Bulls

Ask Aggrey: Watson a pleasant surprise

649528.png

Ask Aggrey: Watson a pleasant surprise

Another Monday, another edition of the mailbag. As I get ready to head back to Chicago from Boston after more than two weeks on the road, I feel compelled to answer your most pressing questions. But before I get into that, Ill share some of the good and the bad of the nine-game trip.

First, lets get the bad out of the way: living out of a suitcase, airport security and having to harass Derrick Rose about whether or not hes playing on a nightly basis. Now, for the good: Miamis weather, po-boy sandwiches in pre-Mardi Gras New Orleans, cheesesteaks in Philly, lobster rolls and clam chowder in Boston, hitting three of the cities where I used to live (New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington) and the dancers for the Heat, Wizards and Bobcats, in particular. On to your questions:

I hear Nikola Mirotic is tearing it up in Europe. I know he's a few years away from coming to the NBA, but what kind of player might he be once he finally puts on a Bulls uniform? -- Ben G.

Ben, great question. Indeed, Mirotic is playing at a very high level in the Spanish ACB league, regarded by most as the top league outside of the NBA. While he wont be crossing the waters for at least another couple of years, the Bulls front office is very pleased with the rapid progress that hes made and are even higher on him than they were on Omer Asik, who surprised many with his readiness to contribute upon arrival in the NBA. Mirotic is seen as a face-up power forward, with the ability to stretch the defense with his long-range shooting, but he brings more than just that skill to the table. While he needs to get stronger, Mirotic is viewed as highly skilled, possessing the ability to put the ball on the floor and with enough toughness to bang inside and snatch some rebounds. Even at his young age, hes a strong candidate to play for Spains loaded national team he has dual citizenship, as one parent is Spanish and the other is from Montegnegro in the Olympics this summer, though with the likes of the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, he might not see a lot of minutes on the front line. However, while he was seen as a steal in last years NBA Draft (other teams passed on him because of his buyout), if he was candidate in this years draft, regarded as one of the most talented in several years, Mirotic may well be a lottery pick.

Do the Bulls have a "Dunk Policy?" Seems they go for the lay up when other teams usually dunk. -- @jjpetrusa

JJ, thats pretty funny. When the Bulls are in transition, Ive also noticed that theyll often play it safe and go for a layup the majority of the time. Even Derrick, when slashing to the basket against a set defense, hasnt been throwing it down much this season, though some of that can be attributed to his injury woes. But when you think about it, besides Derrick, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer who fails to convert on enough of his dunks that laying it up more often could be a good idea for him how many big-time leapers do the Bulls really have? For all of his talents, Luol Deng would much rather take the sure two points and conserve his energy (especially with all the minutes Tom Thibodeau plays him) than dunk most of the time. As far as big men, while Taj and Omer Asik have their fair share of flushes, but Carlos Boozer doesnt have a lot of lift these days, though now Joakim Noah seems to be in rhythm, hes been throwing it down more. It might not be an actual policy, but somewhat of an unwritten rule, as even rookie Jimmy Butler seems to take the cautious route when hes had opportunities.
What do you make of the 'Lin-sanity' that is sweeping the nation? -- Rachel

Rachel, Im a big fan of Linsanity. I actually wrote a short magazine piece on Lin when he was a star at Harvard and then saw him play in the NBAs summer league in Las Vegas where he had a strong head-to-head matchup with No. 1 pick John Wall prior to his rookie season. While many people saw him as a novelty as a Warriors rookie, assuming Golden State picked the Northern California native up to cater to the areas Asian community, I knew he was a legitimate NBA-level talent. That said, I certainly didnt anticipate his incredible rise to stardom. People often compare Linsanity to the NFLs Tim Tebow phenomenon, but Tebow was a first-round draft pick, former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion at a major football power. Lin was in the absolute right place at the right time, as the Knicks simply dont have a healthy point guard on their roster veteran Baron Davis is on the shelf, while Toney Douglas and rookie Iman Shumpert just arent natural floor generals and in Mike DAntonis system, having a high basketball I.Q., being able to flourish in a pick-and-roll offense and having good court vision are huge advantages. Additionally, the Knicks are winning games, so when Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire (the latter should be fine, as he played under DAntoni in Phoenix with Nash and looked like an early MVP candidate with Raymond Felton at the beginning of last season) return to the lineup, it will be interesting to watch if Lin is still allowed so much free reign with superstar scorers to pass to.
Are you at all worried about D-Rose's rash of injuries of late? -- Wyatt H.

Wyatt, if you asked me that before Sunday, I would have said no. Derrick is an individual capable of playing through pain and while I didnt doubt how much his back was bothering him prior to the Celtics game while most people reference him getting stretched out on the sidelines in the middle of the Bulls nine-game road trip at Milwaukee, I witnessed him being stretched out on by the training staff on the sidelines against Washington, the second game of the trip I figured skipping the Charlotte game Friday was a way to get extra rest before Boston. However, with him admitting before the game how much pain he was in throughout the entire trip and missing a showdown that he badly wanted to play in, I have to say that Im a bit concerned. Well see how his visit with a specialist goes Monday, but at 23, having these back issues isnt a good sign. Just know that if he can play through it, he will for better or worse and with the history of a star player holding grudges against management for sitting him due to injury, theres no need for people to act like Thibs put a gun to his head and forced him to play.
What has surprised you the most with this current Bulls team? -- Johnny Y.

Johnny, with Ronnies recent shooting struggles he started out the season shooting from the perimeter like he stole Kyle Korvers identity Id say C.J. Watson. I know he hasnt shot the ball well in his last few games, but from coming back early from injuries to stepping up with huge performances when Derricks been out of the lineup, C.J. has really taken his game to another level this year. From my perspective, hes one of the leagues upper-echelon backup point guards and there are a number of teams for instance, the pre-Linsanity Knicks that he could start for. Working out in his hometown of Las Vegas, C.J. had a great offseason, really took to heart the things the coaching staff asked him to work on and embraced his role after struggling with it early last season, following his stint in Golden States run-and-gun style, in which he also played more minutes. His defense, ball security, shot selection and passing have also been much improved, making him a major reason the Bulls have one of the leagues best benches.

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 crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

The Bulls have struggled through the 2019-20 NBA preseason but have shown signs of a team on the rise in a drastically different Eastern Conference. ESPN's Zach Lowe released the second half of his NBA League Pass Rankings, with the Bulls making a surprising leap into the top 10 that supports the notion that they are a team set to be entertaining and much more effective in the 2019-20 NBA season.

While Lowe's League Pass Rankings are not power rankings, they go hand-in-hand with the idea that the Bulls are starting to become an interesting team on the national stage.

The highest score a team can get in Lowe's League Pass Rankings is a 50, based on a 1-10 ranking in five separate categories. The Bulls received a score of 34.5, finishing right behind the Utah Jazz.

Lowe credits the potential for Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. to develop into a "rare frontcourt pairing" as one of his main reasons for telling readers to look out for the Bulls this season.

While Markkanen has yet to shoot over 50% from 2-point range and Carter has yet to attempt more than 18 3-pointers in a season, the potential is there for both of these players to improve greatly in both of these areas, truly making them a "rare" and formidable offensive duo. 

Throughout Lowe's League Pass Ranking-breakdown of the Bulls, he had kind words for the Bulls' new pinstriped jerseys, the improvisational ability of the Bulls' veterans and LaVine's dunking ability.

LaVine is the best dunker since prime Vince Carter... 

-Zach Lowe on Zach LaVine 

And while Lowe hinted at Bulls head coach Jim Boylen playing a bit of a character, he had positive thoughts on him as well.

Lowe calls Boylen, "a smart coach," and states "there is even some logic in how he stripped the Bulls down to the basics of physicality and effort upon taking over."

The Bulls have lofty goals for the 2019-20 season, making the playoffs being the biggest one. At the same time, they are not pressuring the roster as Boylen himself has stated the most important goal is to "get better every day."

From what has been written about the Bulls this preseason—including Lowe's League Pass Rankings—it would appear most NBA writers expect the Bulls to be a more entertaining, effective, and cohesive unit over the course of the 2019-20 season. On October 23, when the games start to count, we will see if the Bulls can back up the hype.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.