Bulls

Opportunities arise in backcourt for injury-riddled Bulls

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USA TODAY

Opportunities arise in backcourt for injury-riddled Bulls

It’s that time of the year again for the Bulls. Though last season’s shutdowns were a thinly veiled attempt to increase their chances at a top-3 pick, this time around injuries to key players have the Bulls taking an overly cautious approach as their campaign winds down.

The Bulls, already without rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison for the rest of the season, will be without Otto Porter Jr. and Zach LaVine on Tuesday against the Raptors. Point guard Kris Dunn, dealing with back soreness, is listed as doubtful and is unlikely to play.

That’s three missing starters – four if you include Carter – against a 51-23 Raptors team. So while a loss is almost certainly on the docket that hardly means there’s nothing to be gained from these final eight games.

“Next man up is the focus,” Lauri Markkanen said Monday. “We’re trying to compete and win a couple games here down the stretch. It’s an opportunity for other guys who don’t get to play as much.”

There are a handful of Bulls reserves who will be fighting for a roster spot next season. If we’re to assume that the sure bets – pending any trades – of the Bulls roster will be LaVine, Markkanen, Carter, Porter, Dunn, Hutchison, Denzel Valentine and Cristiano Felicio, plus the Bulls’ first and second round picks, that leaves just three or four openings if the Bulls don’t add anyone in free agency, which seems unlikely.

So with only a few roster spots available next season, and plenty of playing time available this season, the eight-game audition begins Tuesday in Toronto.

The two most important players of these evaluations will likely start in the backcourt. Shaq Harrison will continue to start on the wing while Ryan Arcidiacono will start if Dunn is unable to go. Jim Boylen said he’s undecided on who will start at small forward and likely match up with All-Star Kawhi Leonard, but one of Wayne Selden or Antonio Blakeney would get the call, with Harrison moving to Leonard if the latter started.

“With every injury, there’s an opportunity for someone to step into that role,” Boylen said. “We’ve had guys do that pretty well this year.”

Arcidiacono has been one of the most pleasant surprises this season. He had a serious lull in December and January but has rebounded nicely as the season nears an end, shooting 52 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc since the All-Star break.

Meanwhile Harrison has averaged a cool 10.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals in nearly 37 minutes over his last three games, all starts. He’s provided outstanding effort on the defensive end and has seen his offensive game improve; just how much that improvement can be sustained over a long stretch will determine his NBA future, but he should get that chance if one or both of LaVine and Porter are shut down.

While Blakeney’s contract is guaranteed for next season, he’s got work to do. He’s shooting just 42 percent from the field this season and is averaging just 0.6 assists per game. After a red-hot start from beyond the arc in October and November (44.8 percent on 2.6 attempts) he’s made just 36 percent since Christmas Day. But the opportunity is there for him to get extended run, as he’s averaged 22.5 minutes over his last three games, the last two of which were his first career starts.

While those players showcase their talents in the backcourt, the injuries could also allow Lauri Markkanen to take the reins and own the final two weeks. Though it's been a roller coaster of a season, the second year forward appears to be closing on a high note. He's averaging 18.9 points and 9.0 rebounds in 32.7 minutes and could see his numbers across the board improve as he takes on a high-usage role down the stretch with LaVine and Porter out.

"I’m doing the same things, trying to play the right way," Markkanen said. "I know there are guys who don’t normally start and I talked about it with Coach (Boylen) about making the right decision, maybe slow the pace down. At the same time, try to stay aggressive with guys being out."

Monte Harrison, brother to Bulls' Shaq, makes sibling sports history

Monte Harrison, brother to Bulls' Shaq, makes sibling sports history

Miami Marlins center fielder Monte Harrison made a bit of history on Aug. 4, when he laced up for his first ever MLB game.

With his debut, he and older brother Shaq officially became just the sixth MLB-NBA brother duo in league history. The most recent? Klay and Trayce Thompson, the latter of which appeared in his last MLB game on June 20, 2018 for the White Sox. Chicago ties all around.


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Shaq used his trademark brand of heart and hustle to work his way up from two 10-day contracts with the Phoenix Suns to a multi-year pact with the Bulls. Monte's path to the majors began in 2014 after the Milwaukee Brewers plucked him in the second round of the Amateur Draft from Lee's Summit West High School in Lee's Summit, Mo. He was jettisoned to Miami as part of the Christian Yelich trade in 2018. 

In 2019, Monte played 58 games between Miami's High-A and Triple-A affiliates, slashing .270/.351/.441 with 9 home runs, 24 RBI and 23 stolen bases. He's been known to flash some leather, too, and entered this season the club's tenth-ranked prospect.

Since his call-up, he's appeared in four contests (three starts) with the Marlins, and is just 1-for-10 at the plate with five strikeouts. But we'll forgive some early-career stumbles. His first big-league base-knock, which came on Thursday, was perfectly emblematic of what Bulls fans have come to expect from the Harrison household.

Yup. A cue-shot infield single. Exit velocity: 44.3 mph. Expected batting average: .190. But he beat it out. And followed it up with a stolen base. You can't script this stuff.

"I don’t know what my mother did, a lot of prayers, a lot of believing, and trust in us," Monte said after his debut on Tuesday, via Bob Nightengale. "We just worked our ass off.''

That much is evident.

RELATED: How Bulls’ Shaq Harrison impacts games, even with limited playing time

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Latest on the NBA's second bubble for teams eliminated from restart

Latest on the NBA's second bubble for teams eliminated from restart

With the NBA restarting with 22 of its 30 teams, there was buzz in early July of a second bubble coming to Chicago for the eight teams excluded to get in organized team activities and possibly scrimmages.

Now, it appears those talks have significantly slowed, if not stalled entirely.

The Athletic reported Tuesday that there is "significant doubt" the second bubble concept will come to fruition, but Friday, that bringing the "Delete Eight" teams into the Disney campus has been discussed. Any agreement — whether it be a full-on bubble or respective, in-market OTAs — would require stringent safety protocols and need to be agreed upon by the league and NBPA.

On the most recent episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson broke down the latest scuttlebut:

Well, the latest is, you really got only one shared goal between these eight teams and that is to get some kind of formal group activities authorized by the league and the players association.

How that plays out and the form that takes, there are different goals. There are some teams that wouldn't mind doing a bubble. There are other teams that would rather stay in their own practice facilities and not travel. There are other teams that want to do regional scrimmages against another team. And complicating this is that Michele Roberts, the executive director of the players association, is on record as saying: Unless there are the exact same safety protocols going on in Orlando for the second bubble, it's a non-starter for her.

The league's attention mostly has been in Orlando, obviously, and that was a signficant financial undertaking. So you'd also have to factor in that, what kind of financial undertaking would they commit to these eight teams. It did look like there was some positive momentum for, not a bubble, but for each team to be able to hold some sort of offseason training sessions, group sessions in their own facilities, like OTAs in the NFL.

And I don't think that's dead, but there's certainly not as much optimism as there was maybe a week, ten days ago for that. I mean, it's fluid, and there's nothing definitive yet, but you may be staring at that dreaded eight month window between formal group activities for these eight teams. 

In the episode, the crew also breaks down the week in NBA bubble action, talks Jim Boylen and more. Listen here or via the embedded player below: