Bulls

Ask Aggrey: How valuable is Deng?

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Ask Aggrey: How valuable is Deng?

As a kid growing up, one of the things I enjoyed reading the most was reading writers responses to readers, whether in magazines or the local newspaper. These days, with mediums like Twitter, its a lot easier to connect with members of the media, but I consider myself an old-school type of guy, so answering questions in my first mailbag is a pleasure. Well see if I feel that way after a few months (just kidding, I think), but 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 with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.

Do you think the Bulls have enough to beat the Heat in a seven-game series? -- Kevin

Kevin, by no means am I a homer (Im from Washington, where the highlight of the Bullets teams during my childhood was the Bulls sweeping Chris Webber, Rod Strickland, Juwan Howard and company in a best-of-five first-round series, after which Michael Jordan proclaimed them the team of the future, which was followed by the dismantling of that squad and more losing, until the infamous Gilbert Arenas era), so trust me when I say Im not biased. That said, I do believe the Bulls can beat the Heat in the playoffs. Whether they pull it off or not depends on health (on both sides), if the Bulls take advantage of their size inside and how well they shoot the ball from the outside. LeBron James will likely get his points, but Luol Deng makes him work for them as well as any small forward in the league, and the addition of Rip Hamilton guarantees Dwyane Wade will have to focus on his assignment on the defensive end of the court. I understand that last Sundays loss was a tough pill to swallow for Bulls fans, but the fact that they had a chance to win, even without Deng and C.J. Watson -- dont underestimate his value, especially considering that Derrick Rose had to play through foul trouble and with virtually no rest in his absence -- privately encouraged the coaching staff about their chances.

Aggrey, Do you see any possible moves the Bulls may explore before the trade deadline? -- Dan Warner

Dan, something Bulls general manager Gar Forman constantly alludes to is exploring the trade market, doing their due diligence and having conversations with teams around the league. However, unless injury concerns crop up before the March 13th deadline, I dont see the Bulls making any significant moves. With the teams amazing chemistry and no huge holes to fill on the roster besides a veteran, insurance-policy big man, its more likely that the front office looks into adding a free-agent post player like center Joel Pryzbilla and maybe even another guard, such as the recently-released Mike James.

What do you think about going after Eric Gordon? He would fit very nicely maybe Omer or Taj and picks? -- Wally

Wally, I love Eric as a player, but I cant see the Bulls looking into acquiring him with Rip on board. In addition, Im guessing the league-owned Hornets would require more for the services of Gordon, Derricks former AAU backcourt partner, than Taj Gibson or Omer Asik, as coveted as they are in the league, even if the Bulls threw in their own pick and the increasingly-valued protected draft choice acquired from Charlotte in the Tyrus Thomas deal. The team to look out for in trading for Gordon, probably in the offseason, is Indiana. The low-key Gordon is an Indianapolis native and has made no secret of his love for his hometown, where he spends his summers. With the emergence of second-year swingman Paul George, a natural small forward currently playing shooting guard, natural swap would be a sign-and-trade for Gordon, sending leading scorer Danny Granger, a New Orleans-area native, back home, along with maybe a pick or young reserve big man, like Jeff Pendergraph, who just returned from injury, to make salaries work after Gordons deal.

Is Deng the key to the Bulls winning? -- Hugo

Hugo, I am bit biased on this question, as Ive championed Luols value to the Bulls from the beginning of last season, when many were still down on him. Derrick is obviously the teams best player, but an argument can be made that on a short-term basis, Luol is more important to the team. Think about it: C.J., a scoring point guard, can match Derricks productivity in Tom Thibodeaus point-guard friendly offense, which is heavy on pick-and-roll play. But while Ronnie Brewer is a versatile wing, solid defender and an improved outside shooter, he doesnt have Luols size or score as proficiently. Furthermore, when Ronnie starts, it takes quite a bit of firepower away from the Bench Mob, which leads to the final question
How does Jimmy Butler fit into this Bulls team? Will he have a bigger role by the end of the season? Roger

Roger, if I was answering this question before Thursdays win in New York, I would have said that Jimmy has to be patient, bide his time and continue to work hard in practice with the assistant coaches, as hes been doing all season. But after his performance against the Knicks, when he capably defended Carmelo Anthony, Id have to say that theres a chance he cracks the rotation on a more regular basis moving forward, albeit probably for scant minutes. Still, Thibs showed that he trusted Jimmy by playing him down the stretch, let alone having him guard Melo and the rookie rewarded him by playing solid basketball and even showing the willingness to take shots in the clutch. From talking to the Bulls coaches and front-office personnel, they really like Jimmys work ethic and demeanor, and I can attest that hes already become a good fit in the locker room. Hell likely never become a star and might not even become a starter, but I can see him having a long career as a role player and defensive stopper, the latter of which only comes with experience and knowing other players tendencies, something that only comes with more experience. I know, its a vicious cycle, but Thibs understands that, so if Jimmy continues to play confidently in limited minutes, moments like Thursdays game on the big stage and even his performance in the long-ago preseason opener at Indiana will become more of a regular thing, especially with an eye toward Ronnie possibly being with another team next season.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.

The Celtics tied MJ's and the '96 Bulls' record for consecutive home playoff wins

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USA TODAY

The Celtics tied MJ's and the '96 Bulls' record for consecutive home playoff wins

The Boston Celtics have been the surprise of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, and after last night's Game 5 win against LeBron James and the Cavs are one game away from a trip to the NBA Finals.

They've done it with some of the most interesting splits in league history for a team that's advanced this far: they're 10-0 at home and  1-6 on the road.

The six road losses are something else, but with the convincing 96-83 victory over Cleveland, the Celtics tied a record held by the 1996 Bulls for the most consecutive postseason home wins in a season.

Boston earned home wins against the Bucks in Round 1 in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. They crushed the heavily favored Sixers in five games, earning home wins in Games 1, 2 and 5 (and their only road win in Game 3). They took the first two games of the series from the Cavaliers at home and then again in Game 5. If they can't close the series in Cleveland they'll have a chance to break the record Sunday in a potential Game 7. If they do close the series in Cleveland their next chance will be in Game 3 of the NBA Finals; Boston will be on the road regardless of whether Houston or Golden State comes out of the West.

Jordan's Bulls won 10 consecutive games during their historic 72-10 season. They swept the Heat in Round 1, winning at home by 17 and 31 points. In the second round they knocked off the Knicks in Games 1 and 2 at the United Center, winning by 7 and 11 points. After the Knicks earned a Game 3 win at Madison Square Garden the Bulls won the final two games of that series, including a 13-point win at home to clinch the series and a fifth straight home win.

The conference finals were no problem for the Bulls at home or on the road. They began their eventual sweep of Orlando with a 38-point shellacking in Game 1 at home. A five-point win in Game 2 gave them their seventh consecutive home win and they wouldn't be back at the United Center until Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

They smoked the Sonics by 17 in Game a 1 and held on for a four-point win in Game 2. Seattle took Games 4 and 5 at their place to avoid being swept, but when the series returned to Chicago the Bulls were back to their winning ways, earning a 12-point win - their 10th consecutive in the postseason - and their fourth NBA title.

Yes, the Bulls lost just three times (half as many as the Celtics) and actually won the title. Boston, of course, has plenty to do before they reach that status, and they'll do so with at least six losses. We're not comparing the two teams. Simply pointing out a record.

And if you're wondering, Steph Curry and the Warriors have simply been too good to get to 10 wins. Last year they swept all three rounds of the West playoffs, giving them six straight home wins. Then they only needed five games to beat the Cavaliers in the Finals, with three of those coming at home. So they went 9-0 at Oracle Arena before winning it all. They recently had their streak of 16 consecutive postseason home wins, regardless of year, snapped when the Rockets earned a Game 4 win on Tuesday.