Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine take turns leading Bulls in win over Grizzlies

Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine take turns leading Bulls in win over Grizzlies

Kris Dunn stated he wanted to be more of a vocal leader, not just the type to lead by example.

Responding to his coach’s call for leadership, Dunn played a critical part in the Bulls washing the embarrassing taste from their mouths in a 119-110 win over the scrappy Memphis Grizzlies at the United Center, as the three cornerstones all showed why they’re well-equipped to be building blocks for the future.

Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen scored 20 or more for the first time this season, a sense of validation of sorts considering the crowd that wanted the Bulls to play for nothing but ping-pong balls.

There’s still plenty to be settled in the next 18 games, and Dunn wanted to be a catalyst for change—taking small steps in his own way that he hopes will lead to giant leaps in due time.

“I told you guys starting the rest of the season that’s what I’m gonna try to bring,” Dunn said. “Not just do it with actions but be vocal. On the defensive end they feel I can be one of the best defenders on the team. I gotta be the linebacker. I see things I gotta communicate.”

The game wasn’t perfect by any stretch as the Bulls nearly squandered a comfortable lead after jumping on the lottery-bound Grizzlies by 21, only to have Dillon Brooks score 20 of his 29 in the fourth to cut the lead to one with 2:13 remaining.

Dunn had six turnovers to go with his nine assists, while LaVine had a few missteps on drives to the lane after previously finding easy room, scoring most of his 21 from the paint.

And when the offense wasn’t crisp, Dunn spoke up for the first time.

“I’m trying to do my job,” Dunn said. “We’re all men in here. If I gotta be the bad guy, I have no problem doing it. They know I have no bad intentions. I don’t think they take it as me trying to yell and get everybody in the right position as criticism. I think they like it.”

When things got tight, Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen all took turns stepping forward, hitting shots or being active enough as a decoy to free up teammates for shots to seal the win.

Dunn kept getting in the lane, while LaVine hit a deep triple with four minutes left to give the Bulls some breathing room during the Dillon onslaught. When Dunn had trouble against the Grizzlies pressure, LaVine initiated the offense on a few possessions.

“Me and Coach talked about that,” LaVine said. “Some days Kris is gonna have it going, I'm gonna have it going or Lauri and we'll have to be okay with it sometimes. The ball doesn't have to stick in one primary dude's hands unless it's his night or he has it going or somebody's demanding.”

Markkanen wasn’t as involved in the primary offense but that perhaps proved to be a good thing for the future, as he repeatedly got out in the open floor or against smaller players for six dunks, the most he’s had in a game this season.

While he took six 3-point attempts, the fact the Bulls were looking for him in a place aside from 25-feet out shows another element to the offense and their own maturity.

“I thought those three were really good, especially Lauri,” Hoiberg said. “They were showing on him and I thought out guys did a good job of finding him on some pick-and-pops, and Zach set a great screen for him to dunk in the lane.”

Justin Holiday returned to the starting lineup for the second time since the All-Star break and showed how much he missed the action, hitting all five of his shots—four from 3-point range—to score 14 points in 17 minutes.

Holiday was also a key figure as a screener in helping Markkanen get open earlier in the season, an aspect LaVine will have to master as he picks up the nuances of Hoiberg’s read-and-react offense moving forward.

As of now, he’s best creating offense with the ball in his hands and while he was eight of 14 from the field, he added five assists and noted the Bulls have the makings for a dangerous late-executing team.

“Each (team) have two dudes they go to,” LaVine said. “A primary guy and secondary dude they can go to at any time. But it's big. I think we have three dudes who can be on at any time during the game.”

There was plenty of space in the set offense as the Bulls shot 53 percent and had 25 assists on 41 field goals, but even more space when they created turnovers to get out in the open floor. LaVine had one steal while Dunn had three, keying fast breaks.

“Kris is just a ballhawk. He just does that off instincts, I use my athleticism,” LaVine said. “He played free safety. I swear he did. A lot of his instincts come from football. I'm gonna call him (former Baltimore Ravens safety) Ed Reed.”

Dunn and LaVine haven’t played together much this season, despite being teammates last year in Minnesota. LaVine’s injury and Dunn being buried on the bench prevented them from developing on-floor chemistry, and this is their first true chance to do it—albeit late in the season.

Dunn termed his chemistry with LaVine as “fair.”

“We got good chemistry off the floor, we got good personalities,” Dunn said. “On the court it takes time. It definitely takes time. We both like to create plays for others and for ourselves. It’s not just on us, but the coaching staff and teammates. We have to figure it out together. Eventually we’ll get it down.”

LaVine is looking at the bigger picture, when the games in March matter as opposed to playing out the string.

“It's big, especially going forward because we're gonna be in situations like this, it's not gonna be where we're out of the playoffs,” he said. “We'll be in the playoff hunt. We'll be contenders so we need to get that experience for those times.”

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again


Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

Jimmy Butler is in hot water with the Wades ... again.

Maybe not really, but the two former Bulls teammates exchanged pleasantries on Instagram after Butler commented on a photo Dwyane Wade's wife Gabrielle Union posted poolside, saying: "WELL DAMN!!"

Wade, a three-time all-defensive second team, came to his wife's defense when Butler posted a video the next day with the caption: "The good, the bad, and the ugly...", prompting Wade to respond: "Put well damn in caps on my wife photo again and you're gonna see what the good, the bad and the ugly is like."

*Mic drop*

It appears this won't affect Butler getting an invite to the next get together. Or so he hopes...

"Well that escalated quickly," Butler responded to Wade. "Point noted.. I'm still coming to the bbq tho 😂😂😂"

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

Lauri Markkanen has been making headlines this offseason, mostly for bulking up considerably, and making appearances around Chicago at Nike camps and Jabari Parker’s camp, but as the season nears, his on-the-court exploits are starting to come up as well. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated put Lauri Markkanen on their list of five breakout candidates for the 2018-19 season

SI writer Michael Shapiro had this to say about Markkanen:

Markkanen has all the tools to be a future All-Star, and it looks as though he has the mindset, too. He seemed to take his matchup with Porzingis personally in early January, demanding the ball down the stretch en route to a career-high 33 points in a road victory. The Bulls enter 2018-19 on the outside of the East playoff picture, but Chicago is now home to the NBA’s newest unicorn.

High praise indeed for Markkanen, and well-deserved praise considering that he finished with a usage rate lower with the Bulls than his college stint at Arizona, yet still was able to have an impact on the Bulls. Shapiro mentioned Markkanen’s burgeoning off-the-dribble game as the skill that most stood out, and speaks to the Finnish big man’s All-Star potential. 

While the 21-year-old’s threes lived up to the hype, it was his prowess of the bounce that made the biggest impression. Markkanen showed a deft handle and array of canny fakes in the post, adding a mean streak to boot. The Finnisher lived up to his nickname, unafraid of contact and eager to fight for position in the post. The stereotype of the soft European big man doesn’t apply here.

The numbers back this up. 

Among the Bulls top 10 players in drives per game last season, Markkanen finished second in field percentage (on drives) at 46.1 percent. If that numbers rises, or more likely, Markkanen drives to the basket more, his scoring total will increase. And when it came to finishing around the paint in general, he shot  67.6 percent on shots from zero-to-three feet, making him the third best in that range out of the Bulls top nine rotation players last season. Yet among the same group of players, Markkanen ranked sixth in shot attempts from zero-to-three feet. With the presence of Wendell Carter Jr., and another year of internal growth from Bobby Portis- bigs that can stretch the floor -Markkanen should be the recipient of more plays putting him in a position to score around the basket.

On a roster that will surely give big minutes to Parker, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison and a working-his-way-back to form Zach LaVine, Markkanen may be surest 3-point shooter on the floor. This means defenses will key in on his outside shot. If players are routinely closing out hard on Markkanen- as they should -this will open up more driving opportunities for the nimble seven-footer. 

The third or fourth season is usually when young players take the leap from good to great, but Markkanen will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever been surrounded with. How he handles playing with this group will go a long way towards establishing what kind of player he will be in the future, specifically if he is an All-Star caliber talent. On the 2018-19 Bulls, someone will have to hover around a 20 percent usage rate, making them a clear third-option, whoever that player is, his last name should not be Markkanen.