Bulls

Report: Vote scheduled for ‘20-to-22’ team NBA return plan, expected to pass

Report: Vote scheduled for ‘20-to-22’ team NBA return plan, expected to pass

The NBA is expected to have a plan to resume its season approved by owners at a vote on Thursday, June 4, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.


The news comes on the heels of a call with the Board of Governors Friday that yielded nothing definitive. Four potential formats for relaunching the season and a target date of July 31 to resume play were reportedly floated.


But the above report from Wojnarowski marks the most marked progress towards the league formally agreeing on a return-to-play plan to date.

Predictably, the precise details of the plan are not yet known. In conjunction with Zach Lowe and Ramona Shelburne, Wojnarowski reported that the plan is expected to feature invitations for “20-to-22” teams.


That would mean no invite for the Bulls — perhaps a blessing in disguise (or dressed plainly). The Bulls are currently paused with the 24th-best record in the NBA at 22-43, and are 8.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference.

Still, the team opened the Advocate Center Friday morning with clearance from both Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago officials. Players in the area will be permitted to undergo NBA-sanctioned treatments at the facility, an opportunity which Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn have already taken advantage of. Voluntary, socially-distanced, individual workouts may begin Wednesday when Chicago is expected to enter Phase 3 of its reopening. Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley will be en route to the city soon.

The NBA suspended its season on March 11 after Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. A resumption bid seems on the cusp of coming to fruition.

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What a reinvigorated Joakim Noah can bring to title-contending Clippers

What a reinvigorated Joakim Noah can bring to title-contending Clippers

Gratitude. It was the primary energy exuding off a reinvigorated, sweat-slick Joakim Noah as he stood for a weekend Zoom call with reporters after his second bubble practice as a Los Angeles Clipper.

Gratitude to be working during a time when he said “there’s not a lot of hope.” Gratitude for the opportunity to again inspire, playing the game he loves. Gratitude for his basketball career breathing another life. Gratitude for the opportunity to compete for a championship with the team that, just under three weeks away from the restart, owns the third-best record (44-20) and title odds in the league.

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“I feel really blessed to be in this situation. In September, I had a freak accident and cut my achilles,” Noah said, referencing an incident in which he sliced his achilles — crucially, not rupturing it — while carrying a steel ice tub, which required six-plus months of rehab. “And you know I told myself that's just not how I wanted to end my career. So the day after the surgery I was in the gym working out, with the hope of making this team.” 

When the league paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Noah was less than a cup of coffee into a 10-day contract with the Clips, a product of hard work to get back in playing condition after the injury. That pact hung in limbo during the hiatus, which he said he spent hunkered down with family and training with longtime friend Laird Hamilton.  

Then, upon the opening of the transaction window in the last week of June, the Clippers converted that 10-day deal into one that runs not only through the end of the 2019-20 campaign, but 2020-21, as well, per The Athletic’s Jovan Buha. Before Noah’s aforementioned achilles injury, the team had him in for a workout in September, but the accident forced him out of consideration for a roster spot — for a time. Noah’s focus never wavered. 

“I knew that if I didn't keep training, and if I got a call from the Clippers and I wasn't ready, I knew I would have the regrets for the rest of my life,” Noah said. “So I kept training, and to be in this position right now, I feel very fortunate to be in this position. Being with God, great players, being in a position to win a championship. It's not something that I take for granted.”

Indeed, Noah’s never been one to take anything for granted. His nine-year tenure with the Bulls was defined by his relentless motor on the floor and relentless leadership off it — by both words and example. Currently slotted as the Clippers’ third-string center behind starter Ivica Zubac and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell, his voice may be the most valuable asset he brings to the team, which, while uber-talented, is headlined by two stars with gentle, if not reserved, leadership styles in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. 

Jo brings the fire. 

“He looks great,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “I don't know if this stoppage has helped any single player more than him, because he was not healthy when we signed him, and now he is. And so, you know, I think he's gonna help us on the floor, but even if he doesn't, he's just gonna help us with his presence, and his voice. I think he'll be invaluable for Zu(bac).”

To Rivers’ point, his defensive prowess could come in handy on the court, as well. Though an exact role for Noah hasn’t been publicly prescribed as of yet, outside of Zubac and Harrell, the Clips are bereft of much in the way of traditional bigs; they typically staff their frontcourt with one of those two and a blend of Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson, JaMychal Green and Leonard. Potentially up against a murderer's row of frontcourt towers in the Western Conference — from Anthony Davis to Nikola Jokic to Rudy Gobert and beyond — you could do worse than a former Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-NBA center as a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option.

Yes, those days are long behind Noah. But the last time we saw him on the floor, he more than proved he has something left in the tank, averaging 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 “stocks” in just 16.5 minutes per contest across 42 games for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018-19. The heart, hustle and muscle that endeared him to Chicago lives.

More than half a year of rehabbing that achilles distances us from even that player. But Noah’s made it this far. Who’s willing to count him out now?

“I'm a guy who's been through a lot in this league. I've been on the outside looking in a couple times, as well,” Noah said. “So I think that just being here is just, especially for the younger guys, is just not taking these opportunities for granted.

“I just feel like now it's just working hard every day, competing and whatever my role is on the team is just, you know, being a positive piece.”

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How Bulls' Zach LaVine surged to stardom in breakout 2019-20 season

How Bulls' Zach LaVine surged to stardom in breakout 2019-20 season

Every weekday for the next three weeks, NBC Sports Chicago will be breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster, with each week featuring a different position groups. First up is the guards, and to kick it off, Zach LaVine, who took another seismic step in his sixth season.

2019-20 Stats

25.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.2 APG | 45% FG, 38% 3P, 80.2% FT | 31.2% USG

Contract Breakdown

July 2018: Signed 4-year, $78 million contract (two years, $39 million remaining)

2020-21: $19,500,000 | 2021-22: $19,500,000 | 2022-23: UFA

Strengths

LaVine is a prolific and multi-faceted scorer, and he does it in every way you’d want from a modern offensive star. His career-high 25.5-point-per-game scoring average (12th in the NBA) in 2019-20 came on a steady diet of 3s (38% on 8.1 attempts per game; 36.4% on a high volume of pull-ups) and layups (8.1 restricted area attempts per game, third among guards), many of which were high-difficulty in the Bulls’ cramped offense. He carried a top-10 load, but his production wasn’t all volume and empty calories. Among 13 qualified players with usage rates north of 30%, LaVine currently slots fifth in effective field goal percentage (52.6%), and the Bulls’ offense was 3.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor — an 80th percentile mark, per Cleaning the Glass.

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With his head down, he’s near impossible to stay in front of, he can jump out of the gym and fire from the logo. When all of that works in concert — as it did in his 49-point, 13 3-pointer outing in Charlotte, among other explosive performances — he’s virtually unguardable, and the show marched on with remarkable consistency this season. LaVine started 60 of the Bulls’ 65 games in 2019-20, and scored 20+ points in 45; he logged more 30-point outings (18) than any other Bull had 20-pointers, and his six 40-point nights ranked fifth in the NBA. And talents come with an edge — consider that the Charlotte outburst came one night after being pulled from a game for "three egregious defensive mistakes."

Add strides as a defender, playmaker and locker-room leader to all of the above, and we’re talking about a burgeoning star in the league. At 25, his prime lies ahead, and he's gotten better in each of his two full seasons since tearing his ACL in 2017.

Areas to Improve

We have to start on the defensive end, a favorite of LaVine detractors and generally a mixed bag. The good: In 2019-20, LaVine displayed both willingness to consistently engage on that end of the floor, and the athleticism to hound passing lanes and hang with certain wings on-ball — all of which resulted in him posting career-high steal (2%) and block (1.3%) rates. Undeniable improvements, albeit in an aggressive, turnover-happy system. But the bad: Occasional lapses off-ball and on help rotations persisted, and the Bulls’ defense was 10 points per 100 possessions worse with LaVine on the floor this season. There’s noise in there — the Bulls’ most-used lineup featured LaVine and had a 97.1 defensive rating, he’s not destructive — but ominous nonetheless.

On the offensive end, there are two holes to poke. The big one lies in his playmaking. Of that same 13-player 30-plus-percent usage sample, LaVine ranks 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.23), ahead of only Joel Embiid, and 11th in assist rate (21.8%). Inextricable from those numbers is how battered down and ineffective most of the offensive options around him were all season, which allowed opponents to hurl double-teams at LaVine on a nightly basis. Still, as the centerpiece of the offense, there’s room to grow in the halfcourt consistently executing pick-and-roll reads and not succumbing to one-track mindedness on drives. Despite memorable flashes, LaVine's overall numbers in the clutch (33% FG, four total assists) lagged this season, in part due to the above factors. 

And a knit-pick: his foul-drawing. Given how frequently LaVine gets to the cup, and how much the ball is in his hands, you might want to see him average more than 5.6 free throw attempts per game — not a paltry figure, but just outside the most notorious offensive boons in the league. Some of that relies on getting whistles, but attracting contact on drives is an acquired skill. It’s the easiest way for him to bump his scoring into the high 20s or low 30s per game.

Ceiling Projection

Right now, LaVine’s production makes his contract inordinately team-friendly; he’s the only non-rookie-contract player in the league averaging more than 25 points per game and making less than $25 million, annually. There’s two years remaining on that deal, and LaVine will want big money at the end of it, possibly even a max. Does his ceiling match what that type of commitment connotes? That’s a decision the Bulls will need to make soon. 

Given what he's shown, there's no reason LaVine shouldn’t continue to blossom into a perennial top-5-to-10 scorer, and All-Star, as he moves through his prime. Whether he can drive winning basketball in Chicago probably depends most on the deck-shuffling the Bulls’ new front office regime enacts. At least individually, he appears ready for it.

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