Bulls

NBA Buzz: The Bulls look like the best bet on the board

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: The Bulls look like the best bet on the board

Apparently, whoever was involved in setting the summer over-under win total for NBA teams made a big mistake, which means a great opportunity for Bulls fans to make some easy money.

The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas set the Bulls' win total for the 2018-19 season at 27.5, which is just a half game more than they won last season while suffering through a myriad of injuries and ever changing line-up combinations.

And, since last season ended, the Bulls used their two first round draft picks on promising big man Wendell Carter Jr. and athletic wing Chandler Hutchison, while also signing free agent forward Jabari Parker. Add in a full summer and training camp for a fully healthy Zach LaVine, and improved chemistry for the trio of LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, and even the most pessimistic NBA analyst would project the Bulls to win 30 games minimum.

The crazy thing about the Westgate over-unders is they did a solid job with the rest of the league, but just missed badly on the Bulls. That's the kind of mistake that could cost the sports book a lot of money, especially with all the people who have Chicago ties potentially jumping on the over.

But that's a Vegas problem. Back at the Advocate Center, Fred Hoiberg and his coaching staff are working on ways to best utilize a deep and young roster that's heavy on big men and wing players. Unless there's another trade in the works before training camp begins, Hoiberg will need to find minutes for Robin Lopez, Carter Jr., Markkanen and Bobby Portis up front, with LaVine, Parker, Hutchison, Denzel Valentine and Justin Holiday all competing for playing time at the two wing positions.

Portis is anxious to build off his best NBA season. He averaged 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in only 22.5 minutes per game, while shooting .471 from the field and .359 from the 3 point line. Portis and his agent are also involved in negotiations on a contract extension that could drag on until the regular season opening night deadline. If the two sides can't reach an agreement, Portis will be a restricted free agent next summer, which gives him even more incentive to put up big numbers in the upcoming season.

Problem is, with Lopez and Carter Jr. splitting the 48 minutes at center and Markkanen likely playing 32-35 minutes per game, that doesn't leave a lot of time for Portis to showcase his talent. Sure, Portis could play some center, and that might become a more attractive option to the coaching staff as the season goes on. But juggling minutes at the two "bigs" spots will be a tough challenge for Hoiberg and his staff, and we haven't even mentioned Cristiano Felicio, who enters year 2 of that 4 year, 32 million dollar contract he signed in 2017.

Minutes will be even harder to come by at the 2 wing spots unless the front office decides to make a trade to ease the logjam. Holiday started all 72 games he played in last season, either at shooting guard or small forward, but with LaVine healthy to start the season and the addition of Parker and Hutchison, Holiday could find himself as the odd man out.

The coaching staff is intrigued with Hutchison's potential as a rangy athlete who can push the ball upcourt, finish in transition and also serve as a secondary shot creator in half-court sets. It's possible he could be asked to play some games with the Windy City Bulls to further his development, but you get the impression the coaches feel he's NBA ready after his 4 collegiate seasons at Boise St.

With Parker penciled in to start at small forward after signing a two year, 40 million dollar contract, that leaves either Valentine or Holiday to back up LaVine at the shooting guard spot, and again, we haven't even mentioned G-League Rookie of the Year Antonio Blakeney, who's back with a regular NBA contract this season. Valentine showed progress in his 2nd year in the league, averaging 10.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 27.2 minutes per game, shooting .386 from the 3 point line. It's that long range shooting ability that will ultimately decide how many minutes Valentine commands in the rotation.

The Bulls value everything about Holiday and the leadership role he took on with a young team last season. Still, you get the feeling he might be best served to play a back-up role with a contending team, where his shooting ability and versatility to play both wing spots would bring a lot of value. Houston is reportedly shopping for athletes at the wing positions after losing both Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency, and other contenders will be looking to strengthen their benches as well. So, don't be surprised if there’s another transaction coming sometime before or during training camp.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

Make no mistake about it, Raptors' GM Masai Ujiri is pushing all his chips to the middle of the table for next season. Ujiri cashed in high-scoring All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan for one guaranteed year of Kawhi Leonard, and he decided to keep overpaid big men Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas.

Now, Ujiri is adding another veteran big to the roster with the free agent signing of Greg Monroe. Monroe had a couple of productive seasons early in his career with Detroit, but lately he's been bouncing around the league, going from Milwaukee to Phoenix to Boston. The Raptors had one of the league's best bench units last season, and they're hoping Monroe can capably fill the back-up center role handled by Jakob Poertl, who was traded to San Antonio in the Leonard deal.

The East's top 3 teams are all in one division, with Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia looking like locks to top 50 wins next season.

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Back to the Westgate SuperBook over-unders, the addition of LeBron James has the Lakers' total for next season at  48.5 wins, which would put them in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference playoff field.

2-time defending NBA champion Golden St. opened at 62.5 wins, while last year's number one seed, Houston, is next at 54.5, quite a drop from their 65 wins during the 2017-18 season. Oklahoma City is at 50.5, with the Lakers and Jazz both at 48.5.

Then it's Denver at 47.5, the Pelicans at 45.5, Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves at 44.5, San Antonio at 43.5 and Portland at 41.5.

Another indication of how tough things are in the West is Westgate expects both the Spurs and Trail Blazers to miss the playoffs. San Antonio still has DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, while Portland finished as the #3 seed last season behind the outstanding play of high-scoring guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Something tells me Gregg Popovich will find a way to get the Spurs in the playoffs, with young guards Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV taking on significant roles.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Bulls projected win total of 27.5 is the 3rd worst in the league, ahead of only the Kings (25.5) and the Hawks (23.5).

Better make that wager fast before all the Chicago money changes the total!

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

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USA TODAY

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.