Bulls

Mark Schanowski's NBA Draft Big Board 9.0

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USA TODAY

Mark Schanowski's NBA Draft Big Board 9.0

College basketball fans will get their chance to watch Murray St.’s Ja Morant perform under the NCAA Tournament microscope after the sophomore point guard led the Racers to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship last weekend, securing an automatic bid.

If you’re a regular reader of our draft big board feature, you know I’m super high on Morant’s pro potential. His speed in the open court reminds me of De’Aaron Fox, who’s enjoying a breakout 2nd NBA season in Sacramento. If Morant is able to take advantage of NBA weight training to add strength to his 6’2”, 180 pound frame, his ceiling could be in the Russell Westbrook/pre-knee injury Derrick Rose range, given his uncanny ability to finish at the rim over taller defenders and consistently get to the free throw line.

My good friend and colleague at NBC Sports Chicago, Will Perdue, had a chance to watch Morant up close and personal while serving as an expert analyst for the national radio broadcast of the OVC tourney championship game. So, I asked him to watch Morant as closely as possible to pick up his strengths and weaknesses.

Will came away very impressed with Morant’s court vision, saying the 20 year old point guard has a unique ability to spot open teammates and deliver the ball in a manner that allows them to get a shot off easily. Morant currently leads the nation in assists, and you have to think he could average double figure helpers in the NBA since he’ll be surrounded by more talented players.

Like all of us who’ve watched Morant’s highlights, Will appreciated his ability to blow by an initial defender and get to the basket with ease. But he told me most of his spectacular finishes are against players in the 6’7” to 6’9” range, and he wonders whether he’ll be as successful against taller, stronger NBA big men.

Will also is concerned with Morant’s release on his 3 point shot, which he says starts around the waist instead of shoulder level. That could lead to numerous blocked shots by NBA defenders. Will told me he believes Morant’s explosive first step and leaping ability should allow him to continue to rack up high free throw totals in the pros, but he might not be a big time scorer initially.

When I asked Will which player he would take with the 2nd overall pick, he said he’d prefer Duke teammates R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish over Morant. And, the Bulls might also consider Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, who’s a better shooter than Morant.

Still, when looking at the Bulls’ biggest positional need heading into the off-season, it’s clearly at point guard, where Kris Dunn has yet to establish himself as the long term answer. After 2 years of their rebuilding program, the Bulls have identified starters at 4 of the 5 positions, so my guess is they’ll go point guard unless they absolutely love Barrett and wind up with the 2nd overall pick.

Phoenix would likely take Morant if they get the 2nd, 3rd or 4th pick, while the Knicks and Cavs will probably pass since they both acquired young point guards in the past year in Dennis Smith Jr. and Collin Sexton, respectively.

So, the Bulls will probably get a chance to draft Morant or Garland if point guard is the direction they want to go, but you can count on a lot of posturing and best player available talk leading up to draft night, unless the lottery combinations work in the Bulls’ favor and they get the chance to draft Zion Williamson number one.

Bulls take tunnel vision approach to Charlotte for opener vs. Hornets

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USA Today

Bulls take tunnel vision approach to Charlotte for opener vs. Hornets

The significance of his first opening night as head coach? Jim Boylen wasn’t biting.

Opening with four of five games against teams that didn’t make last season’s playoffs, including Wednesday night in Charlotte, N.C.? Boylen steered clear of that.

Addressing the goal stated on media day to make the playoffs? Lauri Markkanen added a qualifier.

“No promises,” he said. “But that’s the goal, for sure.”

The Bulls officially closed training camp Tuesday with a one-game-at-a-time and bunker mentality that would make any fan of clichés proud. They’re focused on the Hornets---and nothing of greater significance for now.

“We don’t talk about playoff team, non-playoff team. We’re talking about Charlotte,” Boylen said. “We’re going to play as hard as we can against Charlotte. That’s what we can control. And then we’ll move on.”

Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are scheduled to start. Chandler Hutchison, who increased his on-court work but has yet to practice because of a hamstring issue, is the only injured player. Boylen said he’d announce his other inactive player besides Hutchison Wednesday.

“I just want to help the team,” Boylen said, elaborating on the significance of his first opening night as head coach. “As a head coach, sometimes you help them and sometimes you let them help themselves. I want to be there for them, support them. Hopefully we honor our principles. We do our basics better, the best we can, and see what happens.”

Boylen wouldn’t touch the subject. But even with all four games against last season’s non-playoff teams coming on the road, getting off to a fast start is essential.

Beyond the fact it will continue the good vibes that began with a widely praised offseason and through voluntary September workouts, the Bulls are relatively healthy. And the close to their schedule offers some brutal tests, so building a cushion early would bolster playoff talk.

“That’s what we’re trying to do---start off strong,” Markkanen said. “That sets the pace for the rest of the year. We’re going one game at a time, but it’s really important for us to get these.”

The Bulls visit Memphis to face a rebuilding Grizzlies team and No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant on Friday. They will navigate the two-game trip following a preseason in which they played at a faster pace than last season and averaged 39.4 3-pointers per game. That ranked ninth in the league after finishing 27th with just 25.9 attempts last season.

“I think we get a ton of open looks,” Markkanen said. “I’ve had good looks and my teammates have as well. We’re playing unselfish basketball, sharing the ball, making the extra pass. I think it’s going to help us.”

Despite all the optimism and addition of 12-year veteran Thad Young, the Bulls remain young, the league’s second-youngest team behind the Suns. Questions about depth and defensive efficiency are legitimate.

The tests start for real Wednesday.

“I’ve seen a group of guys that want to do the right things,” Boylen said. “It’s a high character group. It’s a willing group. Our care factor is high and I expect for us to care for each other, play for each other, sacrifice for each other. I think we’ll do that well.”

Bulls sign guard Max Strus to a two-way contract

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USA Today

Bulls sign guard Max Strus to a two-way contract

The Bulls announced today they have signed guard Max Strus to a two-way contract. Strus went undrafted during the 2019 NBA Draft before being signed by the Boston Celtics during preseason. He played in four preseason games for the Celtics, averaging 5.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists.

The Celtics waived Strus to make way with athletic wing Javonte Green on the final roster.

Max Strus is a Chicagoland native, growing in Hickory Hills and attending Amos Alonzo Stagg High School. Strus played college basketball at Lewis University in Romeoville before playing for the DePaul Blue Demons.

Standing at six-foot-five and 215 pounds, Strus was named to the All Big-East Second Team after averaging 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 35 games during his senior 2018-19 season. As a senior he played 29-straight games with double-figure scoring and set DePaul season records with 113 3-pointers and 311 3-point attempts. His career scoring average of 18.6 points per game with the fourth best in DePaul history.

We’re excited to have Strus back in Chicago and ready to see what he brings to the Bulls when their season starts tomorrow against Charlotte.

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