Bulls

Wendell Carter Jr. could be out 8-to-12 weeks after surgery

Wendell Carter Jr. could be out 8-to-12 weeks after surgery

In the first part of the season, the Bulls were overwhelmed with injuries. It now appears the team has been dealt a massive injury blow.

Rookie center Wendell Carter Jr.'s left thumb injury is severe enough that surgery is recommended for Carter. If he has surgery, the Bulls said in a press release he is expected to miss 8-to-12 weeks.

Carter suffered the injury Tuesday at the Lakers. An MRI on Wednesday showed a sprain and further tests from team specialists resulted in the recommendation.

If Carter is out for 12 weeks, he could miss the rest of the season. The 19-year-old has been a bright spot for the Bulls this season, averaging 10.3 points and 7 rebounds per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the field.

Carter losing development time in a season where the Bulls are primarily focusing on trying to develop their young core is a blow to a rebuilding effort. The Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson said Carter could still opt out of surgery and try to play through the injury.

Johnson followed up with a source saying surgery is "almost certainly" the plan.

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Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Jim Boylen opened his press conference with a silver lining.

"If there's a positive in this difficult loss, it's in the past when we haven't been able to put the ball in the basket... We haven't guarded well," Boylen said. "I thought our defense was terrific tonight. I thought it kept us in the game, it gave us a chance."

There's some validity to that. Friday night, the Bulls allowed their adversary, the Charlotte Hornets, only 83 points. The Hornets shot 38% from the floor, 19.4% from 3-point range (31 attempts) and turned the ball over 21 times. On most nights, holding an opponent to those numbers is a recipe for success — even if the paltriness of said numbers was as much a result of the Hornets' sloppy play as anything.

Not in this one. The offense will shoulder most of the blame there: The Bulls shot only 30% from the field (they're the only team that's shot 30% or less from the field in a game this season, and they've done it twice) and 20.6% from 3-point range. According to Boylen, they shot 44% at the rim. Crucially, they were also outrebounded by Charlotte 60-45 — a disparity aided by the Bulls missing a whopping 63 field goals on the night. 

"They were crashing a lot of guys," Lauri Markkanen said. "We need to do a better job of boxing out. I feel like we did a good job defensively, but we just need to get the first rebound and limit their second-chance points."

The Hornets entered the night ranked 27th in rebound rate — which measures the percentage of missed shots a team is able to pull in — the Bulls 29th. For Charlotte, P.J. Washington (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Cody Zeller (11 points, 10 rebounds) both logged double-doubles, and Bismack Biyombo (12 points, nine rebounds) came close. As a team, they converted 11 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points. 

"They had 11 offensive rebounds. It seemed like they had more," Boylen, aptly, said. "Those plays are back-breakers."

Especially true in such a drudgy game. The Hornets led 44-40 at the halftime break, then 59-50 entering the fourth after outscoring the Bulls 15-10 in the third quarter. It was a game from a different era.

Thad Young rejected the notion that the Bulls were outmatched physically or undersized, relative to the Hornets.

"I think that's about us just going out there and making sure we get the ball, and us gang-rebounding," he said of the disparity on the boards.

Young cited the team's defensive philosophy — specifically, their strategy of blitzing and aggressively hedging in pick-and-roll coverage — as one factor in their inconsistency in this area. Bringing bigs up and away from the basket on those actions can often leave them out of position when the other team's eventual shot is put up (and off) the rim. 

"The way our defense is it kinda crossmatches us a little bit, because the big is generally trying to stop the guard from driving. Then when they hit the big, he's in the trail position, so their big has inside position on us, and then you have a big on the baseline or you have a cutter going baseline," Young said. "So it kinda puts us in a situation where we have to figure out who's gonna be in to get the rebounds and usually, the guys that's in there to get the rebounds are guards. Because they're sagging in on the weak-side or they're helping trying to get the big into position where he can rebound the basketball."

Wendell Carter Jr. had 11 boards on the night, but the Bulls' next-leading rebounder was Zach LaVine, with eight. Then Young with five.

But Young declined to label it a systemic issue, or even a communication one. 

"It's just something that kinda happens in the flow of the game," Young said. "Some games are gonna be different than others. Some games we're gonna be able to get our bigs back, and some games we're gonna depend on our guards to come in and rebound."

It seems that this is happening often, as of late. The Bulls have been outrebounded in 19 of their 27 games this season — they're 4-15 in said contests.

Of course, making shots would help, as well. Between the two teams, there were 112 missed field goals tonight. That's a lot of chances for rebounds, and the Hornets converted more than the Bulls tonight.

"Imma be honest with you, I don't really see too much they were doing [defensively]. We were just missing shots," Young said. "I had three for sure that just went in and came out, and a couple other guys had some so. I think it was just one of those nights."

It certainly was. Now, on to the next — Saturday night, when they fearsome Clippers come to town.

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Thad Young gets wish for more minutes, while Lauri Markkanen sits in loss

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USA Today

Thad Young gets wish for more minutes, while Lauri Markkanen sits in loss

Thaddeus Young walked to the waiting throng of reporters at Friday’s morning shootaround with a laugh and a smile.

“Can’t say I didn’t know this was coming,” the veteran said.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Young landed in stories expressing frustration over his role, and with his morning comments, reiterated his desire to play more while maintaining the professional reputation that has defined his 13-year career.

Young got his wish during the Bulls’ abysmal showing in an 83-73 home loss to the Hornets, logging 26 minutes, 33 seconds. But at what cost?

Young received more playing time than Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls’ publicly stated cornerstone of the rebuild. At one point in the second half, Markkanen sat for 14:47 game minutes.

Pretty much everybody except Young and Ryan Arcidiacono endured a brutal night offensively. The Bulls set an NBA-season-low for points and shot 30 percent, including 20.6 percent from 3-point range. They also got outrebounded by 15.

But it’d be one thing if Markkanen had been playing poorly of late. After enduring a lengthy slump to start the season, Markkanen has been trending upward this month. Four of his previous six games produced 20-point outings and he entered Friday night shooting 52.6 percent on the month.

When Markkanen sank a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the second half, he was 4-for-9 at the time for 10 points. Turned out, those were his final points.

“I don’t think so. I think he understands that I’m going to ride with guys who are playing well or guys that make the run, just like I have with him,” coach Jim Boylen said, when asked if his decision could affect Markkanen’s rhythm or confidence. “I overplayed him in the first half. Second half, it wasn’t the same rotation. That’s just part of the game.

“I have a scripted rotation. But it’s not in stone.”

Later, Boylen piled on all the starters. After scoring 10 first-half points, Zach LaVine missed his first seven shots of the second half and only scored two points after halftime. He and Markkanen were a combined 8-for-31.

“Overall, the first group was not good,” Boylen said. “Archie played well. Thought he was into the game. He found his shot, found his rhythm. So we let Archie roll a little bit. That’s going to happen. You’re trying to find guys who can help you make a run, get back in the game. We battled back.”

Playing Young more is fine. And indeed, the Bulls erased a 15-point deficit to cut it to two before defensive lapses led to back-to-back 3-pointers from the Hornets.

But if Boylen isn’t going to play Young at small forward with Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison out, playing time at power forward is going to be a storyline every game. Either Young isn’t happy or Markkanen, a franchise cornerstone, sits.

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” Boylen said, when asked if Young could play some small forward. “We’ve talked about it.”

Like Young, who expressed frustration over his role while emphasizing he’ll do what Boylen asks, Markkanen isn’t a boat rocker.

“I didn’t talk to Coach about that,” Markkanen said of his lengthy second-half absence. “Obviously, Thad played well. That’s Coach’s decision. It’s obvious for me that I can play much better. I didn’t play at the level that we need.”

Markkanen didn’t attempt a shot while playing the final 3:58. Did sitting so long affect his rhythm?

“You get a little cold,” he said. “But it’s part of it. You get warm again pretty quickly. Guys do it all the time. That’s not an excuse at all.”

The Bulls need to find a solution for the big-man rotation, which also requires minutes for Wendell Carter Jr. and the raw, athletic Daniel Gafford. A source said Young believed not only would he be playing more minutes this season but closing more games.

“The conversations in the offseason were the conversations in the offseason. But going into the season, things change and come out a little bit differently,” Young said of the Bulls’ free-agent pitch versus his current reality. “The situation is not best-case scenario simply because I am playing 20 minutes a game. But if Coach sees fit to play me 20, sees fit to play me 25, 30, I’m with whatever he decides. He’s the man in charge.”

Boylen said he merely talked to Young about leadership and building and his vision for this team’s future when the Bulls pursued Young in free agency. Either way, the current situation is as messy as the Bulls’ offense against the Hornets.

“We sucked,” LaVine said.

On that, everyone could agree.

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