Bulls

Observations from Bulls-Hawks: Markkanen clutch, Lopez taking the reins, Nwaba hits the glass

Observations from Bulls-Hawks: Markkanen clutch, Lopez taking the reins, Nwaba hits the glass

Lauri Markkanen had gone nearly 47 minutes without making a jumper, but he didn’t hesitate when the opportunity presented itself to seal the Bulls’ first win.

He put the six straight misses from 3-point range behind him, slipped out to 25 feet and nailed a triple with 48.5 seconds left to put the finishing touches on the Bulls’ first win, a 91-86 triumph over the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center.

“I guess you could say it worked out perfectly,” he deadpanned. “We knew how they were going to guard the pick and rolls. I slipped in there and was wide open.”

It wasn’t his prettiest performance but one of his most telling through four games, achieving yet another double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds in 30 minutes.

“Lauri was reading the way the defender was guarding him, so he slipped outside,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It was a great read. Not only did he have the shot but he had driving lanes.”

His jumper abandoned him, so Markkanen left it where it was to start the second half, going to the basket with a layup from a Euro-step and then a 3-point play following a dunk.

He seemed to enter the second half with a more aggressive mindset, not just with the drive but also going to the glass, using his length to get inside position. The vast difference in the Bulls’ offense when Markkanen is making shots, as he was in Cleveland, compared to early Thursday, when he wasn’t, shows the dependency the Bulls have on him four games in.

“When you can play through a 20-year-old kid like that, it’s pretty impressive to have a game like that when his shot wasn’t falling,” Hoiberg said.

But the fact he was willing to take the shot along with Hoiberg drawing up a play in the last seconds for his young player shows a level of progress that won’t show up in the win-loss column but will aid in Markkanen’s in-season growth.

“Hopefully,” Markkanen said about being a go-to option. “That’s why I’m working on my game. Hopefully I can be that one day.”

Apparently he has the backing of his teammates very early in his tenure.

“That’s big time. We weren’t surprised by that,” Robin Lopez said. “He knows what he can do out there. We all believe in him. He has the utmost confidence in himself, which is awesome. I’ve seen those shots go in in practice. We know it’s gonna go in more often than not.”

Ugly win: Of the games the Bulls will win this year, many of them will be of the pretty variety where 3-pointers will be flying for 48 minutes. This will be one of the few where the Bulls are grinding out a win, outrebounding the Hawks 62-40—even though the Bulls only got up five more shots.

Markkanen, Justin Holiday and David Nwaba grabbed at least 10 rebounds, which was necessary considering the Bulls shot just seven of 32 from 3-point range and just 36 percent overall.

“What did we make, like 22 percent? It shows how much we fight,” Markkanen said. “We rebounded the ball, we found other ways to score the ball.”

To illustrate their offensive struggles, Lopez was essentially the only offensive option early with 10 shots (making five) in the first quarter. He can’t even make the claim to get that kind of attention in grade school.

“I’m trying to do what I can to help the team. I’m taking a bigger role,” said Lopez, who’s scored in double figures in every game this season, as he finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.

Unexpected and bloody energy: Coaches will always find a place in a rotation for guards who play tough and are unafraid to get dirty or even take a shot to the mouth, as well as teams looking for tough-minded guards who’ll challenge everything.

Enter David Nwaba, who’s taking his opportunity for more minutes in the absence of Kris Dunn and more recently Paul Zipser (late scratch), giving the Bulls a lift with 15 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes for his first double-double in 24 career games.

He played with the Lakers last season and the Bulls like his energy and athleticism here, so he had no problem using all 209 pounds of his body to take contact and give it as a way to prove himself with his chance.

“David was terrific,” Hoiberg said. “In the first half we couldn’t get anything going. He got us a couple fast-break baskets, got us an and-one just by rebound and taking off in transition. He’s always going to give you a hard defensive effort.”

Holiday made note of Nwaba blocking Cavs sharpshooter Kyle Korver in a preseason game a couple weeks ago as a mark of Nwaba’s tenaciousness, and a bloody lower lip courtesy of an inadvertent elbow from a Hawks player is another example of a tough player trying to make a name for himself in the league.

“What I plan on bringing is energy,” Nwaba said. “Looking to push in transition, get to the basket. We have a lot of shooters so it’s important somebody attack the basket.”

Whether it’s here or anywhere else, he knows eyes are watching and he’s forming his own identity for how he’ll be evaluated around the league.

“Majority of guys at my position are usually shooters,” Nwaba said. “I try to help the team as much as possible whether it’s rebounding or driving to the basket. Try to do the little things to help the team out. It’s important for every team to have guys like that.”

Tough road ahead, the win was necessary: When players and coaches say they don’t look ahead to other games on the schedule, they’re lying.

The Bulls have played high-level playoff teams and on the horizon are teams with aspirations on getting beyond round one of the playoffs. To say a win was needed for overall team morale considering everything swirling around the Bulls isn’t overstating it.

A game against the Hawks, a team that has the same aspirations for lottery balls the Bulls do, won’t rank up high at the end of the season but for the moment it was critical to team sanity.

Oklahoma City, Miami and Orlando are up next, with Miami and Orlando being on the road.

“We expect to win those games, too,” Holiday said. “With the games we’ve had to this point, this was one we wanted to start that confidence and get going. Hopefully we can move this to Saturday and surprise them.”

After the Hawks got up 86-85 with 1:48 left, Holiday slipped backdoor from Kent Bazemore for a layup that restored order, a change from his usual drifts to the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

Count Lopez among those impressed with the team’s approach and lack of panic.

“They got up on us late in the fourth quarter so to have that mental fortitude, make the plays and get the stops, win the game, that’s big for us,” Lopez said. “Nobody has been able to question our effort so far.”

Making of a Chicago legend: A look back at Jabari Parker's decorated Simeon career

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AP

Making of a Chicago legend: A look back at Jabari Parker's decorated Simeon career

From the moment Jabari Parker started his local basketball career, he's been a special talent who has produced at every level. Parker's signing with the Chicago Bulls this offseason brings back a lot of memories of his decorated four-year high school career at Simeon.

For Bulls fans who didn't follow Parker before Duke or the NBA, here's some of the notable moments from four years in the Public League.

As a freshman with the Wolverines, Parker was seen as one of three big incoming freshman in the area for the Class of 2013, along with forward Alex Foster and center Tommy Hamilton. Although all three players had the size and skill level to be varsity contributors, it was Parker who was special from his debut game.

Coming off the bench for a top-5 Simeon team against a top-10 Thornton team at Chicago State, Parker had 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting with two 3-pointers as the Wolverines went on to win in his first game in high school. Eventually becoming the first Wolverine freshman to start on varsity, Parker piled up high-major scholarship offers and national acclaim, as he was the team's second-leading scorer behind Brandon Spearman.

But Parker was hurt on the eve of the IHSA Class 4A state championship weekend and was on the bench injured as Simeon went on to surprisingly win the state title after some late-season slip-ups. Parker contributed heavily to Simeon winning the state title during his first season, however, as he was leading scorer in six games during that season.

During his sophomore season, Parker blossomed from a prospect into a full-blown star as Simeon once again captured a state title. By this point in his career, Parker was a consensus top-5 national high school prospect in his class as he regularly led a loaded Simeon team in scoring. Parker eventually averaged 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as he won ESPN High School 2011 Sophomore of the Year national honors, while also Simeon won a title at the prestigious Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

The summer of 2011 saw Parker become a contender for No. 1 in his class -- and regardless of class at the high school level -- as he dominated the summer circuit against his peers and older players.

Making the 2011 USA Basketball U16 team, Parker won MVP honors at the FIBA Americas U16 Tournament as the USA team captured a gold medal. Parker also had big performances at the Kevin Durant and LeBron James Skill Academies before winning the MVP at the Nike Global Challenge in August against mostly older players.

Before entering his junior season at Simeon, some national scouts believed Parker was the best prospect in either the junior or senior national classes. With Parker garnering so many accomplishments as an underclassman, he had a huge reputation already as Simeon was an established national powerhouse.

Parker helped the Wolverines capture a third straight state title, a city title and another title at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, as they went 33-1. Simeon didn't lose to an Illinois opponent Parker's junior year (they only lost to nationally ranked Findlay Prep) with Parker setting a school record of 40 points in only 21 minutes against Perspectives on Dec. 19. For his junior season, Parker put up 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds per game as he became the first non-senior to win Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors.

Gatorade also declared Parker the national boys basketball Player of the Year for that high school season as he became only the fourth non-senior to win that award. Sports Illustrated put Parker on its cover and proclaimed him as the best high school basketball player since LeBron James.

Facing an enormous amount of pressure during his senior year, Simeon played a national schedule and went 30-3, winning a fourth consecutive IHSA state title with Parker as he put up 18.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

Becoming the only player besides Sergio McClain to start on four straight IHSA state title teams, Parker secured back-to-back Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors while also making the McDonald's All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoop Summit. Parker played all over the country during his senior season, with nationally-televised games and packed crowds filled with fans.

Reclassifications and the emergence of other contenders, coupled with Parker's foot injury before his senior season, dropped Parker below the No. 1 ranking to end his high school career. But he still finished as a consensus top-5 prospect in the class who eventually rose to the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft in 2014.

Now that Parker has signed with the Bulls, he has a chance to resurrect his career in Chicago, the place where he had his most basketball success.

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

According to Bleacher Report, Wendell Carter Jr. would be taken fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies if the NBA were to redraft this year’s class based off of Summer League performances.

It may sound like a crazy concept (and it is), but Carter Jr. averaged the second most points, 14.6, through five July games in Las Vegas. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field while averaging 28.8 minutes in his glamorous first-stint with Chicago. Those numbers are even more striking if you consider Carter Jr.’s 42.9 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

Carter Jr., the real seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft, looked like the all-around player the Bulls were hoping to get this offseason. He made his blocking abilities as a center known from the moment he stepped on the court in Summer League.

In their re-draft, Bleacher Report had Chicago using the No. 7 pick on the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, who was actually taken 36th overall in last month’s Draft.

Robinson, a center, averaged 13 points and 24.8 minutes per game over five Summer League contests. He was the best rebounder on his team with an average of 10.2 in the five games that the Knicks played.

The 20-year-old took the second most shots on the Knicks and had the highest field goal percentage at 67 percent, but Robinson did not have any three-point attempts.  What made his recent production seem even more surprising was the fact that the 7'1'' big man did not play a single minute of college basketball.

But would Robinson fit in the Bulls’ system?

Chicago has taken on an offense-first mentality, so Robinson would not be as great of a fit in the Bulls lineup as Carter Jr., but he would still be an impact player. He can be compared to the Bulls’ current center Robin Lopez, who averaged a similar amount of points per game (11.8 points in 26.4 minutes) last season as Robinson’s Summer League average (13 points in 24.8 minutes). And like Lopez, Robinson will likely be most effective around the basket and in the pick-and-roll.

Robinson would also have to learn the defensive concepts that a veteran like Lopez has mastered over his 10-year career.

Next season, the Bulls will have an exciting scoring trio of Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. And the fact that Carter Jr. is getting so much love in the national spotlight is yet another reason for Bulls fans to be excited about this upcoming season.