Bulls

Beyond the Arc: Quest for top seed starts now

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Beyond the Arc: Quest for top seed starts now

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
6:23 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

So, raise your hand if you thought the Bulls would be battling Boston for the top seed in the East over the final six weeks of the regular season.

Its been an amazing ride watching Derrick Rose lead the Bulls into the ranks of the NBAs elite teams. Right now, a lot of national writers with M.V.P. votes are proclaiming Derrick is their choice to win the award. So, I guess Derrick knew what he was talking about when he responded to my question about personal goals back on Media Day in September with Why cant I be the M.V.P., why cant I be the best player in the league?

Led by Rose and the ultra-thorough approach of first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls have taken the league by storm. They rank 1st in the NBA in opponents field goal percentage and 1st in points allowed, and when a team is that good on the defensive end, theyre going to have a chance to win every game.

Since the return of Joakim Noah, the Bulls have been even better on the defensive end, holding opponents under 90 points almost every time out. Noahs ability to block shots and rebound in traffic gives the Bulls a last line of defense they didnt have when Kurt Thomas was starting at center.

And, the improvement of rookie center Omer Asik has given the second unit that same ability to change games with defensive play. Ronnie Brewer has been more aggressive playing the passing lanes, knowing he has Asik and Taj Gibson behind him to erase any mistakes.

The question is, can the Bulls catch Boston for the number one seed in the East?

There are obvious advantages to finishing first, starting with earning home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs. And, the chance to play a team with a losing record in the first round like Indiana or Charlotte, instead of the star-studded Knicks or Doug Collins dangerous 76ers. And, the likelihood of avoiding Miami in the conference semifinals.

But will the Bulls go all out to finish 1st?

A lot depends on what the standings look like on April 1. If theyre still within two or three games of the lead, look for Thibodeau to go for the top spot. The Bulls have a head-to-head matchup with the Celtics at the United Center on April 7, which could go a long way to deciding which team claims first place. Looking at the Bulls final 20 games, 10 are at home and 10 are on the road. Nine of the teams have winning records, while 11 are under .500.

Getting the top seed would be a huge accomplishment for the Bulls, but realistically, the Bulls will be keeping a close eye on Miami in their rear-view mirror. A potential second round series against the Heat would be an NBA instant classic, and the Bulls want to make sure any Game Seven would be played at the United Center instead of South Beach.

Is Rose wearing down?

One potential concern down the stretch is the demands being placed on Derrick Rose to direct the offense and take over as the crunch-time scorer. Roses shooting percentage from 3-point range has been falling like a rock over the last five weeks. He connected on just 25 percent of his tries from beyond the arc in February, and missed his first 16 tries in March.

I had a chance to talk with my studio partner, Kendall Gill, about Derricks mini-shooting slump. He recommends Rose go back to his driving game and try to scale back on the long-range jumpers.

NBA players routinely wear down over the course of a long regular season, and the best way to get your rhythm back is attack the basket and try to get more free throw attempts. Thibodeau says hes not concerned about Roses recent struggles from long distance. Thibs says Rose continues to put in extra work at practice, and as long as he does that, he has the green light to shoot them in games.

The larger concern for me is how heavily the team relies on Rose to break down the defense late in close games. Granted, Derrick is the best offensive player and gives the Bulls the best chance to get a basket or a trip to the free throw line. But I would like to see the Bulls run more post-ups for Carlos Boozer to give defenses something else to think about. When the Bulls get the ball to Boozer in the post, opponents have to decide whether to send a quick double team, or allow Carlos to back his defender into the paint. And, when the double team comes, Boozer is a willing passer who will get the ball to the open man.

Kyle Korver struggled with his outside shot in the fourth quarter against New Orleans, but he shot an NBA record 53 percent from 3-point range last season, and teams have to honor him as a threat to score on any possession. Thibodeau likes to use Korver down the stretch of close games for just that reason. As we head into the stretch run towards the playoffs, its all about figuring out how to tighten rotations for games that matter the most. Look for Korver to be on the court when the Bulls need a big basket late.

Right now, the Bulls are playing 10 guys every night, and its possible that will continue into the playoffs. But Thibodeau stuck with Rose at the beginning of the fourth quarter against New Orleans instead of going to his usual substitution pattern of bringing in C.J. Watson. That means five or six extra minutes for your best player, and the Bulls have to be careful not to wear Rose down before the grueling playoff chase even begins.

As always, we love to get your feedback. Please post your comments on the race for the top seed and the scoring burden placed on Rose in the section below. And, most of all, enjoy the way the Bulls are playing right now. The fun is only beginning!

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Hub Arkush (670 The Score/Pro Football Weekly), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Lauren Comitor (The Athletic) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Manny Machado Mania continues in Chicago. Do the Cubs even need to trade for him to win the World Series this year?

Ricky Renteria has to bench another player for not hustling. Is this becoming a problem on the South Side?

Plus, Lauri Markkanen is named to the All-Rookie team. Could he be the centerpiece of a trade if the Bulls want to acquire a superstar or move up in the draft? 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

NBA 'promises' to potential draft picks not unusual

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USA TODAY

NBA 'promises' to potential draft picks not unusual

Bulls Twitter went on high alert after last week's national report that the front office had made a "promise" to draft Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison if he was still on the board at No. 22 in the first round. Weren't the Bulls supposed to be interested in SF prospects like Michael Porter Jr., Mikal Bridges and Miles Bridges with their own first round selection? Did a "promise" to Hutchison mean the Bulls would go with Wendell Carter, Trae Young or Collin Sexton at No. 7?

The simple answer is the Bulls haven't made any final decisions on either pick. They still plan to bring the top prospects in for workouts and interviews before June 21 and will continue to take a close look at players likely to be available in the 18-30 range.

And, like any professional sports franchise, the Bulls aren't about to confirm or deny they've made a commitment to Hutchison or any other player. Drafts are fluid, and invariably players will rise and fall throughout the workout/interview process as teams try to get their boards lined up for the big night.

The main reason a team will make a "promise" to a player is to eliminate his incentive to work out for other franchises. In the case of Hutchison, he's obviously received assurances from a team or teams that he will be drafted in the first round. Hutchison cancelled his plans to participate in last week's NBA Draft Combine, and most likely will only work out for teams drafting ahead of the franchise that said they would select him.

Jerry Krause would famously try to hide his interest in players he coveted in a particular year and persuade them not to work out for other teams. The best example came in 1987 when a little known player from Central Arkansas named Scottie Pippen became an obsession for Krause, and the Bulls GM tried everything in his power to keep Pippen under wraps. Problem is, Pippen did attend the scouting combine and quickly became the hot topic among NBA scouts and executives. It took some intense work on Krause's part to arrange for the draft night trade that brought Pippen to Chicago for Olden Polynice. Krause also added Horace Grant later in that same draft, and the foundation was built for the Bulls' first three championship teams.

So, the idea of a team making a "promise" to a player they like is certainly nothing new. What's important to understand is that doesn't guarantee the team will follow through on that promise when they're on the clock. Back in 2013, the Bulls got word to Louisville big man Gorgui Dieng they were interested in taking him with their No. 20 pick in round one. But when the Bulls were on the clock, the front office decided they would rather have New Mexico swingman Tony Snell who was ranked higher on their draft board. The Bulls drafted Snell, much to Dieng and his agent's surprise. Dieng wound up going to Utah with the next pick and was traded to Minnesota. He's still with that franchise today, although in a reduced role after the Timberwolves signed Taj Gibson as a free agent last summer.

With so much uncertainty in this year's draft, it seems unlikely the Bulls would "promise" to select Hutchison five weeks before the selection process was going to begin. Hutchison and his agent most likely received assurances from NBA executives that he would be drafted in the 20-30 range, and that was enough to get him to drop out of the combine. But just like in 2013, if the Bulls see a player ranked higher on their draft board fall to 22, that's the player they're going to take.

Hutchison is a good prospect, a 3-and-D player who would fit well with the team the Bulls are building. But he's also a 22-year-old senior without the upside of some of the younger prospects who might be available with the Bulls' pick late in Round 1. Both Hutchison and the Bulls have to reserve the right to protect their own best interests. Hutchison will most likely agree to work out for teams drafting earlier than 22, and he'll have to understand if the Bulls decide to go a different direction on draft night, no matter what kind of previous discussions his agent may have had with the front office.

At this point in the pre-draft process, a "promise" can only be seen as a team's legitimate interest in a given player and an indicator of how the first round is likely to play out. But a lot can and will change before Phoenix goes on the clock on June 21.

Combine notes

Since most of the projected first round picks do little or nothing at the combine, it's left to the second-round guys to try to improve their draft stock with a strong showing in the scrimmage games. Last year, it was Kyle Kuzma working his way into the first round with a dazzling performance at the combine, and this year, the big winner might be Villanova shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo.

The NCAA Tournament hero impressed everyone with his athleticism on both ends and his ability to knock down open shots. DiVincenzo told me his 31-point performance in the title game against Michigan convinced him he had what it takes to apply for early entry, and his strong showing last week probably convinced him to hire an agent and remain in the draft.

Much like Kuzma, DiVincenzo had been projected as a likely second-round pick before the combine. Now he's looked at as a probable first rounder, going somewhere in the 20-30 range, which means he's likely headed to a good team that can ease his transition to the pro game. Not bad for a guy who came off the bench most of the season for the eventual NCAA champs and probably never imagined he would be leaving early for the NBA until that magical night in San Antonio.

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Other players who improved their draft stock last week include USC combo guard De’Anthony Melton, Maryland swingman Kevin Huerter, Tulane shooting guard Melvin Frazier, Cincinnati swingman Jacob Evans and another Villanova product, point guard Jalen Brunson.

Brunson didn't play in the scrimmages in Chicago, but he showed well in the physical testing, displaying the kind of athleticism every team is looking for at the point guard position. It looks like Brunson will definitely be a first round pick.

Similar story for Evans, who averaged a modest 13 points a game for a top 10 Cincinnati team, but impressed the NBA execs at the combine with his tenacious defensive play and offensive potential. Evans could be a possibility for the Bulls at 22.

Maryland's Huerter showed scouts he's more than just a standstill 3-point shooter. The 6-foot-6 sophomore averaged just under 15 points a game last season, shooting almost 42 percent from 3-point range. Huerter's solid play at the combine gives him a chance to be drafted at the end of Round 1.

Frazier also showed enough in games last week to have his name called among the top 30 picks. At 6-foot-6, he has excellent size at the shooting guard position. Frazier averaged just under 16 points a game during his junior season at Tulane, shooting almost 56 percent from the field.

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But the most interesting story involves Melton, who was held out by USC last season because of his connection to the FBI's investigation of corruption in college basketball. Melton maintained his innocence all along, and said the university was just doing what it had to do, fearing additional trouble with the NCAA over allegations a friend of Melton's had accepted money to try to steer Melton to an agent.

Still, even without playing competitively last season, Melton probably cemented a first round selection with his play at the combine. The 6-foot-4 combo guard flashed on both ends, scoring 15 points in a game last Friday playing alongside DiVincenzo in the backcourt.

Melton told USA Today he compares himself to other two-way standouts like Dwyane Wade, Kawhi Leonard and Avery Bradley. That's some pretty impressive company. Melton might be worth the investment of that No. 22 pick by the Bulls.

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Kudos to all the players who took part in the two days of media interviews last week. Almost all of them came off poised and well prepared. Among the top ten picks, I was especially impressed with Michael Porter Jr., who patiently answered all the questions about his back surgery and confidently said he considered himself the best player in the draft without sounding cocky.

Of course, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young also proclaimed themselves the best player in the draft, and projected top 10 picks Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr. and Collin Sexton also came across as supremely confident.

The latest Basketball Insiders Mock Draft has the Bulls taking Bamba at 7 and Chandler Hutchison at 22, which would make the front office and a lot of Bulls fans very happy. But just to show you the wide range in how draft experts are evaluating the top prospects, Basketball Insiders currently has Jackson Jr. going 11 to Charlotte, and it's hard for me to imagine him staying on the board past four.

Brace yourself for all kinds of wild speculation over the next four weeks.

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Finally, May 22 turned out to be quite a day for Lauri Markkanen. Not only is Markkanen celebrating his 21st birthday, but he found out he was voted to the NBA's All-Rookie first team after averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Markkanen joined Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Kyle Kuzma from the extremely talented 2017-18 rookie class.

And the second team isn't bad either with Dennis Smith Jr., Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Given Markkanen's talent and work ethic, it's very easy to see him making multiple All-Star Game appearances down the line. The Bulls can only hope they come up with another foundation player like Markkanen when they draft seventh for the second year in a row.