Wendell Carter Jr., Daniel Gafford overcome injuries to practice fully for Bulls

Wendell Carter Jr., Daniel Gafford overcome injuries to practice fully for Bulls

When Wendell Carter Jr. rolled his left ankle after stepping on somebody’s foot and team officials suggested Carter sit out the rest of Tuesday’s practice, the second-year center pleaded his case to keep playing.

That didn’t happen, but Carter returned to practice fully on Wednesday. After thumb surgery limited his rookie season to 44 games and offseason surgery repaired a longstanding core muscle injury, Carter has missed enough time and is raring to play.

“Energy has been good. Everybody has been coming in ready to work. Everybody is in early getting in extra work and staying after practice getting up shots,” Carter said. “I feel like everybody is pretty committed on the individual thing and then once we get to practice, everybody is all ears, all eyes. Everybody is paying attention, talking, wanting to learn. We have a good group of guys.”

That group also included rookie center Daniel Gafford, who practiced fully despite hyperextending his right elbow. The injury caused some concern among team officials, but Gafford felt improvement as Tuesday progressed and didn’t need further evaluation.

The injury news isn’t as good for second-year swingman Chandler Hutchison. For the first time, coach Jim Boylen said the Oct. 23 regular-season opener in Charlotte is in jeopardy for Hutchison, who he added is “at least two more weeks away” from returning.

Carter, Hutchison’s draft classmate, is in a better place. He reiterated his offseason surgery has him feeling “the best I’ve felt in a very, very long time,” which is encouraging for a second-year player looking to take the next step.

“It was going on since I was 15 years old. I used to go to the doctor every summer and have tight hips. I kept stretching. And me stretching made it worse,” Carter said of the core muscle injury. “Once I got to the league, I remember one practice I went to make one move and it hurt real bad. It hurt for me to walk and stuff. But it wasn’t a pain I haven’t felt before. So I thought I could play through it. I kept trying to play but I was very limited. I went and got an MRI. They thought surgery would be the best idea. I didn’t need surgery at all. But to play pain-free is always the goal. So I went ahead and did it.”

Carter flashed plenty of promise while averaging 10.3 points and 7 rebounds last season, which also featured heady defensive play. Now, he and the Bulls are looking for him to take the next step.

“I’ve always made the right decisions since I’ve been here, so Coach has a lot more trust in me getting more shots and being more aggressive,” Carter said. “Start of the game, usually I am going to be rolling (to the rim) a lot, try to get my easy points at first. But later, once it got into the game to where I feel the defender is setting a lot of picks, picking and popping, moving all around the court, that’s another way I can wear out my opponents.”

Carter said he currently weighs 270 pounds, up 15 from last season, but at the same 6 percent body fat. He also talked about picking-and-popping and attempting more 3-pointers. Last season, Carter attempted just 32, making six.

“He can catch the ball in the pocket and make a decision. That's usually not a skill for a young guy. He can rim protect. He can do the straight up at the rim,” Boylen said. “He'll adapt and he'll grow, but I think people underestimate how smart he is. He knows what we're doing. He never asks, 'What are we doing there?' or 'How's that work?' He's an intelligent young guy. And he embraces contact and collision. If you can do that man, you can do anything in this world.”

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How to watch Bulls vs. Bucks: Time, TV schedule and streaming info

USA Today

How to watch Bulls vs. Bucks: Time, TV schedule and streaming info

It's the first Illinois-Wisconsin border showdown of the season. The Milwaukee Bucks will host the Chicago Bulls in a Thursday night showdown.

The Bucks entered the season with aspirations of an NBA Finals appearance and potentially a championship. The Bulls came into the season hoping to contend for a playoff spot.

A win for the Bulls would be a statement to the league they can compete amongst the best, which they've already demonstrated against the Lakers in a tough loss, yet winnable game.

Here's how you can watch, listen and stream the game:

Date: Thursday, November 14
Time: 7:00 p.m. CST
Location: Fiserv Forum| Milwaukee, WI
TV: NBC Sports Chicago PLUS
Stream: MyTeams
Radio: 670 The Score/Univision Chicago 1200AM

NBC Sports Chicago Coverage

SportsTalk Live: 6:00 p.m. CST
Bulls Pregame: 6:30 p.m. CST
Bulls Postgame Live: 9:30 p.m. CST*
Bulls Outsiders: 10:00 p.m. CST**

* - Immediately following conclusion of the game
** - Immediately following conclusion of PostGame Live

Bulls Outsiders can also be streamed on Twitter and YouTube.

Can't watch this game because your provider dropped NBC Sports Chicago?  Go to MYSPORTSCHICAGO.COM or Call 1-844-700-NBCS to get your Chicago sports back!

Despite poor shooting, Coby White has shown encouraging signs through 10 games

Despite poor shooting, Coby White has shown encouraging signs through 10 games

The worst enemy of data analysis is a small sample size, so forgive us for being a bit excited that we have arrived at the point of the season where most teams have played at least 10 games. While this still represents a small sample in the grand scheme of things, 10 games gives us enough to work with to paint an accurate picture of how a player is performing. Bulls 2019 No. 7 overall draft pick Coby White has had some thrilling ups and truly frustrating downs over the first 10 games, which begs the question, how has White's performance been compared to expectations?

The first thing that screams 'Coby White is performing way below expectations' is his ice-cold shooting. This generally should improve, especially because of the Bulls coaching staff making sure most of the rooks' shots fit his strengths and the general goals of the offense, but again, things could always be better. 

Below is a shot chart showing makes and misses from 426 of the 444 field goal attempts from White's NCAA career, per The Stepien

As shown in the above chart, in his lone year at North Carolina White primarily generated his offense through shots at the rim and 3-pointers.

White specifically feasted on shots from above the break and on the left wing. The white dotted line on the above shot chart represents NBA 3-point range and you can see that the majority of White's 3-point attempts were from NBA range, backing up the idea that he has never been a reluctant shooter.

While White is shooting poorly overall from 3-point range, the coaching staff is clearly letting him play to his strengths, as he is taking 4.5 above the break 3-point attempts per game, his favorite shot at North Carolina (above the break 3s accounted for 38% of White FGAs in college). Above the break 3-pointers make up a large share of the Bulls offense and White is shooting a woeful 24.5% on them. He shot 34.5% on above the break 3-pointers at the NCAA level, with many of those being a high degree of difficulty shot, the same type he is taking with the Bulls.

If the coaching staff adjusts, perhaps taking the ball out of his hands a bit and spotting him up more in the left corner (as he shot 43.7% on left wing 3s in college)—and in the corners in general—then we should expect to see a dramatic uptick in his shooting numbers. As it stands, we have seen White repeatedly miss shots that film tells us he definitely can make. 

For now, Bulls fans should be satisfied with the fact that the team's 2019 No. 7 overall pick is showing absolutely no fear.

White's lack of fear on the court is perhaps his biggest strength and weakness and needs to be factored in heavily into his (10-game) evaluation. He is second on the Bulls in usage rate at 24.5%, a full 2% ahead of Lauri Markkanen. This is not ideal and while White gets a bit of a pass since he is being asked to help prop up bench unit woefully short on traditional scorers, he needs to focus on setting up his big men a bit more. This will ultimately make him tougher to guard and open up the possibility of easier shots, especially off the dribble.

Through his first 10 NBA games, White is shooting  21.2% from the 3-point line and 50% on restricted area field goal attempts (not great). Now based on the fact that he shot roughly 36% on NBA distance 3-pointers in college and 10% on 3-pointers during the NBA Las Vegas Summer League, it would appear White is struggling more with NBA defenders than NBA distances.

Ultimately White may need to take Boylen's advice for Lauri Markkanen and "start putting that baby on the floor and creating and going by people.”

As of this writing, White is a player who is showing little difference between his home/road splits, save for more aggressiveness on offense when in Chicago—14.3 FGA per game at home vs 10.8 FGA per game on the road— and a dramatic difference in free throw percentage: 87.5% at the United Center, 60% on the road.

The Bulls have played 6 of their 10 games on the road to start the season, so it is possible White settles into a groove at the UC. But as of now, two of White's three best performances on the young season have come on the road. He is an extremely confident player, especially for a rookie, and ultimately the rigors of the NBA travel schedule don't seem to be getting to him yet

Shooting slumps are normal for any player, especially rookies, but they are a little bit different from the rookie wall, which has more to do with wear-and-tear and NBA scheduling. We should see White's 3-point percentages trending up sooner than later, not to say that they will not regress once the aforementioned rookie wall hits. Even with those poor shooting percentages, he has played decent basketball through the first 10 games when stacked up on against the numbers of his rookie point guard peers.

White's passing is something that will come along slowly as he gains NBA experience but he has shown flashes over the first 10 contests.

White's 1.85 assist-to-turnover ratio is first among all rookies (who play at least 15.0 minutes per game), and he leads all rookie guards in secondary assists per game (0.6), a result of keeping the ball moving on the perimeter per his coaches instructions. 

White's physicality has led to positive developments on the other side of the ball, specifically in both his defense and rebounding. As he said to NBC Sports Chicago previously, “Since I’ve been in high school, I liked contact."

At the time of this writing, the Bulls defense is 6.0 points worse with White off the floor, the most pleasant of surprises. His 12.3% defensive rebound rate is tops among Bulls guards through the first 10 and he has been one of the strongest transition players for Chicago, scoring 1.15 points per possession in transition on 2.7 transition possessions per game (3rd on the Bulls). 

Through the first 10 NBA games, it's safe to say, Coby White hasn't hit the rookie wall just yet, rather he is overexerting himself trying to use his talents to lift a struggling offense.

Once the key players around White slowly (and ideally) start to increase their usage rates and offensive efficiency, we will see him look more like the player he was at North Carolina.

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