Bulls

Lauri Markkanen's arrival the biggest change for Bulls: 'He's a hell of a guy to have on our side'

Lauri Markkanen's arrival the biggest change for Bulls: 'He's a hell of a guy to have on our side'

There’s something different about the Bulls over the last week.

While the practices have been longer and there’s a more energetic head coach bouncing on the sideline, the biggest difference that’s affecting this team most is the player that led them to a victory Friday night.

It was Lauri Markkanen’s third game back since suffering a sprained right elbow in training camp, and after two performances that knocked rust off of the 21-year-old’s game he finally put together a performance that the Bulls hope becomes a constant.

Markkanen scored 24 points, knocked down four 3-pointers and hit the game winning shot over an outstretched Paul George and Steven Adams with 4.9 seconds remaining, ending a seven-game losing streak and giving Jim Boylen his first win as an NBA head coach.

“That big Finnish kid isn’t bad,” Boylen said after the game. “He made some great plays down the stretch.”

Markkanen’s spin move on George and finishing layup over Adams and George will be the highlight of the night, but it finished off a sequence for the 21-year-old that showed just how versatile he can be. On the Bulls’ previous possession Markkanen took a similar dribble handoff from Zach LaVine and instead of attacking the basket found an open Justin Holiday on the left wing for a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls a two-point lead with 23 seconds left.

“He’s smart. Lauri’s not one of those guys that thinks he has to take the winning shot. He’s one of those guys that feels he’s going to make the winning play, whatever that is,” Boylen said. “That’s the beauty of that dude.”

The other beauty of Markkanen was his shot taking and shot making in the first half. Like they’ll do to plenty of opponents this season, the Bulls abused the Thunder’s top-ranked defense with pick and pops using LaVine and Markkanen. LaVine had nine turnovers but also pitched in seven assists. It’s a small sample size, but the Bulls’ ability to space the floor with Markkanen has resulted in LaVine racking up 16 assists the last two games.

Markkanen hit all four triples in the first half, and the Bulls’ spacing on that end of the floor was noticeably better as they scored 70 points and shot nearly 60 percent from the field.

 “Lauri spaces the floor. He shoots the ball so well, especially when he starts getting his rhythm back,” LaVine said. “He helps me a lot because I always have an outlet. I draw the double team Lauri gets to the cup. I can always spread it out to him.”

He battled foul trouble a large portion of the second half, picking up his third and fourth fouls in a six-second span just 90 seconds into the third quarter. He also banged up his elbow setting a down screen for Justin Holiday, and he received treatment on the bench while sitting for nearly 12 minutes.

But he showed no ill effects of the banged up elbow once he returned. He hit a turnaround jumper on his first possession back in the fourth quarter to pull the Bulls within five, and his steal off an errant Russell Westbrook pass led to two Bulls free throws that tied the game at 100.

Once LaVine got a little too much hero ball going Jim Boylen spaced the offense out and gave multiple options on sets rather than LaVine do it all himself. Markkanen came up big, once on the pass to Holiday and once on the final make of the game.

“First of all he cares about the team. I don’t know if it’s playing with his national team or whatever it is, but he’s such a good teammate,” Boylen said. “And he understands how to play. He has great confidence and him and I have a relationship where I think it’s one of those deals where we kind of look at each other and we know, like, it’s just there. And I’m thankful for that.”

The Bulls look different with Markkanen on the floor. While Boylen taking over as head coach, running two-and-a-half-hour practices and getting the Bulls back to the basics have been the main headlines, there’s a different swagger in the air with No. 24 on the floor. It’ll only get better when Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis return, potentially as early as tomorrow night against Boston, but the ups and downs of this season will continue to ride with Markkanen.

"It really doesn’t matter to me if I’m going to take the shot. I just want to make the right play,” he said. “We’re just trying to make the right play, and I think everyone has bought into that.”

 

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Posterized presents 'Chicagoland's All-Time Starting Five' plus Q&A with Jason Goff

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Posterized presents 'Chicagoland's All-Time Starting Five' plus Q&A with Jason Goff

Over the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago, the "Posterized: The Chicago Experience by Jim Beam" event celebrated the rich history of Chicagoland high school hoops by honoring an "all-time starting five," featuring five Chicagoland preps legends, voted on by Chicago sports fans. Fans had from February 6 to February 10 at 9 pm to vote for their top five from a list of names that included Candace Parker, Derrick Rose, and the late Benji Wilson. The final results were revealed on February 14th, at the Chicago Sports Museum & Harry Caray's 7th inning stretch restaurant.

At Posterized the event the Chicagoland all-time starting five was revealed: Derrick Rose (Simeon), Isiah Thomas (St. Joseph), Dwyane Wade (Richards High School), Anthony Davis (Perspectives Charter), and Antoine Walker (Mount Carmel). I was able to speak with the host of the event about the experience and the final list, NBC Sports Chicago's Jason Goff. Below is the Q+A with Goff on the event: 

 

Q: How was your experience at 'Posterized: The Chicago Experience' and what ultimately led to your interest in hosting the event? 

It was a terrific experience. Joy Glover and her team put together a really cool experience for locals and people who aren't from Chicago. All things party, Chicago basketball appreciation; and All-Star weekend rolled into one event. When Joy reached out through a mutual friend, I didn't hesitate. The idea was cool and the execution during the busiest time I've seen in quite a while was excellent. 

Q: The All-Time starting 5 selected by the fans was: Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker. Ultimately, do you think the fans got it right? Was there anyone you were shocked didn't make the final cut? 

There are so many names that were on the list that deserve recognition. We're all prisoners of whatever generation of basketball we grew up in. Quinn Buckner, Mark Aguirre, George Mikan, etc. Just to name a few. Also, the women's game could've received a little more gratitude by our voters as well. Candace Parker, Cappie Pondexter; and many others have had just as much success inside and outside of this city as anyone. 

Q: Who in your opinion had the best high school career out of the Chicagoland all-time starting five? (Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker)

Of the ones named? Probably Derrick Rose [at Simeon]. But nobody has done more winning than Quinn Buckner (a member of undefeated Thornridge High School team in 1972, one of the best HS teams ever.)

Q: When it's all said and done, who do you think will have the best NBA career of the Chicagoland all-time starting five? (Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker)

Unless Anthony Davis wins a few titles, it'd have to be Dwyane Wade with Isiah Thomas as a close second.

Between the five players that make up Posterized's all-time starting five, there are six NBA Championships, an NBA MVP, and 17 All-NBA appearances. Below are some of the accomplishments of this illustrious group:

Isiah Thomas:

High school (St. Joseph-Westchester): State finalist (1979), McDonald's All-American (1979),  first-team Parade All-American, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)

Indiana (NCAA): NCAA Champion (1981), NCAA Tourney MVP (1981), 2-time All-Big Ten, Consensus 1st team All-American (1981)

NBA (Detroit Pistons): Five-time All-NBA, Two-time NBA Champion (1988-89, 1989-90), 1989-90 Finals MVP, Hall of Famer

Derrick Rose:

Simeon (High school): State finalist (1979), McDonald's All-American (1979),  first-team Parade All-American, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)

Memphis (NCAA): NCAA Champion (1981), NCAA Tourney MVP (1981), 2-time All-Big Ten, Consensus 1st team All-American (1981)

NBA (Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons): 2008-09 Rookie of the Year, one-time All-NBA, 2010-11 MVP

Dwyane Wade:

Richards (High school): Led Ricards to the Class AA sectional finals in his senior year

Marquette (NCAA): First-team All-American (2003), Conference USA Player of the Year (2003), No. 3 jersey retired by Marquette

NBA (Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers): Eight-time All-NBA, Three-time NBA Champion (2005-06, 2011-12, 2012-13), Finals MVP (2005-06)

Antoine Walker:

Mount Carmel (High school): Chicago Tribune 1994 Boys All-State Basketball Team, First-team Parade All-American (1994)

Kentucky (NCAA):  SEC Tournament MVP (1995), First-team All-SEC (1996), NCAA Champion (1996)

NBA (Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves): 15,647 career points, 1996-97 All-Rookie, three-time All-Star, 2005-06 NBA Champion

Anthony Davis:

Perspectives (High school): First-team Parade All-American (2011), Jordan Brand Classic co-MVP (2011)

Kentucky (NCAA): 2011-12 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, 2012 SEC Player of the Year, Naismith Award, Wooden Award, NCAA Champion (2011-12)

NBA (New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers):  2012-13 All-Rookie, three-time blocks leader, three-time All-Defensive team, three-time All-NBA

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Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out

Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out

Cameron Johnson had just been selected by the Phoenix Suns with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. At the time, the move was a surprise — Johnson was projected to fall into the middle to late first round, despite averaging 16.9 points and shooting 45.7% from 3 in his last year at North Carolina.

So, elation was a natural response for all close to Johnson. And nobody displayed that elation more authentically — nor more publicly — than Johnson’s teammate, roommate and ‘little brother’ Coby White (who had been picked by the Bulls just four slots earlier). You remember the clip:

That familial bond was grown over many nights bunking together on the road during White’s one and only year at UNC. It all began on a week-long trip to the Bahamas in advance of last season.

“Coming in, I'm the type of dude where if I don't really know you, then I don't talk a lot,” White said. “And then Cam was like ‘Why you so anti(-social)?’ and then it kinda started from there. He became a guy I could always go to if I ever needed something, on or off the court.”

“You know, seniors pair with freshmen, make sure they're everybody they need to be on time,” Johnson, a fifth-year in 2018-19, said. “But he was, like, a mature, easy, no-drama freshman. His composure was at a very high level, his maturity was at a very high level.”

White scoffed at that, saying he got a similar rep (of being ‘mature’) in his first weeks with the Bulls. “I was like nah just trust me,” he said. “And now I'm like that little brother that's annoying them.”

Still, Johnson and White became fast friends over their overlapping year in Chapel Hill. Though it’s been tough to keep in touch amid the rigors of their first NBA seasons, they each agreed competing against each other was a fun change of pace.

“It was great seeing him, I hadn't seen him in a long time, so it was great seeing him,” White said. “We talk here and there, but because we're so busy — it's one of those things, like, you know no matter what we're gonna have each other's backs, we always gonna be there for each other when we need each other.”

“I love that kid, man. I tell you, most of the time when we talk it’s just saying what’s up and just reminding each other that we love each other,” Johnson said. “That’s my guy and I went over and gave him a big hug before I went on the court today.”

 

What ensued come gametime was special for all. In the contest — a 112-104 Suns victory — White poured in a career-high 33 points and canned seven 3-pointers, shooting 11-for-22 from the field. Johnson notched 11 points and three 3-pointers, and made all of them count.

“It was fun, but I hate him so much,” White said of Johnson, who hit two of his three 3-pointers in the game’s fourth quarter. “I just know whenever he shoots if he gets any type of open look it's going in. So every time he shot it in my head, I'm like mad cause I'm like, he's the one you just can't leave him open. The ball just kept finding him in open space.”

But then, with a smile: “But obviously it's all love. After the game, I talked to him, he told me he was proud of me and whatnot. He's like a big brother to me, so it means a lot.”

There’s just something about these Tar Heels. With Roy Williams at the United Center on Nov. 12, White set a Bulls record for 3-pointers in a quarter with seven in the fourth against the Knicks. Tonight, lined up across from Johnson, he scored the second-most points in Bulls franchise history by a rookie off the bench.

He, Johnson and Bulls fans everywhere, will be counting down the days until the team visits Phoenix on April 5.

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