Zion Williamson is focused on the Bulls and his improvement, not the hype

Zion Williamson is focused on the Bulls and his improvement, not the hype

As Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry addressed a huge throng of reporters covering Monday’s morning shootaround at the United Center, Zion Williamson left the court and headed towards the tunnel to the locker rooms.

“He’s not leaving,” Gentry said, laughing. “I promise you.”

Nevertheless, several reporters left Gentry to follow Williamson, who later talked outside the Pelicans’ locker room.

“At least I know where I stand,” Gentry cracked, again laughing.

Yes, welcome to Zion Zaniness, which will ensue at NBA arenas across the country. Williamson gets it.

“I don’t think it’s overwhelming doing something I love,” Williamson said. “I’m living my dream.”

Gentry is the perfect coach to help handle the hype surrounding Williamson, who will play “probably 20” minutes Monday night against the Bulls. The veteran NBA coach has seen a little bit of everything during his close to three decades in the league.

“We’re not downgrading his talent. We’re just not going to compare him to anyone,” Gentry said. “We want him to be the best Zion he can be... I just think it’s important we understand what we’re dealing with here and try not to jump the gun on anything. It’s a process. It’s not anything that is going to happen overnight. I think we all know that. Our goal is to make sure he’s better every single day. His goal is to make sure he’s better every single day. As long as we’re on that path, I think we’ll be fine.”

Williamson did nothing to quell the hype in his preseason debut against the Hawks, throwing down highlight-reel dunks and displaying the freakish athleticism that made him the No. 1 pick in last June’s draft and one of the most hyped rookies in recent history.

Williamson isn’t focused on the hype.

“I just have to work on trusting my game,” he said. “I’m not going to change who I am. Because I remember there was a time when I didn’t have all this (hype) and I was the same person. So never going to change.”

Williamson smiled his way through questions about Coby White, the history of the United Center and whether he and Zach LaVine on the same court could be a preview of the dunk contest at the February All-Star Game in Chicago.

“I knew that question was coming,” Williamson said. “It’s a basketball game, and if we dunk it’s whatever. I don’t think we’ll be doing nothing crazy out there.’’

On White, who he played against in the vaunted Duke-North Carolina rivalry: “I remember (Duke) Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) is like, ‘If we score it doesn’t matter. Coby is pushing it,’” Williamson said. “Man, for my second game back that was a fast-tempo game. I was kind of tired like in the first three minutes, but I battled through it and it was a tough win.’’

On the United Center’s history with Michael Jordan: “This building is obviously special because this man won six rings here – not all six of them here – but he won six banners. Proud to be part of the Jordan family, so it’s an honor to be able to play on this court.’’

Williamson signed an endorsement deal with Jordan Brand. And he’s appreciative of Gentry helping him through this process.

“I think sometimes people can run with unrealistic expectations,” Williamson said. “So with them just helping me gain confidence in being myself it helps a lot.’’

Gentry said fans lined up at noon for a 6 p.m. open practice in New Orleans. The hype will exist, and Gentry is confident Williamson’s greatness will come. He’s just trying to help handle it all.

“Obviously, it’s good for our franchise. We get a lot of notoriety,” Gentry said. “He’s such a great kid, hard worker. He understands he has a lot of work to do. He’s willing to put in the work. But he’s going to be fine.

“We’re just going to make sure it’s done properly and there’s no timetable for him to dominate the league. He’s going to continue to work. He’ll arrive there. . . . He’s a very coachable guy, but that’s not really a surprise. Smart guy. Very smart. Knows the game. And he’s a willing worker who wants to get better. He doesn’t mind you sitting down with him showing the weaknesses that he has to work on and he’ll go right back out and do anything he can to improve in those areas.”

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls only score 73 points in loss to Charlotte


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls only score 73 points in loss to Charlotte

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson react to the Bulls 83-73 loss to the Hornets.

0:30 - Will Perdue makes a cameo to start the show

1:00 - On only scoring 73 points

4:55 - Is this loss worse than the Celtics loss last season?

6:30 - Viewer comments on the loss and shooting too many threes

8:00 - Discussion on Thad Young minutes vs Lauri Markkanen minutes

12:10 - Viewer comment asking what would the Outsiders say if head coach

15:05 - Viewer comment on Tomas Satoransky

17:20 - Viewer trade idea for Terrance Ross

20:25 - Viewer comment on Coby White struggling

21:25 - Viewer comment on Kris Dunn starting

23:50 - Our ideas for other ‘theme’ nights for Bulls games

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders


Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Jim Boylen opened his press conference with a silver lining.

"If there's a positive in this difficult loss, it's in the past when we haven't been able to put the ball in the basket... We haven't guarded well," Boylen said. "I thought our defense was terrific tonight. I thought it kept us in the game, it gave us a chance."

There's some validity to that. Friday night, the Bulls allowed their adversary, the Charlotte Hornets, only 83 points. The Hornets shot 38% from the floor, 19.4% from 3-point range (31 attempts) and turned the ball over 21 times. On most nights, holding an opponent to those numbers is a recipe for success — even if the paltriness of said numbers was as much a result of the Hornets' sloppy play as anything.

Not in this one. The offense will shoulder most of the blame there: The Bulls shot only 30% from the field (they're the only team that's shot 30% or less from the field in a game this season, and they've done it twice) and 20.6% from 3-point range. According to Boylen, they shot 44% at the rim. Crucially, they were also outrebounded by Charlotte 60-45 — a disparity aided by the Bulls missing a whopping 63 field goals on the night. 

"They were crashing a lot of guys," Lauri Markkanen said. "We need to do a better job of boxing out. I feel like we did a good job defensively, but we just need to get the first rebound and limit their second-chance points."

The Hornets entered the night ranked 27th in rebound rate — which measures the percentage of missed shots a team is able to pull in — the Bulls 29th. For Charlotte, P.J. Washington (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Cody Zeller (11 points, 10 rebounds) both logged double-doubles, and Bismack Biyombo (12 points, nine rebounds) came close. As a team, they converted 11 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points. 

"They had 11 offensive rebounds. It seemed like they had more," Boylen, aptly, said. "Those plays are back-breakers."

Especially true in such a drudgy game. The Hornets led 44-40 at the halftime break, then 59-50 entering the fourth after outscoring the Bulls 15-10 in the third quarter. It was a game from a different era.

Thad Young rejected the notion that the Bulls were outmatched physically or undersized, relative to the Hornets.

"I think that's about us just going out there and making sure we get the ball, and us gang-rebounding," he said of the disparity on the boards.

Young cited the team's defensive philosophy — specifically, their strategy of blitzing and aggressively hedging in pick-and-roll coverage — as one factor in their inconsistency in this area. Bringing bigs up and away from the basket on those actions can often leave them out of position when the other team's eventual shot is put up (and off) the rim. 

"The way our defense is it kinda crossmatches us a little bit, because the big is generally trying to stop the guard from driving. Then when they hit the big, he's in the trail position, so their big has inside position on us, and then you have a big on the baseline or you have a cutter going baseline," Young said. "So it kinda puts us in a situation where we have to figure out who's gonna be in to get the rebounds and usually, the guys that's in there to get the rebounds are guards. Because they're sagging in on the weak-side or they're helping trying to get the big into position where he can rebound the basketball."

Wendell Carter Jr. had 11 boards on the night, but the Bulls' next-leading rebounder was Zach LaVine, with eight. Then Young with five.

But Young declined to label it a systemic issue, or even a communication one. 

"It's just something that kinda happens in the flow of the game," Young said. "Some games are gonna be different than others. Some games we're gonna be able to get our bigs back, and some games we're gonna depend on our guards to come in and rebound."

It seems that this is happening often, as of late. The Bulls have been outrebounded in 19 of their 27 games this season — they're 4-15 in said contests.

Of course, making shots would help, as well. Between the two teams, there were 112 missed field goals tonight. That's a lot of chances for rebounds, and the Hornets converted more than the Bulls tonight.

"Imma be honest with you, I don't really see too much they were doing [defensively]. We were just missing shots," Young said. "I had three for sure that just went in and came out, and a couple other guys had some so. I think it was just one of those nights."

It certainly was. Now, on to the next — Saturday night, when they fearsome Clippers come to town.

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