Bulls

Run with us: It sure feel like the Bulls are ready to push pace

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USA TODAY

Run with us: It sure feel like the Bulls are ready to push pace

It’s almost impossible to analyze statistics from last year’s Bulls team. Their core – Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter – played fewer than 300 minutes together in just 16 games – and 21 different players suited up for them, a handful of who may never play in the NBA again.

It’s difficult to decipher statistics when Ryan Arcidiacano, Robin Lopez and Shaq Harrison played more games than anyone, and Cristiano Felicio and Antonio Blakeney appeared in two more games combined than Markkanen and LaVine.

But the Bulls’ pace last season is quantifiable. That number is largely coaching-dependent, and actually there’s credence to younger, more inexperienced players wanting to get out in transition more than experienced players. So the fact that the Bulls ranked 23rd in pace after Jim Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg was clearly an area that needed to be addressed.

The Bulls did just that on Thursday night, selecting North Carolina’s Coby White with the seventh pick. The lightning-quick point guard has the speed and skill set to be a boon for a team looking to push pace, something John Paxson said the Bulls will do next season.

It’s 2019 and pace is on the rise. All 30 teams are looking to play at a faster pace, get their athletes in open space and attack defenses. But Paxson’s comments were more than just executive-speak. There’s a real belief that there’s a philosophy shift coming to Chicago and that Year 3 of the Bulls’ rebuild could look far different than Years 1 and 2.

It actually began before the draft, too. Jim Boylen, fresh off a contract extension from the Bulls, hired Brooklyn assistant and former Rockets assistant Roy Rogers to his staff. Both Houston and Brooklyn have been among the league’s most analytical-friendly teams the past few seasons in terms of pace and passing (Brooklyn), efficiency (Houston) and 3-point attempts (both).

“I think one of the more understated things that we’ve done is Jim (Boylen) has changed a couple key components of his staff,” Paxson said Thursday after the draft. “We have Chris Fleming now, who has a very bright offensive mind and believes in quicker pace, some of the action out of that, that I think will be really good for our team.”

If the Bulls truly are set on pushing pace, White was the perfect pick. He led a North Carolina offense that was sixth in the NCAA in tempo – and first among power 5 schools – and while he’s still a raw prospect, his speed and ability to spot up on the perimeter bring a different skill set to the Bulls’ transition game that too often was clunky, clustered and non-existent.

The Bulls were 25th in transition frequency last season, and that included the 24 games under Hoiberg when the Bulls were 17th in pace. The Bulls were actually seventh in field goal percentage but just 19th in effective field goal percentage, which weighs 3-pointers more heavily.

What that means is the Bulls were effective attacking the rim on the run but didn’t have many spot-up perimeter shooters to kick out to before defenses got set. That’s where White comes in. Yes, he’s a speed demon with a strong dribble. He’ll be able to go coast-to-coast for easy layups at times. But his value can be even more efficient without the ball. He was one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the country last year, and he’ll be able to beat defenses down the floor in transition without the ball, and guys like LaVine and Kris Dunn should be able to find him for perimeter shots.

“One of the things we like about Coby a lot is that he can play off the ball, and we talked a lot about the multiple ball handlers, that type of thing, and he’s a guy that can run, is fast, can spot up and shoot it,” Paxson said. “We’re trying to build a team to play effectively in today’s modern game. That means versatility in a lot of different areas.”

The onus, like anything schematically in the NBA, will fall on the head coach. Boylen was insistent on the Bulls slowing pace last season. Adding Fleming to the staff, placing White in the offense and Paxson wanting to run doesn’t change the fact that Boylen is a more traditional head coach in that sense. But Paxson said Thursday that Boylen “wants to play faster.”

“But you need a commitment to running. And I don’t think we’ve always had guys committed to running, and that will be something from training camp and hopefully this summer, those types of things are, I know Jim wants to emphasize them and play,” he said. “It’s simple when you think about it. If you get the ball up quicker, you have more options, you can move the ball from side to side, teams have to guard a little longer, those types of things.”

What to watch for when Derrick Rose and the Pistons visit the Bulls for the second time this season

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USA Today

What to watch for when Derrick Rose and the Pistons visit the Bulls for the second time this season

In a matchup of two stumbling squads, the Bulls look to begin the process of righting the ship against the Pistons. The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:

In spite of it all, a winnable game

The Bulls enter this game with a bad, no-good, rotten 4-10 record. Lucky for them, their opponent is 4-9, and has lost five of their last six.

En route to their own disappointing start to the season, the Pistons have dealt with injuries to key players in Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose, devolved into one of the lowest rated defenses in the league and struggled mightily with turnovers. They’re actually a pretty good shooting team, but play at such a slow pace (99.96 possessions per 48 minutes, 25th in the NBA), that they haven’t been able to fully maximize that efficiency in the way many modern offenses do.

Oh, man. They’re kind of the anti-Bulls.

In that vein, the area in which Detroit struggles the most could play directly into the Bulls’ hands. Literally. The Pistons are currently tied for 27th in the league in turnovers (17.5) per game and 28th in opponent points off turnovers (28th) per game, while the Bulls rank first in both opponent turnovers (18.9) and points off turnovers (21.9) per game. 

In the first meeting of the season between the two teams — a six-point Bulls win on Nov. 1 — the turnover battle was largely even. But tonight, look for that and the Bulls’ ability to turn takeaways into fast break opportunities to be a factor.

Holding ground in the paint and on the wing

Sure, the Bulls have already beaten these Pistons. But much has changed for both teams since their first meeting — chiefly: Blake Griffin is back for Detroit, and both Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison are missing for Chicago. (Hutchison was inactive for their first matchup, too, but Porter started and notched 22 points and six rebounds while shooting 3-for-4 from three.)

Andre Drummond beat the Bulls up on the glass en route to 24 rebounds and Detroit dominated the points-in-the-paint battle 66-40 on Nov. 1. And while not yet at full strength, the addition of Griffin to Detroit’s rotation should only exacerbate those disparities — especially considering the struggles the Bulls have had rebounding, protecting the rim and scoring around the basket. Losing the long, solid and athletic Hutchison just hours before the contest doesn’t help, either.

Boylen may choose to counter with another dose of Daniel Gafford, a strategy many Bulls fans — and players — would certainly endorse. Monday night, the Bulls both outrebounded and won the points-in-the-paint battle against the Bucks, a great rebounding and interior scoring squad. It’s hard to credit all of that to Gafford, but he remains an intriguing option in spurts in this matchup.

On the wing, it’s worth monitoring what buttons Boylen pushes with his rotations. He’ll likely have to call upon Denzel Valentine and/or Shaq Harrison to eat minutes out there (something he’s shied away from doing early in the season), and don’t be surprised to see three-guard lineups — a configuration Boylen has demonstrated an affinity for — galore.

Can Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen bounce back?

Of late, the cornerstones of the rebuild have looked anything but. In Monday’s game against Milwaukee, LaVine and Markkanen combined to shoot 6-for-28, and spearheaded a crunch-time unit that failed to score a field goal in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.

Their struggles go deeper than that one game, but a Detroit defense that has had issues defending on the perimeter presents an opportunity for each of them to bounce back. In the aforementioned Nov. 1 matchup, LaVine notched 26 points, five rebounds and three assists on 8-for-20 shooting. Markkanen tallied 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals (3-for-7 from three), but took only nine shots. Neither of those lines are stamping them tickets to All-Star weekend, but any hint of improvement would be a welcome development. 

Right now, the hope — especially for Markkanen — is that things can only go up from here.

Derrick Rose returns (again)

Last season, there were ‘MVP’ chants. This year, a standing ovation. What will another Derrick Rose return to the UC hold? No one can say for certain, but at the very least, a reunion with an old friend:

 

And, of course, there’s a game to be played, too. As mentioned, Rose has been in and out of the Pistons rotation early in the season with a nagging hamstring injury. When he’s played, he’s been excellent, averaging 18.4 points and 5.8 assists in 24.5 minutes per game with 54.1/37.5/89.7 (all career-bests) shooting splits. 

And he always shows out in Chicago. In three games as a visitor against the Bulls, Rose has averaged 20.7 points, 8.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and two steals per game on 25-for-48 (52.1%) shooting.

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Chandler Hutchison (sore shins) inactive against Pistons, with no timetable on return

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USA Today

Chandler Hutchison (sore shins) inactive against Pistons, with no timetable on return

If you thought the Bulls were strapped on the wing before, buckle up.

In the run-up to the Bulls' matchup with the Pistons, head coach Jim Boylen announced that Chandler Hutchison, who has started the last five games in place of an injured Otto Porter Jr., will not play against Detroit after experiencing soreness in his sins. 

"Hutch is out. He has very sore shins, and doesn't feel comfortable going," Boylen said after Wednesday's shootaround. "He came in yesterday and it flared up for him, and today it was very sore. We held him out of shootaround, he did a couple things and those things bothered him. So, I'm not gonna put anybody in jeopardy of hurting something else because something's hurt. I'm not doing that."

Boylen wasn't ready to commit to a decision on who will start in Hutchison's place, though he confirmed Shaq Harrison, Denzel Valentine and Ryan Arcidiacono will all be considered. He did rule out the possibility of sliding Thad Young into the starting lineup.

Meanwhile, Porter suffered a setback in his rehab after a return MRI revealed additional bone bruising in his left foot. He'll be re-evaluated by the team in two weeks.

As for a timetable on Hutchison's return? For the moment, it's unclear, but Boylen didn't speak of the injury as a minor setback.

"He's out tonight, and that's about as much as I can tell you," Boylen said. "It doesn't seem to be a quick fix, I don't want to give you a timetable there... We hope he's back as soon as possible."

Boylen also said they've considered calling up reinforcements from Hoffman Estates, but didn't offer anything concrete. 

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