint. So I try to look at the facts of things we are doing. After the 50-game mark, we were plus-seven wins from last year at the 50-game mark. Then we had some guys start to go down. We were on our way to being plus whatever it would be from that point on. So I'm not going to let the injury bug or the negativity stop understanding what we're building and who we are and how we're playing. There's a lot of positive things that we've done.”

The Bulls actually are fifth in points in the paint and 13th in fast-break points this month. The losses of Carter and Kris Dunn have facilitated their defense dropping out of the top-10 to a tie for 12th.

One player who definitely won’t be available Saturday is Chandler Hutchison, who revealed he took his second cortisone shot of the season in his injured right shoulder. Hutchison addressed reporters for the first time since the All-Star break, which he entered after playing 29 minutes in Washington.

“It’s just something that I’ve been battling. The last three or four games leading into break, it was kind of like, ‘Push through. We’ll have this All-Star break to rest. Maybe see somebody to see what I can do to help kind of push through it.’ But the Wizards game I got banged up quite a bit chasing (Davis) Bertans around screens. I was getting clipped left and right. I had a pretty big block with my right arm that kind of jammed everything up. I wasn’t even able to finish the game the last 4 or 5 minutes,” Hutchison said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s something lingering. For me, a big part of me going forward is I don’t want to have any nagging things lingering.”

Hutchison said the previous cortisone shot helped calm down issues with his shoulder, which already had sidelined him for six weeks. He sounded confident of a return, though he had no target date and said it would be based on daily improvement.

Asked if offseason surgery would be needed, Hutchison didn’t rule it out.

“It’s something as a last resort kind of deal. With what’s going on with my shoulder, it could be used to clean it out. Or it could be something that heals on its own,” he said. “Right now, I’m hoping that with rest it’s something I can get to a point where it heals on its own. And then those talks will kind of advance if it gets to that point.”

Hutchison averaged 11.8 points and 6 rebounds in close to 30 minutes over four games this month, so the timing of this recurrence couldn’t be worse.

“It’s been tough. This past two years is something I’ve never experienced in my life. having to deal with injuries that are freak deals,” he said. “I fall down in the last 14 seconds of a game, jam my foot and I’m out 30 games. I get hit by a screen that happens every game and I’m out six weeks for that. Just things that are freak incidents you can never foresee.”

But Hutchison downplayed a question on whether he’s injury-prone.

“Nah, I don’t think so. It’s just one of those things,” he said. “It’s not, ‘Oh, I had to get a reconstruction here or something that’s going to be lingering here.’ It’s bad luck. I’m hoping it’s all kind of bunched up right now and it’s really a small sample size of my career that’s going to be here awhile.”

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Hawks could be facing big changes after rebuild hit a snag last season

Hawks could be facing big changes after rebuild hit a snag last season

Much like the Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks were considered a team capable of contending for a playoff spot in the East in 2019-20 if everything broke their way.

In the summer of 2019, the Hawks added a pair of top 10 lottery picks in DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish to their young stars, Trae Young and John Collins, and many analysts predicted a double-digit increase over their win total from 2018-19.

But just five games into the season, Collins was hit with a 25 game suspension for violating the terms of the league’s drug policy, and the Hawks sank to the bottom of the conference standings. Atlanta did show some improvement after Collins returned, but they still owned the fourth-worst record in the NBA at 20-47 when the regular season was suspended. 

Player Development

Collins’ suspension was the biggest factor in the Hawks’ disappointing season, but the coaching staff didn’t get anywhere near the production they expected from Hunter and Reddish in their rookie seasons. Hunter started 62 of the 63 games he played in, averaging 12.3 points and 4.5 rebounds. But after leading Virginia to the national title in 2019, the rook didn’t shoot the ball as well as the Hawks expected, converting just 41% of his attempts from the field and 35.5% from 3 point range.

Reddish was even worse, falling out of the rotation at times because of his erratic play. The former Duke star shot just 38.4% from the field and 33.2% from long distance, though he did play better later in the season, averaging 16.4 points over his last 10 games and shooting 50% from the field (40% on 3s).

Young was an All-Star starter in his second NBA season, ranking among the league leaders in points and assists with averages of 29.6 and 9.3 respectively. Even while being forced to take so many difficult shots against double-teaming defenses, Young’s shooting percentages of 43.7 from the field and 36.1 on 3s were respectable.

The Hawks were also hoping second year guard Kevin Huerter would make a jump, but his development was slowed by injuries. Huerter started 48 of the 56 games he played, averaging 12.2 points per game, but he only shot 41.3% from the field. 

Offseason Decisions

The Hawks made a couple of trades before the deadline to try and shake up their underachieving roster. The biggest one netted shot-blocking, rim-running center Clint Capela from the Houston Rockets in a multi-team deal, and even though he never got a chance to play a game this season with the Hawks because of a foot injury, Capela should be a good fit with their young perimeter players. 

The Hawks also re-acquired veteran center Dewayne Dedmon, who left the team in free agency the previous summer, and he fits the team’s style of play with his ability to knock down open 3s. The two big men should help stabilize a defense that was one of the NBA’s worst, giving up an average of 119.7 points per game. Atlanta is also excited about the potential of former Maryland big man Bruno Fernando, who played well in limited minutes during his rookie season.

The Hawks could go in a number of directions with their high lottery pick. They could pursue a new backcourt partner for Young with Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball potentially available. Or they might go for the best player on their draft board with forwards Isaac Okoro and Deni Avdija, and big men James Wiseman, Obi Toppin and Onyeka Okongwu among the players considered possible top five picks. 

Atlanta is also projected to have approximately $49 million in cap space, giving them the ability to chase some of the bigger names available in a down year for free agents. Second-year coach Lloyd Pierce has made it clear he would like to add more veterans to the locker room to lessen the burden on Young to carry the load in just about every area. 

Outlook

Pierce made it clear he’s tired of losing, telling a selected group of reporters, including The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner, in a recent Zoom interview session, “There’s going to be a major shift for our team going forward, and the focus starts with our core five and the evaluation is about each guy’s growth individually,” Pierce said. “I put it out there, and I stand behind my comments of we need to make a major jump next year.”

With Capela signed for the next three seasons, the Hawks should be a better defensive team going forward. The key will be be in the development of Hunter and Reddish, and finding a veteran or two to stabilize a young roster. Vince Carter is expected to retire, plus the Hawks aren’t likely to bring back veteran point guard Jeff Teague, so general manager Travis Schlenk will have to shop wisely with his cap space this off-season. Reserves DeAndre Bembry, Skal Labissiere and Damian Jones will all be restricted free agents. 

Having two young stars like Young and Collins to build around is a huge plus, but player development and free agent success will be the key to the Hawks possibly making a playoff run next season.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

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Bulls star Zach LaVine expected to participate in NBA's HORSE competition

Bulls star Zach LaVine expected to participate in NBA's HORSE competition

Let's take a break from the roller-coaster Bulls front office search for a moment of levity, shall we?

Zach LaVine is set to participate in a televised H-O-R-S-E competition with other notable NBA/WNBA players and alumni, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The competition will reportedly be broadcast on ESPN.

LaVine has stayed busy during the NBA's hiatus, participating in online Call of Duty and NBA2K tournaments, albeit to limited success. A game of H-O-R-S-E should be more suited to his strengths. This season, LaVine separated himself as one of the premiere tough shot-makers in the league, and he's got some tricks up in his bag that most in the competition couldn't dream of achieving.

We know you're done with the dunk contest Zach, but... Could we just get one 360 from the free throw line? As a treat?

Chris Paul and Trae Young were also listed by Wojnarowski as participants, though it appears details are still be finalized. In any case, we'll certainly be watching.

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