Amid fuss over starting five, Bulls bench finding its groove


Amid fuss over starting five, Bulls bench finding its groove

Of all the shuffling to find the right mix and energy for the starting five, the Bulls have seemingly stumbled upon an identity and consistency with their bench.

Perhaps unknowingly, moving Nikola Mirotic to the bench in favor of Taj Gibson to play with Doug McDermott and Joakim Noah has turned the second unit into a ball moving, sharpshooting group that can raise holy hell on opponents.

And suddenly it seems both groups are finding a comfort level with each other, though one can say the bench is a few steps ahead of forming an identity than the starters.

Noah starts as a hub offensively, with cutters and movers all around. It’s led to decisive actions from McDermott and Mirotic either to the basket or on the perimeter. Being quick, yet not in a hurry or out of control has paid plenty of dividends for the group.

McDermott hit four triples in the Bulls’ 98-85 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, most of them coming in the fourth quarter when Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler were resting and the Bulls were fighting their season-long trend of giving up decent-sized leads.

Mirotic nailed five triples in the Bulls’ 115-96 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Monday, a game that saw the Bulls trailing at halftime before waking up.

Noah, perhaps still the emotional leader of this entire bunch, had a tangible impact in Saturday’s 98-94 win over the New Orleans Pelicans with 10 points, nine rebounds, two assists and four blocks.

[MORE BULLS: Rose, Butler lead Bulls to efficient win over Grizzlies]

If one thinks about it, all likely believed they’d be starters going into the season, with big minutes and even bigger effects. But they've seemed to settle into their roles now, which can be easily accepted under the guise of winning.

“You know what, it is a very unselfish team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “When guys are accepting of change and roles, they may not always like it but they're accepting of it, they don't complain about it and it's important. If you change something based on what you see, it's easier on the coach when guys accept it.”

Noah can cover McDermott and Mirotic’s deficiencies on defense, so long as they put forth effort to provide some resistance to offensive players, and the Bulls are a top-three rebounding team whenever Noah is on the floor, so they can close possessions better.

Mirotic and McDermott’s presence makes it easier for him to be a playmaker on offense without clogging up the driving lanes, because at the least, he’s active and not just an afterthought.

“Yeah, that and I think offensively it just gives us another spacer out there with you,” Hoiberg said. “Jo and Taj had pretty good chemistry as far as the high-low stuff, but this opens up the paint a little bit, it gets Doug more dribble-handoff type actions. You've got a true floor spacer out there with Niko. With the way the two five-man groups are playing, I think it's a little bit better fit.”

Mirotic didn’t take his demotion as one and has been more decisive in shooting — perhaps by the osmosis of watching McDermott launch whenever he’s open.

“He was great,” said Hoiberg of the conversation he had with Mirotic. “He said whatever feels best for the team, I talked to him about the different role that he was going to have.”

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McDermott has benefitted from Hoiberg’s system more than anyone, knowing he has the freedom to launch triples at virtually any time so long as it’s a good shot, and playing with Butler and Rose leaves defenses stressed out and stretched thin, when he’s on.

Aside from a scoreless game against the Clippers, McDermott has been consistent in recent memory, scoring in double figures in six of the last eight games and for the season, he’s shooting 44 percent from 3, good for eighth in the league.

Safe to say, it’s necessary.

“I just feel so much more confident. Last year I was kind of scared out there,” McDermott said. “It starts with the defensive end, I’m starting to understand things more. And I don’t think about stuff on offense much either. I really want the ball. I feel like I can make it the majority of time.”

And they need this group to play with continuity while the starters catches up.

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games


Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East


Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.