Bulls

Annual NBA GM survey: Bulls squarely behind Cavs in East

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Annual NBA GM survey: Bulls squarely behind Cavs in East

The NBA GM survey is, simply put, a must-read every year. NBA's John Schuhmann compiles votes from each of the 30 NBA general managers on 49 different questions pertaining to the league.

Still, the survey is hardly fail-proof, and plenty changes in the course of a calendar year. Consider that last season Joakim Noah was voted the best defensive player in the NBA, Doug McDermott was voted the draft's second biggest steal at No. 11, and Jimmy Butler received zero votes when the 30 GMs were asked which played was most likely to have a breakout campaign; six months later he hoisted the NBA's Most Improved Player award.

Below are the questions in which the Bulls or a player from the Bulls received votes. Here's a link to the entire survey and its results. Again, it's must-read stuff every year.

Rank the top four teams in the Eastern Conference:

Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th % Total
Cleveland 96.6%       38.9%
Chicago 3.4% 65.5% 13.8% 6.9% 24.7%
Atlanta   13.8% 34.5% 17.2% 12.8%
Miami   13.8% 20.7% 31.0% 11.5%
Washington   3.4% 24.1% 17.2% 7.6%
Toronto     6.9% 10.3% 2.4%
Milwaukee   3.4%   10.3% 2.1%

Analysis: Few surprises here. Despite their myriad injuries, the Cavaliers are the unquestioned favorites in the East. In fact, more than half the voters (53.6%) chose the Cavaliers to win the 2015-16 NBA title. The Bulls received zero votes in that category, with San Antonio, Golden State and Oklahoma City rounding out the list. Miami brought back Goran Dragic, gets back Chris Bosh and looks primed to contend with Atlanta, Washington and Toronto for the No. 3 seed in the East. Milwaukee is only getting better, though it's a stretch to consider them the second best team in the East.

Who is the best shooting guard in the NBA?

1. James Harden, Houston (79.3%)
2. Klay Thompson, Golden State (10.3%)
Also receiving votes: Jimmy Butler, Chicago; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City

Analysis: What a year for Butler, who 12 months ago couldn't find his name anywhere on this list, let alone receiving a vote over Harden and Thompson as the game's best shooting guard.

What was the most surprising move of the offseason?

Also receiving votes: Tom Thibodeau fired

Analysis: Fair to assume Gar Forman didn't submit his vote for this one. Thibodeau's firing was the only of the 10 "moves" that was not player-related. DeAndre Jordan flip-flopping back to the Clippers received 24.1 percent of the vote, while Greg Monroe bypassing larger markets for Milwaukee received 20.7 percent of the vote.

Which rookie was the biggest steal at where he was selected in the draft?

1. Justise Winslow (10), Miami (31.0%)
2. Bobby Portis (22), Chicago (24.1%)
3. Emmanuel Mudiay (7), Denver (20.7%)
4. Myles Turner (11), Indiana (6.9%)

Analysis: Gar Forman and Fred Hoiberg meant it on draft night when they said they were shocked Portis was available at No. 22. The SEC Player of the Year has shown why in preseason, too, averaging 12.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in 24.8 minutes per game. He may not show it in Year 1 because of the Bulls' depth, but Portis absolutely was a steal so late in the draft.

Who is the best international player in the NBA?

1. Marc Gasol, Memphis (62.1%)
2. Pau Gasol, Chicago (17.2%)
3. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas (10.3%)
4. Tony Parker, San Antonio (6.9%)
5. Goran Dragic, Miami (3.4%)

Analysis: Spain, led by the Gasol brothers (and Nikola Mirotic), was also selected as the country most likely to challenge the U.S. for an Olympic/World Cup gold medal in the next 10 years. Marc and Pau had similar years in 2014-15, with both earning All-NBA First Team honors. The rankings here aren't surprising, however, considering Marc (30) is five years younger than Pau (35).

Who is the best perimeter defender in the NBA?

1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio (44.8%)
2. Tony Allen, Memphis (17.2%)
3. Jimmy Butler, Chicago (10.3%)
3. LeBron James, Cleveland (10.3%)

Analysis: More stellar company for Butler to be placed in, trailing only the Defensive Player of the Year in Leonard and a perennial All-NBA Defensive Team defender in Allen in this category. Earning as many votes as the world's best player is never a bad thing, either.

Which is the best defensive team in the NBA?

1. Golden State (58.6%)
2. Memphis (34.5%)
Also receiving votes: Chicago, Cleveland

Analysis: The Thibs effect? A year ago the Bulls were the overwhelming favorite in this category, earning nearly 86 percent of the vote. Chicago, however, ranked just 11th in defensive efficiency (the first time it had ranked outside the top-5 under Thibodeau) and replaced Thibodeau with the offensive-minded Fred Hoiberg. Still, with Butler, Noah and Gasol in the mix, the Bulls should remain in the top half of the league in defense this upcoming year.

Which new (or relocated) coach will make the biggest impact this season?

1. Alvin Gentry, New Orelans (32.1%)
2. Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City (28.6%)
3. Fred Hoiberg, Chicago (17.9%)
4. Scott Skilss, Orlando (10.7%)
5. George Karl, Sacramento (7.1%)
6. Mike Malone, Denver (3.6%)

Analysis: The three coaches who enter jobs with contending teams lead the way, with Gentry expected to help take Anthony Davis to the next level of super-stardom in New Orleans. Oklahoma City has had a championship-caliber roster for years, never being able to get over the hump with Scott Brooks, giving Billy Donovan an excellent chance to do just that with a healthy Kevin Durant. Hoiberg, meanwhile, will look to give the Bulls a distinct offensive identity as they try and figure out a way to get past LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Who is the best assistant in the NBA?

Also receiving votes: Jim Boylen, Chicago

Analysis: Boylen is regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the NBA, having been a part of Indiana's league-best defensive units as well as the perennially-solid Spurs defenses the last two years.

Which active player will make the best head coach someday?

Also receiving votes: Kirk Hinrich, Chicago

Analysis: Hinrich received votes in this category for the second consecutive offseason, though he said last year he has no plans to go into coaching once his career is over.

Miscellaneous categories:

Jimmy Butler received votes as the player who moves best without the ball; Nikola Mirotic received votes as the bench player who makes the biggest impact when he enters the game; both Butler and Joakim Noah received votes as the league's toughest players

Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin weighs in on Bulls-Cavs
 
Kurt Helin isn't confident 2015 is the year the Bulls get past LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the playoffs, but is looking forward to Fred Hoiberg's modern, motion offense that should be entertaining to watch.
 

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

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USA TODAY

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.

Lineup changes could be on the way for Bulls: 'It's still up in the air'

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USA TODAY

Lineup changes could be on the way for Bulls: 'It's still up in the air'

It’s tough to call the position battle for the backup point guard spot on a Lottery-bound team important, but here we are two days into the Bulls’ season.

It won’t move the needle in NBA circles and Dwane Casey won’t be putting in additional time getting ready for Saturday’s game, but there appears to be potential for change in Fred Hoiberg’s rotation.

One day after an embarrassing display in a season-opening loss to the Sixers, Hoiberg said the Bulls have yet to make a decision on a potential lineup change for tomorrow’s affair against the Detroit Pistons. Kris Dunn, who missed Thursday’s game for the birth of his first child, was not at practice on Friday and may or may not be available for the home opener.

That could prompt changes after Cam Payne, inserted into the starting lineup, was largely ineffective, failing to score on 0 of 4 shooting in 21 minutes.

“We’re gonna see how practice goes today and then make that decision,” Hoiberg said. “It’s still up in the air on what we’re gonna do.”

The loss certainly can’t fall on just Payne, as the Bulls went lifeless after a 41-point first quarter that had them in the lead after 12 minutes. From there the Sixers outscored them by 29 in the second and third quarters, facing little resistance from a Bulls defense that doesn’t appear to have made much improvement from a year ago, Dunn or no Dunn.

Philadelphia shot 48 percent from the field, scored 20 fast-break points and 46 points in the paint, cruising to 102 points through three quarters before reserves finished things off. Even with Dunn the defensive prospects don’t look good, meaning Hoiberg might have to make changes to ignite the offense that scored just 35 points in those second and third quarters.

The Bulls could go a few different routes. Zach LaVine’s hot hand in the first quarter – 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting – saw the ball in his hands, and he even added two assists.

“It's a collective effort. You've got to have all five guys out there trying to play the right way and again, we found a recipe with Zach, especially in that first unit, where we let him bring the ball up the floor,” Hoiberg said. “We ran a couple actions where he was the facilitator and we put Cam in the corner. So a lot of that will be dictated by who has it going on a particular night and last night it happened to be Zach, so he was the one that was doing a lot of facilitating.”

Past a point guard-less lineup, the backups to Payne – Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis – could also see extended minutes going forward.

Arcidiacono had 8 points and 8 assists in 28 minutes, though the majority of those stats came in garbage time. Still, he hit a pair of 3-pointers and didn’t turn the ball over, and five of his assists resulted in makes at the rim.

Ulis, acquired off waivers last week, could inject some life into the second unit.

“He’s ready. He’s done a good job in practice,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve gone through the system with him as far as what we expect and if there’s a point in the game where he can go out there and we feel he can help us, I’m confident that he’ll go out there and give us good effort.”

The point guard rotation isn’t the key to unlocking the Bulls as a lockdown defensive team, or no longer suffering the offensive dry spells that happened Thursday. But in a season that’s already showing signs of adversity, shaking up the lineup might be Hoiberg’s only chance.