Bulls

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

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Bulls mailbag: There's Lauri Markkanen angst, Jim Boylen queries

Bulls mailbag: There's Lauri Markkanen angst, Jim Boylen queries

Q: Do you anticipate Lauri Markkanen being more aggressive and getting out of this funk sooner rather than later? - Jeremy K.

A: His career numbers suggest yes. Markkanen is an extremely talented offensive player. He can be a matchup nightmare. The Bulls are taking some solace in the fact Markkanen has missed plenty of open shots. That is true. And perhaps Markkanen’s now disclosed oblique injury has played a factor as well, though, since he has never landed on the injury report, that can’t be a major issue. Markkanen said it hasn’t affected his play. Plus, his slow start can’t be completely explained away by just those factors.

Markkanen has looked less aggressive. That could be a byproduct of him struggling to adapt to the new offensive system or spending less time in the post. Perhaps a stretch like he authored last February is on the way to make all this a moot point. But until his production nears his career marks---and this is the season it was supposed to be beyond it---such questions will remain. He was more aggressive in the Knicks game but then also committed six turnovers. Stay tuned.

If Lauri Markkanen continues to struggle, would it make sense to let him come off the bench and start Thad Young to get more production from the first unit? - JordynsDad, via Twitter

No chance. Thad Young is a complementary piece signed for the next two to three seasons to provide stability, durability and veteran leadership. Markkanen is a cornerstone for the rebuild. If anything, Markkanen needs to play more, or at least get more shots.

What potential do you see in Markkanen? Future All-Star or great role player? - Lawrence N.

Can the answer be somewhere in between? I had a conversation last season with someone I respect who has been associated with the NBA in some capacity for 30 years. This was during Markkanen’s breakout February. This person said Markkanen would be like Detlef Schrempf. My first reaction was to say, “No way.” Because you associate Schrempf with mostly coming off the bench. Then I looked up Schrempf’s career numbers and was like, “Man. What a solid career.” Dude averaged 13.9 points on 49 percent shooting, including 38 percent from 3-point range, over 16 seasons. Now that said, the Bulls need Markkanen to be an All-Star, or at least close to one, for this rebuild to fully take off towards success.

Can Daniel Gafford take Luke Kornet’s minutes? - Sears Centre Uber, via Twitter

Kornet dropped out of the first-half rotation for one game but then returned and then dropped out of the rotation completely against the Knicks. He has struggled defensively in the Bulls’ aggressive pick-and-roll coverage, so his touted rim protection hasn’t been very noticeable. Worse, he is shooting a career-low 21.7 percent chance from 3-point range. He entered this season at a career 35.8 percent. Gafford has become many fans’ favorite backup quarterback. His strengths of running the floor hard and playing with energy translate no matter the venue. However, Boylen has talked about staying on Gafford in practice about all that he demands from the center position. Boylen needs his center to be a strong communicator on defense. For now, that appears to be holding him back. And a three-man rotation at center is fine by me.

Is the foundation of Jim Boylen’s coaching purely based on analytics rather than on the players’ strengths and weaknesses? Kris Dunn can’t and doesn’t want to shoot 3-pointers, but he’s constantly stationed on the perimeter. PapaBearIII, via Twitter

Boylen is proud of the fact the Bulls lead the league in shots at the rim and have increased their 3-point attempts drastically from last season. Dunn never will be a consistent threat from the latter, but the opportunity for him to be a driver remains. Particularly since he is often paired with Coby White, who has been playing more off the ball. Offensively, I agree that Dunn hasn’t driven the ball as much as he did as a starter. He’s been solid defensively. As for Boylen’s approach, he keeps saying he believes in the math. So this approach is here to stay.

What do you think of the stadium’s new scoreboard? Devin M.

If it’s good enough for Derrick Rose, who noticed it and commented on it at Pistons shootaround when he was in town, it’s good enough for me.

Developing young players is one of the most essential parts of being a good NBA coach. Under Tom Thibodeau, Derrick Rose developed into an MVP, Luol Deng into an All-Star, Joakim Noah into a Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star and Jimmy Butler into Most Improved Player. All of the current young Bulls players, aside from Wendell Carter Jr., have badly regressed under Jim Boylen so far this season. Zach LaVine isn’t as efficient this season as he was last year, Lauri Markkanen looks like a shell of himself and Kris Dunn is practically unplayable on offense playing with a second unit. How is this lack of development being overlooked by the Bulls front office? - Dan B.

You’re assuming it is. You’re also assuming this all falls on the coaching staff. I somewhat agree with your overall premise, that only Carter has shown dramatic signs of growth through 10 games. I think LaVine’s decision-making and defense are coming on and I think Coby White has shown signs of growth beyond his scoring. A couple caveats: It’s early. And Boylen keeps citing players shooting well below their career averages on good shots. So he expects shots to fall and players like LaVine and Markkanen to play better.

What’s the vibe in the locker room right now with Bulls being at 4-7? - Hamza B.

Overall, it seems fine. There’s frustration, to be sure. But for now, guys are saying and doing the right things.

My questions are regarding the coaching. You point out almost every week that the bond between Boylen/Gar-Pax/Reinsdorf is as strong as you've seen, how committed they are, etc....but why? What has Boylen done to get such treatment? I'm not necessarily calling for his head, but many pro coaches have been fired for a lot less. Boylen seems like a solid assistant but why all this monumental trust? He hasn't won anything, and the team is somewhat healthy and they're still not winning, and aren't showing the improvement that they should've, since they added veterans, had a full training camp, etc. It'd be different if he had a track record other than being an assistant (and sure, see: Tom Thibodeau...but where's he now); maybe Doug Collins or D'Antoni or somebody, but I don't get it. And 2) I wasn't really a Hoiberg fan but I fear we're gonna end up back where we started, and have to wipe away both the Hoiberg/Boylen eras. I really thought they were showing signs of being a decent team under Hoiberg and couldn't understand why he didn't get the remainder of last season. The injuries made the season a waste and that wasn't his fault. Can't say I believe we would've won more games but it felt like his connection to the team was better, as well as style of play. Boylen swung from slow-it-down gritball to...now he's got the space/pace thing figured out, in less than a year? Again I don't get it, and despite what you've reported about how much he cares for his players etc. can't help but wonder how long before they tune him out. But I wanna see some wins! Totally happy with a scrappy, near .500 team. Shouldn't be out of the question for this bunch. Elijah H.

And it still could happen. I get the frustration. And skepticism for Boylen remains no doubt for some fans. If you’re aware of the bond between Boylen and management and ownership that I and others have reported about ad nauseum, then you should be aware of the reasons. They value his communication, collaboration and teaching. They think he’s the right voice to drill fundamentals into a young team. Perhaps more directly, Boylen and Paxson believe in a lot of the same philosophies---mental and physical toughness, hard-playing, fundamental basketball.

As for Hoiberg, he’d agree with you that he didn’t get a fair shot last season. Also reported then ad nauseum: Paxson believed the issues went beyond won-loss record and more to a lack of accountability and a lax approach in the locker room. I personally think Hoiberg would’ve loved to coach this current roster.

Lastly, here’s a news flash: Plenty of losing teams tune out coaches. At 4-7, it isn’t currently happening. It’s early.

Not sure if you've received this in the past, but something I have thought about over the last couple of years: Since the NBA switched to Nike last season and allowed teams to choose the color jersey they wear at home, why have the Bulls elected to go with red the vast majority of the time? Given the equity and history of the Bulls white home uniforms since MJ, it seems odd to make that shift. Wondering if anyone in the organization has given rationale, or maybe I am the only person it bothers?  Just seems weird to make that switch with such iconic uniforms.  – A.J. Schaub

I’m gonna go with the guess that red jerseys sell more? Surely marketing has something to do with it. Whatever the case, your question prompted me to discover a website I didn’t know existed. You can see which jersey each team is wearing for each game. Who knew? http://lockervision.nba.com/

Thanks for all the questions. Talk to you soon.

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Wendell Carter Jr. is showing significant signs of growth in his second season, both on and off the court

Wendell Carter Jr. is showing significant signs of growth in his second season, both on and off the court

When the Bulls selected Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft, John Paxson and Gar Forman talked about his rare intelligence, mental toughness and maturity for a 19-year-old prospect.

We saw signs of Carter Jr.’s leadership ability during his 44-game rookie campaign. He took the losses as hard as anyone in the locker room and spoke candidly about the need to change the mindset and focus of everyone on the roster. Carter’s first season ended early because of a broken thumb, but his emergence as a strong voice among the players was only beginning.

With the Bulls getting off to an unexpected slow start to the 2019 season, the now 20-year-old Carter has been a prominent voice in the locker room, saying the players need to feel the pain of the constant losing and do everything possible to turn things around.

Carter has certainly done his part, taking a significant step forward through the first 11 games of his second season. The former Duke star is averaging 13.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and has already notched seven double-doubles — the first Bulls center to accomplish that since Joakim Noah in the 2010-11 season.

After experiencing the physicality of NBA post play as a rookie, Carter put in extra work in the weight room this past summer, and showed up for training camp at a solid 265 pounds. He’s used that extra strength effectively on both ends, banging with the league’s biggest centers under the basket, while also maintaining his ability to switch onto smaller players in pick-and-roll coverage.

Carter also got advice from Bulls television analyst and former NBA player Stacey King to always run hard down the middle of the court after a change of possession to set up opportunities for easy baskets and offensive rebounds. With the Bulls playing at a faster pace this season, Carter's ability to beat opposing centers on the offensive end has already resulted in more scoring chances.

The Bulls coaching staff is still hoping Carter will develop his shooting range to the point where he can be a consistent threat from three-point territory, but at this point that’s not a high priority in the offense. Carter is outstanding in the pick-and-roll, setting solid screens and then rolling hard to the basket for lob passes. He also has the ability to pop out to the elbow area for midrange jump shots.

With all the preseason conversation focused on the possibility of Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen making the jump to All-Star consideration, Carter is the player making the biggest leap early in the season. And his increased production is coming without designed plays being run for him.

The Bulls’ offense doesn’t call for multiple entry passes into the low post, but we saw during Carter’s one season at Duke that he has a nice touch shooting jump hooks from close range with either hand. Carter’s offensive game figures to expand in the coming seasons, but his skill in protecting the rim and controlling the defensive backboard already makes him extremely valuable to what the Bulls are trying to accomplish.

Plus, we already know that a competitive fire burns deep inside the 20-year-old Carter. After former teammate Bobby Portis torched the Bulls for 28 points and 11 rebounds in a come-from-behind victory for the Knicks at Madison Square Garden last month, Carter vowed it wouldn’t happen in Tuesday’s rematch at the United Center. 

“No words need to be said. We’re not letting that happen,” Carter said to reporters. “Bobby is going to want to put on a show. I’m not going to have it. I hope he’s watching this. I ain’t having it.”

Portis’ stat line in the Bulls’ blowout win following those comments? In 19 unproductive minutes, he tallied just 7 points and 3 rebounds on 3-of-9 shooting.

The Bulls’ 20-year-old locker room leader made sure he backed up his pregame comments. Now, he says he’ll look for something to fire up his teammates for every game left on the schedule.

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