Bulls

Ask Aggrey: Are the Heat or Thunder a bigger threat?

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Ask Aggrey: Are the Heat or Thunder a bigger threat?

The minds of Bulls fans might still be on Sunday's humbling loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City, the basketball world as a whole is focused on Monday night's NCAA Championship game between Kansas and Kentucky. For NBA purists who aren't fans of the college game, this could be the year to watch, given that Kansas has one of the top individual talents in the nation in junior All-American power forward Thomas Robinson, while Kentucky has a whole host of future pros, led by Chicago native Anthony Davis, a freshman, odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and the national Player of the Year. I'm not necessarily the biggest advocate of Kansas coach Bill Self, but he did a masterful job in what was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding season, leading a team featuring no McDonald's All-Americans and arguably only the third-most talent in its own conference (behind Baylor and Missouri) to the title game.

However, the Jayhawks' run will probably end Monday, as the sheer talent and athleticism of the Wildcats should get Kentucky coach John Calipari his first national championship. In addition to Davis, Kentucky features an overwhelming supporting cast, including fellow freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (a high-motor wing who could be the No. 2 pick in the draft) and Marquis Teague (the younger brother of Atlanta Hawk Jeff Teague is a likely first-round pick in a weak draft for point guards), sophomores Terrence Jones (a versatile forward, the team's leading scorer and a projected lottery pick) and Doron Lamb (the guard is one of the best shooters in the country and another probable first-rounder) and senior swingman Darius Miller, who's the squad's sixth man and also should play in the NBA next season. I won't be able to see the game because of the coinciding Bulls-Rockets game, but I'm going with Kentucky by a dozen. With that, on to this week's edition of the mailbag.
Who should the Bulls be more afraid of - the Heat in Eastern Conference Finals or the Thunder in the NBA Finals? -- Mark H.
Mark, "afraid" isn't the word I'd use, but certainly after Sunday's outing, the Bulls are probably more wary of the Thunder. Keep in mind, they played without their starting backcourt, but the Bulls' lack of fight was somewhat disturbing, as that just doesn't occur under Thibs. That said, it's just one game and a regular-season one at that. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook really had it going and as good as they are, they won't have games like that every night against the Bulls' defense and even if they did, the Bulls' offense endured one of its worst performances of the season. But the Bulls aren't a team to, in Thibs' words, "skip steps," so with two more regular-season matchups against the Heat looming, they're certainly more concerned about Miami at this point. That's the team that ousted them from the playoffs last season and all signs point to an Eastern Conference Finals rematch this spring, so even if the Thunder advance to the NBA Finals -- which isn't a guarantee, no matter how dominant they looked Sunday -- the Bulls won't put the cart before the horse.
Would last year's Bulls team would have had as much success WITHOUT Derrick Rose than the team this year is having? -- Pablo T.

Pablo, no way. Last season's team was still getting used to Thibs' system and if you recall, Derrick bailed them out of several games individually. Even in games when they got a solid collective effort, it took MVP heroics to win. This season, even with Derrick in the lineup, they've been much more balanced. Another major reason the Bulls have been able to weather the storm without Derrick is that the frontcourt has been relatively healthy. It was the opposite last season, with Joakim and Carlos being out for long stretches, while the starting perimeter trio of Derrick, Luol and the departed Keith Bogans missed one game combined. But now, with the system ingrained and the bulk of the players back from a year ago, the Bulls are equipped to still play at a high level without Derrick, at least until the playoffs hit. That was unthinkable last season.

Yo Aggrey! What's the best and worst part of being a beat-writer for the Bulls? -- Greg S.

Greg, the best part of my job, by far, is getting to know the players and coaches on the team. I can't speak for every team in the league, but the Bulls have genuinely good people around and they're all unique, have a variety of interests and opinions, both on and off the court, and make coming to work every day an enjoyable task. The worst part is probably the travel. It sounds exciting and it can be fun, but believe me, two-week road trips and getting out of arenas after midnight, then having to wake up a few hours later to catch an early-morning flight can be exhausting. Overall though, the good definitely outweighs the bad.Do you have any insight on where Jabari Parker will be going to college? I'm a DePaul student and would LOVE to have him here! -- Jasmine Q.

Jasmine, I won't pretend to know which school Jabari will pick, since things change in the course of high-profile recruitment sagas all the time, but if I had to guess, I'd put my money on Duke, though many of the other national powers involved, such as Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisville, Michigan State, and even the likes of Washington and Stanford -- Jabari's father, Sonny, played professionally with Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, while Jabari has family on the West Coast and Stanford's academics likely appeal to him -- also have a chance. I've gotten to know Jabari a bit and he's an excellent student, but he's probably going to be a one-and-done player. Thus, Duke fits him from both an academic standpoint and after winning three high school state championships -- and likely a fourth next season -- as well as providing him with an opportunity to develop under a coach with a track record of having won national championships and coaching pros, something that's been enhanced by Coach K's work with USA Basketball.

However, I wouldn't completely rule out DePaul just yet, simply because Jabari has a lot of civic pride, is close to his family and is good friends with AAU teammate Billy Garrett Jr., a junior point guard at Morgan Park, one of Simeon's rivals. Billy, who's also an excellent player, has already committed to DePaul, his father is on the coaching staff and I'd imagine he's constantly in Jabari's ear about joining him and putting the program back on the map.

Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Special guest 5-time NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Special guest 5-time NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Jason Goff is joined by Chicago native and former NBA star Tim Hardaway

1:10       On how a Chicago kid went to play college basketball in Texas

6:15       On growing up a Bulls fan

9:20       What did Chicago basketball make Tim?

16:30    On starting his NBA career in Golden State

22:30    On the 90’s dynasty era Bulls and what he appreciated about them

25:25    Which players did he enjoy playing against the most

26:50    On today’s game and the point guard position

29:15    On the influence of analytics on today’s NBA

34:15    On balancing what a player’s skills are vs what the system wants

38:00    On Zach LaVine and his ceiling as a player

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

Bulls Talk Podcast

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What to watch for: Bulls look to extend two-game win streak with Warriors in town

What to watch for: Bulls look to extend two-game win streak with Warriors in town

The Bulls get a shot at revenge against the lowly Warriors Friday night in Chicago. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Warriors’ last five (1-4)

  • Dec. 4 — L at Hornets: 106-91

  • Dec. 2 — L at Atlanta: 104-79

  • Dec. 1 — L at Magic: 100-96

  • Nov. 29 — L at Heat: 122-105

  • Nov. 27 — W vs. Bulls: 104-90

One storyline for each team

After defeating the Bulls 104-90 in San Francisco on Nov. 27, the Warriors embarked on a five-game road trip that has featured visits to Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, and now Chicago. Their first four stops ended in losses of varying severity to competition of varying quality (though mostly subpar). Tonight, they cap that swing with their fifth game in eight nights against the Bulls. D’Angelo Russell is back — he returned in their last game against the Hornets and dropped 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting — but that’s about all Golden State has going for them right now.

This goes without saying, but the Bulls need to pounce on this game — an eminently winnable one — especially with a road-and-home back-to-back against the Heat and Raptors looming early next week. In each of the two games of their current win streak (against the Kings and Grizzlies) they’ve gotten out to commanding first-half leads, then allowed their opponent to claw their way back late in the game. Their offensive execution down the stretch of the last two has been sublime (thanks, Zach LaVine), but substantive progress would mean a comfortable win, at home, tonight — especially having already lost to this Warriors team this season.

In the event that this game isn't comfortable (which feels more likely), look out for another Zach LaVine takeover. He's averaging an NBA-leading 10.3 points per game in fourth quarters since Nov. 23 (Charlotte game), shooting 54.3% from the field (5.8 attempts) and 68.8% from three (2.7 attempts). Him catching fire isn't something you want to miss.

Player to watch: D’Angelo Russell

Russell presents a challenge unlike any the Bulls faced when they played this team a little over a week ago. He's a crafty ball-handler, and can pull and drain from long-range from any spot, at any time and under any amount of durress. When he plays, the ball is in his hands a staggering amount — per Cleaning the Glass, his 34.8% usage rate is in the 98th percentile of ball-handlers in the league.

The Bulls have the personnel to hone in and give him fits, between Tomas Satoransky and Kris Dunn — if their length and activity can get Russell out of rhythm, the rest of the Warriors mistfit-laden roster will have to beat them. Granted, Golden State has done it before, and in convincing fashion for that matter. But the Bulls hope two straight encouraging performances in a row are an indication of things to come. This is also a great game to monitor how the Bulls defend Russell's pick-and-roll; he's currently averaging 3.3 turnovers per game.

Final point: Russell's misadventures on the defensive side of the ball are well-documented, so look for LaVine and Satoransky to attempt to feast on that end, as well. The Bulls mustered only 90 points against the Warriors 27th-rated defense on Nov. 27, but LaVine and Satoransky were lone bright spots, accounting for 45 combined points and seven threes.

Matchup to watch: The paint

One of the smudges on the Bulls' 106-99 win over the Grizzlies on Wendesday was the performance of Jonas Valanciunas, who totaled 32 points and 13 rebounds in his first game back from illness. He was absolutely bruising, and the Grizzlies racked up 52 points in the paint (compared to the Bulls' 32). That number is well above the Bulls' season average of 49.9 points allowed in the paint per game, which ranks 23rd in the NBA.

That figure might surprise some, given that the team anchors its defense with a versatile and heady center in Wendell Carter Jr. and a jumpy shot-blocking backup in Daniel Gafford. Jim Boylen has pointed to isolated blocks from Gafford and Carter, as well as 'our guys competed'-isms when asked about their struggles in that department. The Warriors have a roster stilted towards bigs and interior forwards, and notched 52 points in the paint in their last matchup with the Bulls, behind solid performances from Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman and Marquese Chriss. Thad Young missing tonight's game with a personal issue won't help here.

Further, these aren't your mother's Warriors. They're not a prolific shooting team and don't have the same plethora of perimeter shot-creators they once did. They're going to try to out-muscle the Bulls tonight, as they did on Nov. 27, and it's worth monitoring how much resistance the hosts put up.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Bad news on the Otto Porter Jr. front today: The Bulls starting small forward and most solid wing defender suffered another setback, as a repeat MRI revealed a continued bone edema (i.e. swelling). He’ll be re-evaluated in another two weeks. Chandler Hutchison is still working out and running — and getting better each day, according to Boylen — but there’s still no precise timetable on his return.

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