Bulls

Zach LaVine-James Harden matchup will showcase differing styles of being the 1st scoring option

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine-James Harden matchup will showcase differing styles of being the 1st scoring option

The Bulls made some key changes entering the 20129-20 season, adding vital talent to both the coaching staff and the roster. With a new-look team trying to make a big improvement following a lackluster, 22-win season, it was expected that Bulls star Zach LaVine would be asked to play somewhat differently, specifically with the addition of former Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Chris Fleming.

LaVine was asked to change his game in some aspects and through nine games, the results have been encouraging, but of course, with room for improvement.

In the 2018-19 season, LaVine averaged 0.96 points per possession, shooting 41.3% on 2.4 field goal attempts per game on isolation plays.

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While he was nowhere near the level of isolation-master or free throw magnet that James Harden was, who comes to town on Saturday night, LaVine was in the 72nd percentile in isolation scoring, making him one of the better iso scorers in the league and certainly on the Bulls. In 2018-19, LaVine also attempted six free throw attempts per game, knocking them down at an 83.2% rate.

That has changed in a big way over the first nine games of the 2019-20 season.

LaVine's free throw average has dropped to 4.1 attempts per game. And though he has not played less out of isolation plays—LaVine is still averaging 2.4 field goal attempts per game in isos—his field goal percentage in isolation plays has dropped to a paltry 27.3%.

It's early enough in the season to expect that figure to go up considerably, but the fact that he has been a quality offensive player without feasting on isos is encouraging.

LaVine's offensive game has strayed away from what Harden's is—i.e., lots of pick-and-rolls and isolations—and more towards that of an on and off-ball scorer, again, with positive results so far.

Through nine games LaVine's offensive rating (points per 100 possessions via NBA.com) is 107.0, up from 105.8 last season, and a big reason for that is his shot distribution.

As visible through the above shot chart, this season LaVine is eschewing the midrange in favor of a more aggressive approach from the 3-point line and a continued commitment to getting to the rim. Through nine games this season, LaVine is shooting 1.1 midrange shots per game after taking 3.7 midrange field goal attempts per game last season.

What that shot chart doesn't show is how LaVine is getting his shots.

LaVine used pick-and-rolls much more frequently last season, scoring 0.90 points per possession on 9.6 pick-and-roll possessions per game. This season he has scored 0.98 points per possession but only on 6.3 pick-and-roll possessions per game.

His new bread-and-butter plays outside of transition offense and (slightly less) pick-and-rolls include more spot-up 3-pointers, catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, and handoffs. What all this means is that LaVne is truly trying to keep the rock moving, adhering to Boylen's "0.5 seconds" rule.

Among the most significant figures, LaVine is shooting 42.9% this season on 3.1 pull up 3-point attempts per game, 33.3% on 3.0 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game—up from 1.7 catch and shoot 3-point attempts per game last season—and his average seconds per touch is down from 4.57 seconds last season to 3.62 seconds so far in 2019-20.

LaVine's slightly altered style of play — no doubt heavily influenced by Fleming, Boylen and the rest of the Bulls organization — has opened up the door for Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr, Tomas Satoransky and Coby White to have role significant roles in the offense.

This has had mixed results so far, as evidenced by the Bulls' currently 23rd ranked offense, but things have still been a step up from last year's 29th ranked offense.

Small sample size alert always applies this early in the regular season but things are looking up for Zach LaVine.

While LaVine's defense still has a long way to go, he is posting a career-high 1.8 steals per 100 possessions and again, through nine games, his new-look shot distribution has lead to the second-best offensive rating (107.0) of his career.

Saturday night's Bulls-Rockets game will be a great showcase for Bulls fans to see LaVine's new-look game, featuring an efficient off-ball offense against the contrasting style of Harden, who will force the Bulls to defend upwards of 11 isolations.

If LaVine can help the Bulls get off to another fast start — Chicago scored 33 points in the first quarter of Wednesday's win over the Hawks — then they have a great shot at beating a defense-averse Rockets team.

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2020 NBA Draft Lottery going virtual, breaking Chicago's two-year host run

2020 NBA Draft Lottery going virtual, breaking Chicago's two-year host run

It’s felt pre-ordained for months now. Now, it appears it’s decided.

No, the Bulls didn’t draw the seventh pick in the 2020 NBA Draft (yet). But The Athletic’s Shams Charania did report Monday afternoon that the lottery scheduled for Aug. 20 will take place virtually. All 14 teams ‘in attendance’ will be allowed to ‘send’ remote representatives. The event will presumably be televised, but details haven’t emerged on that front yet.

It’s a logical gameplan given the COVID-19 pandemic’s ongoing nature, and the acclaim received by virtual draft showcases broadcast by the WNBA and NFL while live sports in the United States were effectively paused.

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The news also sends a few ripples in Bulls world. For one, who will rep the team, in this, its third consecutive lottery appearance? Michael Reinsdorf and Horace Grant manned the post in 2018 and 2019, respectively. But for this year? Benny the Bull would be sure to bring the energy. On the heels of the summer of “The Last Dance,” perhaps a dynasty-era contributor could get the call. Or maybe a newly-minted front office face instead? Time will tell.

And, as our K.C. Johnson pointed out on Twitter, this development also marks the end of a two-year streak of Chicago hosting the lottery in 2018 and 2019. The city has long housed the combine.

Here’s what Adam Silver told NBC Sports Chicago in February when asked his impressions of Chicago as a host-city for the lottery:

We have been very pleased in Chicago. Our community comes together in Chicago for our predraft camp and combine. It made perfect sense to also conduct the draft lottery there. And that was something that Mayor Emanuel never stopped reminding me of. Things can potentially change over time. We are enjoying being in Chicago. Because of the geographic location, it’s more convenient for our teams to be in a more central location. And Chicago, for the same reasons that makes it a fantastic All-Star host, has all the accommodations you need for our teams when they come together for our combine. My anticipation is we’ll be in Chicago for a while. And the city has been terrific to work with.

Silver made that comment before All-Star weekend in Chicago, but all of the above virtues translated. Though Bulls representation was limited, no one would deny Chicago played a splendid host for the festivities.

The Bulls enter this year’s lottery locked into the seventh-best odds (7.5%) at nabbing the No. 1 pick, and a 32% chance of vaulting into the top four. 

Slots No. 1 through No. 8 in the lottery standings are set with the teams excluded from the NBA’s restart. Slots No. 9 through 14 will populate at the end of the play-in round, when postseason seeding is officially set. Teams that started the restart as a top-eight seed in either conference can fall into the lottery if they miss the playoffs, but the ultimate order of the lottery odds will be decided by pre-hiatus record (meaning, for example, that if the current standings hold and the Phoenix Suns finish with a better record than the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings, but miss the postseason, the Suns would own better lottery odds than the Pels and Kings by virtues of each team’s pre-hiatus record).

All of which is to say, clear your calendars for next Thursday. After that, rumor and speculation are sure to swirl until the draft itself, which, as of right now, is reportedly scheduled for Oct. 16. The status of the combine remains up in the air, though ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported July 23 that the league is polling teams on which players should be invited to the combine if one takes place.

For the Bulls, helmed by a new front office regime and facing a moment of reckoning in the current rebuild, this year’s draft process is an especially crucial one.

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Bulls' Top 10 Centers in franchise history

Bulls' Top 10 Centers in franchise history

NBC Sports Chicago is counting down the top 10 Bulls at each position in franchise history.

We've hit the point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards. And last, but certainly not least, the men in the middle. The centers.

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Defensive anchors, multi-skilled hubs and blue-collar tenacity abound in these rankings. And plenty of hardware — both of the championship and individual variety.

We hope you've enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Without further adieu...

Bulls' Top 10 Centers in franchise history

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