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Ask Aggrey: Asik, Rip hot topics

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Ask Aggrey: Asik, Rip hot topics

Having just arrived in my current home after leaving one of my former residences, it occurred to me that one of the reasons I love both cities Philadelphia and Chicago is that both are extremely passionate places.

One thing Ill give Chicago the edge in is consistency, as the Bulls were among the NBAs best in attendance even in the post-Jordan era.

Philadelphia, on the other hand, while equally passionate about the game of basketball, shows its disenchantment with the Sixers when the team isnt doing well, which made it good to see a raucous crowd in the Wells Fargo (not Wachovia, as it was during my college days) Center last night.

I was reminded, however, of how over-the-top the city can be on my way to the airport this morning, when my cab driver, a nice fellow who was chatting with me about his journey from Lebanon to Philly, got into it with a cyclist. After getting flipped off by the cyclist, he sped up, almost ran him off the street, cut him off, jumped out of the cab and proceeded to threaten the poor guy with bodily harm.

Just another day in the City of Brotherly Love, but since thats neither here nor there, Ill show my appreciation for the Windy City by answering another round of your questions.

What do you attribute the regression of Omer's play to this year? Do you think he still has "starter" potential in the NBA? -- Benjamin

Benjamin, I believe Omer was more adversely affected by the lockout than perhaps any other player on the Bulls. After suffering a fractured left tibia against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, he had very little time to rehab the injury before playing for Turkey in last summers FIBA EuroBasket event.

While he appeared to make some progress on the offensive end in that tournament, he also played heavy minutes and didnt get much rest until it was over, causing him to delay the conditioning process for the upcoming season. Ive heard that if the lockout ended up causing a cancellation of the regular season, he had no interest in playing professionally overseas.

That said, I believe Omer still has a chance to be a starter in the league, though not ahead of Joakim Noah. Omer is regarded as one of the NBAs premier defensive centers already and as the saying goes, you cant teach size. If he was playing for Miami, for example, would he not be an upgrade from Joel Anthony?

Omer certainly has weaknesses, but as a second-year pro, I believe he has plenty of time to correct some of his deficiencies. In fact, now that Luol Deng has ascended to All-Star status, I believe Omer and C.J. Watson are the most underappreciated Bulls.

Who (or what position) do you think the Bulls will target in this summer's draft? I know it's early but I really love everything related to the draft. -- Anthony

Anthony, the draft is always tricky for teams like the Bulls, who are deep, relatively young, yet still experienced. Like every other team in the league, theyre constantly evaluating talent, but when the draft comes around, they understand they might not have access to who they could be targeting, simply because of their low position.

Another thing to keep in mind is only certain players make sense for the system and personnel that they have. I remember last spring, when a lot of fans were clamoring for MarShon Brooks, whos having a solid debut campaign in New Jersey. Brooks is an excellent scorer, but unlike Jimmy Butler, hes not exactly a stellar defender, which wouldnt have gone over too well with Thibs.

Also, not to say Brooks is better than Jimmy or will be better in the long run, but where, exactly, would the Bulls find room for him with Rip now healthy? While Thibs did play Omer as a rookie, his hand was forced by Carlos Boozers early-season injury, then Joakim getting hurt.

But to answer your question, I cant say the Bulls have locked in on any one player, in particular its still somewhat early and with college conference tournament season here, scouts and executives all over the league are watching for breakout players though I can see them focusing on adding a defensive-minded big man, with the possibility that Omer or Taj Gibson leaves in the future.

Of course, another shooter couldnt hurt as long as Derrick is in town and theres always a chance they use a pick as an asset to include in a trade. I could give you some names now, but Im positive that list will be different in a month, so check back in with me in April and I can give you a clearer picture then.

Why don't the Bulls just sit Rip Hamilton for the next month or so to make sure he is healthy by the time the playoffs come? -- Tyler

Tyler, Rip is aware of the widely-held opinion out there that the Bulls should be even more cautious with him, to guarantee his health when the postseason arrives. Hes not sensitive about it, but doesnt agree with the notion. I told him that there are worse things for people to say about a player and it only reflects his reputation as a winner, but his argument is that the regular season is also important, as its always better when a team is rolling heading into the playoffs.

The organization is respectful of Rips significant experience 13 years in the league, multiple conference finals with Detroit, two Finals appearances and a championship as well as his knowledge of his own body, especially with his reputation as one of the leagues best-conditioned players, so it mostly defers to his judgment.

Personally, I think its the best course of action and since hes been back in the lineup, its clear that his mere presence has really opened things up.
Which team scares you the most for an opening round series in the playoffs? I'm personally very afraid of playing a much-improved Pacers team. -- Kiersten

Kiersten, Indiana indeed is a team to be reckoned with, as is Philadelphia, the Bulls opponent in the first half of the back-to-back, but neither is likely to be a first-round foe. In fact, both the Pacers and Sixers are in line to host an opening-round series of their own, meaning that either could face the Bulls (with the other likely looking at Miami) in the second round.

As far as scary first-round teams, Id have to go with New York. A lot could happen between now and the end of the season, but assuming the Knicks dont make another big push and none of the teams slightly ahead of them take a second-half nosedive, both the Bulls and Heat are probably crossing their fingers that they face the aging Celtics in the first round instead.

New Yorks athleticism and offensive firepower are formidable, and now that they have a legitimate point guard whether you think Linsanity is overblown or not, the kid can play; Baron Davis willingness to contribute in a backup role also doesnt hurt to distribute to Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, shooters like J.R. Smith and Steve Novak and defensive-minded role players such as Tyson Chandler, Jared Jeffries and rookie Iman Shumpert, a Chicago native, even surviving a series Mike DAntonis run-and-gun bunch could take a lot out of a team.

How did you get to become the Bulls beat writer? What did your road there consist of? -- Marcus

Marcus, becoming the Bulls beat writer here at CSN Chicago took a lot of hard work, a little luck and of course, payoffs. You wont get anywhere in the world without bribing someone.

Seriously though, I went to Temple University in Philadelphia, where I majored in journalism. After graduation, I was hired as a copy editor at a small paper in the city, where I interned as an undergrad. The paper also gave a handful of story assignments in my free time, though to my extreme frustration, I wasnt given very many basketball stories to write.

I ended up leaving to become a copy editor at a slightly bigger suburban paper, where I went through a similar experience before meeting a staffer at SLAM, the basketball magazine, through a former colleague at the first paper. I e-mailed this guy, now a close friend, regularly first politely, then increasingly insistent that I deserved a shot and months later, I was given my first assignment for the magazine, ironically on erstwhile Bull JamesOn Curry, who was a high school player at the time.

Over the next few years, I wrote for a variety of local publications, but consistently for SLAM, specializing mostly on prep ballplayers, many of whom are in the NBA today, although I also wrote about pros, college players and even stars in the womens game. Ive been blessed to write about some relatively high-profile athletes, as well as some sleepers at the time who became stars, but the most valuable part of the experience was developing contacts at different levels of the game and having the opportunity to see talent develop from the grassroots level; for example, I wasnt even living in Chicago, but I saw Derrick Rose play and lose, ironically for Simeon in person, so I had a reference point going way back, beyond what I saw on television and heard from others.

Anyway, I continued to write for SLAM (and still do, time permitting) and was freelancing in Chicago (mostly focusing on high school hoops, which I truly enjoy) when a friend of a friend told me about the opening at CSN. I expressed my interest and the rest is history, so youre stuck with me for now.

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.

NBA Draft: The two instances that sold the Bulls on Coby White

NBA Draft: The two instances that sold the Bulls on Coby White

From what Coby White, Jim Boylen and John Paxson have expressed, there appear to have been two key factors that led the Bulls to select the North Carolina point guard seventh overall on Thursday night.

The first came early in November when general manager Gar Forman was scouting the Tar Heels in Las Vegas. White was an absolute star in two games against Texas and UCLA, averaging 26.0 points on 57% shooting (16 of 28), 5.5 3-pointers on 11 of 17 shooting and 5.5 assists. White also had just four turnovers in 54 minutes and got to the free throw line 13 times.

"Gar saw Coby play out in Las Vegas early in the year and my phone was blowing up with texts from Gar. That was the moment he was on the radar for sure," Paxson said. "It was Gar seeing Coby in Las Vegas that got the antenna up."

Paxson also referenced White's success against Duke as attention-grabbing. White struggled in the first of three matchups against the Blue Devils, scoring just nine points on 3 of 14 shooting. But White responded at home with a 21-point outing in Game 2, and in the ACC Championship Game tallied 11 points, 5 rebounds 4 assists and 3 steals in 38 minutes.

"He talked about it when we did our background that he wasn’t’ going to have that happen again," Paxson said of White's initial clunker against Duke, "and the next two times he played Duke, he had really good games and learned from it. That’s what so much of this is about."

That second Duke game - a game the Tar Heels won, 79-70, over the Zion-less Blue Devils - was also the moment White began feeling like he might be a one-and-done prospect. He didn't arrive in Raleigh feeling that way, but the 21-point effort on 8 of 18 shooting (and a career-high 3 blocks) put the thought in his head. It was part of a dominant stretch that included 34 points against Syracuse, 28 more against Clemson and, five days after the Duke game, 19 points against Louisville in the ACC Tournament.

"I think it changed after we played Duke at home," White said. "I started to get a lot of buzz, started getting on draft boards in the top 10. And then kind of after the season, I talked to Coach (Roy) Williams before anyone, and he kind of gave me his blessing, saying that I should go. After that it was kind of an easy decision for me."

The other instance that brought White to Chicago was a pre-draft meeting on the Saturday before the NBA Draft. White arrived in Chicago and, despite opting not to work out privately for the Bulls, did meet with Paxson and Boylen. Both Paxson and White described that interview as a telling sign of the mutual interest, and Boylen reiterated that impressive interaction on Monday when White was introduced to the media at the Advocate Center.

“He looks you in the eye when you talk to him. He’s coachable. He has a soul and a spirit, which I think is important, and he’s been just awesome to deal with,” Boylen said. “We had a great meeting. It was great for both of us.”

White described that meeting with Boylen as the best he had with any coach in the pre-draft process. Paxson said White was “anxious for more” after the coaching Boylen did in that meeting, with the two looking at both good and bad film from White’s freshman season.

It all culminated in Thursday night’s selection. With both Darius Garland and Jarrett Culver off the board, the Bulls drafted for both talent and need in selecting White. He isn’t a traditional point guard – his 24.7% assist rate is evidence of that – but he gives the Bulls both a dynamic scorer and someone to push the ball in transition. Paxson said as much on Thursday and Boylen doubled down on that assessment four days later.

“Well I think the most important thing for us is when the ball is in his hands. We have to run with him. We want to play faster. We want to play smart, but we want to play faster when it's appropriate. He's a guy that can make decisions on the move. We've got to get the rest of our team to run with him. That's going to be our job, and I'm excited for that.”

White will also give the Bulls a floor spacer – he shot 35.3% from deep as a freshman – at the position, something they desperately needed the past few years. He’s hardly a finished product but should get the chance to improve right away, whether it’s as a starter or backing up a free agent acquisition in July.

But Boylen applauded White’s desire to get better, something that rubbed off in that pre-draft interview. White had a direct answer when asked what he needs to improve on in his rookie season.

“Coming in, decision-making. The league is ball screen-heavy so decisions off ball screens. At Carolina, coaches kind of wanted me to really just go one speed and that’s fast all the time,” White said. “I think coming into the league, I can use my change of speed and change of pace better. I’ve been trying to work on that a lot. Those two things are really key for me.”

Finding talent was key for the Bulls after a 22-win season. But they’re also thrilled with the personalities and workers they found in both White and second-round pick Daniel Gafford.

“We drafted these guys because of their ability to be coached and be teachable,” Boylen said. “Everything we got back on their background was teachable, coachable, want to get better, care for their teammates. Those are the kind of guys we targeted.”

Portis 2.0? Bulls get mature, hard worker in Daniel Gafford: 'He has a great feel for who he is'

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USA TODAY

Portis 2.0? Bulls get mature, hard worker in Daniel Gafford: 'He has a great feel for who he is'

Had Daniel Gafford kept his name in the 2018 NBA Draft as a freshman, he likely would have walked across the stage and shook the commissioner’s hand as a first-round selection. The Arkansas center instead returned to school for his sophomore season and, despite individual successes, saw his draft stock fall out of the first round.

Draft evaluators would consider his decision to return to school a failed attempt at betting on oneself. But Gafford, who the Bulls made the No. 38 pick on Thursday night, knew he wasn’t ready for the NBA and instead got himself ready for the league on his own terms.

“I decided to come back to get that year under my belt. If I would have came out my freshman year, this process would have (eaten) me up,” Gafford said Monday at the Advocate Center. “And I didn’t want that to happen.”

That maturity and self-awareness was apparent during Gafford’s introductory press conference that also included first-round pick Coby White, VP John Paxson and head coach Jim Boylen. He made no excuses for why he may have slipped to the second round in what was largely considered a weak draft class – “it could have been me, it could have been the draft – but owned that reality that he says will only push him to work harder.

Both Paxson and Boylen saw that ownership in the pre-draft process. Ironically enough, it reminded both of Bobby Portis, another Arkansas big man selected by the Bulls.

“His spirit of who he was in the interview, at the pre-draft camp, to where he came in and worked out for us, it was a Bobby-like spirit,” Boylen said. “Competitive, toughness, compete, take coaching, take correction, learn on the fly. We changed his free throw a little bit just when he came in for the workout. He was able to pick it up. Things like that.”

It’s common – and almost a requirement – for draft picks to describe their competitive nature and willingness to work hard in introductory interviews. But none of it felt rehearsed or fake with Gafford, who admitted he’s far from a finished product but also said he’s willing to improve wherever he can.

Gafford, who said he became a Portis fan before he even committed to Arkansas, won’t provide the same versatility as Crazy Eyes did in his time with the Bulls. Gafford is a true center, a rim-runner whose offense will come from pick-and-rolls and offensive rebounds – “I think everything's a miss,” he said when describing his rebounding prowess – and who will be relied upon to defend the rim on the other end. He admitted that at times he’s guilty of expanding his game too far but that he’s gotten better at realizing his strengths and playing to them. That’s something Boylen said stuck out to him when he first met Gafford in the pre-draft process.

“There’s an art in the world of kind of knowing who you are, and he has a great feel for who he is as a player,” Boylen said. “Again, he adds to our vertical spacing, he adds to our athleticism, our length, our competitiveness, and again, he looks you in the eye when you talk to him, he has a great spirit.”

The expectation is that Gafford will slide in behind Wendell Carter Jr. on the depth chart at center. There’s been no indication that the Bulls plan to bring back Robin Lopez, and Cristiano Felicio won’t be part of any rotation unless the Bulls are playing for Lottery balls in March and April.

His skill set also gives the Bulls an added dimension. He’s built like and plays like Clint Capela, a comparison he agreed with on Monday, and should allow the Bulls to run more in the open court. He’s an unfinished product (despite being 6 months older than Carter) but will get to learn on the fly for the rebuilding Bulls.

A new skill set, a hard worker and a guy who returned to Arkansas for his sophomore season to hone his game. Though they’re different players at different positions, the Bulls would be more than happy if Gafford’s career panned out the same as Portis’.

“Bobby was great for us and a great kid and I think that Daniel’s in that same mold, maybe on a different style of play, different position,” Boylen said. “He adds to our versatile spacing and our length and our athleticism. (The) Arkansas program has been good to us, so we’re gonna keep it going here.”