Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker trending in opposite directions: 5 observations from Bulls-Hornets

Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker trending in opposite directions: 5 observations from Bulls-Hornets

The Bulls once again struggled defensively in Monday night's 110-104 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. Here are five observations we have from the preseason tilt:

1. Jabari Parker will have better nights

At least we hope he does. It was a second (third, really) consecutive disappointing outing - doo-doo outing - for the Bulls' top free agent. And the scary part might be that it's happening at his more natural position; the Bulls are hoping Parker can play some small forward when Lauri Markkanen returns, but he's already looking slow at power forward, where that isn't supposed to (as much of) an issue. He's really struggled in pick-and-roll defense and hasn't made a real isolation defensive stop that stands out.

His shot is off, he isn't taking advantage of mismatches (on larger power forwards on on guards in switches) and he looks lost. Perhaps it's because he spent all offseason practicing small forward in Fred Hoiberg's offense and so he's out of place, but we're now three preseason games in and it hasn't gotten better. He finished

2. Zach LaVine still looks like it's all coming together

On the flip side, the Bulls' other large offseason investment continues to produce. Zach LaVine was arguably the best player on the floor (when taking the Bulls' defense into consideration). He scored 26 points on just 15 shots, a serious improvement in the efficiency department. Ironically he was at his best after an ugly long missed 2-pointer that was tightly contested early in the shot clock. It looked like 2017-18 Zach LaVine.

Then the new school LaVine showed up. He looked comfortable coming off screens and pulling up from beyond the arc, finishing in transition and getting to the basket. He did a little bit of everything, which is a far cry from what he did last season. An aggressive LaVine and a smart shot taking LaVine is a tough one to stop on the offensive end. Another night, another positive for the $78 million man.

3. The Bulls are going to give up a lot of points

No one expected the Bulls to make a serious leap on the defensive end, but it's a little concerning that they haven't shown much improvement at all. Granted, we're talking about an incredibly small #SampleSize, and the Bulls have faced three teams (New Orleans, Milwaukee, Charlotte) that ranked in the top 12 in offense a year ago. But it hasn't been pretty. And Lauri Markkanen isn't exactly Rudy Gobert, so it's not as though serious reinforcements are coming.

Kris Dunn has been a serious positive. He's as smart as he is physical and at the very least is going to help the Bulls backcourt. It should make things easier on the frontcourt, too, in pick and roll scenarios. Wendell Carter Jr. also had a few flashes, but...

4. Wendell Carter Jr. makes some good plays, is still a rookie

We're not here to dismiss what Carter has done in the early going. We're here to temper expectations. He shows serious potential and flashes that simply aren't normal from a 19-year-old kid. His hands are active, he never seems to have the classic rookie feet and it's clear his size is already a bonus, even at such an early age. But the game is still a step quicker than he is, and he's trying to figure out where he fits in to his role. That can be difficult in the preseason, and really difficult playing alongside Bobby Portis.

Carter has outstanding potential. He's going to be the starter at center sooner than later. But when remembering the things he did well tonight (five assists and a block) remember that he's an unfinished product. He's got a long ways to go, and the Bulls have time to give.

5. Chandler Hutchison improves again

Chandler Hutchison reminds us of Jimmy Butler for one single reason (don't freak out, we're not going crazy over here): he doesn't take false steps. He's a four-year college player and got plenty of reps in Las Vegas, and has been getting more practice reps with Denzel Valentine out. And it seems to be paying off. Hutchison is looking more comfortable out there each time, tonight going for seven points and eight rebounds. He made his only 3-point attempt. The verdict's out on whether there will be a spot in the rotation for him, but this was another positive step for him. He had gone 3-for-14 in the first two preseason contests. Tonight? 3-for-6.

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition


2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.