Bulls

Knicks release Joakim Noah, but don't count on him joining former Bulls teammates in Minnesota

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USA TODAY

Knicks release Joakim Noah, but don't count on him joining former Bulls teammates in Minnesota

Joakim Noah's rocky tenure with the Knicks came to a close on Saturday, as the team announced that they waived the former Bulls All-Star center.

Noah, 33, signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks in July 2016. He played in just 53 total games with the Knicks, averaging 4.6 points and 7.9 rebounds in 19.9 minutes.

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks will use the waive and stretch provision with Noah, taking on a $6.4 million salary cap hit for three seasons starting in 2019-20.

Noah has been away from the Knicks since January following an alteraction in practice with former Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek. The 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year also missed time last season following a 20-game suspension for violating the NBA's anti-drug policy.

Now that he is a free agent, could Noah join former Bulls teammates Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler (for now) with the Timberwolves? Don't count on it.

Ah, some things are just too good to be true. Still, would we REALLY be surprised if Noah joins the Timberwolves in the near future?

Zach LaVine's offensive struggles begin with his deficiencies at the rim

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine's offensive struggles begin with his deficiencies at the rim

Through the NBA’s first three weeks there wasn’t a better player at attacking the rim than Zach LaVine. The 23-year-old looked spry, healthy and aggressive, and was drawing fouls at a rate that would have made even James Harden blush.

Well, LaVine has hit his first speed bump of the 2018-19 season. With Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis all on the mend (had you heard those three players were injured?) LaVine has taken on a ridiculous burden of leading the Bulls offense; he’s currently second in the NBA in usage, behind only James Harden and Russell Westbrook and ahead of names like Giannis, LeBron, Curry, Embiid and Durant.

For three weeks that was fine. LaVine was hitting everything in sight, passing like we hadn’t seen since his rookie season when he played primarily point guard, and attacking the basket, ranking near the top of the league in trips to the free throw line.

LaVine was shooting a wild 69.6 percent on 8.0 attempts per game inside 5 feet through Oct. 29, third among guards to only Donovan Mitchell (73% on 6.2 attempts) and Devin Booker (70.8% on 6.0 attempts). To put those numbers in perspective, LaVine ranked just ahead of Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook in the category.

It’s where LaVine was at his best, even as he continued to pore in 3-pointers at an absurd rate and, for the most part, take care of the basketball. He lived at the rim, and if he wasn’t finishing there he was drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line; through Oct. 29 he was ninth in free throw attempts per game (8.0), a slight tick above LeBron James (7.7).

But something happened after that pitiful loss to the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 29, and it’s sent LaVine into an ugly shooting slump that he hasn’t been able to get out of in the eight games since. Yes, teams are doubling LaVine and pressuring every time he plays in pick and roll.

But consider: LaVine has taken nearly the same number of contested shots per 36 minutes (11.0 vs. 10.9) and hasn’t taken all that fewer drives to the basket per 36 minutes (14.4 vs. 12.2) during his slump. It may seem like it on the surface, but LaVine’s game hasn’t changed that much as teams have keyed in on him.

Of course his 3-point percentage begin as low as it is – 25.6 percent on 5.9 attempts during his slump – has had a huge effect, but the answer might be in what’s happening to LaVine on those drives to the basket lately.

He was a magnet the first seven games of the season, drawing a foul on 15.4 percent of his drives to the basket. He shot 55 percent on those drives and got to the free throw line 3.7 times per game on drives alone. 9.6 of his 28.1 points per game were coming on his attacks to the basket.

But his slump has affected the best part of his game. It certainly could be fatigue, or simply bad luck, but LaVine’s shooting numbers on drives have dipped to 44.6 percent, he’s drawing fouls on only 4.7 percent of them and is getting to the free throw line fewer than one time (0.8) off those drives. The volume of drives still have him averaging 7.0 points on them, but it’s a stark contrast. And when you combine his pedestrian – for his standards – numbers at the rim with that ugly 3-point shooting, it’s a recipe for disaster.

He’s even passing less on drives during his slump (22 percent of the time compared to 28 percent during his hot stretch), perhaps once again feeling the need to take over on offense for his shorthanded group.

Or maybe he’s just not getting calls. LaVine was issued a technical foul in the second quarter of Wednesday’s loss to the Celtics after he felt he was fouled by Semi Ojeleye. LaVine didn’t get the call, clapped his hands at the official and was given the T.

It’s been a frustrating two weeks all-around for LaVine, but his inability to finish at the rim like he had the first three weeks of the season has led the charge. It’s who LaVine is as a player and where he’s most effective for this Bulls team, which is why his attempts have remained the same.

Perhaps he isn’t getting the same leap on those drives given the uptick in minutes, or maybe defenses are figuring out how to better defend him without fouling. Whatever the reason, LaVine will need to figure out how to better attack defenses, especially if his 3-point shot remains off. It’s either that or more losses will continue to pile up for this undermanned group.

Peck: Rookie Carter is the leader this Bulls team needs

Peck: Rookie Carter is the leader this Bulls team needs

"When the times get hard, I feel like we start to separate. And I feel like those are the times we need each other the most."

Wise words from an NBA vet-errr, never mind. Those wise words were spoken in the visitor's locker room at the TD Garden in Boston last night by Chicago Bulls rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Yeah, that 19 year-old kid. Remind me who the leader is on this team right now?

The 4-11 Bulls are looking anywhere and everywhere for answers during a brutal stretch of their schedule; trying to stay afloat while they wait for key pieces like Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine to get healthy. Zach LaVine is doing everything he can to lead their scoring efforts on a nightly basis, but when LaVine has an off-night, things get ugly rather quickly. That's exactly what happened last night in Boston, as LaVine's 20-point game streak came crashing to a halt and the Bulls mustered just 82 points in 48 minutes. For those keeping score at home, that's 10 points fewer than they surrendered to the Golden State Warriors in 24 minutes of basketball earlier this season.

As Will Perdue said, where was the pride of this young and undermanned group that night at the United Center went Klay Thompson went nuts? Why did no one step up and say, "I don't care how, but we do NOT let that guy break the 3-point record in OUR house"? It goes back to the sentiments the Bulls' youngest player expressed after their 11th loss last night. When things take a turn for the worse, they separate instead of coming together.

"It's not so much an offensive or defensive thing. Just coming out of timeouts, we go our separate ways. Instead of huddling as a team, we only huddle when the coach - when it's a timeout. And I feel like that's important. Just to talk to one another, interact with one another throughout the game so we get a feel for one another and know that we got each others' back. I feel like that's where we struggle right now."

How is it that a 19 year-old rookie sounds like the most mature and insightful person in this locker room? It's a great sign for the future of the Bulls most recent lottery pick because this kid has "veteran leader" written all over him. But is there no one else to do the leading in a season when his focus should be developing his NBA game? Who might that be?

The obvious options are LaVine and Dunn. One is clearly the team's best offensive player, while the other anchors the team's defense when healthy. LaVine deserves credit for shattering expectations early this season, scoring at will from all over the floor. But there's little evidence of him being the vocal leader on the floor, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's no written rule saying your team's best scorer must also serve as the vocal leader. (Let's remember that a young Derrick Rose was not the leader of the Bulls teams of yesteryear. No, that role belonged to Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.)  Honestly, LaVine should get some measure of a pass for not being a vocal leader on the defensive end given everything being asked of him on offense.

The front office duo of John Paxson and Gar Forman repeatedly laud Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez as veteran leaders for this very young team, but is there much evidence of them serving those roles on the court? Holiday might be among the team's leaders in minutes played, but that doesn't mean he's leading them in any other way. Lopez has been in and out of the rotation, and it's hard to be a leader if you're not regularly on the floor.

Dunn is the vocal leader this team is missing. He spoke during the offseason about wanting to take on that role, and his teammates were ready to fall in line. Bobby Portis praised Dunn for helping him understand his defensive role as a big manning the baseline, recalling Dunn's comparison to a quarterback who can see the whole field. LaVine expressed his gratitude to Dunn for calling out his defensive shortcomings after Dunn suggested to Zach that his length and athleticism should allow him to be just as strong as Dunn on that end of the floor.

But while Dunn nurses his sprained MCL, who has taken on that responsibility of holding teammates accountable? Making sure the whole team is communicating during the game and in timeouts? According to Wendell, the answer is sadly: no one.

"It's hard," Carter said. "I guess it does kind of start with one voice. And we're looking for that voice right now."

Guess what, youngin? I think we found the voice. It's you. Tell your teammates to fall in line until Dunn gets back.