Bulls

NBA G League continues to offer fascinating storylines

NBA G League continues to offer fascinating storylines

You never know what you might see on a given night in the G League.

Wednesday’s game at the Sears Centre offered a match-up of 7-foot-2 Bol Bol in his Windy City Bulls home debut against one time hot prospect, 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

In case you’re not familiar with Thabeet, he was the second overall pick by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2009 NBA Draft after capturing the attentions of scouts and executives with his play in the high profile program at Connecticut. Thabeet was viewed as a can’t miss prospect whose size and athleticism would translate into making him a defensive force at the NBA level.

Problem is, Thabeet did miss. Questions about his low motor and work ethic surfaced and he struggled to get consistent playing time in Memphis. Stops in Houston, Portland and Oklahoma City would follow, and Thabeet found himself out of the league in 2014. He played a total of 224 NBA games, averaging 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds a game.

The native of Tanzania bounced around the G League and played in Japan for a time before returning to the U.S. looking for one more chance at the NBA. Thabeet invited teams to watch him work out last summer, but with little interest, he wound up back in the G League with Fort Wayne for the 2019-20 season.

At 32 years old, Thabeet is still an impressive looking athlete, and in Wednesday’s game against Windy City, he flashed at times with 4 blocked shots and a powerful baseline drive and dunk. But he also labored to change ends of the court, and put up a modest stat line of 6 points, 2 rebounds and 4 blocks in 18 minutes. Down the stretch, the Mad Ants decided they were better off with Travin Thibodeaux at center in a close game.

With NBA teams now looking for mobile centers with 3-point shooting range, it’s hard to imagine Thabeet getting another chance to make it to the league.

Meanwhile, Windy City unveiled it’s newest addition Bol Bol, a two-way player for the Denver Nuggets who needed a team to continue his development since the Nuggets don’t have their own G-League affiliate.

Bol only played nine games in his lone collegiate season at Oregon before suffering a foot injury that dropped his draft stock. He averaged 21 points and almost 10 rebounds a game at Oregon, showing an uncanny long range shooting touch for a 7-footer. Matter of fact, some talent evaluators viewed him as the best shooter available in the 2019 NBA Draft. But because of concerns about the foot injury and his slender build, Bol fell to the the second round, eventually selected 44th overall by Miami, then traded to Denver on draft night.

With the Nuggets featuring one of the NBA’s deepest rosters, there wouldn’t be any developmental minutes for Bol, so he was assigned to Windy City, a team that had a need for another big man.

Bol was impressive in his 20 minutes of playing time on Wednesday, finishing with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Right now, Bol is on a minutes restriction to protect him from further injury, but you can see the potential is there for him to be a contributor at the NBA level in time.

Bol has a feathery soft shooting touch, and will be comfortable spotting up at the 3-point line in drive and kick offenses and as a weak side option on pick and roll plays. He also showed more aggressiveness than I expected in attacking the offensive glass, following up his own initial miss for rebound baskets on a few occasions against Fort Wayne.

Windy City general manager Josh Kreibich has put together a very competitive roster that features another Nuggets’ two-way player, P.J. Hairston, Bulls’ two-way players Max Strus and Adam Mokoka, and former Loyola University star Milton Doyle.

The Bulls’ G League affiliate is off to a 4-1 start under first year coach Damian Cotter with hopes of making a second straight playoff appearance. Still, player development is priority number one in the G League, which means every player on the roster will get the opportunity to showcase their skills during the course of the season.

Bol’s NBA rights belong to Denver, but the fans at Sears Centre on Wednesday were thoroughly entertained watching the son of former NBA center Manute Bol show off a unique game that will almost certainly land him a spot in an NBA team’s rotation before long.

Windy City’s first two homes games brought former No. 4 overall draft pick Dragan Bender and Thabeet to Sears Centre, and on Nov. 29, 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall will be in Hoffman Estates with the Maine Red Claws. If you want to take a break from your Black Friday shopping to watch the Bol-Tacko duel, it’s a 5 p.m. tip-off.

After all, you never know what you might see at a G League game.

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What to watch for: Bulls hit the road to take on Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat

What to watch for: Bulls hit the road to take on Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat

The Bulls visit Miami to take on the 16-6 Heat in the wake of a disappointing loss to the Warriors in Chicago on Friday. The game tips off at 5 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago – until then, here's what to watch for:

Heat’s last five (4-1)

  • Dec. 6 — W vs. Wizards: 112-103

  • Dec. 4 — L at Celtics: 112-93

  • Dec. 3 — W at Raptors: 121-110

  • Dec. 1 — W at Nets: 109-106

  • Nov. 29 — W vs. Warriors: 122-105

Storyline(s) for each team

At 16-6, the Heat enter tonight the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and one of the league’s best teams — explosive offensively (second in the NBA in eFG%, per Cleaning the Glass), yet defensively-oriented (top 10 in defensive rating, eFG% against, turnover rate and defensive rebounding rate). Two things that should especially worry the Bulls: This game is in Miami and the Heat are coming off a day of rest after beating the Wizards 112-103 on Friday. The Heat are 9-0 at home this season and four of their six losses have come on the second night of back-to-backs. With fresh legs and their home crowd behind them, they’ll be tough to beat.

The Bulls, for their part, are coming off a momentum-crushing loss to the 5-19 Golden State Warriors on their home floor Friday, and on the first night of a road-and-home back-to-back — they’ll face the Raptors at the United Center on Monday. Both teams have already blown the Bulls out early in the season — the Heat 116-108 (it wasn’t that close) on Nov. 22, the Raptors 108-84 on Oct. 26. Since the start of last season, the Bulls are 7-48 against teams with winning records. To put it diplomatically, the next two nights will be an uphill battle.

Player to watch: Jimmy Butler

It’s the easy answer, but it’s also the right one. The Heat employ a dynamic cast of characters around Butler, but he’s the lifeblood of this team. The offense runs through him, the defense feeds off him (along with, of course, legitimate DPOY candidate Bam Adebayo as the anchor) and you can bet he’ll get up to face his former team. As Miami’s role players have endured up-and-down stretches, here are Butler’s numbers in his last eight games (i.e. since Nov. 22):

Per game: 22.8 points, 7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 47.3% shooting (14 attempts), 9.5 FTA

And against the Bulls in his career:

Per game: 29 points, 5.3 assists, 5 rebounds, 3.7 steals, 48.1% shooting (18 attempts), 11.7 FTA

Even in a game the Bulls could find themselves overmatched in, perhaps we’ll get a fun Butler-Zach LaVine matchup this time around. Since being traded for each other after the 2016-17 season, the two have had some battles — before the Nov. 22 no-contest (LaVine, remember, was pulled by Jim Boylen early in the first quarter and only tallied 16 points in a blowout), they were each averaging over 30 points per game when facing each other.

LaVine bounced back from that aforementioned pseudo-benching with a 49-point, 13 3-pointer outing in Charlotte; maybe another historic performance is in store after an underwhelming fourth-quarter showing on Friday against Golden State.

Matchup to watch: 3-point shooting

Miami is a heat-check factory. Their movement-based offense is effective at creating a plethora of open long-range looks per game and even though some of their ancillary weapons can be streaky, there’s so many of them that you can bet at least one will burn you on a given night.

For evidence, look no further than that Nov. 22 matchup. Before most Bulls fans had scanned their tickets and found their seats, the Heat ran out to a 15-0 lead in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the game, buoyed by four early 3-pointers (three from Kendrick Nunn, one from Duncan Robinson). Per Cleaning the Glass, the Heat take 36% of their field goals from 3-point range (13th in the NBA) and make 39.2% of those looks (3rd in the NBA). They have five rotation players shooting over 38% on threes, and only one of those is on fewer than 3.9 attempts per (Meyers Leonard, shooting 53.8% on 1.8 attempts). Robinson, notably, is hitting 42.8% of his 3-pointers on 6.6 attempts per game.

The Bulls were 10-for-30 (33.3%) from 3-point range in their last game against the Heat, but four of those came in the final 2:15 of the game in a too-little-too-late comeback bid. They’re feast-or-famine in this department, but will need to keep this matchup close to have a chance tonight. 

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Nothing new here as far as the Bulls are concerned, barring a surprise injury or Chandler Hutchison status upgrade. Boylen has indicated he’s progressing, but hasn’t offered a concrete timetable for return, as of yet. Thad Young rejoins the team tonight.

The Heat will be without Goran Dragic (16 points, seven assists, 3-for-5 from three on Nov. 22), who is currently dealing with a groin issue. Justise Winslow and Adebayo are both currently listed as questionable.

Winslow missed time earlier in the season with a concussion, then returned for five games, but missed Friday’s game with a lower back strain. Adebayo hasn't missed a game since 2018; losing him would severely impact Miami's defensive versatility and rebounding. He had 16 points and 14 rebounds in these teams' first matchup.

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Tomas Satoransky is a perfectionist and a pleaser.

This can be a positive thing. It also can be negative.

“Everyone who is close to me will tell you that I’m hardest on myself. I always expect to play the best,” Satoransky said in an interview. “I always expect to be perfect, which isn’t always the best but in the long term it has always worked out for me.”

That’s because perfection is an unattainable quest. But Satoransky keeps working towards the unachievable goal. So he’s driven, which is good, but sometimes self-destructive, which isn’t.

Early on, as Satoransky slowly adjusted to a new city, new coach, new teammates and new system, the process didn’t go smoothly.

“I didn’t feel down. I felt frustrated and anxious to do better, anxious to help the team as much as he can,” coach Jim Boylen said when asked if he sensed frustration from Satoransky. “He really struggles when he lets the team down. That’s just basketball. You’re not going to play perfect all the time. He takes it to heart. I’ve spoken to him about it. I don’t need him to beat himself up. Just continue to grow and learn how we’re going to play and get used to guys. It does take some time to get a feel for each other.”

And it’s happening. Satoransky has posted nine straight games with at least five assists, the second-longest stretch of his young career. Coincidentally, his assist totals began to rise the more he looked for his shot.

“I think there’s a point where you make other people better, which he tries to do, and a point where you have to play your game. I think he’s starting to figure that out,” Boylen said. “I think he’s starting to understand where his spots are and how he makes people better but also doesn’t lose the positive things he can do individually.”

The selflessness of Satoransky is something that gets mentioned often by others when they’re asked about him. He’s someone who takes the time to read a situation before asserting himself, always trying to make the right play.

This dynamic was exacerbated by Satoransky not only joining a new team but doing so after playing a leading role for his Czech Republic national team at the FIBA World Cup this offseason.

“I think I’m very adaptable. But I won’t aggressively adapt. I’ll try to see what it is---new coaches, new offense---before asserting myself,” Satoransky said. “I knew I had to be patient, especially with a new team, new role. I’m also coming from a very different situation in the World Cup. And I’m trying to fit in and make my teammates feel the best and most comfortable around me. But I’m trying to be more aggressive because it opens up more space.

“I feel we’re more and more on the same page now.”

Satoransky’s averages of 9.6 points, 5.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 27.1 minutes are eerily similar to those he posted last season with the Wizards, his breakout season. In 80 games, including 54 starts for the injured John Wall, he averaged 8.9 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds also in 27.1 minutes.

He’s shooting 39.7 percent on 3 3-point attempts per game---again very similar to last season’s 39.5 percent on 2 3-point attempts per game.

“I tell him he has to take his shots. He’s a threat,” Zach LaVine said. “He can shoot and create for others. Once he gets in the lane, he’s crafty. He isn’t just a spot-up 3-point shooter.”

Satoransky is in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal that is only partially guaranteed in the final season. He said he is enjoying Chicago and playing for the Bulls.

“Everyone cares. We get along well,” Satoransky said. “This is my second NBA locker room, but I think this is one of the best groups I’ve had.”

Now, he just wants to improve the won-lost record to something closer to perfection.

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