Bulls

Wendell Carter Jr. making a name for himself as top defender in 2018 class

Wendell Carter Jr. making a name for himself as top defender in 2018 class

Wendell Carter Jr. has been one of the few bright spots in a tough stretch for the Bulls. 

Speculation around the time of the 2018 NBA Draft was that Mohammed Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr. or even DeAndre Ayton could end up being better defenders than Carter due to their athleticism. And while time will tell if this is true, so far in 2018-19, Carter has shown that he is ahead of his peers in terms of breaking down what is happening in front of him and assessing what his responsibility is. One of the main thing holding back the Bulls on defense is ball-watching.

To be effective against an opponent that swings the ball around on offense—generating good shots from the strong and weakside—your defense needs to have all five players on the floor with their head on a swivel, keeping an eye on the ball and their man. Carter has done a lot of leading by example in this specific area. 

Carter's defensive numbers have been head-and-shoulders above his fellow rookie big men and with Hoiberg trusting him with 25+ minutes a night, the gap between he and his peers is likely to grow.

Heading into Wednesday's game, opponent's attacked him frequently within 6 feet of the basket. When Carter defends shot within 6 feet of the basket he makes opponent's shoot 9.3 percent worse, the best mark on the Bulls if you consider sample size. 

As of now, Carter is still on pace to be the only teenager in NBA history to average at least 2 blocks per game. And if he keeps this up, his case for Rookie of the Year will only get stronger.

And with all of the injuries and struggles of this young team, Carter's impressive defensive IQ continues to bring hope.

The Bulls upcoming back-to-back will see them take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard respectively. 

These matchups will likely show just how far away the Bulls are from being a competitive team. But with Chicago’s perimeter defense lacking sufficient wing defenders, these two games will also showcase Carter’s ability to be the last line of defense, on a team that could use a first one.

Comparing Bulls players to wrestlers from WWE's Attitude Era

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AP

Comparing Bulls players to wrestlers from WWE's Attitude Era

HOT TAKE: Things aren’t great for the Bulls right now. Between fired coaches, player mutinies, getting trolled by the Kings, and a 6-22 record, it's tough to find things to get excited about. It's never good when the off-court news drowns out any on-court accomplishments. If this was a work of fiction it might be downright interesting. This feels more like 90s wrestling than 2018 NBA. In the spirit of taking a break from the negative stuff, and honoring the Gods of Content, here are the 2018 Bulls if they were Attitude Era WWE Superstars.

(Editor's Note: The WWE Attitude Era was 1997-2001)

Slam Dunks Don’t @ Me

Zach LaVine is The Rock

The Rock conquered Hollywood, LaVine went to UCLA. The Rock’s finishing move “The People’s Elbow” is the most electrifying move in sports entertainment. A Zach LaVine dunk is the most electrifying move in the United Center. The Rock was the “People’s Champ”. Zach became the Bull’s “People’s Champ” when he was top 5 in scoring in the face of injuries and team dysfunction. Do you smell what LaVine Cuisine is cooking?

Bobby Portis is Ken Shamrock 

Bobby is the emotional leader and brings 100 percent intensity each and every game. Ken Shamrock was called “The Most Dangerous Man in the World.”

Wendell Carter Jr. is The Undertaker

The Undertaker wasn’t always the elder statesmen of wrestling. When he debuted at Survivor Series in 1990, he was a 6-foot-10 athlete with a stoic personality who seemed mature for his age and had a huge upside. Sound like anyone you know? They even called The Undertaker, “The Phenom”. Can we please start calling Wendell Carter Jr. “The Phenom”? Please?

Ryan Arcidiacono is Billy Kidman

Ok, Billy Kidman was with WCW during the Attitude Era, but this is too perfect. They are both undersized fan favorites who overachieve and show flashes of brilliance. Plus they are 90’s dreamy. #TWOTIGERBEATS.

Lauri Markkanen is Chris Jericho

Both are blonde, charismatic, foreigners who have the potential to be The Best In the World. Jericho would often talk about how he would “save the fans” and Markkenan returned last week to save us from this season.

Justin Holiday is Christian

Both are solid, reliable athletes that have more heralded brothers. Christian is no Edge and so far Justin has not been Jrue. Both Justin and Christian can thrive if in the right circumstances. 

Kris Dunn is Eddie Guerrero 

Let’s hope Kris Dunn has the chance to have a career like Eddie Guerrero. Dunn is an undersized determined athlete with the work ethic heart and IQ to be great. Eddie Guerrero was an undersized determined athlete with the work ethic heart and IQ to be great and became great. We haven’t seen enough from Dunn to know what we have.

Robin Lopez is Kane

Cam Payne is X-Pac

Still Trying Figure Out and Welcome Suggestions Please @ Me 

•    Chandler Hutchison is the Lethal Weapon Steve Blackman
•    Jabari Parker is Razor Ramon
•    Shaq Harrison is D’Lo Brown
•    Denzel Valentine is Val Venis
•    Cristiano Felicio is Gangrel

Bulls trip to Mexico a much-needed diversion

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USA TODAY

Bulls trip to Mexico a much-needed diversion

After a drama-filled first eight days under the leadership of new head coach Jim Boylen, maybe a trip to Mexico City is exactly what's needed for the 6-22 Bulls.

With all the reports of player unrest, a potential practice boycott and the formation of a players' leadership group, maybe a team dinner in a warm climate is the perfect recipe for reducing tension.

Of course, both the Bulls and Magic will have to adjust to playing at the mile-high altitude in Mexico City Thursday night. The Bulls' players are hoping to get their legs back after last week's training camp-style practices. They played well in the first half against Sacramento on Monday, running out to a 56-45 lead. But the Bulls looked stuck in the mud the rest of the way, getting outscored 63-33 in the 2nd half on the way to a 108-89 loss, their third in four games under Boylen's direction.

The Magic have also struggled lately after getting off to a good start that currently has them in the eighth playoff position in the East. Orlando has dropped seven of its last 10 games, the latest a 101-76 haymaker at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.

The Magic are led by free agent to be Nikola Vucevic, who's averaging 20.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Aaron Gordon got the big contract he was looking for as a restricted free agent last summer and he's having a decent season, but not what the front office was hoping for after paying him close to 80 million dollars over the next 4 years.

Former Bulls guard D.J. Augustin and Jerian Grant are running the point for Orlando. Augustin has started all 27 games so far and he's been decent, averaging 10.1 points and 5.1 assists, while Grant has chipped in 4 points and 3 assists in just under 20 minutes of action off the bench.

Orlando is also getting solid production from wing players Evan Fournier and Terrance Ross, but much like the Bulls, their future is about the development of recent top 10 picks Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba. Both have been inconsistent so far, and both need to add strength to be able to deal with all the physical contact in the paint. Unless one or both develop into a top tier post player, the Magic's grand rebuilding plan will fall apart pretty quickly.

Still, Orlando is 12-15 at this point which is about where the Bulls figured to be if they hadn't suffered so many injuries at the start of the season. It will be interesting to see which direction each of these teams go now that the Bulls have everyone back except for Denzel Valentine. Of course, trades could change the composition of both rosters with players like Vucevic, Fournier, Ross, Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez all of potential interest to contending teams.

Here's what it will take for the Bulls to get into the win column on Thursday.

1. Sustained effort. As my former studio partner, the late, great Norm Van Lier used to say, "I need 48 minutes of intensity." The Bulls gave Jim Boylen 24 minutes on Monday, with Zach LaVine throwing down a monstrous hammer dunk to punctuate his 12 point, 5-6 shooting first half effort. Whether it was tired legs from all the extra practice time or poor execution, the Bulls were done in by a turnover-filled second half. They'll need to find a way to avoid the nightmare quarters that have cost them a chance at several wins this season.

2. Limit second-chance points. Orlando has plenty of size with Vucevic, Gordon and Isaac in the starting lineup and Bamba coming off the bench. The Bulls' big men have to focus on boxing out and not allowing the Magic to get multiple shot opportunities. Robin Lopez played well in the first half on Monday, then didn't see the floor after intermission. His size will be important in this game.

3. More from Dunn and Portis. Both players showed encouraging signs in their first game since late October, combining for 14 points and 8 rebounds in the opening half against Sacramento. Best of all, they showed no hesitation in going all out following their rehabs from knee sprains. Dunn should return to the starting lineup soon where his ability to penetrate will lead to easier shots for Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. Portis can provide instant offense off the bench, something that's been sorely lacking for most of the season.

Don't forget you can watch Thursday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and MyTeams by NBC Sports app. Sticking with the Mexico City theme, we'll be doing the preame show live on location from Harbee Liquor and Tavern in the Pilsen neighborhood, 1345 W. 18th St. If you're going to be in the area, come on out and say hello to Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Horace Grant and myself. Pregame coverage begins at 8 p.m., with the play-by-play call from Neil Funk and Stacey King at 8:30, followed by Bulls Postgame Live and Bulls Outsiders.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.