Bulls

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.

Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

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Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

After years of being handcuffed by the ill-fated Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trade that cost the Nets’ franchise several prime lottery picks, Brooklyn is starting to come out of the abyss under energetic young coach Kenny Atkinson.

The Nets’ front office was able to absorb the contracts of veteran players like DeMarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur for draft considerations, while also picking up former #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell by taking on the massive contract of Timofey Mozgov from the Lakers. In addition, they also traded veterans Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic for 1st rounders that became starters Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

Under Atkinson’s direction, the Nets have bought into a culture of hard work and unselfish play. They improved from 20 to 28 wins a year ago, and are currently within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East.

LeVert is currently sidelined after dislocating his right ankle in a scary fall in early November, but he should return at some point this season. At the time of his injury, LeVert was leading the Nets in scoring at 18.4 points per game while shooting nearly 48% from the field, looking like a candidate for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. In his absence, the Nets have gone with a share the wealth approach, with Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all scoring in double figures.

Dinwiddie is the name that should be familiar to Bulls’ fans. He was with the team during training camp in 2016, but let go when the Bulls acquired Michael Carter-Williams in a deal with Milwaukee. Since that time, Dinwiddie has fully recovered from an ACL injury he suffered in college and emerged as a top candidate for the NBA’s 6th man award, averaging 17.2 points and 5 assists per game while shooting almost 48% from the field. Hindsight is always 20-20, but Dinwiddie would certainly look good in the Bulls’ backcourt right now.

Still, the most exciting thing for Nets’ fans right now is the team’s salary cap situation. Thanks to all the moves made by General Manager Sean Marks, Brooklyn could have the ability to offer 2 max contracts in 2019 free agency. Whether Marks will be able to get a meeting with any of the big names like Durant, Leonard, Irving, Butler and Thompson is still to be determined, but at least there’s finally some hope for a turnaround in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have sunk to 7-24  and have been the league’s least efficient offensive team since Jim Boylen took over as head coach. Boylen wants his shorthanded team to play at a more deliberate tempo in direct contrast to the current pace-and-space trend that’s taken over the league. With leading scorer Zach LaVine out because of injury and Jabari Parker inactive while the front office tries to work out a trade, the Bulls are painfully short on offensive options and need to rely on an improved defense to stay competitive in games.

Like Brooklyn, the Bulls figure to have cap space this summer to pursue free agents, but they’ll need to show improvement and stability over the final 51 games to make their sales pitch effective.

As for Wednesday’s game, here’s what the Bulls need to do to have a chance for a home court win.

1.   FAST BREAK POINTS.  We know Boylen wants to put the brakes on the Bulls’ transition game, but the Nets come to town after hosting the Lakers Tuesday night which means there could be a few players on the court with tired legs. When the Bulls force a turnover, they need to look for an easy scoring opportunity before the defense sets up. Oklahoma City had a 27-9 advantage in fast break points on Monday.

2.   MARKKANEN IN THE POST.  The 7 foot forward was extremely effective in the 2nd half of the come-from-behind win in San Antonio by isolating against smaller defenders for drives and step-back jumpers. Markkanen will have a height advantage against Brooklyn’s smaller frontcourt, and he should be able to shoot over the top of Hollis-Jefferson, another former Arizona Wildcat.

3.   SHUT DOWN SPENCER.  Dinwiddie has been in celebration mode this week after signing a brand new 3 year, 34 million dollar contract extension. Still, Dinwiddie gets pretty serious in talking about the 2 NBA teams that gave up on him (Pistons and Bulls) knowing that all he needed was time to fully recover from a serious knee injury. The 25 year old guard has been providing instant offense off the bench for Brooklyn, and you can bet he’ll have the green light when he enters the game at the United Center.

We hope you’ll join Kendall Gill, Kelly Crull and me for Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. After the game goes final, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for Jim Boylen’s media session and player reaction from the locker room on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by Bulls Outsiders.

Justin Holiday broke a Bulls franchise record, and now he is adding on to his lead

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Justin Holiday broke a Bulls franchise record, and now he is adding on to his lead

Justin Holiday has been the model of consistency since playing for the Bulls. He has shot at least 35 percent from 3-point range in every Bulls season he has been a part of. But this year—partly through necessity and partly due to the stylistic shifts in the sport—Holiday has taken his floor-spacing to the extreme end of the spectrum, taking 55 percent of shots from 3-point range this season.  And the combination of his increased volume and trademark accuracy has resulted in one very impressive streak.

As of December 18, Justin Holiday has made at least one 3-pointer in 42 straight games.

The streak started on March 21, 2018 and is still ongoing, with Holiday's last game with a made 3-pointer coming in the Bulls loss to Oklahoma City on Monday.

Holiday is averaging 12 PPG this season and is shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line. His over 7 attempts per game from 3-point range keeps defenses honest, and Jim Boylen has started to use Holiday more in actions to free up Lauri Markkanen and/or Wendell Carter for open shots.

The streak will have a chance to continue when the Bulls take on the Brooklyn Nets tonight—with Bulls Pregame Live on NBC Sports Chicago at 6:30 p.m. CST—but it will be tough as the Nets are the best in the league at limiting their opponent's 3-point attempts, holding their foes to just under 27 attempts per game from 3-point range.

Holiday's excellent year shooting the ball is all the more impressive when you realize it comes on a team that is in the bottom 10 in 3-point attempts, 3-point makes and 3-point percentage. 

At 42 straight games with a 3-pointer, Holiday is already 11 games ahead of Kirk Hinrich, who previously held the Bulls' record for consecutive games with a 3-point shot made (at 31 straight games).

With the Bulls playing Holiday 35 minutes a night (10th in the league) and currently dealing with an injury to their leading scorer, Holiday could see this streak last a very long time.